Apologies for the delay on this, my wife broke a bone in her hand last week and life has been somewhat... complicated as a result/
They had been lucky. So very, very, lucky. He had gambled and won – a calculated gamble, one that he had thought long and hard about, but still a gamble. If they had been too early or too late then they might not have been able to discover the truth of it. But now they knew.
And so did Selmy. The old knight was in a killing rage, but was restraining himself. With every moment as they went down the creaking stairs with their now-hooded prisoners he seemed to rebuild the image of the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard that he usually showed.
"Where will you hold them My Lord?" Selmy asked formally, an echo of the rage still in his voice. "I suggest you choose a very safe place."
"We have made sure that there are two rooms prepared. One a cell and the other a… secure room."
"This will cause a lot of… trouble, to say the very least." The hooded figure of Jaime Lannister seemed to find this funny and Selmy glanced at him, narrowed his eyes and clamped a gauntleted hand around the back of his neck and squeezed hard enough to cause a yelp of pain. "Silence, dog!"
"That's something of an understatement Ser Barristan," Ned sighed. "Jory, take the prisoners on to the Old Keep, via the side gate. We have guards there – men I trust."
As the stumbling (and in the case of Cersei, muttering – he had threatened to gag her at one point) prisoners were taken away he turned to Ser Barristan and Stannis. "We need to take care of the Redcloaks in Winterfell. There numbers are small, but they might try something."
"They will not," said a new voice and he turned with an oath, his hand going to the Fist at his waist, whilst the other two drew their swords. Gerion Lannister and his son were standing in the shadows to one side. Neither was armed. "Peace! We are unarmed."
"What do you want, Lannister?" Stannis ground out. Then he frowned. "How did you come to be here?"
Gerion Lannister looked at his son, who nodded at him before clearing his throat nervously. "I dreamt… I dreamt a greendream, my Lords. Two nights ago and again last night. I dreamt…. I dreamt that two lions rutted at the top of a tower, which crumbled beneath them and plunged them into a pit of despair." The young man blushed a bit. "One of the lions tried to claw its way back into the light, but which one it was and if it succeeded I do not know."
"I dreamt something similar last night as well," Gerion Lannister muttered. "You look a little sceptical, Ser Barristan. You should not. Greendreams are… enigmatic. Nebulous things of mist, with many interpretations. But this one was clear. I dreamt of twin lions. And this tower. There could be only one conclusion." He drew himself up. "I will order the Lannister guards in Winterfell and Wintertown to stay in their barracks. I am the brother of Tywin Lannister. I will make them listen. You have my word on that. Not the word of my idiot nephew Jaime I might add. Mine."
There was a long pause as they looked at the two Lannisters – the other Lannisters, as it were. And then Ned nodded slightly. "Very well." As Selmy and Stannis stared at him he raised an eyebrow. "They have both proved themselves. And their word is good at least."
Selmy raised an eyebrow at this and there was the faintest sound of teeth-grinding from Stannis, but eventually they both nodded. Not that they had much of a choice, not here in Winterfell. He looked at Gerion Lannister and jerked his head towards the barracks. "Very well – go."
"I need to tell the King what has happened here," Selmy muttered. "He will be… well, beyond furious."
"A moment, Ser Barristan. Two other things. Firstly, and I ask your pardon for this but it is important, we have just placed the Queen in confinement. Which of your sworn brothers can now be relied on? Which of them were placed in the Kingsguard under her orders?"
Selmy bristled for a moment – and then his shoulders slumped a little. "It… it is true that the Kingsguard is not what it was. When I served Aerys in the beginning… well, 'tis no matter." He took a deep breath. "Blount… he's brave but not a thinker. He's from the Crownlands and should do whatever his King commands – no matter who the King is. Trant too. Sadly I suspect that the Queen has corrupted them both. Moore is an odd man, but I think that we can rely on him. Greenfield too. As for Oakheart… well, he is as sound as his name or thinks and hopes that he is. Of them, Greenfield and Oakheart are with us here in Winterfell. The Queen objected, but with all that has happened I wanted men that I could trust Implicitly, or as much as I could trust them."
