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Lord Tywin’s chain of hands made a golden glitter against the deep wine velvet of his tunic. The Lords Tyrell, Redwyne, and Rowan gathered round him as he entered. He greeted each in turn, spoke a quiet word to Varys, kissed the High Septon’s ring and Cersei’s cheek, clasped the hand of Grand Maester Pycelle, and seated himself in the king’s place at the head of the long table, between his daughter and his brother.  Tyrion had claimed Pycelle’s old place at the foot, propped up by cushions so he could gaze down the length of the table. Dispossessed, Pycelle had moved up next to Cersei, about as far from the dwarf as he could get without claiming the king’s seat. The Grand Maester was a shambling skeleton, leaning heavily on a twisted cane and shaking as he walked, a few white hairs sprouting from his long chicken’s neck in place of his once-luxuriant white beard. Tyrion gazed at him without remorse.  The others had to scramble for seats: Lord Mace Tyrell, a heavy, robust man with curling brown hair and a spadeshaped beard well salted with white; Paxter Redwyne of the Arbor, stoop-shouldered and thin, his bald head fringed by tufts of orange hair; Mathis Rowan, Lord of Goldengrove, clean-shaven, stout, and sweating; the High Septon, a frail man with wispy white chin hair. Too many strange faces, Tyrion thought, too many new players. The game changed while I lay rotting in my bed, and no one will tell me the rules.  Oh, the lords had been courteous enough, though he could tell how uncomfortable it made them to look at him. “That chain of yours, that was cunning,” Mace Tyrell had said in a jolly tone, and Lord Redwyne nodded and said, “Quite so, quite so, my lord of Highgarden speaks for all of us,” and very cheerfully too.  Tell it to the people of this city, Tyrion thought bitterly. Tell it to the bloody singers, with their songs of Renly’s ghost.  His uncle Kevan had been the warmest, going so far as to kiss his cheek and say, “Lancel has told me how brave you were, Tyrion. He speaks very highly of you.”  He’d better, or I’ll have a few things to say of him. He made himself smile and say, “My good cousin is too kind. His wound is healing, I trust?”  Ser Kevan frowned. “One day he seems stronger, the next... it is worrisome. Your sister often visits his sickbed, to lift his spirits and pray for him.”  But is she praying that he lives, or dies? Cersei had made shameless use of their cousin, both in and out of bed; a little secret she no doubt hoped Lancel would carry to his grave now that Father was here and she no longer had need of him. Would she go so far as to murder him, though? To look at her today, you would never suspect Cersei was capable of such ruthlessness. She was all charm, flirting with Lord Tyrell as they spoke of Joffrey’s wedding feast, complimenting Lord Redwyne on the valor of his twins, softening gruff Lord Rowan with jests and smiles, making pious noises at the High Septon. “Shall we begin with the wedding arrangements?” she asked as Lord Tywin took his seat.  “No,” their father said. “With the war. Varys.”  The eunuch smiled a silken smile. “I have such delicious tidings for you all, my lords. Yesterday at dawn our brave Lord Randyll caught Robett Glover outside Duskendale and trapped him against the sea. Losses were heavy on both sides, but in the end our loyal men prevailed. Ser Helman Tallhart is reported dead, with a thousand others. Robett Glover leads the survivors back toward Harrenhal in bloody disarray, little dreaming he will find valiant Ser Gregor and his stalwarts athwart his path.”  “Gods be praised!” said Paxter Redwyne. “A great victory for King Joffrey!”  What did Joffrey have to do with it? thought Tyrion.  “And a terrible defeat for the north, certainly,” observed Littlefinger, “yet one in which Robb Stark played no part. The Young Wolf remains unbeaten in the field.”  “What do we know of Stark’s plans and movements?” asked Mathis Rowan, ever blunt and to the point.  “He has run back to Riverrun with his plunder, abandoning the castles he took in the west,” announced Lord Tywin. “Our cousin Ser Daven is reforming the remnants of his late father’s army at Lannisport. When they are ready he shall join Ser Forley Prester at the Golden Tooth. As soon as the Stark boy starts north, Ser Forley and Ser Daven will descend on Riverrun.”  “You are certain Lord Stark means to go north?” Lord Rowan asked. “Even with the ironmen at Moat Cailin?”  Mace Tyrell spoke up. “Is there anything as pointless as a king without a kingdom? No, it’s plain, the boy must abandon the riverlands, join his forces to Roose Bolton’s once more, and throw all his strength against Moat Cailin. That is what I would do.”  