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 Nothing remained beyond the King’s Gate but mud and ashes and bits of burned bone, yet already there were people living in the shadow of the city walls, and others selling fish from barrows and barrels. Tyrion felt their eyes on him as he rode past; chilly eyes, angry and unsympathetic. No one dared speak to him, or try to bar his way; not with Bronn beside him in oiled black mail. If I were alone, though, they would pull me down and smash my face in with a cobblestone, as they did for Preston Greenfield.  “They come back quicker than the rats,” he complained. “We burned them out once, you’d think they’d take that as a lesson.”  “Give me a few dozen gold cloaks and I’ll kill them all,” said Bronn. “Once they’re dead they don’t come back.”  “No, but others come in their places. Leave them be... but if they start throwing up hovels against the wall again, pull them down at once. The war’s not done yet, no matter what these fools may think.” He spied the Mud Gate up ahead. “I have seen enough for now. We’ll return on the morrow with the guild masters to go over their plans.” He sighed. Well, I burned most of this, I suppose it’s only just that I rebuild it.  That task was to have been his uncle’s, but solid, steady, tireless Ser Kevan Lannister had not been himself since the raven had come from Riverrun with word of his son’s murder. Willem’s twin Martyn had been taken captive by Robb Stark as well, and their elder brother Lancel was still abed, beset by an ulcerating wound that would not heal. With one son dead and two more in mortal danger, Ser Kevan was consumed by grief and fear. Lord Tywin had always relied on his brother, but now he had no choice but to turn again to his dwarf son.  The cost of rebuilding was going to be ruinous, but there was no help for that. King’s Landing was the realm’s principal harbor, rivaled only by Oldtown. The river had to be reopened, and the sooner the better. And where am I going to find the bloody coin? It was almost enough to make him miss Littlefinger, who had sailed north a fortnight past. While he beds Lysa Arryn and rules the Vale beside her, I get to clean up the mess he left behind him. Though at least his father was giving him significant work to do. He won’t name me heir to Casterly Rock, but he’ll make use of me wherever he can, Tyrion thought, as a captain of gold cloaks waved them through the Mud Gate.  The Three Whores still dominated the market square inside the gate, but they stood idle now, and the boulders and barrels of pitch had all been trundled away. There were children climbing the towering wooden structures, swarming up like monkeys in roughspun to perch on the throwing arms and hoot at each other.  “Remind me to tell Ser Addam to post some gold cloaks here,” Tyrion told Bronn as they rode between two of the trebuchets. “Some fool boy’s like to fall off and break his back.” There was a shout from above, and a clod of manure exploded on the ground a foot in front of them. Tyrion’s mare reared and almost threw him. “On second thoughts,” he said when he had the horse in hand, “let the poxy brats splatter on the cobbles like overripe melons.”  He was in a black mood, and not just because a few street urchins wanted to pelt him with dung. His marriage was a daily agony. Sansa Stark remained a maiden, and half the castle seemed to know it. When they had saddled up this morning, he’d heard two of the stableboys sniggering behind his back. He could almost imagine that the horses were sniggering as well. He’d risked his skin to avoid the bedding ritual, hoping to preserve the privacy of his bedchamber, but that hope had been dashed quick enough. Either Sansa had been stupid enough to confide in one of her bedmaids, every one of whom was a spy for Cersei, or Varys and his little birds were to blame.  What difference did it make? They were laughing at him all the same. The only person in the Red Keep who didn’t seem to find his marriage a source of amusement was his lady wife.  Sansa’s misery was deepening every day. Tyrion would gladly have broken through her courtesy to give her what solace he might, but it was no good. No words would ever make him fair in her eyes. Or any less a Lannister. This was the wife they had given him, for all the rest of his life, and she hated him.  And their nights together in the great bed were another source of torment. He could no longer bear to sleep naked, as had been his custom. His wife was too well trained ever to say an unkind word, but the revulsion in her eyes whenever she looked on his body was more than he could bear. Tyrion had commanded Sansa to wear a sleeping shift as well. I want her, he realized. I want Winterfell, yes, but I want her as well, child or woman or whatever she is. I want to comfort her. I want to hear her laugh. I want her to come to me willingly, to bring me her joys and her sorrows and her lust. His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. Yes, and I want to be tall as Jaime and as strong as Ser Gregor the Mountain too, for all the bloody good it does.  Unbidden, his thoughts went to Shae. Tyrion had not wanted her to hear the news from any lips but his own, so he had commanded Varys to bring her to him the night before his wedding. They met again in the eunuch’s chambers, and when Shae began to undo the laces of his jerkin, he’d caught her by the wrist and pushed her away. “Wait,” he said, “there is something you must hear. On the morrow I am to be wed...”  “... to Sansa Stark. I know.”  He was speechless for an instant. Even Sansa did not know, not then. “How could you know? Did Varys tell you?”  “Some page was telling Ser Tallad about it when I took Lollys to the sept. He had it from this serving girl who heard Ser Kevan talking to your father.” She wriggled free of his grasp and pulled her dress up over her head. As ever, she was naked underneath. “I don’t care. She’s only a little girl. You’ll give her a big belly and come back to me.”  Some part of him had hoped for less indifference. Had hoped, he jeered bitterly, but now you know better, dwarf. Shae is all the love you’re ever like to have.  Muddy Way was crowded, but soldiers and townfolk alike made way for the Imp and his escort. Hollow-eyed children swarmed underfoot, some looking up in silent appeal whilst others begged noisily. Tyrion pulled a big fistful of coppers from his purse and tossed them in the air, and the children went running for them, shoving and shouting. The lucky ones might be able to buy a heel of stale bread tonight. He had never seen markets so crowded, and for all the food the Tyrells were bringing in, prices remained shockingly high. Six coppers for a melon, a silver stag for a bushel of corn, a dragon for a side of beef or six skinny piglets. Yet there seemed no lack of buyers. Gaunt men and haggard women crowded around every wagon and stall, while others even more ragged looked on sullenly from the mouths of alleys.  “This way,” Bronn said, when they reached the foot of the Hook. “If you still mean to... ?”  “I do.” The riverfront had made a convenient excuse, but Tyrion had another purpose today. It was not a task he relished, but it must be done.  They turned away from Aegon’s High Hill, into the maze of smaller streets that clustered around the foot of Visenya’s. Bronn led the way. Once or twice Tyrion glanced back over his shoulder to see if they were being followed, but there was nothing to be seen except the usual rabble: a carter beating his horse, an old woman throwing nightsoil from her window, two little boys fighting with sticks, three gold cloaks escorting a captive... they all looked innocent, but any one of them could be his undoing. Varys had informers everywhere.  They turned at a corner, and again at the next, and rode slowly through a crowd of women at a well. Bronn led him along a curving wynd, through an alley, under a broken archway. They cut through the rubble where a house had burned and walked their horses up a shallow flight of stone steps. The buildings were close and poor. Bronn halted at the mouth of a crooked alley, too narrow for two to ride abreast. “There’s two jags and then a dead end. The sink is in the cellar of the last building.”  Tyrion swung down off his horse. “See that no one enters or leaves till I return. This won’t take long.” His hand went into his cloak, to make certain the gold was still there in the hidden pocket. Thirty dragons. A bloody fortune, for a man like him. He waddled up the alley quickly, anxious to be done with this.  The wine sink was a dismal place, dark and damp, walls pale with niter, the ceiling so low that Bronn would have had to duck to keep from hitting his head on the beams. Tyrion Lannister had no such problem. At this hour, the front room was empty but for a dead-eyed woman who sat on a stool behind a rough plank bar. She handed him a cup of sour wine and said, “In the back.”  The back room was even darker. A flickering candle burned on a low table, beside a flagon of wine. The man behind it scarce looked a danger; a short man - though all men were tall to Tyrion - with thinning brown hair, pink cheeks, and a little pot pushing at the bone buttons of his doeskin jerkin. In his soft hands he held a twelve-stringed woodharp more deadly than a longsword.  Tyrion sat across from him. “Symon Silver Tongue.”  The man inclined his head. He was bald on top. “My lord Hand,” he said.  “You mistake me. My father is the King’s Hand. I am no longer even a finger, I fear.”  “You shall rise again, I am sure. A man like you. My sweet lady Shae tells me you are newlywed. Would that you had sent for me earlier. I should have been honored to sing at your feast.”  “The last thing my wife needs is more songs,” said Tyrion. “As for Shae, we both know she is no lady, and I would thank you never to speak her name aloud.”  “As the Hand commands,” Symon said.  The last time Tyrion had seen the man, a sharp word had been enough to set him sweating, but it seemed the singer had found some courage somewhere. Most like in that flagon. Or perhaps Tyrion himself was to blame for this new boldness. I threatened him, but nothing ever came of the threat, so now he believes me toothless. He sighed. “I am told you are a very gifted singer.”  “You are most kind to say so, my lord.”  Tyrion gave him a smile. “I think it is time you brought your music to the Free Cities. They are great lovers of song in Braavos and Pentos and Lys, and generous with those who please them.” He took a sip of wine. It was foul stuff, but strong. “A tour of all nine cities would be best. You wouldn’t want to deny anyone the joy of hearing you sing. A year in each should suffice.” He reached inside his cloak, to where the gold was hidden. “With the port closed, you will need to go to Duskendale to take ship, but my man Bronn will find a horse for you, and I would be honored if you would let me pay your passage...”  “But my lord,” the man objected, “you have never heard me sing. Pray listen a moment.” His fingers moved deftly over the strings of the woodharp, and soft music filled the cellar. Symon began to sing. He rode through the streets of the city, down from his hill on high, O’er the wynds and the steps and the cobbles, he rode to a woman’s sigh. For she was his secret treasure, she was his shame and his bliss. And a chain and a keep are nothing, compared to a woman’s kiss.  “There’s more,” the man said as he broke off, “Oh, a good deal more. The refrain is especially nice, I think. For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm...”  “Enough.” Tyrion slid his fingers from his cloak, empty. “That’s not a song I would care to hear again. Ever.”  “No?” Symon Silver Tongue put his harp aside and took a sip of wine. “A pity. Still, each man has his song, as my old master used to say when he was teaching me to play. Others might like my tune better. The queen, perhaps. Or your lord father.”  Tyrion rubbed the scar over his nose, and said, “My father has no time for singers, and my sister is not as generous as one might think. A wise man could earn more from silence than from song.” He could not put it much plainer than that.  Symon seemed to take his meaning quick enough. “You will find my price modest, my lord.”  “That’s good to know.” This would not be a matter of thirty golden dragons, Tyrion feared. “Tell me.”  “At King Joffrey’s wedding feast,” the man said, “there is to be a tournament of singers.”  “And jugglers, and jesters, and dancing bears.”  “Only one dancing bear, my lord,” said Symon, who had plainly attended Cersei’s arrangements with far more interest than Tyrion had, “but seven singers. Galyeon of Cuy, Bethany Fair-fingers, Aemon Costayne, Alaric of Eysen, Hamish the Harper, Collio Quaynis, and Orland of Oldtown will compete for a gilded lute with silver strings... yet unaccountably, no invitation has been forthcoming for one who is master of them all.”  “Let me guess. Symon Silver Tongue?”  Symon smiled modestly. “I am prepared to prove the truth of my boast before king and court. Hamish is old, and oft forgets what he is singing. And Collio, with that absurd Tyroshi accent! If you understand one word in three, count yourself fortunate.”  “My sweet sister has arranged the feast. Even if I could secure you this invitation, it might look queer. Seven kingdoms, seven vows, seven challenges, seventy-seven dishes... but eight singers? What would the High Septon think?”  “You did not strike me as a pious man, my lord.”  “Piety is not the point. Certain forms must be observed.”  Symon took a sip of wine. “Still... a singer’s life is not without peril. We ply our trade in alehouses and wine sinks, before unruly drunkards. If one of your sister’s seven should suffer some mishap, I hope you might consider me to fill his place.” He smiled slyly, inordinately pleased with himself .  “Six singers would be as unfortunate as eight, to be sure. I will inquire after the health of Cersei’s seven. If any of them should be indisposed, my man Bronn will find you.”  “Very good, my lord.” Symon might have left it at that, but flushed with triumph, he added, “I shall sing the night of King Joffrey’s wedding. Should it happen that I am called to court, why, I will want to offer the king my very best compositions, songs I have sung a thousand times that are certain to please. If I should find myself singing in some dreary winesink, though... well, that would be an apt occasion to try my new song. For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm.”  “That will not be necessary,” said Tyrion. “You have my word as a Lannister, Bronn will call upon you soon.”  “Very good, my lord.” The balding kettle-bellied singer took up his woodharp again.  Bronn was waiting with the horses at the mouth of the alley. He helped Tyrion into his saddle. “When do I take the man to Duskendale?”  “You don’t.” Tyrion turned his horse. “Give him three days, then inform him that Hamish the Harper has broken his arm. Tell him that his clothes will never serve for court, so he must be fitted for new garb at once. He’ll come with you quick enough.” He grimaced. “You may want his tongue, I understand it’s made of silver. The rest of him should never be found.”  Bronn grinned. “There’s a pot shop I know in Flea Bottom makes a savory bowl of brown. All kinds of meat in it, I hear.”  “Make certain I never eat there.” Tyrion spurred to a trot. He wanted a bath, and the hotter the better.  Even that modest pleasure was denied him, however; no sooner had he returned to his chambers than Podrick Payne informed him that he had been summoned to the Tower of the Hand. “His lordship wants to see you. The Hand. Lord Tywin.”  “I recall who the Hand is, Pod,” Tyrion said. “I lost my nose, not my wits.”  Bronn laughed. “Don’t bite the boy’s head off now.”  “Why not? He never uses it.” Tyrion wondered what he’d done now. Or more like, what I have failed to do. A summons from Lord Tywin always had teeth; his father never sent for him just to share a meal or a cup of wine, that was for certa............
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