Ned Stark Lives! Chapter 1 Varys
An alternate version of George R.R. Martin's 'Game of Thrones', based on the books, asking what would happen if Ned Stark had lived. The story picks up soon after Ned Stark's arrest and Sansa pleading for his life. Arya is still on the loose, Tyrion has escaped from the Vale, and Stannis and Renly Baratheon are making plans to take the Iron Throne. Robb Stark is moving to the Riverlands and Tywin Lannister and his son Jaime are planning to meet his army. Yoren is in King's Landing, recruiting for the Night's Watch. Each chapter will be from one of the character' viewpoints, much like in the books. How many chapters, that I don't know yet. Of course, Mr. Martin is the owner of all and I humbly walk in his footsteps.
King Robert Baratheon was dead. The history books would write that he was killed by a boar that ripped his guts open while he was hunting in the Kingswood. But Varys knew the real truth, that King Robert's squire Lancel Lannister had fortified the king's wine and made sure he had plenty of it. Enough so that his spear did not aim true when the boar thundered down on the king. Varys' little birds told him these things and that Queen Cersei also had a hand in this and that she was fucking Lancel on the side.
But Varys now faced a more difficult problem as he made his way to the meeting of the new king's small council. The death of King Robert had set in motion a sequence of events for which Varys, most unusually, was not prepared for. The eunuch was not called master of whispers, or the Spider by the more ungracious, for nothing. But it was too soon for war. Oh yes, he wanted war, but in a year's time, six months at the earliest. Yet, other people wanted war sooner and he knew who that was. Lord Petyr Baelish, Littlefinger, had lied to the Stark's about the knife that had been used to try to kill their son Brandon in Winterfell. Varys knew it for a lie the moment he heard about Littlefinger's explanations. Tyrion Lannister, younger brother of the Queen, had no more reason to harm Brandon Stark than Varys did. Yet, that opening lie set off a wave of idiocy that was about to engulf the seven kingdoms in pools of blood. Ned Stark's son Robb was in open rebellion against the new King Joffery and Ned Stark sat in a dark, dreary cell.
Varys also knew the reason Ned Stark opposed Joffery. He knew Joffrey was a bastard. Even worse, he was a bastard born of incest. His true father was not Ned's friend Robert Baratheon, but his supposed uncle Jaime Lannister, twin brother of Queen Cersei. Stark had been stupid enough to tell the Queen he knew her secret. He had openly defied Joffery as king once Robert was dead. And now Lord Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, was under arrest for treason and his son had called his bannermen to help save his father. Varys had only one chance to head off open warfare. Stark's daughter Sansa had pleaded for his life. Stark had agreed to take the black and join the Night's Watch. Varys now had to convince Queen Cersei and her son, the new King Joffrey. It would not be easy.
The small council sat around the table in the room behind the throne room. The new king was present, hardly the grieving son who had buried his father so recently. His mother the Queen sat next to him, looking radiant as ever and also looking a might too cheerful for a woman who just buried her husband. Then there was Petyr Baelish, Littlefinger, master of coin, who created money out of thin air and had so many plots of his own even Varys had trouble keeping up with them. Last of all was Grand Maester Pycelle, healer and adviser to the crown, in his grey robes with his heavy linked chain around his neck. Varys knew the Grand Maester was a creature of the Lannister clan, and had been for a long time, even when Mad King Aerys sat on the Iron Throne.
"You're late, Lord Varys," said Joffrey in an insolent way as Varys made his way to the council table.
"Forgive me, Your Grace," Varys replied in his most obsequious manner as he sat. "I have just come from the black cells. Lord Stark has agreed to make a full confession to his treason as long as he is allowed to take the black and no harm comes to his daughters."
"He must order his son to disband his armies and pledge fealty to me here in King's Landing," Joffrey said at once. "Then I will let him take the black, but not before."
"A prudent safeguard, Your Grace," Pycelle said at once, ever the lick spittle.
Littlefinger shook his head. "Your Grace, Robb Stark will not come to King's Landing. His grandfather and uncle came here once and never left. His sisters and father came here and the same has happened. He is a child, but I think not so stupid."
