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When dawn broke, he found he could not face the thought of food. By evenfall I may stand condemned. His belly was acid with bile, and his nose itched. Tyrion scratched at it with the point of his knife. One last witness to endure, then my turn. But what to do? Deny everything? Accuse Sansa and Ser Dontos? Confess, in the hope of spending the rest of his days on the Wall? Let the dice fly and pray the Red Viper could defeat Ser Gregor Clegane?  Tyrion stabbed listlessly at a greasy grey sausage, wishing it were his sister. It is bloody cold on the Wall, but at least I would be shut of Cersei. He did not think he would make much of a ranger, but the Night’s Watch needed clever men as well as strong ones. Lord Commander Mormont had said as much, when Tyrion had visited Castle Black. There are those inconvenient vows, though. It would mean the end of his marriage and whatever claim he might ever have made for Casterly Rock, but he did not seem destined to enjoy either in any case. And he seemed to recall that there was a brothel in a nearby village.  It was not a life he’d ever dreamed of, but it was life. And all he had to do to earn it was trust in his father, stand up on his little stunted legs, and say, “Yes, I did it, I confess.” That was the part that tied his bowels in knots. He almost wished he had done it, since it seemed he must suffer for it anyway.  “My lord?” said Podrick Payne. “They’re here, my lord. Ser Addam. And the gold cloaks. They wait without.”  “Pod, tell me true... do you think I did it?”  The boy hesitated. When he tried to speak, all he managed to produce was a weak sputter.  I am doomed. Tyrion sighed. “No need to answer. You’ve been a good squire to me. Better than I deserved. Whatever happens, I thank you for your leal service.”  Ser Addam Marbrand waited at the door with six gold cloaks. He had nothing to say this morning, it seemed. Another good man who thinks me a kinslayer. Tyrion summoned all the dignity he could find and waddled down the steps. He could feel them all watching him as he crossed the yard; the guards on the walls, the grooms by the stables, the scullions and washerwomen and serving girls. Inside the throne room, knights and lordlings moved aside to let them through, and whispered to their ladies.  No sooner had Tyrion taken his place before the judges than another group of gold cloaks led in Shae.  A cold hand tightened round his heart. Varys betrayed her, he thought. Then he remembered. No. I betrayed her myself. I should have left her with Lollys. Of course they’d question Sansa’s maids, I’d do the same. Tyrion rubbed at the slick scar where his nose had been, wondering why Cersei had bothered. Shae knows nothing that can hurt me.  “They plotted it together,” she said, this girl he’d loved. “The Imp and Lady Sansa plotted it after the Young Wolf died. Sansa wanted revenge for her brother and Tyrion meant to have the throne. He was going to kill his sister next, and then his own lord father, so he could be Hand for Prince Tommen. But after a year or so, before Tommen got too old, he would have killed him too, so as to take the crown for his own head.”  “How could you know all this?” demanded Prince Oberyn. “Why would the Imp divulge such plans to his wife’s maid?”  “I overheard some, m’lord,” said Shae, “and m’lady let things slip too. But most I had from his own lips. I wasn’t only Lady Sansa’s maid. I was his whore, all the time he was here in King’s Landing. On the morning of the wedding, he dragged me down where they keep the dragon skulls and fucked me there with the monsters all around. And when I cried, he said I ought to be more grateful, that it wasn’t every girl who got to be the king’s whore. That was when he told me how he meant to be king. He said that poor boy Joffrey would never know his bride the way he was knowing me.” She started sobbing then. “I never meant to be a whore, m’lords. I was to be married. A squire, he was, and a good brave boy, gentle born. But the Imp saw me at the Green Fork and put the boy I meant to marry in the front rank of the van, and after he was killed he sent his wildlings to bring me to his tent. Shagga, the big one, and Timett with the burned eye. He said if I didn’t pleasure him, he’d give me to them, so I did. Then he brought me to the city, so I’d be close when he wanted me. He made me do such shameful things...”  