I'm writing this story in the format of A Clash of Kings. I'm not adding lots of new character PoVs or doing it in history-book format or any such thing. As best I can, I am writing it as I think Martin would have written it if he had chosen the plot to follow this path. A Clash of Kings: Knees Falling isn't meant to be a spin-off of A Clash of Kings, though of course it is. It is meant to be A Clash of Kings as it could have been.
However, I'm not coming up with the plot like that. I'm coming up with the plot by considering the logical effects that my point of divergence would have on Martin's world and imagining, from what I know of Martin's characters, what I think they would do in the situation they're presented with. This is a classic 'for want of a nail' story. Something I dislike about a lot of fanfiction is that the butterfly effect is used for the author's convenience. Often, in my experience, fanfiction authors use butterflies as an excuse to make things easier for the characters they like: for example, in the many, many fanfiction stories which seem to have been written purely to screw over the Lannisters, something changes about Stannis's behaviour and then suddenly Robb does better in his war against the Lannisters for no good reason, or vice versa. I'm trying to avoid that here. (Which is not to say that the Lannisters are going to win, of course, or that they're going to be defeated; I'm not going to spoil that here. That was just an example.)
Some of the text—especially in the early chapters, where Knees Falling has not yet diverged greatly from A Song of Ice and Fire canon—has been copied word-for-word from Martin's text. If an entire chapter is of this nature, or a very large section of text, then I won't write it out again; I'll just tell you. I like being honest on such things. As time goes on, and Knees Falling diverges further from canon's events, the amount of text that's copied decreases greatly. This is because I don't think it's a productive use of anybody's time for me to rewrite the same events you already know about in a slightly different manner. The rights to this entire work belong to George R. R. Martin—the directly copied text, yes, obviously, but also the text which I wrote but which is still based in Martin's world. This work is being created purely for enjoyment, not for any financial gain.
Because the divergences from canon start off quite small and then grow much greater over time, the early chapters are generally similar to canon. Readers who have little patience for this are advised to read this initial Cressen chapter (to find out what the difference from canon is) and then skip to Chapter 7. By that time, the divergences have grown larger and more noticeable.
I would like to emphasise that MY NARRATOR IS NOT OMNISCIENT and CHARACTERS' INFORMATION IS IMPERFECT. Don't take everything a character believes or concludes as gospel truth, even if they're a viewpoint character. Otherwise my writing will seem to have loads of contradictions. Don't worry, this story isn't going to be one of those where you're unsure whether anything is real—I have no interest in such—but characters do sometimes misjudge things, especially when in stressful situations. Crucially, news takes a finite amount of time to travel, and I've put in a reasonable amount of effort working out travel times and the times it takes for news to travel, because there are things, e.g. whether an army will arrive at a place in time, which matter very much, given the deterministic way I'm working out the plot. This imperfection matters. Sometimes, information and ideas and predictions which aren't actually true can turn out to be important to the plot if a character makes decisions based on them.
Let me note that the chapters are not necessarily in chronological order. Each Tyrion chapter takes place after the previous Tyrion chapter, each Arya chapter takes place after the previous Arya chapter, et cetera, but a Sansa chapter next to a Davos chapter might take place before or after it chronologically (or overlapping, if one of the chapters goes on for a much longer time in-universe than the other; some of my chapters last for a few hours, whereas others last for days, weeks or even months).
NB: Kudos to the wonderful people who composed 'ASOIAF Timeline – Vandal Proof'. Thank you, in case any of them are reading this. Your excellent timeline of events in ASOIAF has been invaluable; it's an excellent resource for A Song of Ice and Fire fanfiction authors.
I hope you enjoy it!
Without further ado:
A CLASH OF KINGS: KNEES FALLING
[Until this point, text from the canonical prologue to A Clash of Kings, from the point of view of Cressen, can be inserted here]
When he woke it was full dark, his bedchamber was black, and every joint in his body ached. Cressen pushed himself up, his head throbbing. Clutching for his cane, he rose unsteady to his feet. So late, he thought. They did not summon me. He was always summoned for feasts, seated near the salt, close to Lord Stannis. His lord's face swam up before him, not the man he was but the boy he had been, standing cold in the shadows while the sun shone on his elder brother. Whatever he did, Robert had done first, and better. Poor boy… he must hurry, for his sake.