Cersei nodded. "He will want his father freed first. If not, he will go to war." She looked to Varys. "Where are his forces now?"
"Already the Stark host has crossed the Twins and marches towards the Riverlands," Varys reported. "Your lord father's host moves to meet them."
"A war would be ruinous for the kingdoms," added Littlefinger. "Best to avoid it if at all possible. Let Stark take the black and order his son home." He sounded so truthful, Varys almost believed him.
"What if he decides to join his son's army?" asked Queen Cersei. "What if he decides to lead it?"
"Lord Stark is an honorable man if nothing else," said Varys. "Once he publicly pronounces his treason and we grant him the reprieve of joining the Night's Watch, he will honor that to his last breath."
Cersei nodded. "His honor is his undoing. But what you say may prove true. And if not, we will always have his daughters as hostage to his word. Let him take the black."
"If he is so honorable why did he try to take my throne?" Joffrey spat, anger clear in his tone. "He was my father's friend!"
The Queen shifted uncomfortable in her chair. "He was always jealous of your father. Your Uncle Jaime said that the day King's Landing fell Ned Stark almost took the throne for himself. He was just biding his time until your father was dead and unable to stop him."
All lies, Varys knew, but Joffrey was not mollified. "He should be executed for his treason."
Cersei stared at her son. "Our trusted advisers are right. We don't need a war. And your uncles Stannis and Renly are both claiming the throne as their right. We need fewer enemies, not more."
Joffrey bristled for a moment. "My uncles. What right do they have? I am first in line. The Iron Throne is mine!"
"Of course it is," Cersei said sweetly. "They are liars who always feared and were jealous of your father. They will pay for their disloyalty. But we must deal with the Starks and the northmen first."
Joffrey calmed down. He turned to Varys. "Then let him take the black. But Sansa and the other one stay here."
"Of course, Your Grace," said Varys.
"Have we found the other one?" asked Pycelle in his slow growl. "What is the child's name?"
"Arya," Littlefinger told him.
"She was with her dancing master but he interfered when our men tried to seize her and she escaped," Cersei said. "But she will be found."
"He is no dancing master, Your Grace," Varys said softly. "His name is Syrio Forel and he was the first sword to the Sealord of Braavos for many years.'
Cersei's eyes narrowed. "Why did Stark have such a man teaching her dancing?"
Varys would have laughed at the absurdity of her question but did not dare. "He was teaching her how to use a sword, Your Grace, not how to dance."
"These northerners and their strange ways," commented Littlefinger. "A girl with a sword." He made a scoffing sound.
Cersei glared at him. "Just because we women lack a sword between our legs does not mean we cannot wield one in our hand." Littlefinger at least had the decency to look abashed at the rebuke. She then looked back to Varys. "Where is the Braavosi sword master now?"
"Dead, killed defending the Stark girl."
"Good," said Joffrey with a sneer. "And where is she?"
"No one has located her yet," said Varys. "But many are looking."
"See that she is found, alive," ordered the Queen. "With two Stark children in hand we can trust Lord Stark to keep his promises and bring their brother to heel. But find her, and find her fast."
"A substantial reward will bring her to us more quickly," Littlefinger stated.
Varys shook his head. "All it will bring us is false rumors and the corpses of little girls with their faces slashed off who they claim is Arya Stark."
Cersei turned a scornful look to Littlefinger. "We do not want our enemies to know we do not have her yet." She then glanced back at Varys. "No public reward. Make subtle inquires."
"As you command," said Varys, feeling pleased that Baelish had been twice rebuked in one meeting. "There is more news, Your Grace," Varys continued. "Good news this time. Your brother Lord Tyrion has been freed from the Vale."
Cersei did not seem pleased at all at that news, nor Joffrey, who stared sullenly at Varys. "How?" Cersei asked, after a bit too long a silence, her lips pursed so tight the word barely escaped her mouth.
"Apparently he asked for trial by combat and a sellsword championed him," Varys explained. "When the sellsword defeated Lady Lysa's champion Lord Tyrion was set free. The sellsword went with him. They befriended some hill tribesmen and they are now at your father's camp."