Ned looked at him for a long moment and then nodded. "It might be," he said delicately, "That you might need to reconsider how to deal with certain of your sworn brothers. Jaime Lannister must be dismissed from the Kingsguard. But more of that for another time. There is the second matter. That of Prince Joffrey. What colour are his hair and eyes, Ser Barristan?"
The old knight looked confused for a moment. "He has his mother's colouring, Lord Stark. Gold of hair and green of eye."
"And his brother? And his sister?"
"And what colour hair and eyes does Gendry Storm have?"
"Why… the boy takes after his Grace."
"As does Edric Storm. And I believe that another of his Grace's bastard children are here as well, Mya Stone. All three are black of hair and blue of eye. Just like their father."
Selmy just stared blankly at him for a long moment – and then all of a sudden the rage returned. "You mean to say that… Gods, it cannot be!"
"Oh believe me, it is," Stannis ground out. "I have seen five more of Robert's Bastards, in King's Landing and other places, with word of another two. All were black of hair and blue of eye. My brother's blood is strong. How much of it therefore flows in the veins of Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella?"
Selmy looked as if he was about to burst into a thousand pieces with rage – and then he paused and seemed to master his anger. "I should have insisted on that whoreson being dismissed from the Kingsguard when it was reformed after the War. But what is done now cannot be undone. Very well. The King's children might not be his own. They too will have to be guarded." He peered at Ned. "They are but children though," he all but pleaded. "They cannot be executed, no matter how great the rage of the King."
"You have my word on that Ser Barristan," Ned grated. "I will not see children die for the mistakes of their parents."
"I agree," Stannis said heavily. "But they must remain here. Under protection."
Ned nodded and then looked at them both. "I will ride out with you Ser Barristan and tell the King. He'll want to get back here at once and hopefully the gallop will allow him to see through his rage and at the position this has placed him in. My Lord Hand, I leave matters in Winterfell in your hands. We will be back soon."
The three men nodded at each other and then Ned and Selmy strode off to the gate where their horses were being held for them.
As they rode back towards the Wolfswood at a steady canter Ned thought matters over carefully. "What of Clegane?"
"The Hound?" Ser Barristan Selmy fell silent for a long moment as if in deep thought. "He will obey the orders of the King. He is true to that. The King is the only person who can give him his heart's desire."
"And what is that?"
"A chance to fight and kill the Mountain."
Ned shivered a little as he remembered that room in the Red Keep and the pathetic little – and not so little – bodies. "He's welcome to that animal."
They found Robert standing in a clearing, with a huge smile on his face and the carcasses of four boars already slung from poles held by servants. Robb and Jon were with him, looking alert and gesturing in the direction of where they thought more boars might be.
As soon as his old friend saw them he beamed at them. "Ned! Ser Barristan! Back at last!" But then he saw the looks on their faces and he sobered and strode over to them both. "I know that look Ned. What's amiss?"
Ned dismounted and rubbed his chin, before jerking his head to one side. "I need to talk to you Robert."
The King frowned but followed him over to one side. "What is it Ned?"
"We need you back in Winterfell. We have uncovered a treasonous plot against you."
Robert frowned direfully. "Treason? What treason?"
Ned looked about carefully. Robb and Jon were close, looking about the place, whilst Selmy was whispering into the ear of Preston Greenfield – whose eyes had suddenly widened hugely. 'Prince' Joffrey was off on the far side of the clearing, looking sour and sulky.
"Your wife has been discovered… having relations with another man."
Robert just stared at him for a long moment. "Having relations… what…" Then the words fully sank in and his face flushed with blood. "What? With who?"
