Chapter Twenty-Four: Words are Wind
When he was a boy only freshly weaned from his wet nurse's breast, she had offered him stories. Oh, every castle had one. Some old woman who'd raised half the boys in the city and whipped the other into shape. One who knew a thousand stories about days they certainly couldn't remember. Stories passed on from wet nurse to wet nurse, until each tale was as muddled as the milk that dripped from their breasts.
She'd been the first to tell him the stories. Stories about the Isle of Faces, about the lands West of Westeros, about the Dornishmen that could slay dragons, the snarks and grumkins that would steal him away if he was wicked (and he so often was), and the Doom in Valyria that was waiting for a little runt of a boy to stumble upon it the way poor Aerea Targaryen had. He'd laughed at that, said Father would be happy if they took him, and she'd refused to speak to him for days.
But after that, when the silent treatment had worn thin, and her mind was full of stories again, she had sat him down and told him of the Land of Always Winter.
It had been his one of his least favorite stories. He had always been too taken by tales of dragons and riders to bother listening after the rest. But still, he let her talk. She told him of spiders made of ice, of wolves with eyes like the ocean, and men risen from the dead to slay their brothers and fathers. Of the prince that was promised, the last hero. A man strong enough to slay the Great Other, to cast him off to the darkness from whence he'd came. He had been banished there and chained limb to limb for all the rest of time. Or, at least until a little dwarf boy angered his father too much.
He'd laughed at that, said his lord father would have scared the Great Other away with a glare and a marriage proposal. His wet nurse hadn't been pleased. In fact, if he recalled correctly, she had cuffed him upside the head. A great many people did in those days.
For the first time, he almost regretted killing the man who sired him. If only because, had his lord father been there, it would have been Tywin Lannister sitting in on these meetings, and not Tyrion.
In all his days studying the Last Hero, he had never imagined the War for the Dawn could be so dreadfully boring.
"The Martells, the Yronwoods, the Daynes, and the Qorgyles can hold the Dragon Gate. Any spare men from any of the other Dornish Houses will go with them," Jon Snow said, moving the pieces in place with the hilt of a dagger.
It was a clever move, Tyrion thought, eyeing each of the yellow pieces. The Dragon Gate was one of the northernmost gates, the one that would surely be the center of attack, and one that would surely be the first to fall. But by pinning the Dornish Houses there – the armies most untouched by the War of the Five Kings and the many wars after – they might actually seem to stand a chance. Not a likely one, of course, but better than any other Houses manning that gate.
The Night King would expect heavier forces there, too. And, if he was smart enough, he might expect southern forces to be the most fearful of the wrath of winter. He would know the lines would break. Gods be willing, he would count on it.
Of course, it was not a plan Prince Ryndon Martell would take to well, hence why the meeting was lasting as long as it did.
"I still do not understand why the Lannisters cannot hold the gate," the prince said. "The Dornish are southern men. We will not fare well in snow. It is much too far."
"It'll be snowing all across the city," Jorah Mormont said. "It won't matter if it's the north end or the south."
"The North is further. Our men are not trained for moving in snow. You ask me to direct my men to suicide."
"I ask you to direct your men in war," Daenerys said, coldly. "You say they have not practiced moving in snow. It is a good thing they will have a week before the war. I expect them to spend it training."
"A week will not be-"
Tyrek Lannister stepped forward. "Do you think men of the Westerlands are any better trained? We've less than 5,000 men and fewer still have seen snow before this past moon. Seven hells, half our armies are summer children."
"Do you expect me to pity sons of Lannister?"
"I would ask you to show a little resp-"
"Enough!" Daenerys hissed, rising to her feet. She wore no crown, but, somehow, even without it, she looked more of a Queen than Cersei ever had. "The Dornish will hold the Dragon Gate, and the Lannisters will hold the Gate of the Gods. That is my final decision."
Tyrek paled. "The Gate of the Gods?"
The Dornishman only bowed his head to Daenerys. Suddenly, the snow seemed no more of an issue than the chill in the air. A thin smile whipped across his dark lips. "As my Queen commands."
"My- Your grace, the Westerlands alone haven't the men to hold the Gate of the Gods. If the Night King is as smart as you say…" Lord Crakehall sputtered. He was a stout man, and he looked rather like the boar on his sigil, if Tyrion told it true. As it stood, half of his chins flapped with every word.