Cersei gave a small snort. "Well, he was the cause of this unrest. If there is a fight I hope father puts him in the front ranks so he can atone for his stupidity at letting Catelyn Stark capture him. Is that all the news?"
"Just one more item, Your Grace," Varys told her. "We have had reports from across the Narrow Sea that Daenerys Targaryen is with child. The late king sent out assassins to deal with her, but Lord Stark said King Robert had a change of heart as he neared death. What shall we do now?"
"Kill her," Joffrey spat out. "And her unborn brat and her horse-faced husband. Kill them all!"
"As the King commands," Cersei told Varys. "We will have no pretenders for the throne, here or across the Narrow Sea. Now, as for Eddard Stark. I think on the morrow he should confess his treason before the people on the steps of the Sept of Baelor."
Joffrey screwed up his face, as if he was thinking too hard. "Don't the Starks pray to the old gods? What good is having him confess before gods he does not believe in?"
"He will confess before all the gods, old and new, and the people, Your Grace," Pycelle said. "And they will judge him harshly and publicly support you."
"The Grand Maester is right," Cersei told her son. "There are some religious overtones to this confession. But it must be a public confession before the people."
"He better confess," Joffrey said. "If he doesn't, off with his head!"
"That would surely cause open warfare, Your Grace," said Littlefinger.
"Stark will take the black after you mercifully grant him his life," Cersei told her son in a commanding tone. "He will order his son to cease his preparations for war. That will put an end to all this foolishness."
"With one exception, Your Grace," said Varys.
She bristled. "What exception?"
"The Starks still believe Lord Tyrion had something to do with Brandon Stark's fall and the subsequent attempt to murder him. They will not forget that so easily."
Cersei looked away from him and in that instant Varys knew she had something to do with it. "Tyrion has been judged before the gods," Cersei said, still looking away. "Catelyn Stark was there when he was tried? She saw the fight?" Cersei looked at Varys and he nodded. "So, by all the laws of the seven kingdoms he is innocent and that is an end to it."
"Truly," said Littlefinger. "As far as Lord Tyrion is concerned, Your Grace. But Lord Varys is correct. These northerners have long memories."
Joffrey stood, anger clear on his face. "They can take their memories to the grave! Our family had nothing to do with it. He just fell, clumsy boy."
"The fall, yes, Your Grace," said Varys. "But who paid a man to cut his throat with a Valyrian steel dagger with a dragon bone hilt?"
"I bet he was just a common thief," Joffrey said, his eyes darting about, his voice strained. Now that was interesting, thought Varys. Why is the King looking and sounding so guilty?
"Of course," said Varys. "Such dreadful scum are common everywhere."
Cersei also stood and lay on a hand on her son's arm. "My lords, the meeting is at an end. We thank you for your advice. See to the preparations for Stark's confession and his new career as a man of the Night's Watch." With that she and the King strode from the room, not even caring that the others had stood and bowed to them.
Varys sat again with the other two for a moment longer. "I think we have avoided war."
"For the moment at least," said Littlefinger.
Pycelle gave a grunt. "Time will tell. The north has been wronged, and they will not forget."
Littlefinger feigned shock. "Wronged? Stark tried to remove Joffery from the throne. I think he got what he deserved."
"A folly," said Pycelle. "Stupidity. But this business about his son. What reason would Lord Tyrion have to harm the boy? None. But Catelyn Stark seemed to think he did. Why?"
Varys knew and glanced at Littlefinger, who also knew, having accused Tyrion Lannister of owning the knife that the assassin had used to try to kill Brandon Stark. Varys sighed heavily. "She must have her reasons. Who knows a parent's mind when it comes to the safety of their children?"
"Certainly not you," Littlefinger quipped.
"And how many brats have you sired, dear Petyr?" Varys asked in a mocking manner.
"None that I know of. But at least I am still capable."
"My Lords," Pycelle said in a loud voice. "This bickering is most unbecoming. I suppose we must wait Lord Tyrion's return to the capital to know the truth of the matter."