"Calmly, Robert, calmly, there is a lot at stake here. I will tell you we ride, as we need to leave now and ride for Winterfell."
Robert glared at him, his face red with rage, but eventually he nodded choppily and mounted his horse. Ned looked at Robb, who nodded and then gestured at the head huntsmen, who in turn led a large section of the party away North, after more boar. That just left Ned in charge of a smaller, now grim-faced group who coalesced around them – all in Stark or Baratheon colours.
"Who, Ned? Tell me!" Robert snarled as he urged his horse back towards Winterfell.
He hesitated for a moment, but then said the words he had been dreading saying: "Her own brother. The Kingslayer." Ned winced as he said those words, expecting a bellow of rage – but instead Robert's snarl deepened and he urged his horse on faster.
"I'll kill that bitch myself!" Robert finally roared as they reached a track and caught sight of the walls of Winterfell in the distance.
Well now. Time for him to preach restraint.
It was not going to be easy. At all.
He closed the book and patted it gently. The number and variety of books that he had now read about the First Men and their wars was growing by the day. But the more he read the more frustrated he became. The last war against the Others had been so long ago that all they had were legends – an echo of a rumour of a conflated half-remembered semi-fact.
If it wasn't for the fact that the situation North of the Wall was so serious, he would have been in a paradise of books. Instead he felt as if he was scrabbling in the darkness, trying to feel his way towards answers, only able to use his fingertips.
For a man used to finding answers easily, this was beyond frustrating. Somewhere, in all these books there had to be something, anything, that gave a hint about that damn chair in the Nightfort. It was important, he knew it. But why?
He pulled out another book but just before he could open it he heard hurried footsteps to one side, which heralded the arrival of Allarion, who looked worried. "Cousin Tyrion, my father wants to see you at once. It's urgent."
He looked at the lad. He was rattled – more rattled than he had been at the battle of the Nightfort. "What has happened?"
Allarion looked about. "Something of great import. Father needs to talk to you now, cousin."
It was easy to find Uncle Gerion. He was standing at a doorway in the barracks, talking to the leader of the Redcloaks who had accompanied the King. Or rather he was shouting at him.
"I am Ser Gerion Lannister, Lord of Lannishall in the Summer Islands and brother of Lord Tywin Lannister. I am the oldest and most senior male Lannister in Winterfell and you will acknowledge my authority!" He looked over to Allarion, who hurried over, and it was only then that Tyrion realised that he was holding Brightroar, which he handed over to his father. Gerion nodded at his son and then held up the sword, hilt first. "Do you see this? Brightroar! The sword of the Lannister Kings of the Westerlands. Think of it as the symbol of my authority. If you cross me you'll be lucky to get a job as a sellsword guarding a hovel somewhere in Essos. And if you are unlucky then you'll be very dead."
"But Ser Gerion-" the Redcloak started to say, only to be cut off by his uncle.
"This matter is the business of the King! He has the ultimate authority here and if need be I will involve him. Do you want that?"
The Redcloak went white and shook his head. "But the Queen-"
"Is the business of the King. Now – have your men stand down. You will not do a damn thing without my direct orders. Do you understand?" The Redcloak nodded. "Good. Now – I will arrange to have food and drink brought to your men. Keep a firm grip on them. I will be watching to make sure that you do so."
The Redcloak scurried off, a combination of fear and sullen resentment on his face and Gerion beckoned Tyrion over. "Nephew, I need your help."
"What has Cersei done Uncle?" Tyrion asked the question as a worm of terror gripped his innards. Gods, what had his fool of a sister attempted?
Gerion looked at him and then sighed and winced at the same time. "She," he muttered quietly, "Was discovered having… relations with your brother."
The meaning of the word relations clattered about in his head for a long instant – what had he meant? – before all of a sudden everything came together in his head with terrifying speed. "They were… they were… coupling."
"It sounds more like they were rutting like mindless animals, but yes, they were found together. Naked and… entwined."
