In the chilly white raiment of the Kingsguard, Ser Mandon Moore looked like a corpse in a shroud. "Her Grace left orders, the council in session is not to be disturbed."
"I would be only a small disturbance, ser." Tyrion slid the parchment from his sleeve. "I bear a letter from my father, Lord Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King. There is his seal."
"Her Grace does not wish to be disturbed," Ser Mandon repeated slowly, as if Tyrion were a dullard who had not heard him the first time.
Jaime had once told him that Moore was the most dangerous of the Kingsguard--excepting himself, always--because his face gave no hint as what he might do next. Tyrion would have welcomed a hint. Bronn and Timett could likely kill the knight if it came to swords, but it would scarcely bode well if he began by slaying one of Joffrey's protectors. Yet if he let the man turn him away, where was his authority? He made himself smile. "Ser Mandon, you have not met my companions. This is Timett son of Timett, a red hand of the Burned Men. And this is Bronn. Perchance you recall Ser Vardis Egen, who was captain of Lord Arryn's household guard?"
"I know the man." Ser Mandon's eyes were pale grey, oddly flat and lifeless.
"Knew," Bronn corrected with a thin smile.
Ser Mandon did not deign to show that he had heard that.
"Be that as it may," Tyrion said lightly, "I truly must see my sister and present my letter, ser. If you would be so kind as to open the door for us?"
The white knight did not respond. Tyrion was almost at the point of trying to force his way past when Ser Mandon abruptly stood aside. "You may enter. They may not."A small victory,
he thought, but sweet.
He had passed his first test. Tyrion Lannister shouldered through the door, feeling almost tall. Five members of the king's small council broke off their discussion suddenly. "You," his sister Cersei said in a tone that was equal parts disbelief and distaste.
"I can see where Joffrey learned his courtesies." Tyrion paused to admire the pair of Valyrian sphinxes that guarded the door, affecting an air of casual confidence. Cersei could smell weakness the way a dog smells fear.
"What are you doing here?" His sister's lovely green eyes studied him without the least hint of affection.
"Delivering a letter from our lord father." He sauntered to the table and placed the tightly rolled parchment between them.
The eunuch Varys took the letter and turned it in his delicate powdered hands. "How kind of Lord Tywin. And his sealing wax is such a lovely shade of gold." Varys gave the seal a close inspection. "It gives every appearance of being genuine."
"Of course it's genuine." Cersei snatched it out of his hands. She broke the wax and unrolled the parchment.
Tyrion watched her read. His sister had taken the king's seat for herself--he gathered Joffrey did not often trouble to attend council meetings, no more than Robert had--so Tyrion climbed up into the Hand's chair. It seemed only appropriate.
"This is absurd," the queen said at last. "My lord father has sent my brother to sit in his place in this council. He bids us accept Tyrion as the Hand of the King, until such time as he himself can join us."
Grand Maester Pycelle stroked his flowing white beard and nodded ponderously. "It would seem that a welcome is in order."
"Indeed." Jowly, balding Janos Slynt looked rather like a frog, a smug frog who had gotten rather above himself. "We have sore need of you, my lord. Rebellion everywhere, this grim omen in the sky, rioting in the city streets . . ."
"And whose fault is that, Lord Janos?" Cersei lashed out. "Your gold cloaks are charged with keeping order. As to you, Tyrion, you could better serve us on the field of battle."
He laughed. "No, I'm done with fields of battle, thank you. I sit a chair better than a horse, and I'd sooner hold a wine goblet than a battle-axe. All that about the thunder of the drums, sunlight flashing on armor, magnificent destriers snorting and prancing? Well, the drums gave me headaches, the sunlight flashing on my armor cooked me up like a harvest day goose, and those magnificent destriers shit everywhere.
Not that I am complaining. Compared to the hospitality I enjoyed in the Vale of Arryn, drums, horseshit, and fly bites are my favorite things."
Littlefinger laughed. "Well said, Lannister. A man after my own heart."
Tyrion smiled at him, remembering a certain dagger with a dragonbone hilt and a Valyrian steel blade. We must have a talk about that, and soon.
