A storm of swords, p.79
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       A Storm of Swords, p.79

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

  is your sister.”

  “Has she seduced you yet?” Tyrion asked, unsurprised.

  Oberyn laughed aloud. “No, but she will if I meet her price. The queen has even hinted at marriage. Her Grace needs another husband, and who better than a prince of Dorne? Ellaria believes I should accept. Just the thought of Cersei in our bed makes her wet, the randy wench. And we should not even need to pay the dwarf’s penny. All your sister requires from me is one head, somewhat overlarge and missing a nose.”

  “And?” said Tyrion, waiting.

  By way of answer Prince Oberyn swirled his wine, and said, “When the Young Dragon conquered Dorne so long ago, he left the Lord of Highgarden to rule us after the Submission of Sunspear. This Tyrell moved with his tail from keep to keep, chasing rebels and making certain that our knees stayed bent. He would arrive in force, take a castle for his own, stay a moon’s turn, and ride on to the next castle. It was his custom to turn the lords out of their own chambers and take their beds for himself. One night he found himself beneath a heavy velvet canopy. A sash hung down near the pillows, should he wish to summon a wench. He had a taste for Dornish women, this Lord Tyrell, and who can blame him? So he pulled upon the sash, and when he did the canopy above him split open, and a hundred red scorpions fell down upon his head. His death lit a fire that soon swept across Dorne, undoing all the Young Dragon’s victories in a fortnight. The kneeling men stood up, and we were free again.”

  “I know the tale,” said Tyrion. “What of it?”

  “Just this. If I should ever find a sash beside my own bed, and pull on it, I would sooner have the scorpions fall upon me than the queen in all her naked beauty.”

  Tyrion grinned. “We have that much in common, then.”

  “To be sure, I have much to thank your sister for. If not for her accusation at the feast, it might well be you judging me instead of me judging you.” The prince’s eyes were dark with amusement. “Who knows more of poison than the Red Viper of Dorne, after all? Who has better reason to want to keep the Tyrells far from the crown? And with Joffrey in his grave, by Dornish law the Iron Throne should pass next to his sister Myrcella, who as it happens is betrothed to mine own nephew, thanks to you.”

  “Dornish law does not apply.” Tyrion had been so ensnared in his own troubles that he’d never stopped to consider the succession. “My father will crown Tommen, count on that.”

  “He may indeed crown Tommen, here in King’s Landing. Which is not to say that my brother may not crown Myrcella, down in Sunspear. Will your father make war on your niece on behalf of your nephew? Will your sister?” He gave a shrug. “Perhaps I should marry Queen Cersei after all, on the condition that she support her daughter over her son. Do you think she would?”

  Never, Tyrion wanted to say, but the word caught in his throat. Cersei always resented being excluded from power on account of her sex. If Dornish law applied in the west, she would be the heir to Casterly Rock in her own right. She and Jaime were twins, but Cersei had come first into the world, and that was all it took. By championing Myrcella’s cause she would be championing her own. “I do not know how my sister would choose, between Tommen and Myrcella,” he admitted. “It makes no matter. My father will never give her that choice.”

  “Your father,” said Prince Oberyn, “may not live forever.”

  Something about the way he said it made the hairs on the back of Tyrion’s neck bristle. Suddenly he was mindful of Elia again, and all that Oberyn had said as they crossed the field of ashes. He wants the head that spoke the words, not just the hand that swung the sword. “It is not wise to speak such treasons in the Red Keep, my prince. The little birds are listening.”

  “Let them. Is it treason to say a man is mortal? Valar morghulis was how they said it in Valyria of old. All men must die. And the Doom came and proved it true.” The Dornishman went to the window to gaze out into the night. “It is being said that you have no witnesses for us.”

  “I was hoping one look at this sweet face of mine would be enough to persuade you all of my innocence.”

  “You are mistaken, my lord. The Fat Flower of Highgarden is quite convinced of your guilt, and determined to see you die. His precious Margaery was drinking from that chalice too, as he has reminded us half a hundred times.”

  “And you?” said Tyrion.

  “Men are seldom as they appear. You look so very guilty that I am convinced of your innocence. Still, you will likely be condemned. Justice is in short supply this side of the mountains. There has been none for Elia, Aegon, or Rhaenys. Why should there be any for you? Perhaps Joffrey’s real killer was eaten by a bear. That seems to happen quite often in King’s Landing. Oh, wait, the bear was at Harrenhal, now I remember.”