He felt as if he had been suddenly plunged into a vat of ice cold water that he had never suspected had been lurking under his feet. The implications were… terrifying. "Who witnessed this?"
Uncle Gerion somehow managed to look even grimmer. "Ned Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Barristan Selmy and some guards. The ravens are flying already."
It was not a vat, it was a small lake of cold water. "Gods… what do you need me to do?"
"Keep calm and do nothing rash at all. You are not your brother, you are more of a thinker. You have already probably considered what this will mean, not just for your siblings, but for all of us who bear the name Lannister."
Yes, he had indeed thought through the implications, and frankly he was now terrified. "I always knew that she was selfish and stupid," he said, slightly dazed, "But I never thought that she could be this selfish and stupid. Their lives… are now possibly forfeit. If Jaime is very, very, lucky it might be the Wall. Gods…" His voice trailed off as the full implications hit him. "Father is going to be beyond furious. What did that captain of the Redcloaks know?"
"Just that the Queen has been arrested on a charge of treason. We need to keep an eye on the men, to make sure that no-one does something stupid. Wars have been started over such things. Seven Hells, wars have been started for less. Our eyes need to be on the Wall – not on Tywin's reaction."
Tyrion nodded numbly – and then looked at Gerion. "Uncle… did you suspect something? You seem to be awfully calm about this."
"Allarion had a greendream that hinted at this. So did I."
He absorbed this. "Did you warn anyone?"
Sorrow crossed Gerion's face. "Would Cersei have listened? Would your brother? She wrote me a letter last night, ordering me to give up Brightroar. I wanted to tear it up. I did not know that this was going to happen, but I knew that disaster was hanging over her head somewhere."
"She had to bring Jaime into this. She always thinks that only she knows best." He closed his eyes for a long moment. "And now she has doomed them both."
A horn was sounded somewhere to one side and he heard shouts.
"And the King has returned from his hunting," Gerion sighed. "Keep your guard up. House Lannister is now on the brink of a precipice."
Tyrion stared at him. And then his eyes widened. "Oh… the children?"
"Aye. Three bastards of the King in Winterfell, under our noses. Black of hair and blue of eye. Curious, is it not, compared to Joffrey and the others?"
No, it wasn't a lake of cold water. It was a sea. And they might all drown in it if they were not all very, very careful now.
A lifetime ago Jon Arryn had once given him a piece of very good advice: "Give Robert bad news at the start of a journey, not at the end. He'll ride out a lot of his fury and merely be bloody furious at the end."
As they galloped for Winterfell he could see that it was working – sort of. The snarl of fury had eroded slightly into a 'mere' thunderous scowl of anger. Robert was thinking hard, not just raging, thinking. He wasn't sure if that was reassuring or terrifying.
Robert had changed. He wasn't the Robert of the Vale anymore, or the Robert of the siege of Pyke, and certainly not the Robert that Robb had remembered from that dark future he had seen. No, this Robert was… more focussed than ever before. The closest he had been to this had been on the morning of the Battle of the Trident, when he knew that Rhaegar Targaryen did indeed command the enemy army.
The stakes kept inching that bit higher every time he thought about what was about to happen. Robert's first reaction was going to be on the lines of killing his faithless wife at once, followed by his equally untrustworthy goodbrother.
A horn sounded from the gatehouse they were headed towards and as the gates opened he could see Stannis Baratheon standing there, one hand on the pommel of his sword and the other clutching pieces of paper. To his right was Luwin and to his left was Jory Cassel.
As they drew rein Robert all but threw himself out of the saddle, tossed the reins to a groom and scowled at his brother. "Well? Where are they?"
Stannis held up a hand. "In the First Keep. She's in quarters and he's in a cell. They are well-separated, Robert."