He wondered if Lord Petyr would find that subject amusing as well. "Please," he told them, "do let me be of service, in whatever small
way I can."
Cersei read the letter again. "How many men have you brought with you?"
"A few hundred. My own men, chiefly. Father was loath to part with any of his. He is
fighting a war, after all."
"What use will your few hundred men be if Renly marches on the city, or Stannis sails from Dragonstone? I ask for an army and my father sends me a dwarf. The king
names the Hand, with the consent of council. Joffrey named our lord father."
"And our lord father named me."
"He cannot do that. Not without Joff's consent."
"Lord Tywin is at Harrenhal with his host, if you'd care to take it up with him," Tyrion said politely. "My lords, perchance you would permit me a private word with my sister?"
Varys slithered to his feet, smiling in that unctuous way he had. "How you must have yearned for the sound of your sweet sister's voice. My lords, please, let us give them a few moments together. The woes of our troubled realm shall keep."
Janos Slynt rose hesitantly and Grand Maester Pycelle ponderously, yet they rose. Littlefinger was the last. "Shall I tell the steward to prepare chambers in Maegor's Holdfast?"
"My thanks, Lord Petyr, but I will be taking Lord Stark's former quarters in the Tower of the Hand."
Littlefinger laughed. "You're a braver man than me, Lannister. You do
know the fate of our last two Hands?"
"Two? If you mean to frighten me, why not say four?"
"Four?" Littlefinger raised an eyebrow. "Did the Hands before Lord Arryn meet some dire end in the Tower? I'm afraid I was too young to pay them much mind."
"Aerys Targaryen's last Hand was killed during the Sack of King's Landing, though I doubt he'd had time to settle into the Tower. He was only Hand for a fortnight. The one before him was burned to death. And before them came two others who died landless and penniless in exile, and counted themselves lucky. I believe my lord father was the last Hand to depart King's Landing with his name, properties, and parts all intact."
"Fascinating," said Littlefinger. "And all the more reason I'd sooner bed down in the dungeon."Perhaps you'll get that wish,
Tyrion thought, but he said, "Courage and folly are cousins, or so I've heard. Whatever curse may linger over the Tower of the Hand, I pray I'm small enough to escape its notice."
Janos Slynt laughed, Littlefinger smiled, and Grand Maester Pycelle followed them both out, bowing gravely.
"I hope Father did not send you all this way to plague us with history lessons," his sister said when they were alone.
"How I have yearned for the sound of your sweet voice," Tyrion sighed to her.
"How I have yearned to have that eunuch's tongue pulled out with hot pincers," Cersei replied. "Has father lost his senses? Or did you forge this letter?" She read it once more, with mounting annoyance. "Why would he inflict you
on me? I wanted him to come himself." She crushed Lord Tywin's letter in her fingers. "I am Joffrey's regent, and I sent him a royal command
"And he ignored you," Tyrion pointed out. "He has quite a large army, he can do that. Nor is he the first. Is he?"
Cersei's mouth tightened. He could see her color rising. "If I name this letter a forgery and tell them to throw you in a dungeon, no one will ignore that,
I promise you."
He was walking on rotten ice now, Tyrion knew. One false step and he would plunge through. "No one," he agreed amiably, "least of all our father. The one with the army. But why should you want to throw me into a dungeon, sweet sister, when I've come all this long way to help you?"
"I do not require your
help. It was our father's presence that I commanded."
"Yes," he said quietly, "but it's Jaime you want."
His sister fancied herself subtle, but he had grown up with her. He could read her face like one of his favorite books, and what he read now was rage, and fear, and despair. "Jaime--"
"--is my brother no less than yours," Tyrion interrupted. "Give me your support and I promise you, we will have Jaime freed and returned to us unharmed."
"How?" Cersei demanded. "The Stark boy and his mother are not like to forget that we beheaded Lord Eddard."
"True," Tyrion agreed, "yet you still hold his daughters, don't you? I saw the older girl out in the yard with Joffrey."
