A new Tyrion chapter. The siege of the Eyrie continues.
Tyrion's heart had stopped beating. His hands were shaking. His thumbs and indexes pressed the small scroll they held so strongly that they were getting white. A rider had brought it from a near castle a few hours ago. It was sent from Casterly Rock and had to be a few days old now. And the news it brought were dire. They were the worst kind of news they needed.
Unknown plague has started in Lannisport. Has already reached the Iron Islands and Oldtown. Fear that it might spread. Many deaths already. Taking necessary measures to stop its propagation.
Immediately, Tyrion's thoughts turned to Margaery. His wife was still at Casterly Rock. Lannisport was right next to it and, despite the harbor living in the shadow of the Rock, plagues struck everyone, from the lowest crafter to the most powerful of kings.
He remembered reading about the shivers that hit the Seven Kingdoms under Jaehaerys the First. His ancestor, Lyman Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock at the time, had been taken by the disease, and so had been the lords Marbrand, Westerling and Tarbeck of the time. Even Margaery's ancestor, the Lord of Highgarden at the time, died, although it wasn't from the plague itself but from falling from his horse after drinking, four days after he recovered from the disease. Oldtown alone lost a quarter of its population to the plague.
He screamed his squire's name, but he didn't wait for him. Instead he picked the scroll right away and started to write right away.
Close the gates of the Rock. Don't let anyone enter. Don't leave your room at any time and let no one get inside. Wash yourself every day, and make sure everything you eat is washed and cook to the perfection, and that your chamber pot is regularly emptied.
Also close the gates of Lannisport and the harbor, and the gates of all other towns in the in the Westerlands.
Don't get sick. I love you, my queen.
He had not finished writing the message when Ty ran in. "Yes, my lord."
"Wait." When he was done writing and put his seal on the parchment, he looked at his cousin, handing the scroll in his direction. "Send that message to Casterly Rock right away. If it doesn't reach the Rock, I swear by all the gods that exist and don't exist that I will skin you alive, no matter you're family. Do you understand, Ty?"
Judging by the way his squire blanched, he had gotten the message. He grabbed the message and ran away for his life outside of the tent. Every muscle in Tyrion's body was tensed, and he and his breathing was quick. Before thinking, he seized another piece of parchment and wrote exactly the same message, and then he wrote another one explaining the situation in the west, then left his tent to find the man in charge of the ravens. He found Ty there, who looked at him in distress, but Tyrion didn't care. He handed the identical message to the one responsible for ravens. "Send that one to Casterly Rock as well."
"Of course, my lord. I will attach it to the other paw of the raven."
"No. Send them through two different ravens."
"Two?" The young boy seemed to not understand. "My lord, it would be better to not waste a raven…"
Tyrion's reaction was immediate. "Don't dare to tell me what is a waste. When it comes to the safety of my wife, nothing is a waste. Now, send the two ravens right away if you value your life."
The man didn't need to be told twice. Tyrion turned to his squire, who obviously wished he was elsewhere. "Fetch Lord Tully and all the generals to my tent. I want them in before I come back. And send a rider to Robb Stark with that message as well." He handed the different message to Ty.
Ty Frey went running immediately. He was going through the camp as if he was running for his life, which truth be told might have been the case. Tyrion made sure that two ravens would be sent to Casterly Rock. This way, he was sure that at least one of his two identical messages would reach his home, and that Margaery would receive it. His wife and his child would not be touched by this plague, no matter what it was.
Of course, when Tyrion returned to his tent, no one had arrived yet. He had asked something impossible to Ty, but he didn't care, as long as it made the men arrive more quickly. As he impatiently walked around the tent, Tyrion's temper lowered to become more calculating, more cold, more controlled. Losing his temper before the other lords and knights who commanded the army would do him no good, especially considering the composure of their army.
After entering the Vale, the forces of House Lannister, House Stark and House Tully were divided into two groups. The larger group was to continue its way to the east towards Gulltown and to submit everything in its way. Robb Stark had been placed in command of that army, although most of his officers and soldiers were Lannisters, his own forces having been depleted by their early losses at the Kingsroad, King's Landing and the two battles of Riverrun. The Blackfish and some of Tyrion's best officers, including Daven, followed him.
