Author's Note: All of this belongs to George Martin, of course. (Obvious statement is obvious.)

This is the sequel to A Clash of Kings: Knees Falling. Any reader who wishes to understand what's going on in A Storm of Swords: Knees Falling is strongly advised to start by reading the previous book; otherwise it will come across as very strange.


A STORM OF SWORDS: KNEES FALLING


TYRION

It was late evening, the sun seeming mere inches from the surface of the sea, when they came in sight of Dragonstone.

"Land ahoy!" called the lookout boy atop the rigging. Shortly later, Tyrion began to see it. The island grew as they drew nearer, a jagged nest of craggy stone with pieces sharp and black and jutting. The rocks were too treacherous for an approach from this side. They had to sail around the island to reach its great harbour, where they could drop anchor.

A hand tugged at his. "Uncle, that's Dragonstone. Does that mean we're safe?"

Tyrion turned around to see the fear and hope in his nephew's eyes, and he said, "No. Lady Selyse fought with us on the understanding we'd protect her daughter with a victory. Instead we're imposing on her hospitality after a miserable defeat." He kept his voice low to avoid being overheard by the sailors. "She may yet remain our ally but it's possible she will prefer to throw herself upon the mercy of Lord Renly."

Joffrey said, in a small voice, "Oh." He looked as though Tyrion had struck him.

The boy's right hand gripped tighter on Tyrion's left. It was the right thing to say, Tyrion told himself. He is king, too, and must be prepared for that role; he must know how to think like this someday. That matters more to me than that he's Jaime's son.

oh Father condemn us all. How can I expect to fool Lady Selyse into fighting for my doomed family? I cannot even fool myself.

The ships of the royal fleet came closer. When Tyrion had departed from this place for the most recent time, to fight the Battle of the Blackwater, about two-hundred galleys of war had left the great harbour of Dragonstone. About two-hundred galleys of war were returning now, but in a far sorrier state. Their holds were perilously over-full of men, many of them wounded, and even the healthy in low spirits. When they had left here, the smallfolk of the isle had raucously cheered them onward, waving flowers and Baratheon banners and shouting encouragement. Now fewer had come to greet them, and those who had were as gloomy as the men-at-arms. They had left in an afternoon and they came back in an evening; coincidence of ocean winds though it may be, there was no way of putting it better than that.

As she had when Tyrion had visited Dragonstone for the first time, after his exile by Cersei and Littlefinger to broker this alliance, Selyse Baratheon herself did not deign to await them at the docks. She preferred to stay in her castle, which in spite of its vastness appeared to be a tiny outcrop of strange curved shapes against the great black mass of Dragonmount on which it perched. That was one of few similarities to that first visit. There had been a mass of armed men here, once—few enough, and plainly inexperienced, but still men with weapons wearing Baratheon livery, as an attempt to intimidate the delegation from King's Landing with the might of the Baratheons of Dragonstone. Now there were fewer than half that number. Lady Baratheon had given up some of her men-at-arms to aid in the protection of the capital, upon being informed of the extremity of their need. They had fought bravely and held strong for a while. They could have won the battle. In the end, though, thanks to Renly's friends inside the city walls, their greatest efforts had not been enough.

Of all the royal fleet, the folk aboard King Robert's Hammer were the first to disembark. First came a retinue of guards in Lannister livery, then Tyrion and Joffrey, surrounded by the Hound, Ser Preston, Ser Meryn and Ser Alyn of the Kingsguard. There was no applause as they set foot on Dragonstone's stony shores, not as things had been when they left to fight the battle—only silence. The gathered smallfolk must have been bored in the extreme; they seemed to be looking over the heads of the Lord Regent and king. And why should they not? Tyrion thought sourly. A frightened boy and a mutilated dwarf, what an imposing, regal sight we must be.

Somebody had left a trumpet on one of the warships of the royal fleet, so they had a herald to announce them, though he was no master of this task; his blast was rather too quiet and squeaky. "Hail!" the young man cried in a strong voice. "Announcing His Grace Joffrey of the House Baratheon, the First of His Name, King of the Andals of the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm! And his lord uncle, Tyrion Onearm of House Lannister, Lord Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, hero of the Battles of the Blackwater and King's Landing!"