Robert was visibly going red in the face, but at the same time trying to control himself, judging by the way that he was clenching and unclenching his fists. He took a half-step forwards – but then he closed his eyes for a long moment. "No," he snarled, "If I see either of them now I'll just kill them without even thinking about it." His knuckles were white and his nostrils were flared and Ned looked at him worriedly.
"My solar, now, your Grace," he said firmly. "There is much that we must discuss."
Robert stood there for a long moment, irresolution on his face as he looked at the main keep and then at the First Keep, emotions – anger, fury, disgust, worry – roiling his face. Ned watched for a moment, before intervening. "Robert," he said in a low, urgent voice, "We must talk. NOW."
Robert looked at him, his nostrils flaring yet again – and then he nodded choppily. As he stamped off in the direction of the main keep Ned let out a heartfelt sigh, before swapping raised eyebrows with the others near him.
The moment that he reached his solar Ned poured wine for all – and then bade Ser Barristan close the door and stay in the room. Robert took his cup of wine with a look of distracted anger and gulped from it. Finally he stopped staring at the far wall and seemed to come back from wherever he had gone to. "Who saw them?"
Ned traded glances with Stannis and then leant forwards. "Me, Stannis, Ser Barristan, Rodrik and Jory Cassel and two guards."
"And they were… they were fucking."
"Yes," Ned said heavily.
"How long has this been going on for?"
"We don't know," Ned sighed. "Which is the problem."
Robert's brow furrowed in another huge scowl. "Why is that a problem?"
"Robert," Stannis broke in, "What colour hair do your true born children have? And what colour eyes?"
"Gold hair," Robert said, still frowning. "And green eyes."
"And what colour hair and eyes do Gendry, Edric and Mya have?"
"Black hair, and blue eyes." Then he sat bolt upright. "Stannis, what are you saying?"
"All Baratheon men have second toes that's a shade longer than our big toes. The women too. I noticed it on Shireen when she was a child. I have it. You have it. Does Joffrey?"
"I… I don't know."
"I have seen eight of your bastards. All have black hair and blue eyes. I even checked the feet of the babes. All had a second toes slightly longer than their big toes. They are you children. They show Baratheon traits. Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella have none. Not a single Baratheon trait." He set his jaw grimly. "I do not know if they are yours. We have to act on the assumption that they are not."
Robert's face was busy going red again and Ned moved to quickly take the goblet out of his hand before his rapidly tightening fist crushed it. "WHAT? That… that… fucking WHORE! I'll kill her! I'll take Stormbreaker and I'll cut her fucking head off, before I start slicing her traitorous brother into pieces!"
"ROBERT!" Ned bellowed, so loudly that Robert blinked and fell silent. "You can't. Not yet. We need them to confess. We have to know if the children are yours or not. We need Cersei to admit her guilt, or Jaime if she will not say. These are not smallfolk accused of a crime. These are the children of Tywin Lannister accused of treason to the throne, the greatest crime in the Realm. They have sought to alter the succession. They are traitors, but we must tread carefully here. We must get to the truth."
Robert had turned an alarming succession of colours during this and now sat there, visibly thinking things through as his nostrils flared so hard that white lines appeared by them. "Gods," he choked in a voice that trembled with rage, "I want to kill them both, cut them to pieces… but you're both right. I can't. Not yet. We need them to confess. About my children." He passed a trembling hand over his eyes. "Joffrey… I've always wondered about him. There's little enough of me in him. But Tommen… he's a sweet child. Reminds me of Renly when he was a boy. And Myrcella… she's a good girl. Cleverer than I thought, but she hides it. Hides it from her bitch of a mother." He paused. "How can we tell?"
Oddly enough it was Ser Barristan who cleared his throat and stepped forwards. "Your pardon your Grace, but I think I can suggest a way."
He did so like to people watch at times. It could be… amusing to watch people react in so many different ways to the same thing.
However… this time it was different. He was standing in the shadow of one of the pillars in the throneroom and watching as people approached the table in front of the Iron Throne. On it was the cage with the head of the wight – the moving, hissing, snapping severed head. The thing that had no right to exist.
