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The king sat at the head of the table, a stack of cushions under his arse, signing each document as it was presented to him.  “Only a few more, Your Grace,” Ser Kevan Lannister assured him. “This is a bill of attainder against Lord Edmure Tully, stripping him of Riverrun and all its lands and incomes, for rebelling against his lawful king. This is a similar attainder, against his uncle Ser Brynden Tully, the Blackfish.” Tommen signed them one after the other, dipping the quill carefully and writing his name in a broad childish hand.  Jaime watched from the foot of the table, thinking of all those lords who aspired to a seat on the king’s small council. They can bloody well have mine. If this was power, why did it taste like tedium? He did not feel especially powerful, watching Tommen dip his quill in the inkpot again. He felt bored.  And sore. Every muscle in his body ached, and his ribs and shoulders were bruised from the battering they’d gotten, courtesy of Ser Addam Marbrand. Just thinking of it made him wince. He could only hope the man would keep his mouth shut. Jaime had known Marbrand since he was a boy, serving as a page at Casterly Rock; he trusted him as much as he trusted anyone. Enough to ask him to take up shields and tourney swords. He had wanted to know if he could fight with his left hand.  And now I do. The knowledge was more painful than the beating that Ser Addam had given him, and the beating was so bad he could hardly dress himself this morning. If they had been fighting in earnest, Jaime would have died two dozen deaths. It seemed so simple, changing hands. It wasn’t. Every instinct he had was wrong. He had to think about everything, where once he’d just moved. And while he was thinking, Marbrand was thumping him. His left hand couldn’t even seem to hold a longsword properly; Ser Addam. had disarmed him thrice, sending his blade spinning.  “This grants said lands, incomes, and castle to Ser Emmon Frey and his lady wife, Lady Genna.” Ser Kevan presented another sheaf of parchments to the king. Tommen dipped and signed. “This is a decree of legitimacy for a natural son of Lord Roose Bolton of the Dreadfort. And this names Lord Bolton your Warden of the North.” Tommen dipped, signed, dipped, signed. “This grants Ser Rolph Spicer title to the castle Castamere and raises him to the rank of lord.” Tommen scrawled his name.  I should have gone to Ser Ilyn Payne, Jaime reflected. The King’s justice was not a friend as Marbrand was, and might well have beat him bloody... but without a tongue, he was not like to boast of it afterward. All it would take would be one chance remark by Ser Addam in his cups, and the whole world would soon know how useless he’d become. Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It was a cruel jape, that... though not quite so cruel as the gift his father had sent him.  “This is your royal pardon for Lord Gawen Westerling, his lady wife, and his daughter Jeyne, welcoming them back into the king’s peace,” Ser Kevan said. “This is a pardon for Lord Jonos Bracken of Stone Hedge. This is a pardon for Lord Vance. This for Lord Goodbrook. This for Lord Mooton of Maidenpool.”  Jaime pushed himself to his feet. “You seem to have these matters well in hand, Uncle. I shall leave His Grace to you.”  “As you wish.” Ser Kevan rose as well. “Jaime, you should go to your father. This breach between you -”  “- is his doing. Nor will he mend it by sending me mocking gifts. Tell him that, if you can pry him away from the Tyrells long enough.”  His uncle looked distressed. “The gift was heartfelt. We thought that it might encourage you -”  “ - to grow a new hand?” Jaime turned to Tommen. Though he had Joffrey’s golden curls and green eyes, the new king shared little else with his late brother. He inclined to plumpness, his face was pink and round, and he even liked to read. He is still shy of nine, this son of mine. The boy is not the man. It would be seven years before Tommen was ruling in his own right. Until then the realm would remain firmly in the hands of his lord grandfather. “Sire,” he asked, “do I have your leave to go?”  “As you like, Ser Uncle.” Tommen looked back to Ser Kevan. “Can I seal them now, Great-Uncle?” Pressing his royal seal into the hot wax was his favorite part of being king, so far.  Jaime strode from the council chamber. Outside the door he found Ser Meryn Trant standing stiff at guard in white scale armor and snowy cloak. If this one should learn how feeble I am, or Kettleblack or Blount should hear of it... “Remain here until His Grace is done,” he said, “then escort him back to Maegor’s.”  Trant inclined his head. “As you say, my lord.”  The outer ward was crowded and noisy that morning. Jaime made for the stables, where a large group of men were saddling their horses. “Steelshanks!” he called. “Are you off, then?”  “As soon as m’lady is mounted,” said Steelshanks Walton. “My lord of Bolton expects us. Here she is now.”  A groom led a fine grey mare out the stable door. On her back was mounted a skinny hollow-eyed girl wrapped in a heavy cloak. Grey, it was, like the dress beneath it, and trimmed with white satin. The clasp that pinned it to her breast was wrought in the shape of a wolf ‘s head with slitted opal eyes. The girl’s long brown hair blew wild in the wind. She had a pretty face, he thought, but her eyes were sad and wary.  When she saw him, she inclined her head. “Ser Jaime,” she said in a thin anxious voice. “You are kind to see me off.”  Jaime studied her closely. “You know me, then?”  She bit her lip. “You may not recall, my lord, as I was littler then... but I had the honor to meet you at Winterfell when King Robert came to visit my father Lord Eddard.” She lowered her big brown eyes and mumbled, “I’m Arya Stark.”  Jaime had never paid much attention to Arya Stark, but it seemed to him that this girl was older. “I understand you’re to be married.”  “I am to wed Lord Bolton’s son, Ramsay. He used to be a Snow, but His Grace has made him a Bolton. They say he’s very brave. I am so happy.”  Then why do you sound so frightened? “I wish you joy, my lady.” Jaime turned back to Steelshanks. “You have the coin you were promised?”  “Aye, and we’ve shared it out. You have my thanks.” The northman grinned. “A Lannister always pays his debts.”  “Always,” said Jaime, with a last glance at the girl. He wondered if there was much resemblance. Not that it mattered. The real Arya Stark was buried in some unmarked grave in Flea Bottom in all likelihood. With her brothers dead, and both parents, who would dare name this one a fraud? “Good speed,” he told Steelshanks. Nage raised his peace banner, and the northmen formed a column as ragged as their fur cloaks and trotted out the castle gate. The thin girl on the grey mare looked small and forlorn in their midst.  A few of the horses still shied away from the dark splotch on the hard-packed ground where the earth had drunk the life’s blood of the stableboy Gregor Clegane had killed so clumsily. The sight of it made Jaime angry all over again. He had told his Kingsguard to keep the crowd out of the way, but that oaf Ser Boros had let himself be distracted by the duel. The fool boy himself shared some of the blame, to be sure; the dead Dornishman as well. And Clegane most of all. The blow that took the boy’s arm off had been mischance, but that second cut...  Well, Gregor is paying for it now Grand Maester Pycelle was tending to the man’s wounds, but the howls heard ringing from the maester’s chambers suggested that the healing was not going as well as it might. “The flesh mortifies and the wounds ooze pus,” Pycelle told the council. “Even maggots will not touch such foulness. His convulsions are so violent that I have had to gag him to prevent him from biting off his tongue. I have cut away as much tissue as I dare, and treated the rot with boiling wine and bread mold, to no avail. The veins in his arm are turning black. When I leeched him, all the leeches died. My lords, I must know what malignant substance Prince Oberyn used on his spear. Let us detain these other Dornishmen until they are more forthcoming.”  Lord Tywin had refused him. “There will be trouble enough with Sunspear over Prince Oberyn’s death. I do not mean to make matters worse by holding his companions captive.”  “Then I fear Ser Gregor may die.”  “Undoubtedly. I swore as much in the letter I sent to Prince Doran with his brother’s body. But it must be seen to be the sword of the King’s justice that slays him, not a poisoned spear. Heal him.”  Grand Maester Pycelle blinked in dismay. “MY lord -”  “Heal him,” Lord Tywin said again, vexed. “You are aware that Lord Varys has sent fishermen into the waters around Dragonstone. They report that only a token force remains to defend the island. The Lyseni are gone from the bay, and the great part of Lord Stannis’s strength with them.”  “Well and good,” announced Pycelle. “Let Stannis rot in Lys, I say. We are well rid of the man and his ambitions.”  “Did you turn into an utter fool when Tyrion shaved your beard? This is Stannis Baratheon. The man will fight to the bitter end and then some. If he is gone, it can only mean he intends to resume the war. Most likely he will land at Storm’s End and try and rouse the storm lords. If so, he’s finished. But a bolder man might roll the dice for Dorne. If he should win Sunspear to his cause, he might prolong this war for years. So we will not offend the Martells any further, for any reason. The Dornishmen are free to go, and you will heal Ser Gregor.”  And so the Mountain screamed, day and night. Lord Tywin Lannister could cow even the Stranger, it would seem.  