Hero of war, Tyrion thought with a snort. It was a lie, but a necessary one. A man who took a wound in battle could perhaps be somewhat respected. Otherwise—and probably even then—a one-armed dwarf was a sight to point and laugh at. As for the regency, Joffrey had foisted the title upon him during the voyage, as his uncle Kevan was either a prisoner of the traitors or a dead man.

The smallfolk ignored them still.

The herald seemed disappointed by the lack of reaction. He slunk away, and some of Lady Baratheon's knights emerged from amongst the crowd to lead them into the castle. It could be reached directly from here only if one were willing to undertake a heart-pounding climb; a less precipitous path started on the other side of the island from the harbour. The ancient Valyrians who built this place had not ruled the greatest empire the world had ever seen by being utter fools; they had given at least a little thought to making it defensible.

The king, his Lord Regent and his Kingsguard proceeded towards that path, only to be overwhelmed by a solid wall of sound. It was the smallfolk of Dragonstone, rushing and screaming and shouting at the top of their voices, pushing against each other, as if they were scrabbling for something infinitely precious. Tyrion could not hear most of the voices but from the fray he could pick out a few:

"Dad! Dad! Dad! Where are you?"

"Rob, speak to me, please, Rob, speak to me—"

He looked behind. The smallfolk who had made no reaction to the king or the westermen were surging towards the returning Narrow Sea islanders, calling names and reaching out with desperate clawing fingers. Many of them would be disappointed, he knew. Most of the Narrow Sea men here had spent the Battle of King's Landing on the ships, but some had been on the walls or in the reserves spread throughout the city, and most of the city's defenders had not survived.

He dragged his mismatched eyes from behind him and focused them ahead. There was nothing he could do for them, and doubtless they would think it mockery if he, a Lannister, were to attempt to show them pity.

The voices faded into nothingness behind. He walked on towards the castle of Aegon the Conqueror.

By the end of the hike, Tyrion's stunted legs burnt beneath him, not only from the deformity he had been born with and from the missteps he had made on the path in the darkness, but also from disuse. They were still not half as disorienting as his right forearm. Even now, four days after the battle, sometimes when he went to pick things up with it he was surprised to realise that it was not there.

Baratheon guards escorted him onwards, into the presence of Lady Selyse Baratheon.

The king's goodmother-to-be could not dismiss the Kingsguard from the presence of the king, but the Lady Regent of Dragonstone would not allow herself to be under threat in her own castle, so she did not dismiss her guards as she had done last time they spoke. Here they stood close to her, close enough to overhear the conversation, and they outnumbered the four men of the Kingsguard; Tyrion almost thought the four knights of the Kingsguard, but Sandor Clegane was no knight. The Lady Shireen was absent; only her mother was here. In the past the young Lady of Dragonstone had seemed more favourably disposed towards the alliance than her fearful, protective mother. This, Tyrion judged, did not bode well.

"Now you return!" Lady Selyse proclaimed, her harsh voice filling the chamber of the Painted Table. "The conquering hero of the Battles of the Blackwater and King's Landing! Mutilated now you come to me, a whipped dog looking for a master." Every syllable in her voice dripped scorn. "And you! King of all Westeros you were when you were promised the hand of my daughter, and what are you now, boy? Where is the confident lad who spoke to my Shireen so sweetly, in this scurrying rat I see before me here? I'm told that by your uncle Renly's plans your mother's head will be cut off tomorrow morning. What manner of man are you, that you are here and you did not defend her?"

In the past Joffrey would have surely reacted with hot wrath and wounded pride. He did nothing of the sort. He shrank in on himself, wrapping his arms about his shoulders and hiding his teary-eyed face, shaking.

Curses. Not again, Tyrion thought. For all of Joffrey's life, for all his pretended shows of toughness, whenever he was worried or afraid he had come to his mother. He had relied on her completely and absolutely, and she had been his rock in the world, the force that sheltered him from ambitious courtiers and from his not-father's indifference and drunken rage. He had lived under her protection, retreating to it instinctively whenever he felt uncomfortable or fearful in the outside world, and suddenly in the most brutal possible way it had been stripped away. Now he was stranded alone in a world that had become bewildering and frightening. His mother's death had broken something in Joffrey, a blind man could see it.