The maester found the crystals where he had left them, and scooped them off the parchment. Cressen owned no hollow rings, such as the poisoners of Lys were said to favour, but a myriad of pockets great and small were sewn inside the loose sleeves of his robe. He secreted the strangler seeds in one of them, threw open his door, and called, "Pylos? Where are you?" When he heard no reply, he called again, louder. "Pylos, I need help." Still there came no answer. That was queer; the young maester had his cell only a half-turn down the stair, within easy earshot.
In the end, Cressen had to shout for the servants. "Make haste," he told them. "I have slept too long. They will be feasting by now… drinking… I should have been woken." What had happened to Maester Pylos? Truly, he did not understand.
Again he had to cross the long gallery. A night wind whispered through the great windows, sharp with the smell of the sea. Torches flickered along the walls of Dragonstone, and in the camp beyond, he could see hundreds of cookfires burning, as if a field of stars had fallen to the earth. Above, the comet blazed red and malevolent. I am too old and wise to fear such things, the maester told himself.
The doors to the Great Hall were set in the mouth of a stone dragon. He told the servants to leave him outside. It would be better to enter alone; he must not appear feeble. Leaning heavily on his cane, Cressen climbed the last few steps and hobbled beneath the gateway teeth. A pair of guardsmen opened the heavy red doors before him, unleashing a sudden blast of noise and light. Cressen stepped down into the dragon's maw.
Over the clatter of knife and plate and the low mutter of table talk, he heard Patchface singing, "…dance, my lord, dance my lord," to the accompaniment of jangling cowbells. The same dreadful song he'd sung this morning. "The shadows come to stay, my lord, stay my lord, stay my lord." The lower tables were crowded with knights, archers, and sellsword captains, tearing apart loaves of black bread to soak in their fish stew. Here there was no loud laughter, no raucous shouting such as marred the dignity of other men's feasts; Lord Stannis did not permit such.
Cressen made his way toward the raised platform where the lords sat with the king. He had to step wide around Patchface. Dancing, his bells ringing, the fool neither saw nor heard his approach. As he hopped from one leg to the other, Patchface lurched into Cressen, knocking his cane out from under him. They went crashing down together amidst the rushes in a tangle of arms and legs, while a sudden gale of laughter went up around them. No doubt it was a comical sight.
Patchface sprawled half on top of him, motley fool's face pressed close to his own. He had lost his tin helm with its antlers and bells. "Under the sea, you fall up," he declared. "I know, I know, oh, oh, oh." Giggling, the fool rolled off, bounded to his feet, and did a little dance.
Trying to make the best of it, the maester smiled feebly and struggled to rise, but his hip was in such pain that for a moment he was half afraid that he had broken it all over again. He felt strong hands grasp him under the arms and lift him back to his feet. "Thank you, ser," he murmured, turning to see which knight had come to his aid…
"Maester," said Lady Melisandre, her deep voice flavoured with the music of the Jade Sea. "You ought take more care." As ever, she wore red head to heel, a long loose gown of flowing silk as bright as fire, with dagged sleeves and deep slashes in the bodice that showed glimpses of a darker blood red fabric beneath. Around her throat was a red gold choker tighter than any maester's chain, ornamented with a single great ruby. Her hair was not the orange or strawberry colour of common red-haired men, but a deep burnished copper that shone in the light of the torches. Even her eyes were red… but her skin was smooth and white, unblemished, pale as cream. Slender she was, graceful, taller than most knights, with full breasts and narrow waist and a heart-shaped face. Men's eyes that once found her did not quickly look away, not even a maester's eyes. Many called her beautiful. She was not beautiful. She was red, and terrible and red.
"I… thank you, my lady." Cressen's fear whispered to him. She knows what the comet portends. She is wiser than you, old man.
"A man your age must look to where he steps," Melisandre said courteously. "The night is dark and full of terrors."
He knew the phrase, some prayer of her faith. It makes no matter, I have a faith of my own. "Only children fear the dark," he told her. Yet even as he said the words, he heard Patchface take up his song again. "The shadows come to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord."
"Now here is a riddle," Melisandre said. "A clever fool and a foolish wise man." Bending, she picked up Patchface's helm from where it had fallen and set it on Cressen's head. The cowbells rang softly as the tin bucket slid down over his ears. "A crown to match your chain, lord maester," she announced. All around them, men were laughing.
Cressen pressed his lips together and fought to still his rage. She thought he was feeble and helpless, but she would learn otherwise before the night was done. Old he might be, yet he was still a maester of the Citadel. "I need no crown but truth," he told her, removing the fool's helm from his head.