"Indeed," said Varys, glancing at Littlefinger who was busy closing his accounts ledger book. "If there is nothing more, I have matters to attend to." He looked at Pycelle. "I shall deal with the Night's Watch man if you can deal with the High Septon concerning the use of Baelor for Stark's confession."
Pycelle agreed and Varys made polite goodbyes and left soon after. He had much to do. First he needed to contact the man from the Night's Watch who had so recently come to the capital. Varys happened to know he was in a sleeping cell in the lower levels of the Hand's Tower, courtesy of Lord Stark. He sent a messenger to tell Yoren to come to a certain corridor below the castle at a certain hour. He did not say who the message was from just to be there if he wanted to look over the prisoners from the dungeons for the Night's Watch. Then Varys retired to his sparse rooms and set about gathering the whispers his little birds had heard over the last few hours. Some came to him with written messages, others came and told him secrets in hushed voices.
Of all the news the most important was there was no news of Arya Stark. Good, Varys thought. It would not do to have the Lannisters have two Stark hostages. For his own plans Varys might have need of Eddard Stark and his son. The Starks had no love the Lannisters now, not after all that had happened. If Varys' plans were to come to fruition in the future, his cause might need Stark swords against Lannister ones. But that was the future. For now, he hoped to find Arya and have her sent home somehow. But she had disappeared, somewhere in the city. He only hoped she was still alive. If she were dead, and the Starks somehow blamed the Lannisters, open warfare could not be avoided.
Then he thought upon another matter. His little birds told him Joffery was making inquires about his father's bastards. Some were far away and safe. Others were here in the capital. One was named Gendry, an armorer's apprentice in the Street of Steel. Seven years ago when the boy's mother had died, King Robert had ordered Varys to find the boy a useful trade and to pay the appropriate fees. He also told Varys to make sure no one knew about Gendry and that the boy was to never know who his true father was. All was taken care of. But now Varys worried that Joffrey's anger would lash out at his supposed father's base born children. He giggled to himself. Would Joffery cut his own throat if he also knew he was a bastard?
Varys had no love for Robert Baratheon or his bastards, so set these thoughts aside for the moment. Robert's bastards had no claim to the Iron Throne so this would not upset the other plans Varys was hatching across the Narrow Sea. Still, maybe something could be done for Gendry, if only to keep that distraction around to fluster Joffery and his mother a bit longer.
As the hour approached to meet Yoren, Varys took a lantern and left his rooms though a secret passageway and made his way deep into the black tunnels beneath the castle. After many twists and turns he came to a small room where he changed into his goaler's disguise. His name was Rugen in this guise and he was in charge of the third level of cells. Normally he had naught to do with the upper levels of cells, but he needed to deal with this Yoren fellow and he arranged for chief undergoaler Longwaters to drink some dreamwine with his lunch and knew he would be fast asleep. Varys, in his Rugen disguise, went to the upper levels and soon after found Yoren waiting for him.
"I'm here for the prisoners for the Night's Watch," Yoren said in a gruff voice. He smelled of sweat and ale, Varys noted, although he was also reeking a bit, as part of his disguise.
"Lord Stark said you could have whoever we got, if you likes the looks of them," Varys told him in an uncouth rough raspy voice. "Course he's here hisself now, ain't he? Ha. One day a lord, the next a prisoner."
"The gods are not just sometimes," said Yoren with a heavy sigh.
"Might be they are," said Varys. "Had word that Lord Stark is to take the black."
"Aye? And whose word would that be?" Yoren asked, full of mistrust.
"The King's word. And if you don't believe me go ask him yourself. Course, he might shorten you by a head for bothering him."
"Right," Yoren replied. "The Night's Watch could do with a good man like Lord Stark. Man likes of him will end up commander some day."
"You'll have to wait on the morrow to see him," said Varys in his goaler's voice. "The rest you can look over and tomorrow you can have them that decides to take the black."
