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“Tyrion,” Ser Kevan Lannister said wearily, “if you are indeed innocent of Joffrey’s death, you should have no difficulty proving it at trial.”  Tyrion turned from the window. “Who is to judge me?”  “Justice belongs to the throne. The king is dead, but your father remains Hand. Since it is his own son who stands accused and his grandson who was the victim, he has asked Lord Tyrell and Prince Oberyn to sit in judgment with him.”  Tyrion was scarcely reassured. Mace Tyrell had been Joffrey’s goodfather, however briefly, and the Red Viper was... well, a snake. “Will I be allowed to demand trial by battle?”  “I would not advise that.”  “Why not?” It had saved him in the Vale, why not here? “Answer me, Uncle. Will I be allowed a trial by battle, and a champion to prove my innocence?”  “Certainly, if such is your wish. However, you had best know that your sister means to name Ser Gregor Clegane as her champion, in the event of such a trial.”  The bitch checks my moves before I make them. A pity she didn’t choose a Kettleblack. Bronn would make short work of any of the three brothers, but the Mountain That Rides was a kettle of a different color. “I shall need to sleep on this.” I need to speak with Bronn, and soon. He didn’t want to think about what this was like to cost him. Bronn had a lofty notion of what his skin was worth. “Does Cersei have witnesses against me?”  “More every day.”  “Then I must have witnesses of my own.”  “Tell me who you would have, and Ser Addam will send the Watch to bring them to the trial.”  “I would sooner find them myself.”  “You stand accused of regicide and kinslaying. Do you truly imagine you will be allowed to come and go as you please?” Ser Kevan waved at the table. “You have quill, ink, and parchment. Write the names of such witnesses as you require, and I shall do all in my power to produce them, you have my word as a Lannister. But you shall not leave this tower, except to go to trial.”  Tyrion would not demean himself by begging. “Will you permit my squire to come and go? The boy Podrick Payne?”  “Certainly, if that is your wish. I shall send him to you.”  “Do so. Sooner would be better than later, and now would be better than sooner.” He waddled to the writing table. But when he heard the door open, he turned back and said, “Uncle?”  Ser Kevan paused. “Yes?”  “I did not do this.”  “I wish I could believe that, Tyrion.”  When the door closed, Tyrion Lannister pulled himself up into the chair, sharpened a quill, and pulled a blank parchment. Who will speak for me? He dipped his quill in the inkpot.  The sheet was still maiden when Podrick Payne appeared, sometime later. “My lord,” the boy said.  Tyrion put down the quill. “Find Bronn and bring him at once. Tell him there’s gold in it, more gold than he’s ever dreamt of, and see that you don’t return without him.”  “Yes, my lord. I mean, no. I won’t. Return.” He went.  He had not returned by sunset, nor by moonrise. Tyrion fell asleep in the window seat to wake stiff and sore at dawn. A serving man brought porridge and apples to break his fast, with a horn of ale. He ate at the table, the blank parchment before him. An hour later, the serving man returned for the bowl. “Have you seen my squire?” Tyrion asked him. The man shook his head.  Sighing, he turned back to the table, and dipped the quill again. Sansa, he wrote upon the parchment. He sat staring at the name, his teeth clenched so hard they hurt.  Assuming Joffrey had not simply choked to death on a bit of food, which even Tyrion found hard to swallow, Sansa must have poisoned him. Joff practically put his cup down in her lap, and he’d given her ample reason. Any doubts Tyrion might have had vanished when his wife did. One flesh, one heart, one soul. His mouth twisted. She wasted no time proving how much those vows meant to her, did she? Well, what did you expect, dwarf?  And yet... where would Sansa have gotten poison? He could not believe the girl had acted alone in this. Do I really want to find her? Would the judges believe that Tyrion’s child bride had poisoned a king without her husband’s knowledge? I wouldn’t. Cersei would insist that they had done the deed together.  Even so, he gave the parchment to his uncle the next day. Ser Kevan frowned at it. “Lady Sansa is your only witness?”  “I will think of others in time.”  “Best think of them now. The judges mean to begin the trial three days hence.”  “That’s too soon. You have me shut up here under guard, how am I to find witnesses to my innocence?”  “Your sister’s had no difficulty finding witnesses to your guilt.” Ser Kevan rolled up the parchment. “Ser Addam has men hunting for your wife. Varys has offered a hundred stags for word of her whereabouts, and a hundred dragons for the girl herself. If the girl can be found she will be found, and I shall bring her to you. I see no harm in husband and wife sharing the same cell and giving comfort to one another.”  “You are too kind. Have you seen my squire?”  “I sent him to you yesterday. Did he not come?”  “He came,” Tyrion admitted, “and then he went.”  “I shall send him to you again.”  But it was the next morning before Podrick Payne returned. He stepped inside the room hesitantly, with fear written all over his face. Bronn came in behind him. The sellsword knight wore a jerkin studded with silver and a heavy riding cloak, with a pair of fine-tooled leather gloves thrust through his swordbelt.  One look at Bronn’s face gave Tyrion a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. “It took you long enough.”  “The boy begged, or I wouldn’t have come at all. I am expected at Castle Stokeworth for supper.”  “Stokeworth?” Tyrion hopped from the bed. “And pray, what is there for you in Stokeworth?”  “A bride.” Bronn smiled like a wolf contemplating a lost lamb. “I’m to wed Lollys the day after next.”  “Lollys.” Perfect, bloody perfect. Lady Tanda’s lackwit daughter gets a knightly husband and a father of sorts for the bastard in her belly, and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater climbs another rung. It had Cersei’s stinking fingers all over it. “My bitch sister has sold you a lame horse. The girl’s dim-witted.”  “If I wanted wits, Id marry you.”  “Lollys is big with another man’s child.”  “And when she pops him out, I’ll get her big with mine.”  “She’s not even heir to Stokeworth,” Tyrion pointed out. “She has an elder sister. Falyse. A married sister.”  “Married ten years, and still barren,” said Bronn. “Her lord husband shuns her bed. It’s said he prefers virgins.”  “He could prefer goats and it wouldn’t matter. The lands will still pass to his wife when Lady Tanda dies.”  “Unless Falyse should die before her mother.”  Tyrion wondered whether Cersei had any notion of the sort of serpent she’d given Lady Tanda to suckle. And if she does, would she care? “Why are you here, then?”  Bronn shrugged. “You once told me that if anyone ever asked me to sell you out, you’d double the price.”  Yes. “Is it two wives you want, or two castles?”  “One of each would serve. But if you want me to kill Gregor Clegane for you, it had best be a damned big castle.”  The Seven Kingdoms were full of highborn maidens, but even the oldest, poorest, and ugliest spinster in the realm would balk at wedding such lowborn scum as Bronn. Unless she was soft of body and soft of head, with a fatherless child in her belly from having been raped half a hundred times. Lady Tanda had been so desperate to find a husband for Lollys that she had even pursued Tyrion for a time, and that had been before half of King’s Landing enjoyed her. No doubt Cersei had sweetened the offer somehow, and Bronn was a knight now, which made him a suitable match for a younger daughter of a minor house.  “I find myself woefully short of both castles and highborn maidens at the moment,” Tyrion admitted. “But I can offer you gold and gratitude, as before.”  “I have gold. What can I buy with gratitude?”  “You might be surprised. A Lannister pays his debts.”  “Your sister is a Lannister too.”  “My lady wife is heir to Winterfell. Should I emerge from this with my head still on my shoulders, I may one day rule the north in her name. I could carve you out a big piece of it.”  “If and when and might be,” said Bronn. “And it’s bloody cold up there. Lollys is soft, warm, and close. I could be poking her two nights hence.”  “Not a prospect I would relish.”  “Is that so?” Bronn grinned. “Admit it, Imp. Given a choice between fucking Lollys and fighting the Mountain, you’d have your breeches down and cock up before a man could blink.”  He knows me too bloody well. Tyrion tried a different tack. “I’d heard that Ser Gregor was wounded on the Red Fork, and again at Duskendale. The wounds are bound to slow him.”  Bronn looked annoyed. “He was never fast. Only freakish big and freakish strong. I’ll grant you, he’s quicker than you’d expect for a man that size. He has a monstrous long reach, and doesn’t seem to feel blows the way a normal man would.”  “Does he frighten you so much?” asked Tyrion, hoping to provoke him.  “If he didn’t frighten me, I’d be a bloody fool.” Bronn gave a shrug. “Might be I could take him. Dance around him until he was so tired of hacking at me that he couldn’t lift his sword. Get him off his feet somehow. When they’re flat on their backs it don’t matter how tall they are. Even so, it’s chancy. One misstep and I’m dead. Why should I risk it? I like you well enough, ugly little whoreson that you are... but if I fight your battle, I lose either way. Either the Mountain spills my guts, or I kill him and lose Stokeworth. I sell my sword, I don’t give it away. I’m not your bloody brother.”  “No,” said Tyrion sadly. “You’re not.” He waved a hand. “Begone, then. Run to Stokeworth and Lady Lollys. May you find more joy in your marriage bed than I ever found in mine.”  Bronn hesitated at the door. “What will you do, Imp?”  “Kill Gregor myself. Won’t that make for a jolly song?”  “I hope I hear them sing it.” Bronn grinned one last time, and walked out of the door, the castle, and his life.  Pod shuffled his feet. “I’m sorry.”  “Why? is it your fault that Bronn’s an insolent black-hearted rogue? He’s always been an insolent black-hearted rogue. That’s what I liked about him.” Tyrion poured himself a cup of wine and took it to the window seat. Outside the day was grey and rainy, but the prospect was still more cheerful than his. He could send Podrick Payne questing after Shagga, he supposed, but there were so many hiding places in the deep of the kingswood that outlaws often evaded capture for decades. And Pod sometimes has difficulty finding the kitchens when I send him down for cheese. Timett son of Timett would likely be back in the Mountains of the Moon by now. And despite what he’d told Bronn, going up against Ser Gregor Clegane in his own person would be a bigger farce than Joffrey’s jousting dwarfs. He did not intend to die with gales of laughter ringing in his ears. So much for trial by combat.  Ser Kevan paid him another call later that day, and again the day after. Sansa had not been found, his uncle informed him politely. Nor the fool Ser Dontos, who’d vanished the same night. Did Tyrion have any more witnesses he wished to summon? He did not. How do I bloody well prove I didn’t poison the wine, when a thousand people saw me fill Joff‘s cup?  He did not sleep at all that night.  Instead he lay in the dark, staring up at the canopy and counting his ghosts. He saw Tysha smiling as she kissed him, saw Sansa naked and shivering in fear. He saw Joffrey clawing his throat, the blood running down his neck as his face turned black. He saw Cersei’s eyes, Bronn’s wolfish smile, Shae’s wicked grin. Even thought of Shae could not arouse him. He fondled himself, thinking that perhaps if he woke his cock and satisfied it, he might rest more easily afterward, but it was no good.  And then it was dawn, and time for his trial to begin.  It was not Ser Kevan who came for him that morning, but Ser Addam Marbrand with a dozen gold cloaks. Tyrion had broken his fast on boiled eggs, burned bacon, and fried bread, and dressed in his finest. “Ser Addam,” he said. “I had thought my father might send the Kingsguard to escort me to trial. I am still a member of the royal family, am I not?”  “You are, my lord, but I fear that most of the Kingsguard stand witness against you. Lord Tywin felt it would not be proper for them to serve as your guards.”  “Gods forbid we do anything improper. Please, lead on.”  He was to be tried in the throne room, where Joffrey had died. As Ser Addam marched him through the towering bronze doors and down the long carpet, he felt the eyes upon him. Hundreds had crowded in to see him judged. At least he hoped that was why they had come. For all I know, they’re all witnesses against me. He spied Queen Margaery up in the gallery, pale and beautiful in her mourning. Twice wed and twice widowed, and only sixteen. Her mother stood tall to one side of her, her grandmother small on the other, with her ladies in waiting and her father’s household knights packing the rest of the gallery.  The dais still stood beneath the empty iron Throne, though all but one table had been removed. Behind it sat stout Lord Mace Tyrell in a gold mantle over green, and slender Prince Oberyn Martell in flowing robes of striped orange, yellow, and scarlet. Lord Tywin Lannister sat between them. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. The Dornishman and the Highgardener despised each other. If I can find a way to use that...  