Prince Oberyn looked curious. “What sorts of things?”  “Unspeakable things.” As the tears rolled slowly down that pretty face, no doubt every man in the hall wanted to take Shae in his arms and comfort her. “With my mouth and... other parts, m’lord. All my parts. He used me every way there was, and... he used to make me tell him how big he was. My giant, I had to call him, my giant of Lannister.”  Oswald Kettleblack was the first to laugh. Boros and Meryn joined in, then Cersei, Ser Loras, and more lords and ladies than he could count. The sudden gale of mirth made the rafters ring and shook the Iron Throne. “It’s true,” Shae protested. “My giant of Lannister.” The laughter swelled twice as loud. Their mouths were twisted in merriment, their bellies shook. Some laughed so hard that snot flew from their nostrils.  I saved you all, Tyrion thought. I saved this vile city and all your worthless lives. There were hundreds in the throne room, every one of them laughing but his father. Or so it seemed. Even the Red Viper chortled, and Mace Tyrell looked like to bust a gut, but Lord Tywin Lannister sat between them as if made of stone, his fingers steepled beneath his chin.  Tyrion pushed forward. “MY LORDS!” he shouted. He had to shout, to have any hope of being heard.  His father raised a hand. Bit by bit, the hall grew silent.  “Get this lying whore out of my sight,” said Tyrion, “and I will give you your confession.”  Lord Tywin nodded, gestured. Shae looked half in terror as the gold cloaks formed up around her. Her eyes met Tyrion’s as they marched her from the wall. Was it shame he saw there, or fear? He wondered what Cersei had promised her. You will get the gold or jewels, whatever it was you asked for, he thought as he watched her back recede, but before the moon has turned she’ll have you entertaining the gold cloaks in their barracks.  Tyrion stared up at his father’s hard green eyes with their flecks of cold bright gold. “Guilty,” he said, “so guilty. Is that what you wanted to hear?”  Lord Tywin said nothing. Mace Tyrell nodded. Prince Oberyn looked mildly disappointed. “You admit you poisoned the king?”  “Nothing of the sort,” said Tyrion. “Of Joffrey’s death I am innocent. I am guilty of a more monstrous crime.” He took a step toward his father. “I was born. I lived. I am guilty of being a dwarf, I confess it. And no matter how many times my good father forgave me, I have persisted in my infamy.”  “This is folly, Tyrion,” declared Lord Tywin. “Speak to the matter at hand. You are not on trial for being a dwarf.”  “That is where you err, my lord. I have been on trial for being a dwarf my entire life.”  “Have you nothing to say in your defense?”  “Nothing but this: I did not do it. Yet now I wish I had.” He turned to face the hall, that sea of pale faces. “I wish I had enough poison for you all. You make me sorry that I am not the monster you would have me be, yet there it is. I am innocent, but I will get no justice here. You leave me no choice but to appeal to the gods. I demand trial by battle.”  “Have you taken leave of your wits?” his father said.  “No, I’ve found them. I demand trial by battle!”  His sweet sister could not have been more pleased. “He has that right, my lords,” she reminded the judges. “Let the gods judge. Ser Gregor Clegane will stand for Joffrey. He returned to the city the night before last, to put his sword at my service.”  Lord Tywin’s face was so dark that for half a heartbeat Tyrion wondered if he’d drunk some poisoned wine as well. He slammed his fist down on the table, too angry to speak. It was Mace Tyrell who turned to Tyrion and asked the question. “Do you have a champion to defend your innocence?”  “He does, my lord.” Prince Oberyn of Dorne rose to his feet. “The dwarf has quite convinced me.”  The uproar was deafening. Tyrion took especial pleasure in the sudden doubt he glimpsed in Cersei’s eyes. It took a hundred gold cloaks pounding the butts of their spears against the floor to quiet the throne room again. By then Lord Tywin Lannister had recovered himself. “Let the issue be decided on the morrow,” he declared in iron tones. “I wash my hands of it.” He gave his dwarf son a cold angry look, then strode from the hall, out the king’s door behind the Iron Throne, his brother Kevan at his side.  