They walked down the corridor that was lit with torches on the walls. Varys held his lantern up high as they came to the first door. Varys handed the lantern to Yoren and took out a set of keys and a role of parchment. He opened the door and they stepped into a large cell that held about ten men and boys. It was dimly light by a torch high in a wall bracket, a courtesy for these cells since the criminals were of a minor nature. The occupants knew if they messed with the torch or lit any fires it would be taken from them and men could go mad in the darkness, even with companions. The floor was covered in dirty dried rushes and a latrine bucket in the corner was almost overflowing. The place reeked of shit, piss, and stale sweat.
The prisoners were a ragged lot, most of them in dirty clothing. Many had matted beards and long greasy hair. Several were in ankle chains but most weren't. Two of them were younger looking than the rest. One of these had blond hair and green stains up to his elbows and the other was dark haired and quite chubby. They sat together in a corner staring at the other prisoners. It seemed very tense in the cell.
"What's all this about?" Varys asked in a rough tone.
"We was just wondering what the fat one there tasted like," said one prisoner. "We ain't been fed in over a day." The rest growled their complaints about the lack of food.
"Food is coming, bread and mutton stew," Varys told them. "Someone wants to talk to you lot first."
Yoren stepped into the cell and it grew silent as they got a look at him and his black clothing.
"Right, you filthy lot of scumbags," he said in a commanding tone. "You are all criminals, condemn to be punished and spend long years in these cells or maybe hang from your neck till dead. I'm Yoren, from the Night's Watch. We have need of men and don't care where you're from or what you did. Any man joins the Night's Watch gets a clean slate. All your crimes are pardoned. The Wall is cold but we got food on the Wall and we'll train you to use arms. Any man with a trade is doubly welcome. Boys, too. But know this. You join the Night's Watch, it's for life. We take no wives, father no children, have no lands or homes we call our own. You desert and we'll have your head off."
There was a long silence and then one prisoner spoke. "You got whores at the Wall?" he asked and more than a few laughed.
"No," said Yoren. "But there's a whorehouse in Moles Town nearby. You ain't supposed to go but we always ain't got both eyes open if you know what I mean." All the men laughed now, even the two boys. "We need men," Yoren said again. "The Wall is long and isn't likely to be getting shorter. Any man who joins will be my brother once he says the words of our oath."
Varys noticed a few of them held their heads up a bit higher as Yoren said this. Some men just need a second chance to atone for life's mistakes. Joining the Night's Watch was one way to do this.
"The goaler will read off your names and any man wants to join comes with me on the morrow," Yoren told them. "It's a long ride but we have food and the fresh air and exercise will do you good. Right, let's start with the two boys. Who are they?" he asked Varys.
Varys looked at the parchment in the light of the lantern Yoren held. "Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie."
"Seven hells, what kind of names are those?" Yoren asked with a scowl.
"The names they gave," said Varys. "Both here for petty thievery."
"I ain't a thief," the fat one said. "I was just…hungry." That brought more laughter. "I'm called Hot Pie cause I always pushed my mum's pie cart through the streets yelling 'hot pie', so everyone calls me Hot Pie. Then she died and she owed money for the shop so some men came and said it was theirs now and kicked me out in the street. I ain't got nowhere to go, no coin for food."
"Can you bake?" Yoren asked him.
"Sure. Bake best bread and pies you ever tasted."
"Boy, you want it, you got a new home."
Hot Pie hesitated. "Is it really cold on the Wall?"
"Always," said Yoren solemnly. "But it'll be warm in the kitchens."
Hot Pie smiled and stood. "I'm coming."
The blond haired boy with green arms stood. "I'm Lommy. You need dyer's apprentices?"
"Aye," Yoren told him. "But you won't see no green cloaks on the Wall. Only black. We'll have your arms so dark you'll look like a Summer Islander."
"I'll take the black."
Soon others joined them as Varys read off the names. One was a man skilled with a bow who was caught poaching on the king's land. Others were thieves, one was a rapist, and two more were here for beating a man near to death in a tavern fight over a card game.
"He was cheating," said one.
"So was we," said the other. "He just cheated better than us."
"You'll never cheat your black brothers or it's the rope for you," Yoren told them. They both volunteered. With five more from another cell, and eight in another, Yoren soon had almost thirty men.