Tyrion remained with the smaller group who headed to the Eyrie and besieged the castle, which meant besieging the Gates of the Moon as it was the only way in and out of the Eyrie. Along with him were mostly lesser officers, the most competent having left with Robb Stark as they were more likely to be useful with him, which meant Edmure Tully and Jon Snow were left with Tyrion, the second one because of health issues rather than over competence matters. A few thousand Lannister soldiers, along with a small detachment of Tully troops, led the siege.
That siege was really strange. In fact, this whole campaign proved to be strange. Early on, Tyrion had sent men to negotiate with the hill tribes of the Vale. Some never returned, as was to be expected, but others did. Tyrion offered to the tribes they could contact to march alongside their army and fight against the Knights of the Vale, their enemies since forever. Most importantly, Tyrion gave them the right to plunder as they wanted during this campaign, and the terms included that the hill tribes would always get the first choice when looting. Robb Stark and the Blackfish had disapproved this tactic, and Edmure Tully as well though not as vehemently, but none of them were in any position to force Tyrion's hand out of this. Armies gave power, and right now Tyrion had the strongest one. And he wasn't going to lose more men than he should to the hill tribes. The only way to have them on their side was to give them more than they could hope to get from fighting Tyrion's forces. That meant they were to get more loot and pillage by marching with them than by harassing them. That was what Tyrion did, and as a result the Knights of the Vale would face all their enemies united. Plus, being given the best opportunities of looting, this meant the hill tribes would be placed in the vanguard during battles, reducing losses to Tyrion's forces.
Whether he liked it or not, Robb Stark marched towards Gulltown with the hill tribes, the latter helping him get through the hills and forests of the Vale. The forces of the Vale, on their side, had retreated to the east, probably in order to raise more troops, choose a battlefield where they would have the advantage and let their enemies be weakened by the hill tribes on their way. If that was what they hoped for, they were in for a very huge surprise.
In the meantime, Tyrion stayed put behind. Besieging the Eyrie was a dull and difficult task. The eastern road leading to it narrowed to such a point that only four horses could ride side by side where the Bloody Gate stood. Despite this, the bloody gate fell quite quickly and the troops progressed onward until they found a spot on the road that allowed for more space and occupied it. As a result, Tyrion had installed his camp very far away from the Gates of the Moon, where the road was wider and where supply lines were more easily accessible. The camp was placed right in the middle of the road and occupied all of it, from one side of the mountains to the other, making it impossible for any cart, rider or man on foot to get to the Gates of the Moon and the Eyrie without walking through the camp.
Tyrion was slowly turning this camp into a marvel of military engineering. He had read long ago about the Ghiscari legions, the highly disciplined soldiers of the Old Empire of Ghis in Essos, who could build an entire camp from the ground within a single evening, including walls, parapets, gates and watchtowers. Such a feet was impossible in Westeros, and probably useless given how often soldiers could use fortresses along the road to serve as defenses. However, the levies of the Westerlands, despite not being as disciplined as those old legions, were quite capable all the same. Each day, walls, parapets, watchtowers and various defenses were added to the building, making it more difficult each passing day for an army to attack and take the camp, wherever the attack would come from. It kept the men occupied, just like sending them foraging did. The siege of the Eyrie might be long, but Tyrion was prepared to make it look much longer for the besieged, especially for those who currently lived in the Eyrie and wouldn't last for long inside a castle that wasn't habitable during winter. And like the Starks always said, winter was actually coming.
The first to arrive to the command tent was Jon Snow. The half-brother of Robb Stark had managed to join them on their march to the Vale, but remained with the army besieging the Eyrie, officially to represent House Stark and the North at the siege. The young boy's scar, the gift Stannis left him before he died, was still fresh and visible across his face. Tyrion knew the real reason why the bastard of Winterfell was left behind was because of his injuries. Riding all the way from Riverrun to catch the army had not been easy on him, and his brother wouldn't have allowed him to follow in this state. Yet, if Jon Snow had not been ready to follow an army on the march, he was in good enough health to participate to a siege.