Her eldest son had depended on Cersei, more than her others ever had. Tyrion wondered why she had not tried to separate him earlier. Surely she had known that he would not have her forever, and better the weaning come sooner and kinder than this.

"My lady, that was uncalled for," Tyrion said mildly, burying his own anger at Lady Baratheon's words, "and His Grace the King is in quite some distress. May he not retreat to his bedchamber?"

"Oh, let him," Lady Baratheon said with an irritable wave of her hand. "I suppose 'tis you that I must speak with. Let your boy king begone."

The Lord of the Seven Kingdoms tried to wipe away his tears as his Kingsguard led him by the hand. His nose was wet with snot; he was still shaking. By his latest nameday he was three-and-ten.

"Well, my lord Regent," said the Lady Regent of Dragonstone, "I must say I did not expect you to darken my door again in the event of your failure. Tell me: why should I not throw you out of my daughter's dominion this very moment?"

"Because Lord Renly is no more merciful than he ever was."

"And?" Lady Selyse raised an eyebrow. "I know what manner of man my murderous goodbrother is. But it is better to hope for the mercy of a serpent, however lacking, than to lie down before it and accept its bite by choice."

Tyrion said, "He has no mercy."

"He does not," she conceded, "but he has a sense of his own reputation, and doubtless he must know how little threat we pose to him now. Loath though I may be to admit it, men will not choose a greyscaled girl to be their queen. My late lord husband never understood that, or perhaps wilfully blinded himself to it, but of all the trials in his life, he never had to live with how men and other women regard an ugly woman. What little loyalty my Shireen commands arises almost entirely from loyalty to him, no matter that he is nearly half a year dead. If Lord Renly commands that she be sent to the Faith, or even that she be Lady of Dragonstone but never wed or bear a child, she won't greatly threaten his reign."

"Not greatly," Tyrion agreed, to Lady Baratheon's apparent surprise, "but enough. Why allow small threats to remain, when you can have none? Only the goodness in men's souls, and a man as ruthless as Lord Renly will not let that trouble him."

Lady Baratheon's tone was cold as ice. "You may rest assured, my lord, that I am not a hysterical woman overcome with warm belief in the goodness of the man who killed my husband. But his reputation matters to him. If he kills Shireen, men will whisper, and he does not like them to whisper if 'tis about him."

"But they won't," Tyrion said, "because of the very reasons you give now. He will tell them all to his loyal followers once he has arranged to end the life of your daughter. She posed no true risk to him, he will say. He had no need, he will say. He is not the sort of man who would do such a thing, he will say. The despicable treacherous Florents are trying to drive a wedge between king and people after the predictable death of a sickly child by defaming him, he will say. And the men who follow him now will believe him; you will not sway any but a few of them at most, mayhaps not even that. Men always want to believe that all their friends are pious and virtuous and all their enemies devious and cruel, and men try very hard to believe what they want to believe. For if they were to admit such a grievous fault in King Renly, that would mean admitting fault in their own judgement to elevate him and dishonouring those of their friends and family who bled for him; and few men are ever eager to do that.

"Why should Lord Renly take the risk of letting Lady Shireen live? Her claim is worse than his by some House laws of succession but better by others. She poses little threat to him, but what if a later king of his line proves to be poor at ruling and loses the love of the realm? If he is bad enough, any rival will be tempting… unless there are no credible rivals left at all. That is why an enemy claimant to the throne is far more dangerous to leave alive than a defeated enemy lord or commander; by his very existence he threatens the dynasty.

"The Faith may be a safe place to put defeated rivals, from the perspective of Lord Renly. The oath of the black may be safe. Any order you name may be safe… but the peace of the grave is always safer.

"That is why Lord Renly will never allow Lady Shireen to live. Because… because he does not need to, and it benefits him not to, no matter how small that benefit may be. For a man of his ilk, that is enough—no. I misspoke. For a man of his ilk, that is more than enough."

"Damn you," said Lady Baratheon, trembling. "Damn you to the deepest of the seven hells, you accursed godsforsaken maimed dwarf with a serpent's tongue."

Tyrion was silent.