Tyrion had to bite his tongue at that. Robb Stark had won more battles in a year than the Lord of Highgarden had in twenty. Tyrell’s reputation rested on one indecisive victory over Robert Baratheon at Ashford, in a battle largely won by Lord Tarly’s van before the main host had even arrived. The siege of Storm’s End, where Mace Tyrell actually did hold the command, had dragged on a year to no result, and after the Trident was fought, the Lord of Highgarden had meekly dipped his banners to Eddard Stark.  “I ought to write Robb Stark a stern letter,” Littlefinger was saying. “I understand his man Bolton is stabling goats in my high hall, it’s really quite unconscionable.”  Ser Kevan Lannister cleared his throat. “As regards the Starks... Balon Greyjoy, who now styles himself King of the Isles and the North, has written to us offering terms of alliance.”  “He ought to be offering fealty,” snapped Cersei. “By what right does he call himself king?”  “By right of conquest,” Lord Tywin said. “King Balon has strangler’s fingers round the Neck. Robb Stark’s heirs are dead, Winterfell is fallen, and the ironmen hold Moat Cailin, Deepwood Motte, and most of the Stony Shore. King Balon’s longships command the sunset sea, and are well placed to menace Lannisport, Fair Isle, and even Highgarden, should we provoke him.”  “And if we accept this alliance?” inquired Lord Mathis Rowan. “What terms does he propose?”  “That we recognize his kingship and grant him everything north of the Neck.”  Lord Redwyne laughed. “What is there north of the Neck that any sane man would want? If Greyjoy will trade swords and sails for stone and snow, I say do it, and count ourselves lucky.”  “Truly,” agreed Mace Tyrell. “That’s what I would do. Let King Balon finish the northmen whilst we finish Stannis.”  Lord Tywin’s face gave no hint as to his feelings. “There is Lysa Arryn to deal with as well. Jon Arryn’s widow, Hoster Tully’s daughter, Catelyn Stark’s sister... whose husband was conspiring with Stannis Baratheon at the time of his death.”  “Oh,” said Mace Tyrell cheerfully, “women have no stomach for war. Let her be, I say, she’s not like to trouble us.”  “I agree,” said Redwyne. “The Lady Lysa took no part in the fighting, nor has she committed any overt acts of treason.”  Tyrion stirred. “She did throw me in a cell and put me on trial for my life,” he pointed out, with a certain amount of rancor. “Nor has she returned to King’s Landing to swear fealty to Joff, as she was commanded. My lords, grant me the men, and I will sort out Lysa Arryn.” He could think of nothing he would enjoy more, except perhaps strangling Cersei. Sometimes he still dreamed of the Eyrie’s sky cells, and woke drenched in cold sweat.  Mace Tyrell’s smile was jovial, but behind it Tyrion sensed contempt. “Perhaps you’d best leave the fighting to fighters,” said the Lord of Highgarden. “Better men than you have lost great armies in the Mountains of the Moon, or shattered them against the Bloody Gate. We know your worth, my lord, no need to tempt fate.”  Tyrion pushed off his cushions, bristling, but his father spoke before he could lash back. “I have other tasks in mind for Tyrion. I believe Lord Petyr may hold the key to the Eyrie.”  “Oh, I do,” said Littleflnger, “I have it here between my legs.” There was mischief in his grey-green eyes. “My lords, with your leave, I propose to travel to the Vale and there woo and win Lady Lysa Arryn. Once I am her consort, I shall deliver you the Vale of Arryn without a drop of blood being spilled.”  Lord Rowan looked doubtful. “Would Lady Lysa have you?”  “She’s had me a few times before, Lord Mathis, and voiced no complaints.”  “Bedding,” said Cersei, “is not wedding. Even a cow like Lysa Arryn might be able to grasp the difference.”  “To be sure. It would not have been fitting for a daughter of Riverrun to marry one so far below her.” Littlefinger spread his hands. “Now, though... a match between the Lady of the Eyrie and the Lord of Harrenhal is not so unthinkable, is it?”  Tyrion noted the look that passed between Paxter Redwyne and Mace Tyrell. “It might serve,” Lord Rowan said, “if you are certain that you can keep the woman loyal to the King’s Grace.”  “My lords,” pronounced the High Septon, “autumn is upon us, and all men of good heart are weary of war. If Lord Baelish can bring the Vale back into the king’s peace without more shedding of blood, the gods will surely bless him.”  “But can he?” asked Lord Redwyne. “Jon Arryn’s son is Lord of the Eyrie now. The Lord Robert.”  “Only a boy,” said Littleflnger. “I will see that he grows to be Joffrey’s most loyal subject, and a fast friend to us all.”  Tyrion studied the slender man with the pointed beard and irreverent grey-green eyes. Lord of Harrenhal an empty honor? Bugger that, Father. Even if he never sets foot in the castle, the title makes this match possible, as he’s known all along.  “We have no lack of foes,” said Ser Kevan Lannister. “If the Eyrie can be kept out of the war, all to the good. I am of a mind to see what Lord Petyr can accomplish.”  Ser Kevan was his brother’s vanguard in council, Tyrion knew from long experience; he never had a thought that Lord Tywin had not had first. It has all been settled beforehand, he concluded, and this discussion’s no more than show.  The sheep were bleating their agreement, unaware of how neatly they’d been shorn, so it fell to Tyrion to object. “How will the crown pay its debts without Lord Petyr? He is our wizard of coin, and we have no one to replace him.”  Littlefinger smiled. “My little friend is too kind. All I do is count coppers, as King Robert used to say. Any clever tradesman could do as well... and a Lannister, blessed with the golden touch of Casterly Rock, will no doubt far surpass me.”  “A Lannister?” Tyrion had a bad feeling about this.  Lord Tywin’s gold-flecked eyes met his son’s mismatched ones. “You are admirably suited to the task, I believe.”  “Indeed!” Ser Kevan said heartily. “I’ve no doubt you’ll make a splendid master of coin, Tyrion.”  Lord Tywin turned back to Littlefinger. “If Lysa Arryn will take you for a husband and return to the king’s peace, we shall restore the Lord Robert to the honor of Warden of the East. How soon might you leave?”  “On the morrow, if the winds permit. There’s a Braavosi galley standing out past the chain, taking on cargo by boat. The Merling King. I’ll see her captain about a berth.”  “You will miss the king’s wedding,” said Mace Tyrell.  Petyr Baelish gave a shrug. “Tides and brides wait on no man, my lord. Once the autumn storms begin the voyage will be much more hazardous. Drowning would definitely diminish my charms as a bridegroom.”  Lord Tyrell chuckled. “True. Best you do not linger.”  “May the gods speed you on your way,” the High Septon said. “All King’s Landing shall pray for your success.”  Lord Redwyne pinched at his nose. “May we return to the matter of the Greyjoy alliance? In my view, there is much to be said for it. Greyjoy’s longships will augment my own fleet and give us sufficient strength at sea to assault Dragonstone and end Stannis Baratheon’s pretensions.”  “King Balon’s longships are occupied for the nonce,” Lord Tywin said politely, “as are we. Greyjoy demands half the kingdom as the price of alliance, but what will he do to earn it? Fight the Starks? He is doing that already. Why should we pay for what he has given us for free? The best thing to do about our lord of Pyke is nothing, in my view. Granted enough time, a better option may well present itself. One that does not require the king to give up half his kingdom.”  Tyrion watched his father closely. There’s something he’s not saying. He remembered those important letters Lord Tywin had been writing, the night Tyrion had demanded Casterly Rock. What was it he said? Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens... He wondered who the “better option” was, and what sort of price he was demanding.  “Perhaps we ought move on to the wedding,” Ser Kevan said.  The High Septon spoke of the preparations being made at the Great Sept of Baelor, and Cersei detailed the plans she had been making for the feast. They would feed a thousand in the throne room, but many more outside in the yards. The outer and middle wards would be tented in silk, with tables of food and casks of ale for all those who could not be accommodated within the hall.  “Your Grace,” said Grand Maester Pycelle, “in regard to the number of guests... we have had a raven from Sunspear. Three hundred Dornishmen are riding toward King’s Landing as we speak, and hope to arrive before the wedding.”  “How do they come?” asked Mace Tyrell gruffly. “They have not asked leave to cross my lands.” His thick neck had turned a dark red, Tyrion noted. Dornishmen and Highgardeners had never had great love for one another; over the centuries, they had fought border wars beyond count, and raided back and forth across mountains and marches even when at peace. The enmity had waned a bit after Dorne had become part of the Seven Kingdoms... until the Dornish prince they called the Red Viper had crippled the young heir of Highgarden in a tourney. This could be ticklish, the dwarf thought, waiting to see how his father would handle it.  “Prince Doran comes at my son’s invitation,” Lord Tywin said calmly, “not only to join in our celebration, but to claim his seat on this council, and the justice Robert denied him for the murder of his sister Elia and her children.”  Tyrion watched the faces of the Lords Tyrell, Redwyne, and Rowan, wondering if any of the three would be bold enough to say, “But Lord Tywin, wasn’t it you who presented the bodies to Robert, all wrapped up in Lannister cloaks?” None of them did, but it was there on their faces all the same. Redwyne does not give a fig, he thought, but Rowan looks fit to gag.  “When the king is wed to your Margaery and Myrcella to Prince Trystane, we shall all be one great House,” Ser Kevan reminded Mace Tyrell.  “The enmities of the past should remain there, would you not agree, my lord?”  “This is my daughter’s wedding.”  “- and my grandson’s,” said Lord Tywin firmly. “No place for old quarrels, surely?”  “I have no quarrel with Doran Martell,” insisted Lord Tyrell, though his tone was more than a little grudging. “If he wishes to cross the Reach in peace, he need only ask my leave.”  Small chance of that, thought Tyrion. He’ll climb the Boneway, turn east near Summerhall, and come up the kingsroad.  “Three hundred Dornishmen need not trouble our plans,” said Cersei. “We can feed the men-at-arms in the yard, squeeze some extra benches into the throne room for the lordlings and highborn knights, and find Prince Doran a place of honor on the dais.”  Not by me, was the message Tyrion saw in Mace Tyrell’s eyes, but the Lord of Highgarden made no reply but a curt nod.  “Perhaps we can move to a more pleasant task,” said Lord Tywin. “The fruits of victory await division.”  “What could be sweeter?” said Littlefinger, who had already swallowed his own fruit, Harrenhal.  Each lord had his own demands; this castle and that village, tracts of lands, a small river, a forest, the wardship of certain minors left fatherless by the battle. Fortunately, these fruits were plentiful, and there were orphans and castles for all. Varys had lists. Forty-seven lesser lordlings and six hundred nineteen knights had lost their lives beneath the fiery heart of Stannis and his Lord of Light, along with several thousand common men-at-arms. Traitors all, their heirs were disinherited, their lands and castles granted to those who had proved more loyal.  Highgarden reaped the richest harvest. Tyrion eyed Mace Tyrell’s broad belly and thought, He has a prodigious appetite, this one. Tyrell demanded the lands and castles of Lord Alester Florent, his own bannerman, who’d had the singular ill judgment to back first Renly and then Stannis. Lord Tywin was pleased to oblige. Brightwater Keep and all its lands and incomes were granted to Lord Tyrell’s second son, Ser Garlan, transforming him into a great lord in the blink of an eye. His elder brother, of course, stood to inherit Highgarden itself.  Lesser tracts were granted to Lord Rowan, and set aside for Lord Tarly, Lady Oakheart, Lord Hightower, and other worthies not present. Lord Redwyne asked only for thirty years’ remission of the taxes that Littlefinger and his wine factors had levied on certain of the Arbor’s finest vintages. When that was granted, he pronounced himself well satisfied and suggested that they send for a cask of Arbor gold, to toast good King Joffrey and his wise and benevolent Hand. At that Cersei lost patience.  “It’s swords Joff needs, not toasts,” she snapped. “His realm is still plagued with would-be usurpers and self-styled kings.”  “But not for long, I think,” said Varys unctuously.  “A few more items remain, my lords.” Ser Kevan consulted his papers. “Ser Addam has found some crystals from the High Septon’s crown. It appears certain now that the thieves broke up the crystals and melted down the gold.”  “Our Father Above knows their guilt and will sit in judgment on them all,” the High Septon said piously.  “No doubt he will,” said Lord Tywin. “All the same, you must be crowned at the king’s wedding. Cersei, summon your goldsmiths, we must see to a replacement.” He did not wait for her reply, but turned at once to Varys. “You have reports?”  The eunuch drew a parchment from his sleeve. “A kraken has been seen off the Fingers.” He giggled. “Not a Greyjoy, mind you, a true kraken. It attacked an Ibbenese whaler and pulled it under. There is fighting on the Stepstones, and a new war between Tyrosh and Lys seems likely. Both hope to win Myr as ally. Sailors back from the jade Sea report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth, and is the wonder of that city -”  “Dragons and krakens do not interest me, regardless of the number of their heads,” said Lord Tywin. “Have your whisperers perchance found some trace of my brother’s son?”  “Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad.” Varys sounded close to tears.  “Tywin,” Ser Kevan said, before Lord Tywin could vent his obvious displeasure, “some of the gold cloaks who deserted during the battle have drifted back to barracks, thinking to take up duty once again. Ser Addam wishes to know what to do with them.”  “They might have endangered Joff with their cowardice,” Cersei said at once. “I want them put to death.”  Varys sighed. “They have surely earned death, Your Grace, none can deny it. And yet, perhaps we might be wiser to send them to the Night’s Watch. We have had disturbing mes............
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