"No one can say bastards are late," Tyrion commented.
"I came as soon as I was told," the said bastard replied.
"You're a soldier, Snow. You follow orders. There's no doubt about it."
"Is there a problem with that?"
"Not at all. You're a soldier, just like your brother is. And just like your father was."
"He raised us both."
"Indeed, and from what I can see, he raised you both well. I wish I could say the same about my own father. He was not the best father someone could have."
"On that, we agree."
The foul mood in which Jon Snow said those words might have been meant to hurt, but Tyrion didn't care. As someone who mocked everything and who was used to be mocked by everyone, he didn't hold it against Jon Snow. Still, the son of Ned Stark needed to improve his mood if he didn't want all the army to grow to hate him.
"Why have you called a meeting?" Jon Snow asked.
"You'll learn soon enough with everyone else. For now, let's just say I received some dire news from Casterly Rock."
It was while he spoke that Kevan walked in. "I didn't expect this meeting to be called to bring good news," he said.
"You were right in your expectations, uncle."
"The others should be here soon."
And indeed, most of them arrived quite quickly. Once Ty had returned from his errands, Tyrion had him pour a glass of wine for everyone. Kevan barely touched it, like always. Ser Kevan Lannister had never been his brother, but he shared some of his distaste over indulging wine.
In normal circumstances, Tyrion would have sent Kevan with the army Robb Stark led, but given his uncle was kept prisoner by the Starks and his children were butchered by one of their bannermen, Tyrion preferred to avoid placing Kevan in too much presence with Starks. Here before the Bloody Gate, his uncle was surrounded almost entirely by Lannisters, the Tully force and Jon Snow filling a symbolic role of Stark presence more than anything else. And once the Vale had fallen, it would allow Kevan to go home more quickly.
"Alright, my lords. I won't keep you in the dark any longer. I just received this from Casterly Rock." Tyrion raised the piece of parchment he previously read, then tossed it on the table. "It seems plagues and wars often go hand in hand for there is one that started in the Westerlands, and it is spreading as we speak. The Iron Islands are touched, which may not be a bad thing, and Oldtown is affected too, which is definitely a bad thing."
"This is bad news, indeed," one of Tyrion's captains said, "but I don't think we have much to worry about for now. Whatever this disease is, my lord, it is at the other side of the realm."
"Perhaps, but whenever a plague has started, when it touches one city, it almost always touches the others. Some maesters believe the shivers are carried by rats in ships. And all the cities of Westeros are connected by the sea. If the cities of the western coast are touched, this is only a matter of time before those in the east are affected as well. This includes Gulltown, the very place where most of our men are heading right now."
He looked at Jon Snow, then to Kevan, and finally to Edmure Tully to make sure they understood what it meant.
"So, our army is heading towards a city potentially decimated by a plague?" Kevan asked, more of an affirmation than a question.
"Well, cities are always plagued. One disease doesn't wait for the other," one of the captains said. He was a Lannister from a lesser branch, one of those established at Lannisport.
"The people I left in charge of Casterly Rock would not have warned me if it wasn't serious," Tyrion countered. "Sooner or later, our armies are going to be affected. I don't have details, but we must expect many of our men to die. And since armies often lose more men to desertions, diseases and accidents, I would rather not make this any truer."
"Well, there's not much we can do about it. Aside from punishing those who try to escape," Edmure Tully said.
"That's where you're wrong, Lord Tully." Tyrion noticed how unnerved the Lord of Riverrun was at being told he was wrong. "Kevan, do you remember what we had discussed before the war, when we decided to review the logistics of our army? And most especially new rules inside the camps?"
Kevan nodded. Tyrion then turned to his officers. "Perhaps someone among you could tell us what these are."
There was a complete silence for a long time. Finally, one of the officers spoke. "Well, my lord, we weren't at war at this time, so I'm afraid we didn't receive…"
"You were informed of these changes when the war started. Do you read the instructions we send you?"
All of a sudden, everyone was embarrassed. This was no surprise to Tyrion. As highborn as these men were, and probably because of that, they overlooked what they considered as mere details. But for someone with a background like Tyrion, they weren't only details.