"I despise your words… but he is that sort of man, a man evil enough to steal his own elder brother's birthright and slay him for defending it. If he could murder my Shireen and avoid the blame for it, he would murder her, even if all it gained him was an almost unnoticeably less worried night of sleep on a single day. Could he avoid the blame for it? Among men who already deserted their rightful king for him, and have discarded all honour and law because of his damnable charm… yes. I am inclined to think he could."

"Then we agree, my lady," Tyrion said.

"We do not," snapped Lady Selyse. "You are a man and have no children, you can never understand. How can I not bring death to my daughter? Flee and her uncle's power will pursue her to the ends of the earth and she'll die as surely as that fool of a Targaryen boy died. Exile is no answer; Viserys Targaryen only lived so long because King Robert was sentimental about hired murder. Lord Renly, a kinslayer, is not. Stay and submit and Lord Renly will kill her anyway, simply because he can. And if I stay and fight for your hopeless cause, he will kill her just the same."

"It is not wholly hopeless."

"No?" Lady Selyse was unimpressed. "I knew you were a dwarf, I never knew your mind to be as stunted as your body. Much of House Lannister's strength is gone. My foul goodbrother holds the capital. Your father has not a shadow of a hope of taking it back from him; he would have the defender's advantage and overwhelming numbers, 'twould be a massacre if Lord Tywin were insane enough to try. The remnants of Lannister power are trapped between Stark claws and the antlers of a heartless Baratheon. That does not look as though it contains a great deal of hope!"

Her voice rose, and with the final word she seized a cup of wine and hurled it against the wall. The exquisite Dornish red went everywhere. The cup broke into a hundred pieces, glass shards glittering in the candlelight. Dusk was ending; the sun was almost gone over the horizon. Night was near.

Tyrion trod as carefully in the conversation as he knew he must when leaving the room, if indeed he succeeded in leaving this room alive. "Not in the short term, but we are not without a chance of victory. My lord father has a substantial host still in the field. Lord Renly's host is too great to be defeated in open battle, that is true; such a confrontation would kill me as surely as plunging the knife into my chest myself. But it is the men of the north and the riverlands who stand between my father and the west, and they have many times less strength than the usurper. Unlike against him, open battle against them is not doomed to certain defeat. Ser Edmure Tully is already marching against my lord father; the provocations in the riverlands have sufficed to draw him out. If we give battle, Lord Stark has no choice but to rush to protect his uncle, or else he will lose most of the strength he has left.

"King's Landing is far away. If we can defeat Ser Edmure and Lord Stark, we can reach Casterly Rock before Lord Renly's army does. He must take Casterly Rock, else he is no Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and yet no-one ever has. It is a fortress that has never fallen, ruled by a wealthy House with plenty of stored grain, and a siege beginning now is at the worst possible time to try to overcome that history.

"It has been a long summer. It will be a long winter too, and winter is just beginning. A siege almost entirely in winter! That will be cruel indeed. There is little love for House Lannister and much for Lord Renly in the Seven Kingdoms now, I grant you; but if he has been draining the grain and gold of all the realm to an army that is maintained day and night, every day of every week for half a dozen years, keeping tens of thousands of healthy peasants away from their fields, besieging the Rock, with no end in sight…? Then the shine may yet come off the armour of Lord Renly's reputation. The north and riverlands will never support us against him, but we may plausibly hope for neutrality from the Vale of Arryn and from Dorne. The Tyrells are loyal to Lord Renly without a doubt, but the Reachlords are only questionably loyal to the Tyrells, and the stormlords may rise up in the name of another Baratheon if Lord Renly gives them such grievous misrule. He is well-loved now, for he has never faced a hard test of his resolve and his ability as a leader of men. Once he faces that test, he'll likely fail, for he has never had any interest in such things. Lord Renly cares only for power, not for what he can do with it. If we surrender, all the children of both his brothers will die. That is certain; he will never allow a rival line to his dynasty to live. But if we hold strong, there is a chance that your daughter and my nephews and niece survive."

"Only a chance," said Lady Baratheon.

"Yes, only a chance. I shan't pretend it is the likeliest outcome; even if you think me a liar, if I were lying I would be a better liar than that. The Young Wolf may well destroy us, and if we survive that, Lord Renly may well outlast us anyway at Casterly Rock. We will probably lose this war, that is so clear a child could tell it now. But we might win, and that is all the hope we have. Probable death is not a good gamble, but certain death is worse, and with the state we are in now, certain death is the only other choice."

