Book 1 - Family, Duty, Honor
Robert seemed to sway slightly as he saw the bodies lying at the foot of the Iron Throne. The sizes made it clear which of them was Aerys Targaryen, which his good-daughter and which two were his grandchildren.
Over the last year, Ned Stark had seen a burning anger growing inside his foster-brother - a hatred of Rhaegar Targaryen and all his kin. He feared that Robert would act unwisely now, taint his reign from the beginning.
To his relief, their new king - as yet uncrowned - merely moved from one to another. In each case he dropped to one knee and tugged aside the Lannister crimson cloaks so he could inspect their faces. For each he then nodded solemnly - in confirmation or in recognition, Ned could not say - and then moved on.
After examining Aegon last, Robert rose to his feet and ascended the steps to stand beside Ned, Jon Arryn and Tywin Lannister at the foot of the Iron Throne. "How did they die?" he asked coolly.
"Elia Martell and her children died in the sack," Jon said dispassionately. "Aerys..."
"My son slew him."
Robert's blue eyes narrowed as he looked at the Lord of Casterly Rock. "You mean Ser Jaime, I take it?"
The Lannister's own eyes reduced to dangerous slits. "Of course."
"I would almost have believed your younger boy so enterprising before I thought the elder to forswear his oaths. Still, the deed is done." He shook his head. "Well. He more than deserves to account for himself publically. Where is he?"
Robert scowled. "Well secure his person here. I want to hear this. And perhaps we all should."
"Will you take your seat?" Jon asked, changing the subject with a gesture to the massive and dangerous looking Iron Throne.
"I am more than half tempted," the new King observed, "To have this melted down for scrap. It's an ugly thing... and I doubt the view is all that attractive." He looked around at the mounds of dragonbones that also cluttered the great hall. "Yes, I believe I will have that done. In the meantime, someone find me a chair. There must be at least one that survived the sack."
The chair arrived before the youngest knight of the Kingsguard.
"I found the Lannister here on the throne itself," warned Ned when Tywin was out of earshot. "Sword still wet with the king's blood."
Robert nodded quietly and removed his cloak, folding it over one arm. He turned to the room eyes sweeping across knights and lords from every land that had pledged him their swords against the Mad King. "This is not yet the end," he declared loudly enough to be heard even at the far end of the hall. "The southernmost kingdoms still fly the dragon's banners. Yet it is the beginning of the end."
He walked behind the simple wooden chair. "It is said that a king is wed to his realm, before even to his queen. And who is a realm but the people - the knights and lords and other goodly folk? And so I ask you now. Will you have me now as your King, and this as my throne?"
"Hail Robert Baratheon!" called Jon Arryn, astutely, and scores of voices joined him. Ned's was amongst them. He could see bannermen of the Lannisters and Tullys calling out as loudly as those of the North, the Vale or the Stormlands. A good omen perhaps.
For a long moment Robert let them call out their support and then he unfolded his cloak and draped the comparatively unimposing chair in the colours of House Baretheon. "So be it. I, Robert Baratheon, son of Steffon Baratheon and Cassana Estermont, am proclaimed by your words as King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm."
Robert sat and once again Westeros had a king.
There was an ironic clapping from the door, cut off as Tywin Lannister elbowed his son sharply. "My apologies, your grace." Jaime Lannister walked forward to face the new king. "I was... overcome by the moment."
"I'm sure." Robert pointed down at Aerys. "I see your latest deed, Ser Jaime. Doubtless word of it has spread already. But what I do not hear is why."
"Does it matter, your grace?"
"I will be making a great number of decisions in the future. It is the nature of kingship, I am told. Or perhaps merely of life. But I would know what could push one of the lands' most acclaimed knights to break his oaths. It cannot, I feel, be a mere trifle."
Jaime looked at him and Ned had to admit that Robert had a point: from up on the throne it would be hard for Robert to see clearly the faces of those before the throne, particularly in the dim light. "When my father's army entered the city I knew that there was no hope of defending the Red Keep. I therefore requested permission to make terms. King Aerys instead ordered that I bring him my father's head."
Ned thought of his own father, burned to death inside the walls of the Red Keep. That had brought him to rebellion but he had not sworn such oaths...
"Aye?" Robert leant forwards. "You could have simply opened the gates to your kinsmen, Ser Jaime. Instead you acted personally. That strikes me as something more upon you than an impossible - and heinous - command."