  “Is that the game we are playing?” Tyrion rubbed at his scarred nose. He had nothing to lose by telling Oberyn the truth. “There was a bear at Harrenhal, and it did kill Ser Amory Lorch.”

  “How sad for him,” said the Red Viper. “And for you. Do all noseless men lie so badly, I wonder?”

  “I am not lying. Ser Amory dragged Princess Rhaenys out from under her father’s bed and stabbed her to death. He had some men-at-arms with him, but I do not know their names.” He leaned forward. “It was Ser Gregor Clegane who smashed Prince Aegon’s head against a wall and raped your sister Elia with his blood and brains still on his hands.”

  “What is this, now? Truth, from a Lannister?” Oberyn smiled coldly. “Your father gave the commands, yes?”

  “No.” He spoke the lie without hesitation, and never stopped to ask himself why he should.

  The Dornishman raised one thin black eyebrow. “Such a dutiful son. And such a very feeble lie. It was Lord Tywin who presented my sister’s children to King Robert all wrapped up in crimson Lannister cloaks.”

  “Perhaps you ought to have this discussion with my father. He was there. I was at the Rock, and still so young that I thought the thing between my legs was only good for pissing.”

  “Yes, but you are here now, and in some difficulty, I would say. Your innocence may be as plain as the scar on your face, but it will not save you. No more than your father will.” The Dornish prince smiled. “But I might.”

  “You?” Tyrion studied him. “You are one judge in three. How could you save me?”

  “Not as your judge. As your champion.”


  A white book sat on a white table in a white room.

  The room was round, its walls of whitewashed stone hung with white woolen tapestries. It formed the first floor of White Sword Tower, a slender structure of four stories built into an angle of the castle wall overlooking the bay. The undercroft held arms and armor, the second and third floors the small spare sleeping cells of the six brothers of the Kingsguard.

  One of those cells had been his for eighteen years, but this morning he had moved his things to the topmost floor, which was given over entirely to the Lord Commander’s apartments. Those rooms were spare as well, though spacious; and they were above the outer walls, which meant he would have a view of the sea. I will like that, he thought. The view, and all the rest.

  As pale as the room, Jaime sat by the book in his Kingsguard whites, waiting for his Sworn Brothers. A longsword hung from his hip. From the wrong hip. Before he had always worn his sword on his left, and drawn it across his body when he unsheathed. He had shifted it to his right hip this morning, so as to be able to draw it with his left hand in the same manner, but the weight of it felt strange there, and when he had tried to pull the blade from the scabbard the whole motion seemed clumsy and unnatural. His clothing fit badly as well. He had donned the winter raiment of the Kingsguard, a tunic and breeches of bleached white wool and a heavy white cloak, but it all seemed to hang loose on him.

  Jaime had spent his days at his brother’s trial, standing well to the back of the hall. Either Tyrion never saw him there or he did not know him, but that was no surprise. Half the court no longer seemed to know him. I am a stranger in my own Ho
use. His son was dead, his father had disowned him, and his sister… she had not allowed him to be alone with her once, after that first day in the royal sept where Joffrey lay amongst the candles. Even when they bore him across the city to his tomb in the Great Sept of Baelor, Cersei kept a careful distance.

  He looked about the Round Room once more. White wool hangings covered the walls, and there was a white shield and two crossed longswords mounted above the hearth. The chair behind the table was old black oak, with cushions of blanched cowhide, the leather worn thin. Worn by the bony arse of Barristan the Bold and Ser Gerold Hightower before him, by Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, Ser Ryam Redwyne, and the Demon of Darry, by Ser Duncan the Tall and the Pale Griffin Alyn Connington. How could the Kingslayer belong in such exalted company?

  Yet here he was.

  The table itself was old weirwood, pale as bone, carved in the shape of a huge shield supported by three white stallions. By tradition the Lord Commander sat at the top of the shield, and the brothers three to a side, on the rare occasions when all seven were assembled. The book that rested by his elbow was massive; two feet tall and a foot and a half wide, a thousand pages thick, fine white vellum bound between covers of bleached white leather with gold hinges and fastenings. The Book of the Brothers was its formal name, but more often it was simply called the White Book.

  Within the White Book was the history of the Kingsguard. Every knight who’d ever served had a page, to record his name and deeds for all time. On the top left-hand corner of each page was drawn the shield the man had carried at the time he was chosen, inked in rich colors. Down in the bottom right corner was the shield of the Kingsguard; snow-white, empty, pure. The upper shields were all different; the lower shields were all the same. In the space between were written the facts of each man’s life and service. The heraldic drawings and illuminations were done by septons sent from the Great Sept of Baelor three times a year, but it was the duty of the Lord Commander to keep the entries up to date.