"You speak proudly of Casterly Rock—"

"I should," Tyrion interrupted, pressing the advantage, reminding her of the hope they had, "for there is no defence mankind has ever built that is its equal, anywhere in the world."

"I know," said Lady Baratheon, visibly vexed, "but what of Dragonstone? Do you claim that I must pass my daughter into your lord father's care? For I will never do that, my lord. She will remain with me, and her betrothed too, for it would be unwise for him and Prince Tommen to be in the same place, would it not?"

"It would," said Tyrion, thinking, Well struck. Both of them knew that the true reason why Lady Selyse wanted Joffrey to stay on Dragonstone was to serve as a hostage, so that she could know the Lannisters were not playing her false. "Dragonstone is less defensible than the Rock," he said, "but it isn't indefensible. Lord Renly has the fleet of House Redwyne, now that Lord Paxter's sons are doubtless either dead or in his custody, no longer in ours… but the ironmen are defiant, and as long as that remains true, Lord Tyrell will never allow most of the naval strength of the Reach to sail out of the Sunset Sea. Well do the Reachmen remember the reavers who've come up the Mander so very many times. He might allow part of it to be detached, but then that part will be too small to overcome the royal fleet."

"Perhaps it is now," said Lady Selyse, "but it will not be in half a dozen years, with all the ports and lumber of the continent at Lord Renly's disposal."

"And if that is so," said Tyrion, "then you will know he is building ships as he does so, and if there comes such a time as you are troubled, you may come to Casterly Rock, and be safe there. But I think not. Lord Redwyne already has as great a fleet as the Arbour can sustain—he cannot build more—and he won't approve of Renly building another royal fleet when, as things stand, almost all of the naval strength of Renly's realm belongs to him and him alone. That is a boon for him, and he surely wants it to continue. He is a cousin of Lord Tyrell and 'tis said the two have always been close. Does Lord Renly dare defy his closest supporters with sudden growth of royal power? Mayhaps. But I do not think he has the guts for it."

"You overestimate Lord Redwyne's influence over the king, I fear," said Lady Baratheon, to which Tyrion thought, No, of course I do not, 'tis merely that I don't want you to ruin this whole alliance with your mad insistence on remaining at Dragonstone when it will surely belong to Lord Renly by this time next year. She added, "But there is another way." She paused, then looked pleased that he clearly did not know what she had thought of. That was when Tyrion knew he had won. She has grasped onto this opportunity, if only because, fool's hope though it is, it is the only hope Shireen Baratheon has.

Humouring her, Tyrion said, "What is it?"

"It so happens that your knowledge is not quite the most recent, my lord." Lady Baratheon brandished a piece of paper at him. "Read this."

Tyrion did, though it was hard in the candlelight. The message was signed and sealed by Renly Baratheon, but the words were almost certainly from a maester's pen. It announced his victory in the city and pontificated for paragraphs upon paragraphs about how virtuous and noble and rightful a king Renly was. It even went so far as to defend his decidedly unrightful coronation in Highgarden rather than either of the traditional places for such, the Great Sept of Baelor in King's Landing and the Starry Sept in Oldtown: an astonishingly crude and petty disregard of the Faith's power by the Tyrells, born of their keenness to tie all things in the Reach to their own greedy hands. It then demanded submission or death, for the hostages in King's Landing had been 'liberated by the loyal men of His Grace the King' and the royal fleet would not suffice to protect Dragonstone from 'royal retribution'. After that, it spoke of the imprisonment of 'the adulteress Cersei Lannister, the Whore of the West', whom Renly promised he would execute in the morning five days after the day he wrote this letter, the day he won the Battle of King's Landing. Tyrion held back a flinch. He had known that his sister was going to die; it hurt, nevertheless, to see it in writing. He and she had never been close, but she had been his sister still. Now she was soon to be slain, and even if he were struck by some madness and went to King's Landing by the swiftest imaginable ship to rescue her alone, he could not possibly arrive in time. There were only Jaime, their lord father and Tyrion himself now, and certainly his father would hate him more than ever, for Tyrion Onearm had survived where Lord Tywin's golden daughter had not. Cersei would die on the morrow. Like Tysha, like Shae, he had failed her.