The young knight threw back his head and laughed. He laughed and laughed, as every eye in the hall focused upon him. Then at last he stilled his laugh. "The King had appointed Rossart, the Grand Master of the Alchemists, as his Hand. On his command, Rossart was to see that all of King's Landing was consumed in wildfire. Is that sufficient reason, your grace?"
All of King's Landing in flames... Ned blanched and saw he was not alone in doing so. He'd see the sack in progress but now he feared he'd see it again, with the entire horror ablaze with green wildfire. Tywin, whose vanguard would doubtless have been consumed in such an inferno, was looking at his son in astonishment.
Only Robert seemed unmoved. "I am inclined to think so." He rose. "This is my first decree as your King. The Order of the Kingsguard is hereby disbanded and dissolved. Its members, having been bound by mighty oaths to the whims of the mad King, I hereby offer amnesty for all deeds and crimes they may have been forced to commit until this day. I further absolve Ser Jaime Lannister of all wrongdoing in the death of the mad King and..." He stepped forwards and extended his hand. "I offer him my personal thanks."
Ser Jaime stared at the hand and then unclasped the white cloak of his former office, letting it pool upon the floor behind him as he went to meet the King and the two men clasped hands.
From the first hours of the Rebellion Jon had worried about what sort of king Robert would be. He loved the boy like one of the sons he'd never had, but he had to admit that Ned - the other 'son' - was a hundred times as responsible.
These first two days though had shown him another side of the man Robert had grown into, charming Crownland lords and many of the Lannister host into allegiance that sometimes went beyond the grudging. (Not Lord Tywin, of course, but that would never have happened).
Of course, he had always been gregarious but his appetites had previously been limited to wines and the hunt - including the hunt for wenches to bed. Now somehow the young King had shown an appetite for the mundane work of kingship.
A map of King's Landing was being filled out before them as reports came in to detail the damage during the sack. The worst was around the Lion Gate where the Lannister forces had been allowed in, but there was a trail of destruction through to the centre of the city and then up the main avenue to the Red Keep. Most alarming were the red crosses marking where the alchemists had revealed caches of wildfire had been buried. Their number was considerable.
"Since we have to dig up so much of the city we may as well do something about the drains," Robert was grumbling. "I have to live in this damn place and I'd rather I wasn't left holding my nose the whole time."
"You get used to it after a while, your grace."
"That isn't a reassurance." Robert tapped his finger on the Dragonpit, the ruined dome atop Rhaenys' Hill. "And we'll do something with that too. It's one of the largest buildings in the city, leaving it closed is ridiculous."
"It's not as if you have dragons to house there, Robert."
The young man looked over at Jon and smiled. "Perhaps I'll make it the new royal residence. The Red Keep isn't precisely ideal and there's something to be said for making a new start."
"In any event, affairs of state beckon."
Robert sighed and shook his head. "Very well then." He acknowledged the bows of the other men around the table as he walked away. "So what's the matter now?"
"We need to decide on the membership of the Small Council," Jon reminded him as they descended the tower stairs. "If nothing else, we need a Master of Coin if you're planning to empty the treasury rebuilding King's Landing."
"That would be going a little far," admitted Robert thoughtfully. "Well, let's start with the easiest position to fill: Pycelle is still Grand Maester and we're stuck with him until he dies."
"Do you trust him?"
"Not even slightly. It was on his advice Aerys had the gates opened to the Lannisters - see how well that worked out for the Mad King."
"It worked out to your benefit though."
"I doubt it was his design." Robert rubbed his face. "Do you have any one in mind who could replace Varys?"
"Unfortunately, no. And he advised against admitting the Lannisters. By that logic, do you trust him?"
"His competence at least. I see no choice but to retain him for now or be half-blinded when it comes to the Kingdoms. And the rest of the world, come to that."
Jon nodded glumly. "That's my own thinking. Now without the Kingsguard, there's no need for a Lord Commander to sit."
"I've a thought or two on how to replace that institution. Not, however, holding a seat on the Small Council. We can defer any replacment."
"Then you can assume that the High Septon will petition to represent the Faithful upon the Small Council."
Robert muttered something under his breath. Possibly "Give me strength," although Jon couldn't have sworn to that. "No, absolutely not. I considered a Master of Arms to assist in organising the raising of armies..." He raised his hand to still Jon's words: "But I realise that encroaches upon the roles of the Wardens so I decided against it. Fear not, Jon."