  My duty, now. Once he learned to write with his left hand, that is. The White Book was well behind. The deaths of Ser Mandon Moore and Ser Preston Greenfield needed to be entered, and the brief bloody Kingsguard service of Sandor Clegane as well. New pages must be started for Ser Balon Swann, Ser Osmund Kettleblack, and the Knight of Flowers. I will need to summon a septon to draw their shields.

  Ser Barristan Selmy had preceded Jaime as Lord Commander. The shield atop his page showed the arms of House Selmy: three stalks of wheat, yellow, on a brown field. Jaime was amused, though unsurprised, to find that Ser Barristan had taken the time to record his own dismissal before leaving the castle.

  Ser Barristan of House Selmy. Firstborn son of Ser Lyonel Selmy of Harvest Hall. Served as squire to Ser Manfred Swann. Named “the Bold” in his 10th year, when he donned borrowed armor to appear as a mystery knight in the tourney at Blackhaven, where he was defeated and unmasked by Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies. Knighted in his 16th year by King Aegon V Targaryen, after performing great feats of prowess as a mystery knight in the winter tourney at King’s Landing, defeating Prince Duncan the Small and Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Slew Maelys the Monstrous, last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, in single combat during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Defeated Lormelle Long Lance and Cedrik Storm, the Bastard of Bronzegate. Named to the Kingsguard in his 23rd year, by Lord Commander Ser Gerold Hightower. Defended the passage against all challengers in the tourney of the Silver Bridge. Victor in the mêlée at Maidenpool. Brought King Aerys II to safety during the Defiance of Duskendale, despite an arrow wound in the chest. Avenged the murder of his Sworn Brother, Ser Gwayne Gaunt. Rescued Lady Jeyne Swann and her septa from the Kingswood Brotherhood, defeating Simon Toyne and the Smiling Knight, and slaying the former. In the Oldtown tourney, defeated and unmasked the mystery knight Blackshield, revealing him as the Bastard of Uplands. Sole champion of Lord Steffon’s tourney at Storm’s End, whereat he unhorsed Lord Robert Baratheon, Prince Oberyn Martell, Lord Leyton Hightower, Lord Jon Connington, Lord Jason Mallister, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Wounded by arrow, spear, and sword at the Battle of the Trident whilst fighting beside his Sworn Brothers and Rhaegar Prince of Dragonstone. Pardoned, and named Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, by King Robert I Baratheon. Served in the honor guard that brought Lady Cersei of House Lannister to King’s Landing to wed King Robert. Led the attack on Old Wyk during Balon Greyjoy’s Rebellion. Champion of the tourney at King’s Landing, in his 57th year. Dismissed from service by King Joffrey I baratheon in his 61st year, for reasons of advanced age.

  The earlier part of Ser Barristan’s storied career had been entered by Ser Gerold Hightower in a big forceful hand. Selmy’s own smaller and more elegant writing took over with the account of his wounding on the Trident.

  Jaime’s own page was scant by comparison.

  Ser Jaime of House Lannister. Firstborn son of Lord Tywin and Lady Joanna of Casterly Rock. Served against the Kingswood Brotherhood as squire to Lord Summer Crakehall. Knighted in his 15th year by Ser Arthur Dayne of the Kingsguard, for valor in the field. Chosen for the Kingsguard in his 15th year by King Aerys II Targaryen. During the Sack of King’s Landing, slew King Aerys II at the foot of the Iron Throne. Thereafter known as the “Kingslayer.” Pardoned for his crime by King Robert I Baratheon. Served in the honor guard that brought his sister the Lady Cersei Lannister to King’s Landing to wed King Robert. Champion in the tourney held at King’s Landing on the occasion of their wedding.

  Summed up like that, his life seemed a rather scant and mingy thing. Ser Barristan could have recorded a few of his other tourney victories, at least. And Ser Gerold might have written a few more words about the deeds he’d performed when Ser Arthur Dayne broke the Kingswood Brotherhood. He had saved Lord Sumner’s life as Big Belly Ben was about to smash his head in, though the outlaw had escaped him. And he’d held his own against the Smiling Knight, though it was Ser Arthur who slew him. What a fight that was, and what a foe. The Smiling Knight was a madman, cruelty and chivalry all jumbled up together, but he did not know the meaning of fear. And Dayne, with Dawn in hand… The outlaw’s longsword had so many notches by the end that Ser Arthur had stopped to let him fetch a new one. “It’s that white sword of yours I want,” the robber knight told him as they resumed, though he was bleeding from a dozen wounds by then. “Then you shall have it, ser,” the Sword of the Morning replied, and made an end of it.