Varys then led him deep in the dungeons to the lowest cell levels. Here it was pitch black and the light from the lantern struggled to fight the darkness. Soon they came to a strong iron door. Varys again produced his keys, found the right one and opened the door.
"Get that fuckin' light outta me eyes or I'll fuck you bloody with it!" came a harsh growl from inside the cell."
The cell held three men, all chained ankle and wrist, one of them also chained to the wall. The one who had yelled had a hole where his nose should be and scowled at them as he shielded his eyes. The one chained to the wall hissed at them and showed a set of sharp teeth, but said nothing. The third man sat calmly in a corner, with his head turned slightly away from the harsh light. He looked handsome compared to the other two, and though it was hard to tell in the semi-darkness Varys knew he had red hair on one side and white hair on the other.
"Food!" yelled the one with no nose. "Where's our bloody food?"
"Soon," said Varys.
"What are they in here for?" Yoren asked.
"Who speaks?" asked the calm man in the corner. He had a strange accent and Varys knew he was from Lorath, one of the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea.
Yoren stepped into the cell. "Yoren of the Night's Watch. Come to see if you want to take the black."
"Fuck you!" yelled no nose. "The Wall is colder than an old whore's teat and you black brothers ain't allowed no whores anyways!"
"This one is a rapist," Varys told Yoren. "Did a dozen women, some young girls, and even a boy. Said he thought it was a girl. Rorge is the only name he gave."
"How did he lose the nose?"
"A whore cut it off!' Rorge said in a growl. "So now I does the same for them."
"He's for the rope on the morrow," Varys said.
"What's that now?" Rorge said in surprise, sounding worried. "No one said nothin' about no hangin' on the morrow!"
Varys smirked at him. "So now you know! It's that or take the black, if Yoren will take scum like you."
Yoren gave Rorge his nastiest stare. "We have plenty of rapists up there. But you rape again, we take your balls."
"Hanging or the Wall?" asked Varys and after a moment Rorge spat and said "The Wall." Varys knew why he said it. Rorge had no intention of going to the Wall. But it was a way out of these cells and it was a long trip north. Anything could happen to give a man a chance to escape. He hoped Yoren slept with one eye open.
"This one here doesn't speak and has no name that we know of," Varys told Yoren as they shone the light on the man chained to the Wall.
"This man calls that man Biter," said the calm man in the corner. "No sound comes from his mouth but hisses."
"He killed a whore in Flea Bottom and tried to chew the teats off her," Varys told Yoren. "He's for the rope tomorrow also."
Biter growled and spat and shook his chains. Yoren looked at him. "The rope or the Wall?"
Biter stopped struggling and then hit his manacled hands on the wall of the cell, once, twice, then three times. "The Wall," said Varys. Then he shone the light on the calm man and was about to speak when the man spoke first.
"This man has the honor to be Jaqen H'ghar of the Free City of Lorath."
"We ain't got too many foreigners on the Wall but we'll take you if you're willing. What's his crime?" Yoren asked Varys.
Varys looked at his scroll of parchment. "Murder."
Yoren stared at Jaqen. "Who did you kill and why?
"A man needs money to return to his homeland. So a man must take jobs other men will not take. A merchant needs to get some money from a certain man who owed a debt. This man was to find him in a certain house, a rich man's house. His guards let this man enter. When this man came to the rich man's solar he was dead at the table with a slit throat. The dead man's daughter, a girl of eight, saw this man and screamed. The guards cornered this man on the roof of the house. This roof is very high, too high to jump. This man killed two before being knocked unconscious."
Varys knew it was true, except he was sure Jaqen H'ghar had slit the dead man's throat and the guards never knew he was in the house till the girl had screamed. The story had come to him the day Jaqen H'ghar was sent to the black cells. The dead man's guards had tried to get him to confess who had hired him and beat him, but he had refused to tell. Then they turned him over to the gold cloaks of the City Watch. There was no trial, not with three deaths and so many witnesses.