The thing that had been the final blow to all his plans.
Oh, the plans had been ruined long before that, thanks to the Call, but he had always hoped that perhaps with a little time things could be re-arranged, the timings shifted a few years along, the puppets nudged a bit further, the dance continued for a few more steps.
Not anymore. Not now. Not now that more and more people were aware of what was coming.
A Stormlord – House Buckler was it? – strode in with a small retinue and Varys pulled a little deeper into the shadows as he placed his hands up his sleeves and watched the group as they strode – swaggered almost – up to the table. From what he could hear of their words they were already convinced that it was all just a trick, a Mryish toy of some kind.
But they closer they got to the gnashing jaws and the blues eyes that glared at them the weaker the japes became… and then they ceased completely. The man of the Night's Watch who had been watching as well stepped up and spoke to them quietly, allowing them to pick the cage up and look into it with white faces and hands that had started to tremble.
As the cage went back down onto the table and the Stormlanders walked out in a subdued silence Varys sighed a little. The word was going out. The Others had indeed returned, legends walked North of the Wall and magic was not merely real but undisputable.
He padded noiselessly off to his office, where he sat down, poured from a sealed bottle and then sipped quietly, whilst staring at the map on the wall. Everything was… different. Changed. Altered. The King was in the North, being an actual king instead of a lecherous and drunken glutton. He wouldn't be surprised if 'the King's Great Matter' (so cliched of Arryn and Stannis Baratheon to call it that, did they really think that everyone around them were clueless idiots? Well… not everyone. Just most of them) also was resolved there. It really was the perfect place. Cersei and her fool of a brother were certainly both stupid and arrogant enough to think that they could never be caught.
It would be such a tragedy if they were discovered. That said, their absence had already lifted the collective intelligence level of the Red Keep and that was no small matter.
Stannis Baratheon was also Hand of the King and that had changed much as well. The man was annoyingly direct and had all the tact of an arrow in the eye, but he was younger than Arryn and more energetic. And he was annoyingly good at being Hand. It was all most peculiar. He ignored the game and dealt with the players directly and bluntly.
A small shape entered from a dark doorway and handed him a small scroll, before vanishing the way that he or she had come. He unrolled it and read it carefully, his eyes widening as he did so. Damn it. Another thing that had gone wrong.
He stood and rang the bell. When one of his servants appeared in the main door he waved a hand at him. "Tell Captain Waters to prepare his fastest ship at once. I need to leave for Pentos on the first tide." The servant left and he threw what was left in his cup down his throat. Damn it all, he should have guessed that this would happen.
He liked making scythes. They had been a challenge to make at first, but after he had been taught the knack of getting the curve just right he'd soon gotten used to them. According to Mikken they needed as many as he could make, for the Gift and New Gift.
That said, he needed a new project. He'd made the helmets and he'd made the new knife for Lord Stannis. Now he needed something else to work on. Perhaps a new Warhammer? The one he was training with had been his father's, but he felt awkward with it at times. It still felt as if it wasn't his, not yet.
The scythe was finished and he placed it carefully to one side, before walking to the door to the courtyard. Mikken was still sitting there, puzzling over the broken cage that had arrived that morning from someplace called Harlhome, or Hardhome, or something like that. The problem was that it was made of no metal that he recognised.
"The First Men made these, but the First Men could not use iron, not then," Mikken muttered to him. "But this isn't bronze. Or copper. Or anything like that. What the bloody hell is it?"
"I don't know, Master," Gendry replied as he peered at it himself. He needed to stick his head in a bucket to wash the sweat off. "It looks… odd."
"Lad, I'm not your master. And you're a fine enough smith as it is. There's little enough I can teach you."
"Master Mott used to say that there's always something new to learn. That cage for a start."
Mikken snorted with amusement and then nodded, before looking around the courtyard. "Something's up."