"Sansa," the queen said. "I've given it out that I have the younger brat as well, but it's a lie. I sent Meryn Trant to take her in hand when Robert died, but her wretched dancing master interfered and the girl fled. No one has seen her since. Likely she's dead. A great many people died that day."
Tyrion had hoped for both Stark girls, but he supposed one would have to do. "Tell me about our friends on the council."
His sister glanced at the door. "What of them?"
"Father seems to have taken a dislike to them. When I left him, he was wondering how their heads might look on the wall beside Lord Stark's." He leaned forward across the table. "Are you certain of their loyalty? Do you trust them?"
"I trust no one," Cersei snapped. "I need them. Does Father believe they are playing us false?"
"Why? What does he know?"
Tyrion shrugged. "He knows that your son's short reign has been a long parade of follies and disasters. That suggests that someone is giving Joffrey some very bad counsel."
Cersei gave him a searching look. "Joff has had no lack of good counsel. He's always been strong-willed. Now that he's king, he believes he should do as he pleases, not as he's bid."
"Crowns do queer things to the heads beneath them," Tyrion agreed. "This business with Eddard Stark . . . Joffrey's work?"
The queen grimaced. "He was instructed to pardon Stark, to allow him to take the black. The man would have been out of our way forever, and we might have made peace with that son of his, but Joff took it upon himself to give the mob a better show. What was I to do? He called for Lord Eddard's head in front of half the city. And Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn went ahead blithely and shortened the man without a word from me!" Her hand tightened into a fist. "The High Septon claims we profaned Baelor's Sept with blood, after lying to him about our intent."
"It would seem he has a point," said Tyrion. "So this Lord
Slynt, he was part of it, was he? Tell me, whose fine notion was it to grant him Harrenhal and name him to the council?"
"Littlefinger made the arrangements. We needed Slynt's gold cloaks. Eddard Stark was plotting with Renly and he'd written to Lord Stannis, offering him the throne. We might have lost all. Even so, it was a close thing. If Sansa hadn't come to me and told me all her father's plans..."
Tyrion was surprised. "Truly? His own daughter?" Sansa had always seemed such a sweet child, tender and courteous.
"The girl was wet with love. She would have done anything
for Joffrey, until he cut off her father's head and called it mercy. That put an end to that."
"His Grace has a unique way of winning the hearts of his subjects," Tyrion said with a crooked smile. "Was it Joffrey's wish to dismiss Ser Barristan Selmy from his Kingsguard too?"
Cersei sighed. "Joff wanted someone to blame for Robert's death. Varys suggested Ser Barristan. Why not? It gave Jaime command of the Kingsguard and a seat on the small council, and allowed Joff to throw a bone to his dog. He is very fond of Sandor Clegane. We were prepared to offer Selmy some land and a towerhouse, more than the useless old fool deserved."
"I hear that useless old fool slew two of Slynt's gold cloaks when they tried to seize him at the Mud Gate."
His sister looked very unhappy. "Janos should have sent more men. He is not as competent as might be wished."
"Ser Barristan was the Lord Commander of Robert Baratheon's Kingsguard," Tyrion reminded her pointedly. "He and Jaime are the only survivors of Aerys Targaryen's seven. The smallfolk talk of him in the same way they talk of Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. What do you imagine they'll think when they see Barristan the Bold riding beside Robb Stark or Stannis Baratheon?"
Cersei glanced away. "I had not considered that."
"Father did," said Tyrion. "That
is why he sent me. To put an end to these follies and bring your son to heel."
"Joff will be no more tractable for you than for me."
"Why should he?"
"He knows you
would never hurt him."
Cersei's eyes narrowed. "If you believe I'd ever allow you to harm my son, you're sick with fever."
Tyrion sighed. She'd missed the point, as she did so often. "Joffrey is as safe with me as he is with you," he assured her, "but so long as the boy feels
threatened, he'll be more inclined to listen." He took her hand. "I am
your brother, you know. You need me, whether you care to admit it or no. Your son needs me, if he's to have a hope of retaining that ugly iron chair."
His sister seemed shocked that he would touch her. "You have always been cunning."
"In my own small way." He grinned.