"So you claim you're innocent?" Yoren asked and Jaqen just bowed his head slightly.
"Not the first time I heard that," scoffed Varys in his rough jailer's voice. "He's for the rope with these two on the morrow."
But Jaqen H'ghar did not flinch like the other two when told this news. "As the Red God commands," he said. "Valar morghulis. All men must die."
At that moment Varys knew who and what he was. A Faceless Man, an assassin. They were renowned for their ability to kill silently and escape without notice. Had he erred? Had he been unable to kill a young girl to make his escape? And what was he doing so far from the Free Cities? Faceless Men rarely did their work in Westeros. One thing he could guess with certainty. Jaqen H'ghar was not the name he was born with and perhaps even his face was not his own.
"Aye, all men must die," said Yoren to Jaqen. "But you don't have to die tomorrow. There's a place on the Wall for you."
"This man accepts your generous offer," Jaqen told him and then Varys and Yoren left, followed by the curses of Rorge to bring food and empty the piss bucket.
"Those three will be trouble, especially Rorge and Biter," Varys told Yoren as they made their way to the upper levels.
"Not the most dangerous lot I've ever transported to the Wall. I got a nice cage for those three, not to worry. And any trouble and no one will raise a fuss if I cut their throats."
"As you say," Varys said and soon they made arrangements to have the prisoners sent to the Mud Gate in the morning. After Yoren said his goodbyes Varys retrieved food for his prisoners in the lower cells. After he gave them bread and bowls of potato and mutton stew to the three who had decided to join the Night's Watch, he made his way back through the dark to where Ned Stark was confined to a cell with a stout door.
Stark blinked rapidly as the light of Varys' lantern came into his cell. Soon Stark recognized him.
"Lord Varys. What news?"
"First, eat my lord," said Varys. He had a bag with him from which he produced a roasted half of a chicken and a skin of wine. Ned Stark fell to the food like a starved man and drank deeply of the wine while Varys talked.
"Queen Cersei and King Joffery have agreed to allow you to take the black."
Stark paused in his chewing and leaned against the wall and swallowed. "Only if I confess to being a traitor."
"Yes. Publicly. On the steps of the Sept of Baelor tomorrow."
Stark snorted. "A public confession. Wise. They want me to support Joffrey's rule."
"It seems that is their intention."
Stark took another drink. "And my daughters?"
"Sansa is well but…"
"Arya?" Stark asked in a thick voice.
"There is still no word. Not even I can find her. She has disappeared."
To his surprised Stark smiled. "She has a wildness to her. She won't be found because she doesn't want to be found."
"As you say, my lord. But if they find her first, they mean to make hostages of both your daughters so you keep your word."
"My word is good," said Ned Stark. "It's all I have left. But all Lannisters are liars. That's why they don't trust anyone else's word."
"Well said, my lord. These liars have added one more condition. You are to find your son Robb and order him to disband his army and send his men home."
"If he'll listen to me," Stark said. "Robb is Lord of Winterfell now. My title passes to him permanently once I take the black."
"My lord, this is a condition Cersei will not budge from. They mean to see an end to this rebellion. At least his part in it. That will free the Lannister armies to deal with any threats from Robert's brothers."
"What news of Stannis and Renly?"
"My little birds tell me Renly is gathering a host to the south and has the support of Highgarden. As for Stannis, it is difficult to know what happens on Dragonstone. But he has let it be known he claims the Iron Throne as his brother's true heir."
"Will they fight together?"
Varys giggled. "I think not. I have a feeling Renly will declare himself king as well and Stannis will never abide by that as he is the elder surviving Baratheon."
"Madness," Stark said with a heavy sigh. "They should join forces."
"My lord, once you take the black I would council not getting involved in these rebellions. For the sake of your children if not for yourself."
"Is it a rebellion if a bastard sits on the Iron Throne?" Varys said nothing. "Tell me, master of whispers, how long have you known that all Cersei's children are her brother's children too?"