  The world was simpler in those days, Jaime thought, and men as well as swords were made of finer steel. Or was it only that he had been fifteen? They were all in their graves now, the Sword of the Morning and the Smiling Knight, the White Bull and Prince Lewyn, Ser Oswell Whent with his black humor, earnest Jon Darry, Simon Toyne and his Kingswood Brotherhood, bluff old Sumner Crakehall. And me, that boy I was… when did he die, I wonder? When I donned the white cloak? When I opened Aerys’s throat? That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.

  When he heard the door open, he closed the White Book and stood to receive his Sworn Brothers. Ser Osmund Kettleblack was the first to arrive. He gave Jaime a grin, as if they were old brothers-in-arms. “Ser Jaime,” he said, “had you looked like this t’other night, I’d have known you at once.”

  “Would you indeed?” Jaime doubted that. The servants had bathed him, shaved him, and washed and brushed his hair. When he looked in a glass, he no longer saw the man who had crossed the riverlands with Brienne… but he did not see himself either. His face was thin and hollow, and he had lines under his eyes. I look like some old man. “Stand by your seat, ser.”

  Kettleblack complied. The other Sworn Brothers filed in one by one. “Sers,” Jaime said in a formal tone when all five had assembled, “who guards the king?”

  “My brothers Ser Osney and Ser Osfryd,” Ser Osmund replied.

  “And my brother Ser Garlan,” said the Knight of Flowers.

  “Will they keep him safe?”
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  “They will, my lord.”

  “Be seated, then.” The words were ritual. Before the seven could meet in session, the king’s safety must be assured.

  Ser Boros and Ser Meryn sat to his right, leaving an empty chair between them for Ser Arys Oakheart, off in Dorne. Ser Osmund, Ser Balon, and Ser Loras took the seats to his left. The old and the new. Jaime wondered if that meant anything. There had been times during its history where the Kingsguard had been divided against itself, most notably and bitterly during the Dance of the Dragons. Was that something he needed to fear as well?

  It seemed queer to him to sit in the Lord Commander’s seat where Barristan the Bold had sat for so many years. And even queerer to sit here crippled. Nonetheless, it was his seat, and this was his Kingsguard now. Tommen’s seven.

  Jaime had served with Meryn Trant and Boros Blount for years; adequate fighters, but Trant was sly and cruel, and Blount a bag of growly air. Ser Balon Swann was better suited to his cloak, and of course the Knight of Flowers was supposedly all a knight should be. The fifth man was a stranger to him, this Osmund Kettleblack.

  He wondered what Ser Arthur Dayne would have to say of this lot. “How is it that the Kingsguard has fallen so low,” most like. “It was my doing,” I would have to answer. “I opened the door, and did nothing when the vermin began to crawl inside.”

  “The king is dead,” Jaime began. “My sister’s son, a boy of thirteen, murdered at his own wedding feast in his own hall. All five of you were present. All five of you were protecting him. And yet he’s dead.” He waited to see what they would say to that, but none of them so much as cleared a throat. The Tyrell boy is angry, and Balon Swann’s ashamed, he judged. From the other three Jaime sensed only indifference. “Did my brother do this thing?” he asked them bluntly. “Did Tyrion poison my nephew?”

  Ser Balon shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Ser Boros made a fist. Ser Osmund gave a lazy shrug. It was Meryn Trant who finally answered. “He filled Joffrey’s cup with wine. That must have been when he slipped the poison in.”

  “You are certain it was the wine that was poisoned?”

  “What else?” said Ser Boros Blount. “The Imp emptied the dregs on the floor. Why, but to spill the wine that might have proved him guilty?”

  “He knew the wine was poisoned,” said Ser Meryn.

  Ser Balon Swann frowned. “The Imp was not alone on the dais. Far from it. That late in the feast, we had people standing and moving about, changing places, slipping off to the privy, servants were coming and going… the king and queen had just opened the wedding pie, every eye was on them or those thrice-damned doves. No one was watching the wine cup.”

  “Who else was on the dais?” asked Jaime.

  Ser Meryn answered. “The king’s family, the bride’s family, Grand Maester Pycelle, the High Septon…”

  “There’s your poisoner,” suggested Ser Oswald Kettleblack with a sly grin. “Too holy by half, that old man. Never liked the look o’ him, myself.” He laughed.