"Smarter," Jon Snow said. "He completely outmaneuvered us at Hardhome, Winterfell, and the Eyrie. He may not look it, but he's smart." He looked to their queen. "Lord Crakehall is right, your grace. They'll need more men."
"If we could take men from the Reach-"
"The Reach will barely have the men to hold the River Gate, let alone the Gate of the Gods. If your grace wills it, we may be able to hold the River or the King's, but not the Gods. No, not that. Not one second, your grace. We lost as many in the Blackwater as the Lannisters did, your grace. Yes, just as many."
A lie, of course, and their Queen knew it as much as Tyrion did. For, when he caught her eyes, the scowl was clear for all to see.
The Tyrells had lost a few hundred, mayhaps a thousand. But as many as the Lannisters? When Tyrion and his men had fought for hours, while they fought for less than one? When they came upon a siege that had already fallen, with the enemy's leader fortuitously missing, and their navy destroyed? When half of the enemy forces were tricked onto their side as soon as they arrived?
No, the Reach had more men in their army than King's Landing had left, and the Reach knew it as well as he did.
But just as Daenerys was about to speak, the Lord Florent climbed laboriously to his feet. He had been sat in his wheeled chair, easing his burns and his discomforts, but now, he bore his pain with teeth grit. He reached for a cane, and it was a miracle it did not snap under his weight.
"The Reach will hold the… Gate of the Gods with… Lord Tyrek's men," he told them. Every word came paired with a wince. It was miracle the man was still alive for all the breaths he cut short to cough. As Tyrion recalled, he had not coughed nearly this much outside. Perhaps the cool air soothed his burns? "Lord Hightower… does not speak for us all… your grace."
He sat against after, and the knight at his side eased him into his seat. The lord grunted and hissed his way down, but never once did he react in any way to Lord Hightower's glare. Nor to the glare of any of the Reach lords, who had been all-too-content to escape the worst of the fighting.
Do you intend to come to Tumbleton with us? Tyrion wondered, idly. Or will you die with the rest, in the same fires that claimed your charred flesh?
He wanted to tell the man to go. He didn't need more blood on his hands. This plan would already stain them the color of his banners.
"Thank you, Lord Florent," Daenerys said, gracefully. When the burned man smiled at her – a grotesque grin that only served to flash more of his teeth through his cheek – she went on, "If the Gate of the Gods are in order, and the Dragon and the Iron, which else are left?"
"The Lion, the Old, and the King's," Jon Snow said. "The ironborn can watch over the River Gate, if they can pull their ships into the bay."
"I can't speak for Euron's men, but the rest of the fleet'll be there," said the Lady Greyjoy. She didn't look up from her hands, too busy cleaning her browned nails with the tip of her dagger.
"Any word from Euron?"
Somewhere, a raven screamed. Tyrion dismissed it, though he did notice that Lord Tarth tensed.
Sansa Stark shifted. "The old master of whispers claims he hasn't had word."
"You believe him?" Lord Redwyne scoffed. "It's no matter. The Redwyne fleet is greater than any force a Greyjoy could muster."
Lady Greyjoy's hand twisted on the hilt of her blade, but, before Tyrion could step in, Sansa was already answering, "The Redwynes are already planted around the Blackwater, aren't they? By the Iron Gate. We will need you there, my lord. We cannot let anything into the bay."
Lord Redwyne grumbled, but seemed to acquiesce. It was the most they would get.
Tyrion was quick enough to give him no chance to change his mind. "The Old Gate will also be a center point for attack. Can someone please explain to me why they had to build so many northern gates?"
"The Stormlands will defend the Old, your grace," said Ser Beric, ignoring Tyrion's perfectly valid inquiry.
"Lord Beric," began Lord Buckler – a man of the Stormlands who did not seem to be particularly pleased with his fellow Stormlander – but the Lightning Lord was unwilling to let him go on.
"I have been away from our lands for many years, but I do not remember the Bucklers shying from battle. I hope you the years have not turned you craven, my lord." He set his mutilated hand on the table. The few remaining fingers thrashed aimlessly against the wood. "The Stormlands will defend the Old, and the Lord of Light with us."