Or had he failed Shae? Had she found some strapping young man among Renly's men in King's Landing, whom she would make love to as sweetly as she had made love to him? Would it matter to her? Would she even care about the difference?

The thought was a bitter one.

There was more in the letter, but—"Well?" Lady Baratheon demanded.

Tyrion looked up, irritated. "What is it?"

"The Redwyne fleet," she said triumphantly. With such a smug grin on her moustached lips, Tyrion observed, she looked even uglier than she usually did. "What else do you think 'royal retribution' could mean? No other tool in his power could reach Dragonstone; and he spoke of it after the hostages. Doubtless he meant Lord Redwyne's twin sons."

Tyrion had not thought of that at all; his mind had dwelt more on the execution of his family. He had to force down a flash of anger that this mattered nothing at all to Lady Selyse. "I see."

"Do you? Well then, see this, my lord Regent. I will never abandon Dragonstone, no more than your lord father would let Renly take Casterly Rock for a while as a temporary measure. Dragonstone is my husband's by royal writ; my daughter will never be dispossessed of her girlhood home.

"I intend to assail the detached part of the Redwyne fleet by surprise, before it reaches King's Landing. I suspect Lord Renly demanded that they leave the Arbour as soon as possible once Lord Paxter's sons were freed, for it is likely that he is already wroth with the Redwynes. They have not aided him at all before now, when so many others in the south have laid down their lives for his cause. So unless he has told them about his pitiful attempt to intimidate me—" and she tore up Renly's letter— "we will know of their arrival but they will not know of ours. I will summon to Dragonstone those of my lord husband's bannermen that remain true to me: the Velaryons and Bar Emmons and Chytterings and more. The men of the Narrow Sea will end this threat before it can even begin, before the fleet is docked in King's Landing and protected by the southern army there."

"A wise plan," Tyrion said. He did not think so—he was not even sure that part of the Redwyne fleet was on its way to King's Landing as Lady Baratheon supposed—but he also did not think it wise to contradict her now that she was finally coming to accept the essence of the idea. If this attack failed totally, Joffrey, Shireen and her interfering mother could flee to the mainland and seek out the protection of his lord father's host. "But what would you have of me?"

"Men," she said. "How many able men of yours are taking shelter on my island?"

Father damn her, thought Tyrion. He had hoped to take the survivors of the Battle of King's Landing with him to his lord father, not to have them die pointlessly in a perilous campaign for Lady Baratheon's vanity. As a proven commander with men who had experience of following him in war, or at least wanted to pretend they did so that they could mask their true nature as opportunistic deserters, he might finally gain a shred or two of his lord father's respect, though never affection. If so, he might not be again placed under the command of Ser Gregor Clegane and deprived of his own command, as he had been for the Battle of the Green Fork—a humiliation that he still remembered bitterly.

He said, "Of those still alive and not gravely wounded? Nine-hundred and six-and-twenty." There had been plenty of time to count them and report to King Robert's Hammer during the voyage from King's Landing. She would soon know anyway, as she would be housing them; if he had told a lie, she would soon know he had deceived her, and she would not be amused.

"That shall suffice," said Lady Selyse. "Many men of the Narrow Sea have died fighting to protect King's Landing, for your sake. Are your westermen and crownlanders willing to die fighting to protect Dragonstone? I have sailors; sailors are never in short supply in the Narrow Sea isles. But I need men-at-arms to fight aboard my ships. You have plenty of men with your lord father already, far more than I have. These will do."

"They will serve you," Tyrion promised, and he thought, Because, damn the woman, I have no other choice. She is only barely reconciled to this idea, this hope of avoiding death by one hopeless path instead of the equally hopeless path of seeking Renly's mercy. Challenge her now that she is reconciling herself to the idea and she might change her mind and abandon House Lannister in a heartbeat.

When Lady Baratheon gave him leave, Tyrion left the chamber of the Painted Table and allowed himself a single night of troubled, turbulently dreaming sleep in a chamber in the keep of Dragonstone before setting off tomorrow. To his humiliation, he could not even disrobe unaided, with his right upper arm ending at a stump instead of an elbow; he was unaccustomed to relying on only his left hand. Lady Baratheon's servants had to take off his clothes for him.