"There are truths in this world that are not taught at Oldtown." Melisandre turned away from him in a swirl of red silk and made her way back to the high table, where King Stannis and his queen were seated. Cressen handed the antlered tin bucket back to Patchface, and made to follow.
Maester Pylos sat in his place.
The old man could only stop and stare. "Maester Pylos," he said at last. "You… you did not wake me."
"His Grace commanded me to let you rest." Pylos had at least the grace to blush. "He told me you were not needed here."
Cressen looked over the knights and captains and lords sitting silent. Lord Celtigar, aged and sour, wore a mantle patterned with red crabs picked out in garnets. Handsome Lord Velaryon chose sea green silk, the white gold seahorse at his throat matching his long fair hair. Lord Bar Emmon, that plump boy of fourteen, was swathed in purple velvet trimmed with white seal, Ser Axell Florent remained homely even in russet and fox fur, pious Lord Sunglass wore moonstones at throat and wrist and finger, and the Lysene captain Salladhor Saan was a sunburst of scarlet satin, gold, and jewels. Only Ser Davos dressed simply, in brown doublet and green wool mantle, and only Ser Davos met his gaze, with pity in his eyes.
"You are too ill and too confused to be of use to me, old man." It sounded so like Lord Stannis's voice, but it could not be, it could not. "Pylos will counsel me henceforth. Already he works with the ravens, since you can no longer climb to the rookery. I will not have you kill yourself in my service.
Maester Cressen blinked. Stannis, my lord, my sad sullen boy, son I never had, you must not do this, don't you know how I have cared for you, lived for you, loved you despite all? Yes, loved you, better than Robert even, or Renly, for you were the one unloved, the one who needed me most. Yet all he said was, "As you command, my lord, but… but I am hungry. Might I not have a place at your table?" At your side, I belong at your side…
Ser Davos rose from the bench. "I should be honoured if the maester would sit here beside me, Your Grace."
"As you will." Lord Stannis turned away to say something to Melisandre, who had seated herself at his right hand, in the place of high honour. Lady Selyse was on his left, flashing a smile as bright and brittle as her jewels.
Too far, Cressen thought dully, looking at where Ser Davos was seated. Half of the lords bannermen were between the smuggler and the high table. I must be closer if I am to get the strangler into her cup, yet how?
Patchface was capering about as the maester made his slow way around the table to Davos Seaworth. "Here we eat fish," the fool declared happily, waving a cod about like a sceptre. "Under the sea, the fish eat us. I know, I know, oh, oh, oh."
Ser Davos moved aside to make room on the bench. "We all should be in motley tonight," he said gloomily as Cressen seated himself, "for this is fool's business we're about. The red woman has seen victory in her flames, so Stannis means to press his claim, no matter what the numbers. Before she's done we're all like to see what Patchface saw, I fear—the bottom of the sea."
Cressen slid his hands up into his sleeves as if for warmth. His fingers found the hard lumps the crystals made in the wool. "Lord Stannis."
Stannis turned from the red woman, but it was Lady Selyse who replied. "King Stannis. You forget yourself, maester."
"He is old, his mind wanders," the king told her gruffly. "What is it, Cressen? Speak your mind."
"As you intend to sail, it is vital that you make common cause with Lord Stark and Lady Arryn…"
"I make common cause with no one," Stannis Baratheon said.
"No more than light makes common cause with darkness." Lady Selyse took his hand.
Stannis nodded. "The Starks seek to steal half my kingdom, even as the Lannisters have stolen my throne and my own sweet brother the swords and service and strongholds that are mine by rights. They are all usurpers, and they are all my enemies."
I have lost him, Cressen thought, despairing. If only he could somehow approach Melisandre unseen… he needed but an instant's access to her cup. "You are the rightful heir to your brother Robert, the true Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men," he said desperately, "but even so, you cannot hope to triumph without allies."
"He has an ally," Lady Selyse said. "R'hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow."
"Gods make uncertain allies at best," the old man insisted, "and that one has no power here."
"You think not?" The ruby at Melisandre's throat caught the light as she turned her head, and for an instant it seemed to glow bright as the comet. "If you will speak such folly, maester, you ought to wear your crown again."
"Yes," Lady Selyse agreed. "Patch's helm. It suits you well, old man. Put it ona gain, I command you."
"Under the sea, no one wears hats," Patchface said. "I know, I know, oh, oh, oh."