As Jaime climbed the winding steps of White Sword Tower, he could hear Ser Boros snoring in his cell. Ser Balon’s door was shut as well; he had the king tonight, and would sleep all day. Aside from Blount’s snores, the tower was very quiet. That suited Jaime well enough. I ought to rest myself. Last night, after his dance with Ser Addam, he’d been too sore to sleep.  But when he stepped into his bedchamber, he found his sister waiting for him.  She stood beside the open window, looking over the curtain walls and out to sea. The bay wind swirled around her, flattening her gown against her body in a way that quickened Jaime’s pulse. It was white, that gown, like the hangings on the wall and the draperies on his bed. Swirls of tiny emeralds brightened the ends of her wide sleeves and spiraled down her bodice. Larger emeralds were set in the golden spiderweb that bound her golden hair. The gown was cut low, to bare her shoulders and the tops of her breasts. She is so beautiful. He wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms.  “Cersei.” He closed the door softly. “Why are you here?”  “Where else could I go?” When she turned to him there were tears in her eyes. “Father’s made it clear that I am no longer wanted on the council. Jaime, won’t you talk to him?”  Jaime took off his cloak and hung it from a peg on the wall. “I talk to Lord Tywin every day.”  “Must you be so stubborn? All he wants...”  “... is to force me from the Kingsguard and send me back to Casterly Rock.”  “That need not be so terrible. He is sending me back to Casterly Rock as well. He wants me far away, so he’ll have a free hand with Tommen. Tommen is my son, not his!”  “Tommen is the king.”  “He is a boy! A frightened little boy who saw his brother murdered at his own wedding. And now they are telling him that he must marry. The girl is twice his age and twice a widow!”  He eased himself into a chair, trying to ignore the ache of bruised muscles. “The Tyrells are insisting. I see no harm in it. Tommen’s been lonely since Myrcella went to Dorne. He likes having Margaery and her ladies about. Let them wed.”  “He is your son...”  “He is my seed. He’s never called me Father. No more than Joffrey ever did. You warned me a thousand times never to show any undue interest in them.”  “To keep them safe! You as well. How would it have looked if my brother had played the father to the king’s children? Even Robert might have grown suspicious.”  “Well, he’s beyond suspicion now.” Robert’s death still left a bitter taste in Jaime’s mouth. It should have been me who killed him, not Cersei. “I only wished he’d died at my hands.” When I still had two of them. “If I’d let kingslaying become a habit, as he liked to say, I could have taken you as my wife for all the world to see. I’m not ashamed of loving you, only of the things I’ve done to hide it. That boy at Winterfell...”  “Did I tell you to throw him out the window? If you’d gone hunting as I begged you, nothing would have happened. But no, you had to have me, you could not wait until we returned to the city.”  “I’d waited long enough. I hated watching Robert stumble to your bed every night, always wondering if maybe this night he’d decide to claim his rights as husband.” Jaime suddenly remembered something else that troubled him about Winterfell. “At Riverrun, Catelyn Stark seemed convinced I’d sent some footpad to slit her son’s throat. That I’d given him a dagger.”  “That,” she said scornfully. “Tyrion asked me about that.”  “There was a dagger. The scars on Lady Catelyn’s hands were real enough, she showed them to me. Did you... ?”  “Oh, don’t be absurd.” Cersei closed the window. “Yes, I hoped the boy would die. So did you. Even Robert thought that would have been for the best. ‘We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children’ he told me. He was blind himself at the time, from drink.”  Robert? Jaime had guarded the king long enough to know that Robert Baratheon said things in his cups that he would have denied angrily the next day. “Were you alone when Robert said this?”  “You don’t think he said it to Ned Stark, I hope? Of course we were alone. Us and the children.” Cersei removed her hairnet and draped it over a bedpost, then shook out her golden curls. “Perhaps Myrcella sent this man with the dagger, do you think so?”  It was meant as mockery, but she’d cut right to the heart of it, Jaime saw at once. “Not Myrcella. Joffrey.”  Cersei frowned. “Joffrey had no love for Robb Stark, but the younger boy was nothing to him. He was only a child himself .”  “A child hungry for a pat on the head from that sot you let him believe was his father.” He had an uncomfortable thought. “Tyrion almost died because of this bloody dagger. If he knew the whole thing was Joffrey’s work, that might be why...&rdq............
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