The High Septon began with a prayer, asking the Father Above to guide them to justice. When he was done the father below leaned forward to say, “Tyrion, did you kill King Joffrey?”  He would not waste a heartbeat. “No.”  “Well, that’s a relief,” said Oberyn Martell dryly.  “Did Sansa Stark do it, then?” Lord Tyrell demanded.  I would have, if I’d been her. Yet wherever Sansa was and whatever her part in this might have been, she remained his wife. He had wrapped the cloak of his protection about her shoulders, though he’d had to stand on a fool’s back to do it. “The gods killed Joffrey. He choked on his pigeon pie.”  Lord Tyrell reddened. “You would blame the bakers?”  “Them, or the pigeons. just leave me out of it.” Tyrion heard nervous laughter, and knew he’d made a mistake. Guard your tongue, you little fool, before it digs your grave.  “There are witnesses against you,” Lord Tywin said. “We shall hear them first. Then you may present your own witnesses. You are to speak only with our leave.”  There was naught that Tyrion could do but nod.  Ser Addam had told it true; the first man ushered in was Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard. “Lord Hand,” he began, after the High Septon had sworn him to speak only truth, “I had the honor to fight beside your son on the bridge of ships. He is a brave man for all his size, and I will not believe he did this thing.”  A murmur went through the hall, and Tyrion wondered what mad game Cersei was playing. Why offer a witness that believes me innocent? He soon learned. Ser Balon spoke reluctantly of how he had pulled Tyrion away from Joffrey on the day of the riot. “He did strike His Grace, that’s so. It was a fit of wroth, no more. A summer storm. The mob near killed us all.”  “In the days of the Targaryens, a man who struck one of the blood royal would lose the hand he struck him with,” observed the Red Viper of Dorne. “Did the dwarf regrow his little hand, or did you White Swords forget your duty?”  “He was of the blood royal himself,” Ser Balon answered. “And the King’s Hand beside.”  “No,” Lord Tywin said. “He was acting Hand, in my stead.”  Ser Meryn Trant was pleased to expand on Ser Balon’s account, when he took his place as witness. “He knocked the king to the ground and began kicking him. He shouted that it was unjust that His Grace had escaped unharmed from the mobs.”  Tyrion began to grasp his sister’s plan. She began with a man known to be honest, and milked him for all he would give. Every witness to follow will tell a worse tale, until I seem as bad as Maegor the Cruel and Aerys the Mad together, with a pinch of Aegon the Unworthy for spice.  Ser Meryn went on to relate how Tyrion had stopped Joffrey’s chastisement of Sansa Stark. “The dwarf asked His Grace if he knew what had happened to Aerys Targaryen. When Ser Boros spoke up in defense of the king, the Imp threatened to have him killed.”  Blount himself came next, to echo that sorry tale. Whatever mislike Ser Boros might harbor toward Cersei for dismissing him from the Kingsguard, he said the words she wanted all the same.  Tyrion could no longer hold his tongue. “Tell the judges what Joffrey was doing, why don’t you?”  The big jowly man glared at him. “You told your savages to kill me if I opened my mouth, that’s what I’ll tell them.”  “Tyrion,” Lord Tywin said. “You are to speak only when we call upon you. Take this for a warning.”  Tyrion subsided, seething.  The Kettleblacks came next, all three of them in turn. Osney and Osfryd told the tale of his supper with Cersei before the Battle of the Blackwater, and of the threats he’d made.  “He told Her Grace that he meant to do her harm,” said Ser Osfryd. “To hurt her.” His brother Osney elaborated. “He said he would wait for a day when she was happy, and make her joy turn to ashes in her mouth.” Neither mentioned Alayaya.  Ser Osmund Kettleblack, a vision of chivalry in immaculate scale armor and white wool cloak, swore that King Joffrey had long known that his uncle Tyrion meant to murder him. “It was the day they gave me the white cloak, my lords,” he told the judges. “That brave boy said to me, ‘Good Ser Osmund, guard me well, for my uncle loves me not. He means to be king in my place.”  That was more than Tyrion could stomach. “Liar!” He took two steps forward before the gold cloaks dragged him back.  Lord Tywin frowned. “Must we have you ............
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