The pieces were moved and the armies were set. Five of the seven gates chosen. They had made a fair amount of progress for once. Pointless progress, but progress nonetheless. The order would be changed a thousand times more before the battle actually began, and a thousand times during. Strategies were never truly set until the war was already done. It was something he had come to learn many times over.
"The Freys can defend the Lion Gate," Olyvar Frey stated. "We haven't the men to hold off a full attack, but the Riverlands has enough left for a single gate."
Lord Tully nodded. "He speaks it true."
And so, more pieces moved. More grumbles earned. More discontent lords who might have each other's heads, if not for the war on the horizon. Come tomorrow, they would revise these plans completely. Come tomorrow, the same arguments would sprout again.
Why did the people always have to be so stupid?
"Who will defend the King's Gate?" Daenerys asked.
"The rest," said a Myrish man in a red cloak with a blazing heart sewn into the shoulder. A Red Priest, Tyrion noted. "The priests of R'hollor shall be scattered, but there is no reason the Myrish, Lyseni, and Braavosi cannot man your Gate of Kings."
None disputed him, and more pieces moved.
Of course, the Dornish fought again, and the meeting devolved once more.
When the meeting was broken, Tyrion found that his queen remained, surrounded by a field of lords and ladies. Lord Brax, and Lady Broome, Lord Payne, Lord Prester, Lady Hetherspoon, Lord Kyndall, Lord Marbrand, and dozens more whose banners Tyrion did not know. Men and women who had been silent in the meeting, but now sought favors from their rightful queen.
It was difficult to weave his way through the crowd, and harder, still, to catch his queen's attention. He had to shout to grab her eye, and, even then, she spent longer than he would have liked searching for him.
Then, by her order, the crowd was dispersing, and Tyrion was left alone with her, Ser Jorah, and the last two unsullied soldiers.
The Lannister lions were gone from the tapestries, and the crowned stags with them. In their place were Dornish spears, Tully trouts, Florent foxes, Hightower towers, and a single red dragon on a black field. There were no wolves, no falcons, and no golden roses anywhere in sight. He found he only mourned for the wolves. He had grown surprisingly fond of them in these past few years.
King's Landing had changed since he had last found himself in this place, and the rest of Westeros too. Almost too much. Sometimes, Tyrion wondered if even they won the war, if they could recover. Somehow, he was not truly sure.
Tyrion strode to his queen's side, his legs cramping with every step. He had spent too much of the day on his feet. Mayhaps he could ask for a stool for the next meeting. At the moment, only Dany and Lord Florent had a seat, and even she rarely made use of it.
"That went well," he remarked, settling on one of the stone steps. The others remained standing, but then, the others didn't have his legs either.
"Have the ironborn and the Farmans always been so-"
"Yes," Tyrion said. "As far as history can remember it, there has been little love between them."
"They can hold themselves together for a week more," Ser Jorah said. "Once this war is done, the ironborn can tend to themselves."
"They will still be our allies. I would like not to see my allies at war, if I can prevent it."
"You would be hard pressed to try. The Farmans spent thousands of years guarding the Westerlands from the iron invaders, and it was not too long ago that the ironborn even managed to steel Fair Isle from under them. If I recall well, under His Grace, your grandfather, the Iron Fleet destroyed the whole of the Farman forces." He shifted, easing his left leg on the steps below. "The Walkers will sooner come to terms with us than the Farmans will the ironborn."
Daenerys' lips twisted in displeasure. "The world is at an end, and they bicker like children…"
"Mayhaps they prefer to die as they lived," Tyrion offered. "Would you have befriended Robert on the eve of war?"
"I befriended Ned Stark's son, did I not?"
"Yes," Tyrion said, grinning good-naturedly, "the bastard who knelt for you and gave you the North, with a face as pretty as any a brothel could offer you. A true sacrifice, your grace."
For a moment, Dany only scowled, but, before long, a smile broke on her own perfect face. "Perhaps we can bond the Farmans and the Greyjoys the same way."
And, as night gathered and the cold winds blew, Tyrion laughed with his queen.
Of course, the mirth could only last so long before they were back to their scowls and sorrows. Those moments were growing shorter by the day. Soon enough, he might never have a laugh again, and what was the point in life, if he could not laugh at terrible proposals? It would be worse than asking him to live without wine and whores.