In the morning Tyrion was dressed in a fine new doublet and breaches, and he made his way towards the harbour with an escort of a dozen westermen who, like him, had escaped by sea from the catastrophe at King's Landing. He was to travel aboard a single-masted cog belonging to a merchant, impounded by Lord Stannis Baratheon early in the war, not near as magnificent a vessel as King Robert's Hammer. He resented the appearance of unimportance that this gave him—the last thing he needed when dealing with his lord father's prickly pride—but he understood Lady Baratheon's reasoning; she wanted all of the main strength of her fleet for the sea-battle against Lord Redwyne.

It was a longer voyage than the way between King's Landing and Dragonstone which Tyrion had travelled oft in the past few moons. Seasickness no longer afflicted him; the frequent passages had beaten it out of him, as countless unhappy sailors who had cleaned his vomit from several decks could testify. They travelled with all haste, brushing dangerously close, mere miles, to the unforgiving rocks of Crackclaw Point, even given the fierce autumn winds. They met no trouble around Claw Isle, even though Lord Celtigar had gone over to Renly; with the much greater fleet of Dragonstone nearby, he dared not be too bold, and as far as he knew, this cog was just a harmless merchantman. A war galley would have aroused more suspicion.

The little cog navigated with admirable swiftness and adroitness through the narrowing Bay of Crabs and reached the mouth of the river Trident six days after her departure from Dragonstone. Then she had to sail upstream as far as the cross of the river with the kingsroad. Still, the men of the Narrow Sea were excellent sailors. They worked diligently and well. In another two days they had pushed the ship against the currents of the Trident far enough to reach the camp.

The great host of the westerlands was encamped in a vast, ungainly sprawl, with thousands upon thousands of tents and cookfires spreading beyond the horizon. Few things could compare as places of such density and complexity of mankind. Maidservants and serving men rushed around the camp, some of them greybeards, others as young as messenger boys, drawing water from wells and delivering papers and weapons and waiting at table and doubtless accomplishing many other duties. Men sat by their fires fletching arrows, or drinking with each other, or with whetstones sharpening their swords. Horses pulled wagons between different parts of the camp. Herdsmen looked after their animals, fat cows and swine and sheep and chickens. The finest tents had a dizzying, dazzling array of different banners flying above them, with beasts and birds of every sort and men and women and weapons too, emblazoned near each other in every colour that could be imagined.

The cog was stopped near the edge of the camp. "You! Yes, you!" yelled a dark-haired man whose accent in the Andal common tongue sounded as though he were from the roughest parts of Lannisport. "You ain't gettin' past withou' a check. Westermen pay fair, but we pay here, not up there—" he jerked a finger— "where all them hoity-toities live. Say, wha' are you sellin'?"

Tyrion might have ignored him, but he had two-dozen comrades, some on each bank of the river, each man burlier and more threatening than the last. All of them were pointing arrows at the cog. Many other men watched idly nearby. This was plainly not a good time to be audacious.

Tyrion's temper flared. He was not going to be delayed from speaking to his lord father because of a bunch of over-cautious guards. There was no herald, so he strode forth from where he had stood behind a tall sailor to announce himself, making no attempt to hide his injury; that would only make them mock it more. "My name is Tyrion Onearm of House Lannister, lately named Lord Regent of the Seven Kingdoms by His Grace the King, when I took him from King's Landing to safety at Dragonstone after the traitor Renly breached the walls. Whatever the traitor's ravens have told you, His Grace lives yet; and as he lives, so too does your duty."

As soon as the guards saw his short figure appear on the deck, they turned and started muttering to each other. Even when he finished speaking, they made no reply.

"Well?" Tyrion demanded. "This camp is large and time is pressing. Take me to my lord father's tent; there is much that needs to be discussed. Make haste."

The guards continued whispering to each other, until one fellow—the man who had spoken first—was shoved to the front by the others. He looked quite plainly as if he wished the ground would open and swallow him up, and his voice was so quiet that Tyrion strained to hear it. "Tha'… I'm sorry… I didn't… tha' can't be done, m'lord. Lord Tywin's dead."