Later, back in his tower cell, Tyrion poured himself a cup of wine and sent Podrick Payne off for cheese, bread, and olives. He doubted whether he could keep down anything heavier just now. Did you think I would go meekly, Father? He asked the shadow his candles etched upon the wall. I have too much of you in me for that. He felt strangely at peace, now that he had snatched the power of life and death from his father’s hands and placed it in the hands of the gods. Assuming there are gods, and they give a mummer’s fart. If not, then I’m in Dornish hands. No matter what happened, Tyrion had the satisfaction of knowing that he’d kicked Lord Tywin’s plans to splinters. If Prince Oberyn won, it would further inflame Highgarden against the Dornish; Mace Tyrell would see the man who crippled his son helping the dwarf who almost poisoned his daughter to escape his rightful punishment. And if the Mountain triumphed, Doran Martell might well demand to know why his brother had been served with death instead of the justice Tyrion had promised him. Dorne might crown Myrcella after all.  It was almost worth dying to know all the trouble he’d made. Will you come to see the end, Shae? Will you stand there with the rest, watching as Ser Ilyn lops my ugly head off? Will you miss your giant of Lannister when he’s dead? He drained his wine, flung the cup aside, and sang lustily.  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.  Ser Kevan did not visit him that night. He was probably with Lord Tywin, trying to placate the Tyrells. I have seen the last of that uncle, I fear. He poured another cup of wine. A pity he’d had Symon Silver Tongue killed before learning all the words of that song. It wasn’t a bad song, if truth be told. Especially compared to the ones that would be written about him henceforth. “For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm,” he sang. Perhaps he should write the other verses himself. If he lived so long.  That night, surprisingly, Tyrion Lannister slept long and deep. He rose at first light, well rested and with a hearty appetite, and broke his fast on fried bread, blood sausage, applecakes, and a double helping of eggs cooked with onions and fiery Dornish peppers. Then he begged leave of his guards to attend his champion. Ser Addam gave his consent.  Tyrion found Prince Oberyn drinking a cup of red wine as he donned his armor. He was attended by four of his younger Dornish lordlings. “Good morrow to you, my lord,” the prince said. “Will you take a cup of wine?”  “Should you be drinking before battle?”  “I always drink before battle.”  “That could get you killed. Worse, it could get me killed.”  Prince Oberyn laughed. “The gods defend the innocent. You are innocent, I trust?”  “Only of killing Joffrey,” Tyrion admitted. “I do hope you know what you are about to face. Gregor Clegane is -  “ - large? So I have heard.”  “He is almost eight feet tall and must weigh thirty stone, all of it muscle. He fights with a two-handed greatsword, but needs only one hand to wield it. He has been known to cut men in half with a single blow. His armor is so heavy that no lesser man could bear the weight, let alone move in it.”  Prince Oberyn was unimpressed. “I have killed large men before. The trick is to get them off their feet. Once they go down, they’re dead.” The Dornishman sounded so blithely confident that Tyrion felt almost reassured, until he turned and said, “Daemon, my spear!” Ser Daemon tossed it to him, and the Red Viper snatched it from the air.  “You mean to face the Mountain with a spear?” That made Tyrion uneasy all over again. In battle, ranks of massed spears made for a formidable front, but single combat against a skilled swordsman was a very different matter.  “We are fond of spears in Dorne. Besides, it is the only way to counter his reach. Have a look, Lord Imp, but see you do not touch.” The spear was turned ash eight feet long, the shaft smooth, thick, and heavy. The last two feet of that was steel: a slender leaf-shaped spearhead narrowing to a wicked spike. The edges looked sharp enough to shave with. When Oberyn spun the haft between the palms of his hand, they glistened black. Oil? Or poison? Tyrion decided that he would sooner not know. “I hope you are good with that,” he said doubtfully.  “You will have no cause for complaint. Though Ser Gregor may. However thick his plate, there will be gaps at the joints. Inside the elbow and knee, beneath the arms... I will find a place to tickle him, I promise you.” He set the spear aside. “It is said that a Lannister always pays his debts. Perhaps you will return to Sunspear with me when the day’s bloodletting is done. My brother Doran would be most pleased to meet the rightful heir to Casterly Rock... especially if he brought his lovely wife, the Lady of Winterfell.”  Does the snake think I have Sansa squirreled away somewhere, like a nut I’m hoarding for winter? If so, Tyrion was not about to disabuse him. “A trip to Dorne might be very pleasant, now that I reflect on it.”  “Plan on a lengthy visit.” Prince Oberyn sipped his wine. “You and Doran have many matters of mutual interest to discuss. Music, trade, history, wine, the dwarf’s penny... the laws of inheritance and succession. No doubt an uncle’s counsel would be of benefit to Queen Myrcella in the trying times ahead.”  If Varys had his little birds listening, Oberyn was giving them a ripe earful. “I believe I will have that cup of wine,” said Tyrion. Queen Myrcella? It would have been more tempting if only he did have Sansa tucked beneath his cloak. If she declared for Myrcella over Tommen, would the north follow? What the Red Viper was hinting at was treason. Could Tyrion truly take up arms against Tommen, against his own father? Cersei would spit blood. It might be worth it for that alone.  “Do you recall the tale I told you of our first meeting, Imp?” Prince Oberyn asked, as the Bastard of Godsgrace knelt before him to fasten his greaves. “It was not for your tail alone that my sister and I came to Casterly Rock. We were on a quest of sorts. A quest that took us to Starfall, the Arbor, Oldtown, the Shield Islands, Crakehall, and finally Casterly Rock... but our true destination was marriage. Doran was betrothed to Lady Mellario of Norvos, so he had been left behind as castellan of Sunspear. My sister and I were yet unpromised.  “Elia found it all exciting. She was of that age, and her delicate health had never permitted her much travel. I preferred to amuse myself by mocking my sister’s suitors. There was Little Lord Lazyeye, Squire Squishlips, one I named the Whale That Walks, that sort of thing. The only one who was even halfway presentable was young Baelor Hightower. A pretty lad, and my sister was half in love with him until he had the misfortune to fart once in our presence. I promptly named him Baelor Breakwind, and after that Elia couldn’t look at him without laughing. I was a monstrous young fellow, someone should have sliced out my vile tongue.”  Yes, Tyrion agreed silently. Baelor Hightower was no longer young, but he remained Lord Leyton’s heir; wealthy, handsome, and a knight of splendid repute. Baelor Brightsmile, they called him now. Had Elia wed him in place of Rhaegar Targaryen, she might be in Oldtown with her children growing tall around her. He wondered how many lives had been snuffed out by that fart.  “Lannisport was the end of our voyage,” Prince Oberyn went on, as Ser Arron Qorgyle helped him into a padded leather tunic and began lacing it up the back. “Were you aware that our mothers knew each other of old?”  “They had been at court together as girls, I seem to recall. Companions to Princess Rhaella?”  “Just so. It was my belief that the mothers had cooked up this plot between them. Squire Squishlips and his ilk and the various pimply young maidens who’d been paraded before me were the almonds before the feast, meant only to whet our appetites. The main course was to be served at Casterly Rock.”  “Cersei and Jaime.”  “Such a clever dwarf. Elia and I were older, to be sure. Your brother and sister could not have been more than eight or nine. Still, a difference of five or six years is little enough. And there was an empty cabin on our ship, a very nice cabin, such as might be kept for a person of high birth. As if it were intended that we take someone back to Sunspear. A young page, perhaps. Or a companion for Elia. Your lad............
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