Ah, how his life had degraded these past few years.
"Have you spoken with Lord Tyrek?" Dany asked him, and Tyrion offered her a grim nod.
"We have agreed that he will lead the Lannister vanguard. According to all the laws of Westeros, I am still officially in exile. It is a miracle that none of our honorable lords and ladies have called for my head."
"The day they do, they will lose their own," Daenerys promised him. "As soon as the war is done, you shall have your pardon."
He nodded his head. "My gratitude is unending, your grace."
"And..." Ser Jorah said, unamused.
Tyrion smiled. "And, I would ask your grace to speak with my dearest cousin of the lordship of the Rock. Lawfully, if my honor and titles are restored, the castle should fall to me. After the war is done, of course."
"After the war," she told him. "We will discuss it then. For now, what are your plans for the battle? I will not lose my Hand to the Walkers, and one man will not make much a difference in the fight."
He nodded his head. "And a half-man even less, I'm quite sure. Lord Footly has offered Castle Tumbleton as lodging for the ladies and the weak. It seems I am a good fit for one and good company for the other."
"Which?" Ser Jorah asked.
Daenerys' glare could have levelled mountains. In truth, it likely would. Tyrion had never been one to bet against dragons. Few clever men did, and he liked to fancy himself at least that.
"Tumbleton," the queen said to Tyrion. "With the Lady Sansa?"
He nodded. "So I've heard."
Daenerys looked to the ground, before she forced her gaze back to him, jerking like a mad horse, instead of the dragon she was. "Keep her safe," she told him, suddenly. "There may be raiders, attackers, assassins-"
"I will do my best, your grace," Tyrion said. He rose to his aching feet and stepped forward. "Though, if I may ask, why the sudden interest? I thought there was no love lost between you both."
"There is," Daenerys said. "But she is Jon Snow's sister and the Lady of Winterfell."
"Ah, yes, it does seem prudent to protect the heiress to a pile of rubble." And all the more prudent to prevent the risk of the castle falling to the other of the Stark sisters, if the look on Daenerys' face spoke it true.
This time, the glare was directed at Tyrion, and it was all he could do not to wither and hide.
They went on talking for another hour, and then the meetings resumed again. Sometimes, Tyrion thought they would never end.
Yet, in a few days' time, he knew he would wish they hadn't. In a few days' time, he would stand at the cusp of a foreign castle, staring up at the sky and willing any hint of word from a battle that he could not see. Hoping, beyond hope, to see a dragon soar above his head. Hoping he would not have to use the dragonglass knife he had carried since Winterfell. Hoping his life would not end at the beckoning of some blue-eyed beast. A wolf, or a spider, or even a man. Mayhaps even a dragon, if he was unlucky enough.
He returned to the meeting with his head high and his legs aching and cramping.
The day he left for the final time, his legs still screamed, his head still ached, and the fear in his heart pulsed like none he had ever known before the Eyrie.
By the time he returned – if he returned – this castle would be filled with cripples and broken things. Perhaps, for once in his life, he would fit among them well.
There were tables set up about the room. Tables lined with wine and water. Tables that called him to the wrong end, to the wrong cup. As Lord Dayne inquired about the usefulness his family's sword, and as Lord Sweet argued against the placement of too many early troops at the River Gate, he inched ever closer to the wine.
Mayhaps it was an act of benevolence, or some mark of the gods' righteous wills, but before he could get any closer, Ser Beric was there. Frowning at him from the table, as he poured himself Dornish red and a cup of water. He handed one to Tyrion, shaking his head all the while.
Tyrion spoke not a word, but, when the cup was in his hands, he toasted to the Lightning Lord's Lord of Light, and drank down the red. It was the greatest thing he'd tasted since the horse piss on Varys' ship. It would be the greatest for a long time still.
A/N: No, I did not make up Lord Sweet, and I don't understand either.
Unfortunately, not much action to be had in this one, which is why it's a rare weekend update. But I thought it was probably important to understand what, exactly, they've been planning for so long. Or, at least, a few pieces of their plans. Can't exactly play all my cards before the battle even starts, can I?
Anyway, next time, we've got Sansa again, as she heads off to Tumbleton. Time for a good old Stark goodbye. They're pretty used to those, I've noticed.