Lord Stannis's eyes were shadowed beneath his heavy brow, his mouth tight as his jaw worked silently. He always ground his teeth when he was angry. "Fool," he growled at last, "my lady wife commands. Give Cressen your helm."
No, the old maester thought, this is not you, not your way, you were always just, always hard yet never cruel, never, you did not understand mockery, no more than you understood laughter.
Patchface danced closer, his cowbells ringing, but for one moment they were drowned out. There was a sudden childlike cry, a high whine, loud and cheerful. In a crazed instant Cressen thought he had heard Stannis, or Renly, or even Robert, one of the children he had raised; and perhaps they could explain to Stannis, make him see, for Cressen could not accept that one of the sons he had never had could raise a hand against the other. Then he saw the shape of a great grey bird sweeping past the window, far away, its wings extended like a song on the air. It had been the cry of a bird that, it so happened, had flown near the island as it stopped fishing for the day and came to rest, nothing more. Fool, he told himself, old man, weak, useless, fool.
And yet… his lord was not wrong that he was an old man, and his mind wandered. To the bird, alike from a distance to the goshawk Lord Stannis had reared as a child, though it was surely just a seagull. And to Lord Stannis, the boy who had fed and shown kindness to that weak bird with a broken wing, even as he showed kindness to Patchface who approached now still singing his dreadful song, for such an unamusing fool had nowhere else to go. And thus to the difference between the lord he had known and the lord the red woman was making.
There was a sudden burden on his brow. Cressen bowed his head beneath the weight. His bells clanged. In his depth of thought he had not paid attention to the fool coming near him. He had not even lifted his knife from his side to take a bite.
"Perhaps he ought sing his counsel henceforth," Lady Selyse said.
"You go too far, woman," Lord Stannis said. "He is an old man, and he's served me well."
And I will serve you to the last, my sweet lord, my poor lonely son, Cressen thought, for suddenly he saw the way. Ser Davos's cup was before him, still half-full of sour red. He found a hard flake of crystal in his sleeve, held it tight between thumb and forefinger as he reached for the cup. Smooth motions, deft, I must not fumble now, he prayed, and the gods were kind. In the blink of an eye, his fingers were empty. His hands had not been so steady for years, nor half so fluid. Davos saw, but no one else, he was certain. Cup in hand, he rose to his feet. "Mayhaps I have been a fool. Lady Melisandre, will you share a cup of wine with me? A cup in honour of your god, your Lord of Light? A cup to toast his power?"
The red woman studied him. "If you wish."
He could feel them all watching him. Davos clutched at him as he left the bench, catching his sleeve with the fingers that Lord Stannis had shortened. "What are you doing?" he whispered.
"A thing that must be done," Maester Cressen answered, "for the sake of the realm, and the soul of my lord." He shook off Davos's hand, spilling a drop of wine on the rushes.
She met him beneath the high table with every man's eyes upon them. But Cressen saw only her. Red silk, red eyes, the ruby red at her throat, red lips curled in a faint smile as she put her hand atop his own, around the cup. Her skin felt hot, feverish. "It is not too late to spill the wine, maester."
"No," he whispered hoarsely. "No."
"As you will." Melisandre of Asshai took the cup from his hands, and drank long and deep. There was only half a swallow of wine remaining when she offered it back to him. "And now you."
His hands were shaking, but he made himself be strong. A maester of the Citadel must not be afraid. The wine was sour on his tongue. He let the empty cup drop from his fingers to shatter on the floor. "He does have power here, my lord," the woman said. "And fire cleanses." At her throat, the ruby shimmered redly.
Cressen tried to reply, but his words caught in his throat. His cough became a terrible thin whistle as he strained to suck in air. Iron fingers tightened around his neck. As he fell to his knees, knowing the hour of his death, trying to deny her god, deny her power, deny his failure, he felt hard metal at his side… and knew.
He curled his fingers. It was an instant's work to shift his fall so that her legs were caught by it. As the red woman tumbled to the ground, bright eyes widening, his hand left his side with the last of his strength. The knife, nothing grander than any man's eating dagger, sank in, and suddenly there was another way she was red.
Lord Stannis's hall screamed with commotion. Half the lords and knights and captains stood; half of those were rushing towards him; but none of them would arrive in time. He met his lord's eyes, saw the anger there, and was sorry that he could not soothe it, but he did not feel he had done ill. Others must care for him now.
"For you," Cressen whispered to the son he never had, and died.