  “No,” the Knight of Flowers said, unamused. “Sansa Stark was the poisoner. You all forget, my sister was drinking from that chalice as well. Sansa Stark was the only person in the hall who had reason to want Margaery dead, as well as the king. By poisoning the wedding cup, she could hope to kill both of them. And why did she run afterward, unless she was guilty?”

  The boy makes sense. Tyrion might yet be innocent. No one was any closer to finding the girl, however. Perhaps Jaime should look into that himself. For a start, it would be good to know how she had gotten out of the castle. Varys may have a notion or two about that. No one knew the Red Keep better than the eunuch.

  That could wait, however. Just now Jaime had more immediate concerns. You say you are the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, his father had said. Go do your duty. These five were not the brothers he would have chosen, but they were the brothers he had; the time had come to take them in hand.

  “Whoever did it,” he told them, “Joffrey is dead, and the Iron Throne belongs to Tommen now. I mean for him to sit on it until his hair turns white and his teeth fall out. And not from poison.” Jaime turned to Ser Boros Blount. The man had grown stout in recent years, though he was big-boned enough to carry it. “Ser Boros, you look like a man who enjoys his food. Henceforth you’ll taste everything Tommen eats or drinks.”

  Ser Osmund Kettleblack laughed aloud and the Knight of Flowers smiled, but Ser Boros turned a deep beet red. “I am no food taster! I am a knight of the Kingsguard!”

  “Sad to say, you are.” Cersei should never have stripped the man of his white cloak. But their father had only compounded the shame by restoring it. “My sister has told me how readily you yielded my nephew to Tyrion’s sellswords. You will find carrots and pease less threatening, I hope. When your Sworn Brothers are training in the yard with sword and shield, you may train with spoon and trencher. Tommen loves applecakes. Try not to let any sellswords make off with them.”

  “You speak to me thus? You?”

  “You should have died before you let Tommen be taken.”

  “As you died protecting Aerys, ser?” Ser Boros lurched to his feet, and clasped the hilt of his sword. “I won’t… I won’t suffer this. You should be the food taster, it seems to me. What else is a cripple good for?”

  Jaime smiled. “I agree. I am as unfit to guard the king as you are. So draw that sword you’re fondling, and we shall see how your two hands fare against my one. At the end one of us will be dead, and the Kingsguard will be improved.” He rose. “Or, if you prefer, you may return to your duties.”

  “Bah!” Ser Boros hawked up a glob of green phlegm, spat it at Jaime’s feet, and walked out, his sword still in its sheath.

  The man is craven, and a good thing. Though fat, aging, and never more than ordinary, Ser Boros could still have hacked him into bloody pieces. But Boros does not know that, and neither must the rest. They feared the man I was; the man I am they’d pity.

  Jaime seated himself again and turned to Kettleblack. “Ser Osmund. I do not know you. I find that curious. I’ve fought in tourneys, mêlées, and battles throughout the Seven Kingdoms. I know of every hedge knight, freerider, and upjumped squire of any skill who has ever presumed to break a lance in the lists. So how is it that I have never heard of you, Ser Osmund?”

  “That I couldn’t say, my lord.” He had a great wide smile on his face, did Ser Osmund, as if he and Jaime were old comrades in arms playing some jolly little game. “I’m a soldier, though, not no tourney knight.”

  “Where had you served, before my sister found you?”

  “Here and there, my lord.”

  “I have been to Oldtown in the south and Winterfell in the north. I have been to Lannisport in the west, and King’s Landing in the east. But I have never been to Here. Nor There.” For want of a finger, Jaime pointed his stump at Ser Osmund’s beak of a nose. “I will ask once more. Where have you served?”

  “In the Stepstones. Some in the Disputed Lands. There’s always fighting there. I rode with the Gallant Men. We fought for Lys, and some for Tyrosh.”

  You fought for anyone who would pay you. “How did you come by your knighthood?”

  “On a battlefield.”

  “Who knighted you?”

  “Ser Robert… Stone. He’s dead now, my lord.”

  “To be sure.” Ser Robert Stone might have been some bastard from the Vale, he supposed, selling his sword in the Disputed Lands. On the other hand, he might be no more than a name Ser Osmund cobbled together from a dead king and a castle wall. What was Cersei thinking when she gave this one a white cloak?

  At least Kettleblack would likely know how to use a sword and shield. Sellswords were seldom the most honorable of men, but they had to have a certain skill at arms to stay alive. “Very well, ser,” Jaime said. “You may go.”

  The man’s grin returned. He left swaggering.

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