"That leaves the Masters of Coin, Laws and Ships to decide."
Robert opened the door to the royal solar, which still hadn't been entirely stripped of Targaryen heraldry, and ushered Jon in with utter disregard for his own royal dignity. "I have a certain thought, Jon, which I'd like to discuss with you. A sensitive matter."
The king poured wine into two goblets, although Jon noticed to his astonishment that he also added water from a second flagon to his own goblet. "There's far too much wine here," he said defensively. "If I drank everything that came to hand I'd never stop drinking and I doubt flagons would impress the Seven Kingdoms as much as dragons did."
"Are you sure you aren't feverish, Robert?"
Dark eyebrows twitched above the king's blue eyes. "Perhaps I'm still lying wounded somewhere in the eastern Reach and all this is a dream."
"It really isn't. So what are you considering?"
Robert looked at the goblet in his hand. "We planned on you being my Hand. There's no one I admire more. But now I'm wondering if appointing you now is the right thing to do."
"What do you mean?"
"The war isn't over," the King explained. "We might be nearing the end of the fighting, but there's still the need to bring the Reach and Dorne back into the fold - hopefully without more fighting but we can't count on that - and to convince the rest of Westeros that we're restoring stability."
"I agree so far."
"Well, that means I need someone to go to Dorne to try to persuade them that it isn't our fault that Prince Lewyn was killed at the Trident or Princess Elia here. Which... isn't going to to be easy. They may not welcome you."
"It's an acceptable risk."
"Yes, but I mean to leverage you as much advantage as possible. Lewyn died on the battlefield but the Martells will certainly know Elia was murdered by Lannister bannermen. I'm considering asking Tywin Lannister to assist me by acting as Hand of the King until you return."
Jon thought a moment. "Ah, you think the Martells won't dare preventing me from returning if it means that you might make Tywin your Hand permanently."
"That's unsually deep thought for you, Robert."
"I have a lot of experience with seductions. It's always easier if there's an ugly suitor in the wings."
Jon rubbed his face. "I suppose that makes sense. And Tywin is certainly able. You might decide you want to keep him as your Hand."
Robert threw back his head and roared with laughter. "In that case, my friend, you can go back to the Eyrie and father a dozen little Arryns on your lovely young bride. And then, ten years from now, you can inflict them upon me in a long-awaited revenge."
Robert Baratheon was not as expected. At some point in the not too distant future, Tywin intended to speak firmly with some of his informants about that. For now, however, he needed to deal with a King who - under the jovial bonhomie - clearly had a brain that was good for something more than keeping his ears from touching each other.
"Thank you for seeing me, your grace."
"I'm sorry it couldn't be earlier." Robert gestured to one of two well-stuffed armchairs either side of the fire. "This ruling business... never a spare moment. Does it get any easier?"
"One learns to manage one's time."
"That's good to know. Wine?"
Tywin accepted the goblet the king filled for him. No servants, he noticed. Interesting. Was it a statement or a precaution?
Sitting down opposite Tywin, Robert stretched out his legs. "There are a few things I wanted to ask you, but you asked to meet with me so by all means go first."
"Firstly, I would like to thank you for giving me back my son."
Robert nodded and then their eyes met. The king nodded again, understanding it was as clear a statment as Tywin would give of being indebted to him.
"Secondly, is there any news of Lady Lyanna Stark?"
"It seems she's held to the south. Her brother will be leading a party to rescue her."
It was Tywin's turn to nod. "I realise that this is not advice you may wish to hear, but after being a prisoner for so long and... possibly mistreated... you should keep in mind that she may not be prepared to be Queen."
Robert Baratheon went very very still. "Lord Tywin, had Aerys taken Lady Joanna from you as his son took Lyanna from me..."
"Yours is the fury," conceded Tywin, making a mental not not draw that fury upon himself. It was far colder than he had thought. "I am glad for you, your grace. It is not often that men such as we may know such women."
"Then we have an understanding." He emptied his goblet. "Is there a third matter?"
"Not for my part. You had concerns of your own though."
"I do." Robert set down his goblet and leant forwards. "I'm sending an army south to relieve Storm's End and hopefully persuade Mace Tyrell to come to terms. Ned has family to rescue and Jon will be dealing with Dorne. Normally as Warden I'd offer you command of the army, however, I have another position that you would even more qualified for."
"It's clear that some members of the Small Council will have to be carried over from Aerys' council. We need the stability. At the same time, while I fully intend to appoint Jon Arryn as my Hand eventually, there are a number of other roles he's needed in."