Confused, Gendry looked about as well. He couldn't see anything wrong. "How do you know?"
"No Redcloaks strutting about with their noses in the air, what you can see of them with those daft helmets of theirs."
Gendry looked about again. The smith of Winterfell was right, no Redcloaks at all. Then he heard boots approaching and looked over to see Ser Rodrik Cassel and his nephew striding towards him. "Lad, His Grace wants to see you."
Gendry gaped at him and then looked at his own clothes, which were still stained with sweat. "Now? I've been at the forge since this morning, I'm hardly in a fit state to see the King!"
The Cassels looked him up and down, issued almost identical sniffs and then looked at each other. "I've still got to get the Terrible Threesome in from their riding lesson with Lord Domeric," Jory Cassel said eventually. "The lad's got time for a scrub and a clean shirt."
"Aye – if he runs. Go on then, lad. Meet us in the great hall."
He ran back to his room and thanked the gods for the hot water that ran through the walls. It was all a bit odd, having access to hot water so easily, but he blessed the fact that he could scrub himself to get rid of the accumulated sweat and forge dirt so quickly. He was also getting used to the fact that he didn't have to wash his own clothes any more. A scrub, a wipe, new clothes, an attempt at wetting down his rebellious hair and then he was off again, heading back to the great hall.
Rory Cassel was waiting at the doors and he nodded at him. "In you go lad. They're just waiting for a few others."
Inside he was surprised to see Lord Stannis and Shireen, along with Edric and the tall lanky girl that looked disconcertingly like him. Mya. Lord Stark was talking to his father and Ser Barristan Selmy, and-
He stopped dead. The King had a look on his face that did not bode well at all – a look of anger and worry and oddly enough dread. He also had Stormbreaker in his hands, with the tip of the big sword on the stone flagstones.
As he recovered and walked in Shireen beamed and waved at him, whilst the others nodded or just looked at him. "Your Grace," Gendry said eventually and rather hesitantly. "You sent for me?"
"Aye," said the King with a smile and a nod of the head. "I did. Sit down Gendry. We're just waiting for a few others."
He sat and waited and after a few minutes the doors opened again and his other brothers and sister entered, escorted by Sandor Clegane, a man who still scared the shit out of him. Clegane seemed a bit edgy, looking about the place suspiciously, but after he saw Shireen and Edric he seemed to relax a little, and behind him came Maester Luwin.
"Father," Joffrey cried as soon as he saw the King, "What's this nonsense about Mother being arrested? What's happened? Is she ill or something?" Then he noticed Gendry and the others. "And what are they doing here? The bastards?"
"Oh, it's 'or something'," the King muttered as he stood up. "Right. Yes, your mother's under arrest. It's treason, children. And it's a long story. Bur there's something important we need to work out first."
There was a pause and then Tommen and Myrcella both burst into tears whilst Joffrey looked baffled. As for Clegane, his eyes narrowed as he looked at the King, who eyed him back. "Clegane?"
"Who are you sworn to?"
"You, your Grace."
"Who do you obey?"
The Hound stiffened at this. "You your Grace."
"Then remove your hand from the pommel of that sword. We will talk later." The King looked back at the crying children and muttered something under his breath. "Alright, it's alright, children. Your mother's just… confined to a new room. I'll explain everything later. Now – dry those eyes, because this is important."
Tommen and Myrcella slowly stopped crying and instead frowned slightly as Stannis pulled out what looked like one of Mikken's hammers. Meanwhile Father unsheathed Stormbreaker and took the hammer from his brother and then looked around – before frowning slightly. "It's just Stormbreaker, Joffrey, it's not going to bloody bite you." Then he looked at them all. "Now – you all have a piece of parchment and piece of charcoal with you all."
Gendry looked about frowning and then noticed that there was indeed a piece of parchment on a table next to him. A glance about him revealed that the others also had the same.