Tyrion looked at his uncle. "It seems we had this discussion for nothing."
His uncle remained silent. He was always more talkative in private than in front of the other officers.
"Very well, then. It's time to apply the instructions you received before the conflict started. I'll have my staff digging them up and distributing them again to you, but this time, you will have to follow them. Some of the instructions will seem odd, even stupid, but if you want to give your men more chance to survive, you'll follow them. Am I clear enough? Good. Lord Tully, your men will have to follow these instructions as well."
"What are they about?" Lord Tully asked.
"Very varied. Some concern the food and the way we prepare it. Everything must be cooked perfectly, especially the meat. No man must eat any meat that has the slightest trace of red left either on the surface or in the interior."
"You want to tell us how to cook?" Lord Tully asked, half-insulted, half-disbelieving.
"Yes, that's what I'm doing. But that's not the best part, Lord Tully. Because some of these instructions also concern the places where they will be allowed to shit and piss."
That was just too much for the Lord of Riverrun. "You've got to be kidding me."
"No, I'm not. I haven't been more serious in a very long time in my life."
"My lord." One of the officers stepped forward into the conversation. "I must confess to you… I tried to apply your directives after I received them. But the truth is… they're almost impossible to apply. I mean, I remember that men were not to empty their bowels inside the precinct of the camp. When I told my subordinates, most of them struggled not to laugh, and when they understood what I meant, they just said it was impossible. The few who tried to apply it failed. Their men didn't follow their orders. What I mean is… how are we supposed to prevent men from hiding behind a tent in the middle of the night and pissing in the grass there?"
"Did you really ask your officers to do that?" Jon Snow asked. He didn't seem outraged, just very skeptical and unbelieving.
Tyrion tried to maintain his calm. "Look, we're all lords and knights here. We all studied under a maester when we were young. But has any of you ever studied medicine or healing? Aside from cleaning a wound and wrapping bandages around it, or pulling an arrow out of a leg, do you know how to treat an infection, or which plants to mash and mix to ease a cold, or to treat scurvy?"
"What is scurvy?" one man asked.
"Just as I said. Look, I'll state the obvious. I'm a dwarf. Is someone questioning that fact?" Everyone looked bewildered, but Tyrion was in no mood to appreciate their shock. "Because of that, my maester thought it might be a good idea to join his group. Obviously, I didn't, but still, he taught more than all of you were ever taught together. And maesters must know how to heal, so he told me a lot about it. And what we know, is that wherever a lot of people are living together, illness spreads more quickly and makes more victims. And so I learned about some practices in an army that facilitates the spreading of diseases and I know how we can slow it if we can't stop it. Has any of you better suggestions about how to prevent maybe a thousand of our men from dying of an illness before winter comes?"
For a moment, none answered, but finally the officer from Lannisport spoke.
"My lord, I am no maester, but I am a soldier. And I know that if we have an army close to any town, no matter if this town is ravaged by the shivers, men will go inside to spend some good time. Maybe we should just call back our army who's heading to Gulltown."
Jon Snow jumped at this. "Wait. We need Gulltown in order to ship our men into the North. This is why Robb is heading this way."
"Perhaps, but our own men will bring back this plague with them after Gulltown is taken."
"They will be touched by it no matter the case," Tyrion stated. "If we recall Robb Stark and the troops he has with them, maybe they will not get hit by that illness in Gulltown, but they'll get it somewhere else. The plague is already in Lannisport and Oldtown. All other harbors in the west will be affected soon enough. It will likely spread inland to the Riverlands, and from there reach us here. We're still bringing supplies from the west, don't forget. One way or another, this will reach us. That's not something we can avoid. Anyway, we will bring our men back home one day. If they haven't suffered yet, they will suffer at this moment."
"Taking the eastern part of the Vale and Gulltown remains a priority," Kevan summarized. "Plague or no plague, we need this city. And we don't know yet how severe it is. I doubt such information could be found in a small piece of paper."
"True, uncle. All I know is that many people are already dead, so we must expect many more to come. This is the goal of this meeting. I want to find a way so we can avoid losing hundreds or even thousands of men to this new illness."