Was he suggesting...?
"I realise I'd be asking a lot, but would you be willing to be my Hand for the next few months, maybe a year?" Robert sighed. "I'll tell you upfront that I may wind up 'dismissing' you to pacify the Dornish. It's no secret that two of your knights slew Princess Elia and you know how hot-headed the Dornish can be."
"It needed to be done."
"The children, yes. And I doubt she'd have stood by for it. But dammit, man!" The king thumped the arm of his chair. "But don't brag about it! Dark deeds are done in the dark where no one can see them. I may need to have Ser Amory and Ser Gregor sent to the Wall as well."
"They are my loyal bannermen, your grace," warned Tywin quietly.
"Are you offering to pay additional taxes to wage war against Dorne? You know how that went for the Targaryens. I won't ask that if I can reasonably avoid it... but better two knights than an army."
"That is inarguable." Tywin frowned in thought. "I will serve as your Hand, your grace, under the circumstances that you describe. However, I would have my son Jaime lead the army south. He will be Warden one day."
"Of course. Lord Tully's brother Brynden will be in command of the Riverlands contingent, I'll be naming him as second in command. And once Storm's End is relieved, well Stannis is the King's brother so..."
"Ser Brynden is very able knight, your grace. And you are correct that Lord Stannis -"
Robert raised one finger in admonishment. "Prince Stannis."
"Of course. Prince Stannis will have the right to take command once your ancestral home is no longer besieged. How many men will you be sending?"
"Seven thousand or so from each Kingdom's levies. Thirty-five thousand in all. That will leave me enough men to secure King's Landing and still send some of the western lords back to the Riverlands and the North."
The map of the Seven Kingdoms spread out before Tywin. "Have you news of Lord Quellon?"
"None, and that concerns me. The Greyjoy's health is failing and his son's a hothead. If Balon Greyjoy rules the Iron Isles we could have longships ravaging the western coasts. If it turns out nothing happens, well that's a good ten thousand troops I don't have to feed any more."
"I'm pleased you intend to rule the realm and not merely to conquer it."
Robert chuckled and reached for the wine again. "I do have that reputation, don't I?" He filled his goblet and then Tywins. The two men raised their goblets in toast to each other.
From the gatehouse, Stannis watched Mace Tyrell walk forwards under a flag of truce. He'd called for the truce and no doubt the fat Reachman thought that it was a prelude to surrender.
"So, Lord Stannis, have you finally run out of things to eat?" the Lord Paramount of the Reach asked amiably once he saw Stannis face behind the barred window in the gate. "I can have a few carts brought forward if you're willing to finally see sense about this?"
Stannis scowled deeply. "That's Prince Stannis to you, Tyrell," he said sharply.
"I don't believe your House is Targaryen, but my question remains."
"I've had a letter from my brother. He indicates I should share it with you in the hopes you'll see reason." Stannis bared his teeth. "Personally I hope that you don't."
"And what does the Pretender have to say for himself?"
Stannis took the much folded parchment out and started from the top: "To my royal brother Prince Stannis Baratheon, heir to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, greetings. I have this day been acclaimed in the great hall of Maegor's Keep as King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men. Aerys the Mad's dead body lay before the throne as I took my seat, soon to be buried alongside his dead son Rhaegar."
"I assure you that my earliest priority in concluding this war is to relieve the siege of our home. An army marches south to Storm's End. I counsel you to share these facts with Lord Tyrell and you may assure him in my name that should he bow the knee to our House then no more shall be said of his allegiance to the Targaryens. However, should he decline this offer then he may not expect such generosity."
"I look forwards to being reunited with you and our brother Renly as soon as may be. By my own hand, King Robert Baratheon."
Stannis looked up from the parchment out the window at Tyrell. "Well, Lord Tyrell. Do you accept my brother's offer... or not? It would, from my part, be very welcome if you declined so we may exact a due price for your enmity."
Tyrell's face had grown redder as Stannis read. "Your word, and your brother's, are hardly an assurance that things go as ill for the House of Targaryen as you describe. And if they do, then Rhaegar has a son and a brother still. Take delight then, Lord Stannis, and tighten your belt. I will have Storm's End and then my armies will march north and we will see how well your brother sings."
"That tends to depend how much wine he's drunk," Stannis said bluntly. "Then there's no more to say. Go back to your lines and await the storm."