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His lordship will hear you now, smuggler.”

The knight wore silver armor, his greaves and gauntlet inlaid with niello to suggest flowing fronds of seaweed. The helm beneath his arm was the head of the merling king, with a crown of mother-of-pearl and a jutting beard of jet and jade. His own beard was as grey as the winter sea.

Davos rose. “May I know your name, ser?”

“Ser Marlon Manderly.” He was a head taller than Davos and three stones heavier, with slate-grey eyes and a haughty way of speaking. “I have the honor to be Lord Wyman’s cousin and commander of his garrison. Follow me.”

Davos had come to White Harbor as an envoy, but they had made him a captive. His chambers were large, airy, and handsomely furnished, but there were guards outside his doors. From his window he could see the streets of White Harbor beyond the castle walls, but he was not allowed to walk them. He could see the harbor too, and had watched Merry Midwife make her way down the firth. Casso Mogat had waited four days instead of three before departing. Another fortnight had passed since then.

Lord Manderly’s household guard wore cloaks of blue-green wool and carried silver tridents in place of common spears. One went before him, one behind, and one to either side. They walked past the faded banners, broken shields, and rusted swords of a hundred ancient victories, and a score of wooden figures, cracked and worm-riddled, that could only have adorned the prows of ships.

Two marble mermen flanked his lordship’s court, Fishfoot’s smaller cousins. As the guards threw open the doors, a herald slammed the butt of his staff against an old plank floor. “Ser Davos of House Seaworth,” he called in a ringing voice.

As many times as he had visited White Harbor, Davos had never set foot inside the New Castle, much less the Merman’s Court. Its walls and floor and ceiling were made of wooden planks notched cunningly together and decorated with all the creatures of the sea. As they approached the dais, Davos trod on painted crabs and clams and starfish, half-hidden amongst twisting black fronds of seaweed and the bones of drowned sailors. On the walls to either side, pale sharks prowled painted blue-green depths, whilst eels and octopods slithered amongst rocks and sunken ships. Shoals of herring and great codfish swam between the tall arched windows. Higher up, near where the old fishing nets drooped down from the rafters, the surface of the sea had been depicted. To his right a war galley stroked serene against the rising sun; to his left, a battered old cog raced before a storm, her sails in rags. Behind the dais a kraken and grey leviathan were locked in battle beneath the painted waves.

Davos had hoped to speak with Wyman Manderly alone, but he found a crowded court. Along the walls, the women outnumbered the men by five to one; what few males he did see had long grey beards or looked too young to shave. There were septons as well, and holy sisters in white robes and grey. Near the top of the hall stood a dozen men in the blue and silver-grey of House Frey. Their faces had a likeness a blind man could have seen; several wore the badge of the Twins, two towers connected by a bridge.

Davos had learned to read men’s faces long before Maester Pylos had taught him to read words on paper. These Freys would gladly see me dead, he realized at a glance.

Nor did he find any welcome in the pale blue eyes of Wyman Manderly. His lordship’s cushioned throne was wide enough to accommodate three men of common girth, yet Manderly threatened to overflow it. His lordship sagged into his seat, his shoulders slumped, his legs splayed, his hands resting on the arms of his throne as if the weight of them were too much to bear. Gods be good, thought Davos, when he saw Lord Wyman’s face, this man looks half a corpse. His skin was pallid, with an undertone of grey.

Kings and corpses always draw attendants, the old saying went. So it was with Manderly. Left of the high seat stood a maester nigh as fat as the lord he served, a rosy-cheeked man with thick lips and a head of golden curls. Ser Marlon claimed the place of honor at his lordship’s right hand. On a cushioned stool at his feet perched a plump pink lady. Behind Lord Wyman stood two younger women, sisters by the look of them. The elder wore her brown hair bound in a long braid. The younger, no more than fifteen, had an even longer braid, dyed a garish green.

None chose to honor Davos with a name. The maester was the first to speak. “You stand before Wyman Manderly, Lord of White Harbor and Warden of the White Knife, Shield of the Faith, Defender of the Dispossessed, Lord Marshal of the Mander, a Knight of the Order of the Green Hand,” he said. “In the Merman’s Court, it is customary for vassals and petitioners to kneel.”

The onion knight would have bent his knee, but a King’s Hand could not; to do so would suggest that the king he served was less than this fat lord. “I have not come as a petitioner,” Davos replied. “I have a string of titles too. Lord of the Rainwood, Admiral of the Narrow Sea, Hand of the King.”

The plump woman on the stool rolled her eyes. “An admiral without ships, a hand without fingers, in service to a king without a throne. Is this a knight who comes before us, or the answer to a child’s riddle?”

“He is a messenger, good-daughter,” Lord Wyman said, “an onion of ill omen. Stannis did not like the answer his ravens brought him, so he has sent this … this smuggler.” He squinted at Davos through eyes half-buried in rolls of fat. “You have visited our city before, I think, taking coin from our pockets and food off our table. How much did you steal from me, I wonder?”

Not enough that you ever missed a meal. “I paid for my smuggling at Storm’s End, my lord.” Davos pulled off his glove and held up his left hand, with its four shortened fingers.

“Four fingertips, for a lifetime’s worth of theft?” said the woman on the stool. Her hair was yellow, her face round and pink and fleshy. “You got off cheaply, Onion Knight.”

Davos did not deny it. “If it please my lord, I would request a privy audience.”