"As I said, this is important. Odd but important. I am going to tap Stormbreaker with this hammer. I want you all to listen very carefully and then write down what it sounds like. Don't say out loud, just write it down. And yes, Joffrey, you are to do the same. This affects you too. So – just listen."
His father struck the sword and Gendry closed his eyes at the beautiful chiming sound that echoed around the room, before opening his eyes and taking up the charcoal so that he could carefully write 'CHIME' on the parchment, sticking the tip of his tongue out as he wrote. Having written it he peered at it worriedly. His penmanship was not very good, but the word could be read clearly.
"Joffrey, bring me what you have written," the King barked, gesturing at the gold-headed boy impatiently. Joffrey smirked for no reason that Gendry could discern and swaggered over to his father, with the look of someone who is doing something ridiculous, before handing over his parchment. The King took the paper, read it – and then his shoulders slumped a little. "'A loud, stupid clank' Joffrey has written."
"That's what I heard," Joffrey scoffed, before sitting down and starting to inspect his nails. "What is all this nonsense about?"
"Be silent boy," the King hissed as he gave the parchment to Maester Luwin, and Joffrey looked up, startled, before turning more than a little pale. The King turned to Tommen and gave him a strained smile. "Tommen, bring me what you wrote."
Tommen hesitantly walked over and held out his parchment and the King smiled and tousled the boy's hair as he took it. "'A clank', Tommen has written." Down came his shoulders again. "Thank you, lad, back to your place. Myrcella – yours now."
The girl strode up and handed her piece of parchment over. The King peered at it and then smiled a little even as his shoulders slumped a little further. "'A dolorous clank', according to Myrcella."
"That's stupid," Joffrey laughed. "'Dolorous'! There's no such word!"
This seemed to pain Shireen, who made a face and then sighed. "Yes," she said heavily, "There is such a word."
"It means mournful, or distressing," Edric piped up, before Joffrey turned on him with a snarl.
"Silence, bastard!" Joffrey hissed. "Don't you-"
"Joffrey!" Everyone froze. The King was standing, his face red with fury. "You will not insult Edric!"
Joffrey subsided, looking cowed and the King stood there for a long moment, glaring at his son, before looking at Gendry. "Gendry, bring me yours." He obeyed, wondering what in the seven hells was going on, but suddenly aware that he was suddenly on very uncertain ground.
The King looked at it. "'Chime', Gendry writes." He looked at him and Gendry had the oddest feeling that he was being very closely examined for the first time.
"Nonsense!" Joffrey roared. "Chime? How can a sword chime? It's impossible! You've done it now, bastard, you have lied to your King and your Prince and-"
"Joffrey." The King said the word in a way that was both flat and final. He did not shout it, he did not hiss it, he just said it – and silence followed. "Sit down. Edric, give me yours."
A pale Edric handed his over. "'A chime', Edric has written. Mya, let me see yours." The girl from the Vale handed hers over with a shaking hand. Their father smiled briefly as he read it. "My girls are wordier than my boys, it seems. 'A gorgeous chime that went straight through me' Mya writes."
The King closed his eyes and sighed and there was a long pause as everyone stared at him. Finally he opened his eyes again. "Joffrey, Tommen, Myrcella, you'd best go back to your rooms. I will be along soon to explain things. To explain everything. Off you go."
The three went, followed by Sandor Clegane, whose eyes were suddenly very wide and who seemed to almost have something on the tip of his tongue for a moment before shrugging and going out the door.
Gendry wandered over to an equally wide-eyed Shireen. "What just happened?"
"I heard a chime," she said in a stunned voice. "All those with the blood of the Durrandons of Storm's End heard a chime."
"But that can't be right, the King's children didn't hear it." She nodded at his words and then peered owlishly at him until the pieces clattered together in his mind. The Queen had been arrested for treason and-
He felt his own eyes go wide – and then he saw that Edric and Mya had the same look on their faces. Oh… shit.