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The eunuch was humming tunelessly to himself as he came through the door, dressed in flowing robes of peach colored silk and smelling of lemons. When he saw Tyrion seated by the hearth, he stopped and grew very still. “My lord Tyrion,” came out in a squeak, punctuated by a nervous giggle.  “So you do remember me? I had begun to wonder.”  “It is so very good to see you looking so strong and well.” Varys smiled his slimiest smile. “Though I confess, I had not thought to find you in mine own humble chambers.”  “They are humble. Excessively so, in truth.” Tyrion had waited until Varys was summoned by his father before slipping in to pay him a visit. The eunuch’s apartments were sparse and small, three snug windowless chambers under the north wall. “I’d hoped to discover bushel baskets of juicy secrets to while away the waiting, but there’s not a paper to be found.” He’d searched for hidden passages too, knowing the Spider must have ways of coming and going unseen, but those had proved equally elusive. “There was water in your flagon, gods have mercy,” he went on, “your sleeping cell is no wider than a coffin, and that bed... is it actually made of stone, or does it only feel that way?”  Varys closed the door and barred it. “I am plagued with backaches, my lord, and prefer to sleep upon a hard surface.”  “I would have taken you for a featherbed man.”  “I am full of surprises. Are you cross with me for abandoning you after the battle?”  “It made me think of you as one of my family.”  “It was not for want of love, my good lord. I have such a delicate disposition, and your scar is so dreadful to look upon...” He gave an exaggerated shudder. “Your poor nose...”  Tyrion rubbed irritably at the scab. “Perhaps I should have a new one made of gold. What sort of nose would you suggest, Varys? One like yours, to smell out secrets? Or should I tell the goldsmith that I want my father’s nose?” He smiled. “My noble father labors so diligently that I scarce see him anymore. Tell me, is it true that he’s restoring Grand Maester Pycelle to the small council?”  “It is, my lord.”  “Do I have my sweet sister to thank for that?” Pycelle had been his sister’s creature; Tyrion had stripped the man of office, beard, and dignity, and flung him down into a black cell.  “Not at all, my lord. Thank the archmaesters of Oldtown, those who wished to insist on Pycelle’s restoration on the grounds that only the Conclave may make or unmake a Grand Maester.”  Bloody fools, thought Tyrion. “I seem to recall that Maegor the Cruel’s headsman unmade three with his axe.”  “Quite true,” Varys said. “And the second Aegon fed Grand Maester Gerardys to his dragon.”  “Alas, I am quite dragonless. I suppose I could have dipped Pycelle in wildfire and set him ablaze. Would the Citadel have preferred that?”  “Well, it would have been more in keeping with tradition.” The eunuch tittered. “Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Conclave accepted the fact of Pycelle’s dismissal and set about choosing his successor. After giving due consideration to Maester Turquin the cordwainer’s son and Maester Erreck the hedge knight’s bastard, and thereby demonstrating to their own satisfaction that ability counts for more than birth in their order, the Conclave was on the verge of sending us Maester Gormon, a Tyrell of Highgarden. When I told your lord father, he acted at once.”  The Conclave met in Oldtown behind closed doors, Tyrion knew; its deliberations were supposedly a secret. So Varys has little birds in the Citadel too. “I see. So my father decided to nip the rose before it bloomed.” He had to chuckle. “Pycelle is a toad. But better a Lannister toad than a Tyrell toad, no?”  “Grand Maester Pycelle has always been a good friend to your House,” Varys said sweetly. “Perhaps it will console you to learn that Ser Boros Blount is also being restored.”  Cersei had stripped Ser Boros of his white cloak for failing to die in the defense of Prince Tommen when Bronn had seized the boy on the Rosby road. The man was no friend of Tyrion’s, but after that he likely hated Cersei almost as much. I suppose that’s something. “Blount is a blustering coward,” he said amiably.  “Is he? Oh dear. Still, the knights of the Kingsguard do serve for life, traditionally. Perhaps Ser Boros will prove braver in future. He will no doubt remain very loyal.”  “To my father,” said Tyrion pointedly.  “While we are on the subject of the Kingsguard... I wonder, could this delightfully unexpected visit of yours happen to concern Ser Boros’s fallen brother, the gallant Ser Mandon Moore?” The eunuch stroked a powdered cheek. “Your man Bronn seems most interested in him of late.”  Bronn had turned up all he could on Ser Mandon, but no doubt Varys knew a deal more... should he choose to share it. “The man seems to have been quite friendless,” Tyrion said carefully.  “Sadly,” said Varys, “oh, sadly. You might find some kin if you turned over enough stones back in the Vale, but here... Lord Arryn brought him to King’s Landing and Robert gave him his white cloak, but neither loved him much, I fear. Nor was he the sort the smallfolk cheer in tourneys, despite his undoubted prowess. Why, even his brothers of the Kingsguard never warmed to him. Ser Barristan was once heard to say that the man had no friend but his sword and no life but duty... but you know, I do not think Selmy meant it altogether as praise. Which is queer when you consider it, is it not? Those are the very qualities we seek in our Kingsguard, it could be said - men who live not for themselves, but for their king. By those lights, our brave Ser Mandon was the perfect white knight. And he died as a knight of the Kingsguard ought, with sword in hand, defending one of the king’s own blood.” The eunuch gave him a slimy smile and watched him sharply.  Trying to murder one of the king’s own blood, you mean. Tyrion wondered if Varys knew rather more than he was saying. Nothing he’d just heard was new to him; Bronn had brought back much the same reports. He needed a link to Cersei, some sign that Ser Mandon had been his sister’s catspaw. What we want is not always what we get, he reflected bitterly, which reminded him...  “It is not Ser Mandon who brings me here.”  “To be sure.” The eunuch crossed the room to his flagon of water. “May I serve you, my lord?” he asked as he filled a cup.  “Yes. But not with water.” He folded his hands together. “I want you to bring me Shae.”  Varys took a drink. “Is that wise, my lord? The dear sweet child. it would be such a shame if your father hanged her.”  It did not surprise him that Varys knew. “No, it’s not wise, it’s bloody madness. I want to see her one last time, before I send her away. I cannot abide having her so close.”  “I understand.”  How could you? Tyrion had seen her only yesterday, climbing the serpentine steps with a pail of water. He had watched as a young knight had offered to carry the heavy pail. The way she had touched his arm and smiled for him had tied Tyrion’s guts into knots. They passed within inches of each other, him descending and her climbing, so close that he could smell the clean fresh scent of her hair. “M’lord,” she’d said to him, with a little curtsy, and he wanted to reach out and grab her and kiss her right there, but all he could do was nod stiffly and waddle on past. “I have seen her several times,” he told Varys, “but I dare not speak to her. I suspect that all my movements are being watched.”  “You are wise to suspect so, my good lord.”  “Who?” He cocked his head.  “The Kettleblacks report frequently to your sweet sister.”  “When I think of how much coin I paid those wretched... do you think there’s any chance that more gold might win them away from Cersei?”  “There is always a chance, but I should not care to wager on the likelihood. They are knights now, all three, and your sister has promised them further advancement.” A wicked little titter burst from the eunuch’s lips. “And the eldest, Ser Osmund of the Kingsguard, dreams of certain other... favors... as well. You can match the queen coin for coin, I have no doubt, but she has a second purse that is quite inexhaustible.”  Seven hells, thought Tyrion. “Are you suggesting that Cersei’s fucking Osmund Kettleblack?”  “Oh, dear me, no, that would be dreadfully dangerous, don’t you think? No, the queen only hints... perhaps on the morrow, or when the wedding’s done... and then a smile, a whisper, a ribald jest... a breast brushing lightly against his sleeve as they pass... and yet it seems to serve. But what would a eunuch know of such things?” The tip of his tongue ran across his lower lip like a shy pink animal.  If I could somehow push them beyond sly fondling, arrange for Father to catch them abed together... Tyrion fingered the scab on his nose. He did not see how it could be done, but perhaps some plan would come to him later. “Are the Kettleblacks the only ones?”  “Would that were true, my lord. I fear there are many eyes upon you. You are... how shall we say? Conspicuous? And not well loved, it grieves me to tell you. Janos Slynt’s sons would gladly inform on you to avenge their father, and our sweet Lord Petyr has friends in half the brothels of King’s Landing. Should you be so unwise as to visit any of them, he will know at once, and your lord father soon thereafter.”  It’s even worse than I feared. “And my father? Who does he have spying on me?”  This time the eunuch laughed aloud. “Why, me, my lord.”  Tyrion laughed as well. He was not so great a fool as to trust Varys any further than he had to - but the eunuch already knew enough about Shae to get her well and thoroughly hanged. “You will bring Shae to me through the walls, hidden from all these eyes. As you have done before.”  Varys wrung his hands. “Oh, my lord, nothing would please me more, but... King Maegor wanted no rats in his own walls, if you take my meaning. He did require a means of secret egress, should he ever be trapped by his enemies, but that door does not connect with any other passages. I can steal your Shae away from Lady Lollys for a time, to be sure, but I have no way to bring her to your bedchamber without us being seen.”  “Then bring her somewhere else.”  “But where? There is no safe place.”  “There is.” Tyrion grinned. “Here. It’s time to put that rock-hard bed of yours to better use, I think.”  The eunuch’s mouth opened. Then he giggled. “Lollys tires easily these days. She is great with child. I imagine she will be safely asleep by moonrise.”  Tyrion hopped down from the chair. “Moonrise, then. See that you lay in some wine. And two clean cups.”  Varys bowed. “it shall be as my lord commands.”  The rest of the day seemed to creep by as slow as a worm in molasses. Tyrion climbed to the castle library and tried to distract himself with Beldecar’s History of the Rhoynish Wars, but he could hardly see the elephants for imagining Shae’s smile. Come the afternoon, he put the book aside and called for a bath. He scrubbed himself until the water grew cool, and then had Pod even out his whiskers. His beard was a trial to him; a tangle of yellow, white, and black hairs, patchy and coarse, it was seldom less than unsightly, but it did serve to conceal some of his face, and that was all to the good.  When he was as clean and pink and trimmed as he was like to get, Tyrion looked over his wardrobe, and chose a pair of tight satin breeches in Lannister crimson and his best doublet, the heavy black velvet with the lion’s head studs. He would have donned his chain of golden hands as well, if his father hadn’t stolen it while he lay dying. It was not until he was dressed that he realized the depths of his folly. Seven hells, dwarf, did you lose all your sense along with your nose? Anyone who sees you is going to wonder why you’ve put on your court clothes to visit the eunuch. Cursing, Tyrion stripped and dressed again, in simpler garb; black woolen breeches, an old white tunic, and a faded brown leather jerkin. It doesn’t matter, he told himself as he waited for moonrise. Whatever you wear, you’re still a dwarf. You’ll never be as tall as that knight on the steps, him with his long straight legs and hard stomach and wide manly shoulders.  The moon was peeping over the castle wall when he told Podrick Payne that he was going............
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