It did not please the lord. “I keep no secrets from my kin, nor from my leal lords and knights, good friends all.”

“My lord,” said Davos, “I would not want my words to be heard by His Grace’s enemies … or by your lordship’s.”

“Stannis may have enemies in this hall. I do not.”

“Not even the men who slew your son?” Davos pointed. “These Freys were amongst his hosts at the Red Wedding.”

One of the Freys stepped forward, a knight long and lean of limb, clean-shaved but for a grey mustache as thin as a Myrish stiletto. “The Red Wedding was the Young Wolf’s work. He changed into a beast before our eyes and tore out the throat of my cousin Jinglebell, a harmless simpleton. He would have slain my lord father too, if Ser Wendel had not put himself in the way.”

Lord Wyman blinked back tears. “Wendel was always a brave boy. I was not surprised to learn he died a hero.”

The enormity of the lie made Davos gasp. “Is it your claim that Robb Stark killed Wendel Manderly?” he asked the Frey.

“And many more. Mine own son Tytos was amongst them, and my daughter’s husband. When Stark changed into a wolf, his northmen did the same. The mark of the beast was on them all. Wargs birth other wargs with a bite, it is well-known. It was all my brothers and I could do to put them down before they slew us all.”

The man was smirking as he told the tale. Davos wanted to peel his lips off with a knife. “Ser, may I have your name?”

“Ser Jared, of House Frey.”

“Jared of House Frey, I name you liar.”

Ser Jared seemed amused. “Some men cry when slicing onions, but I have never had that weakness.” Steel whispered against leather as he drew his sword. “If you are indeed a knight, ser, defend that slander with your body.”

Lord Wyman’s eyes fluttered open. “I’ll have no bloodshed in the Merman’s Court. Put up your steel, Ser Jared, else I must ask you to leave my presence.”

Ser Jared sheathed his sword. “Beneath your lordship’s roof, your lordship’s word is law … but I shall want a reckoning with this onion lord before he leaves this city.”

“Blood!” howled the woman on the stool. “That’s what this ill onion wants of us, my lord. See how he stirs up trouble? Send him away, I beg you. He wants the blood of your people, the blood of your brave sons. Send him away. Should the queen hear that you gave audience to this traitor, she may question our own loyalty. She might … she could … she …”

“It will not come to that, good-daughter,” Lord Wyman said. “The Iron Throne shall have no cause to doubt us.”

Davos misliked the sound of that, but he had not come all this way to hold his tongue. “The boy on the Iron Throne is a usurper,” he said, “and I am no traitor, but the Hand of Stannis Baratheon, the First of His Name, the trueborn King of Westeros.”

The fat maester cleared his throat. “Stannis Baratheon was brother to our late King Robert, may the Father judge him justly. Tommen is the issue of Robert’s body. The laws of succession are clear in such a case. A son must come before a brother.”

“Maester Theomore speaks truly,” said Lord Wyman. “He is wise in all such matters, and has always given me good counsel.”

“A trueborn son comes before a brother,” Davos agreed, “but Tommen-called-Baratheon is bastard-born, as his brother Joffrey was before him. They were sired by the Kingslayer, in defiance of all the laws of gods and men.”

Another of the Freys spoke up. “He speaks treason with his own lips, my lord. Stannis took his thieving fingers. You should take his lying tongue.”

“Take his head, rather,” suggested Ser Jared. “Or let him meet me on the field of honor.”

“What would a Frey know of honor?” Davos threw back.

Four of the Freys started forward until Lord Wyman halted them with an upraised hand. “Step back, my friends. I will hear him out before I … before I deal with him.”

“Can you offer any proof of this incest, ser?” Maester Theomore asked, folding his soft hands atop his belly.

Edric Storm, thought Davos, but I sent him far away across the narrow sea, to keep him safe from Melisandre’s fires. “You have the word of Stannis Baratheon that all I’ve said is true.”

“Words are wind,” said the young woman behind Lord Wyman’s high seat, the handsome one with the long brown braid. “And men will lie to get their way, as any maid could tell you.”

“Proof requires more than some lord’s unsupported word,” declared Maester Theomore. “Stannis Baratheon would not be the first man who ever lied to win a throne.”

The pink woman pointed a plump finger down at Davos. “We want no part of any treason, you. We are good people in White Harbor, lawful, loyal people. Pour no more poison in our ears, or my good-father will send you to the Wolf’s Den.”

How have I offended this one? “Might I have the honor of my lady’s name?”

The pink woman gave an angry sniff and let the maester answer. “The Lady Leona is wife to Lord Wyman’s son Ser Wylis, presently a captive of the Lannisters.”

She speaks from fear. If White Harbor should declare for Stannis, her husband would answer with his life. How can I ask Lord Wyman to condemn his son to death? What would I do in his place if Devan were a hostage? “My lord,” said Davos, “I pray no harm will come to your son, or to any man of White Harbor.”

“Another lie,” said Lady Leona from her stool.

Davos thought it best to ignore her. “When Robb Stark took up arms against the bastard Joffrey-called-Baratheon, White Harbor marched with him. Lord Stark has fallen, but his war goes on.”

“Robb Stark was my liege lord,” said Lord Wyman. “Who is this man Stannis? Why does he trouble us? He never felt the need to journey north before, as best I can recall. Yet he turns up now, a beaten cur with his helm in his hand, be............
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