"Are you sure about it? Can this one illness cause that much damage?" Jon Snow asked.
"Yes, Snow, it can. Don't tell you never had any episode of plague in the North."
"Of course, we have, but they are not as deadly as you think they might be."
"Well, I hope your brother will take this more seriously than you do, or else there won't be much left of the few men he still has," Tyrion retorted sharply. The bastard clearly didn't take it well, but said nothing.
"I think we can all agree that whatever this illness is, it is likely to reach us, sooner or later," Kevan said. "We don't know how many of our men might die of it, but we will need them to bring Lysa Arryn to kneel. This siege is going to last some time. So better take the necessary measures for the men to not get themselves killed because of slight missteps."
"My lords," one captain started again, "I'm not sure if any of these measures you talked about will work. The men will most certainly ignore them."
"Then make sure they don't," Tyrion's snapped. "I don't care how you don't it. Tell them the first man being surprised pissing behind his tent will end with his balls cut off. Or tell them the grass is covered with a thin layer of wildfire and that their sausage will be burned if they piss on it. Whatever the way you do it, make sure they follow the instructions. They're capable of running right into thousands of men armed with swords and pikes. Making sure their meat is burned and pissing at specific locations shouldn't be too hard for them."
No one seemed about to discuss. The Lannister officers left after Tyrion gave them their leave, leaving him only with Kevan, Edmure Tully and Jon Snow.
"Have your men do whatever you want, don't expect me to command my men where to relieve themselves," the Lord of Riverrun declared.
"Yes, you will. Because I order you to do so. Or have you forgotten your oath as quickly as you forgot the one you made to your nephew?"
He sustained the stare of Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun and Lord Paramount of the Trident. Even though his domains were amputated, he remained officially one of the highest lord of Westeros, and his pride remained as a result. Tyrion wondered why they had not added pride to the three words of his house.
"Fine, my lord." Edmure Tully turned and walked away on these words in the end. Tyrion looked at the spot where the Lord of Riverrun was a moment ago. At least, duty seemed to not be only words for him.
"You should be careful with him," Jon Snow said. The bastard of Winterfell had remained behind. "You're pushing him to the edge."
"Well, I think it's about time Edmure Tully learns his place like you have, Snow."
The harsh reply didn't please the young man. "He's doing his best. Do you think this is easy for anyone? We were on opposite sides not long ago. And now he's fighting against his own sister. It's not easier for Robb, fighting against his aunt."
"Well, they should forget about any family link they have with Lysa Arryn. She tried to have all of you killed. Any man who considers a sister ready to kill him to be still his family is a fool."
Tyrion had shouted the last sentence. Even Kevan obviously winced at the comment. Jon Snow didn't stay long after that. As for Tyrion, he was thinking of Cersei, the woman who tried to murder both him and his wife. And like any good fool, he still saw her as her sister, even after her death.
"Tyrion, what's going on?" Kevan asked. He was the last one with Tyrion here.
"Uncle, do you realize how dangerous it is? Do you realize how illness and pregnancy never go hand in hand?"
Kevan nodded. "I understand, Tyrion. I'm worried about Dorna and Janei as well. But whatever this plague is, we don't know what it is yet. And you cannot take your fear and your anger on your officers, even less on your allies. They wouldn't understand that. It's not as if your wife died."
Tyrion clenched his right fist that laid on the table, but he didn't retort to Kevan's words. After all, he was right. Margaery wasn't dead. She couldn't die. He didn't know what he would do if she came to die.
"Well, uncle, I suppose we have work to do."
"Indeed, we have."
They went separate ways, Tyrion returning to his personal tent and beginning work to rearrange the camp in a way that would limit the spread of any disease, illness or plague that could hit the army. So far away from Casterly Rock and the woman he loved, that was all he could do.
Tyrion is not aware yet of what happened at Casterly Rock. News travel slowly in Westeros.
For those who are interested, I just published a short sequel to my other fanfiction, A Shadow and a Wolf, titled "The Prodigal Mother - A Shadow and a Wolf sequel".
Next chapter : Jon