"I have known longer than anyone," confessed Varys. "I knew they were lovers even when the Mad King sat on the throne. I thought it might end when she married Robert. Alas, he only had love enough for your dear dead sister and could not love his new Queen. When Joffrey started to grow older and his blond hair shone like gold, I knew he was no Baratheon. And then came Mrycella and Tommen, equally as fair as their brother. Oh, Robert did sire children, most of them bastards with a shock of black hair and the blue eyes of the Baratheons."
"Jon Arryn knew."
"Yes, and asked too many questions. As did you. And here we are."
Stark was silent as he took another drink of the wine. Then he spoke, and surprised Varys. "There is a boy in the Street of Steel. One of Robert's sons."
"Gendry," said Varys and Stark gave him a sharp look. "I am the one who set him up as an apprentice per King Robert's command."
"Aye," said Stark. "Certain people might know Jon Arryn and I visited the boy. If so, he's in danger."
"Joffrey is already making inquiries into his supposed father's bastards. They cannot take the throne but I believe he wishes to do them harm."
"Perhaps you can do the boy another favor."
"The Night's Watch always need armorers.'
"Indeed," said Varys. "I will arrange it."
"There was another of Robert's bastards, a girl, daughter to a whore in one of Littlefinger's houses."
"She is but a babe, but I will see what I can do," Varys said. "Now, my lord, I need to know what you will say tomorrow."
Stark sighed. "I will confess. I will tell them I tried to take the throne and will put myself at the mercy of their justice."
"Very well, my lord," Varys said as he started to stand. But Stark grabbed him by the arm and stopped him.
"But know this, Varys. If any more harm comes to my family, there is not enough gold in all of Casterly Rock to buy my silence or stay my wrath. I will hunt them all to their graves."
Varys smiled. "I would expect nothing less, my lord."
With that Varys withdrew, made his way back to his rooms high above, and was soon wiping the grime of the prisons off his body. Afterward he changed into more suitable clothing for his next venture, a trip to the Street of Steel. He dressed all in black, a cowl covering his face, and again he slipped out through secret passageways. Some thirty minutes later he was at the armorer's shop where the boy Gendry worked. The boy was in the back pounding on a steel breastplate and did not notice Varys approach. A quiet word to his master, a handed over bag of silver, and the master promised to do what was asked, though he seemed a bit reluctant to Varys.
Once more back in his rooms, Varys lit some candles as night came on. He began to read the reports that came to him all hours of the day. He was getting ready for bed when a soft knock came to his door. It was one of his little birds, a girl who served as a hand maid in the King's chambers. She was but ten years old and had lovely brown hair and green eyes and was known for her ability to remember conversations exactly.
"Come my child," said Varys as she sat at his table and he gave her some watered wine to sip. "What news of our new King?"
"He had a visitor an hour past. Lord Baelish."
Varys' eyes narrowed. "Indeed. And?"
"Lord Baelish wanted to discuss some money issues but the King said it could wait, he wanted to be fresh for when Ned Stark was shamed in front of the kingdom tomorrow. Baelish then said 'I think it wise of your mother to command you to spare Ned Stark.'"
Varys knew what game Littlefinger was playing here. "And the King's reply?"
"He got angry, and said 'I gave the order. I am the King. If I wanted to kill Stark I would in a second.' Then Lord Baelish said 'Of course, that is your right. You are the King and Stark is a traitor.' Then Lord Baelish left."
Varys handed her two silver stags, double her usual weekly rate, and her eyes lit up. "You have done well my child. Get some sleep now." After he dismissed her Varys sat thinking for a long time. Finally, he made a decision. He opened a hidden panel in the stone wall of his room. Inside were many vials and jars. He took a bottle, closed the panel, and then summoned another of his little birds, a young boy, gave a command and gave the bottle to the young boy. Finally, Varys slept, and slept well, knowing he had done all he could to set things right. Tomorrow would be a busy day, and hopefully Ned Stark would still have his head when it was over.
The next morning after a light breakfast Varys washed and powdered himself and perfumed his body before donning robes of lavender. He made his way to the small council chamber where the Queen was already sitting with Littlefinger and Janos Slynt, commander of the City Watch. Varys made his good mornings, sat, and then noticed the tension in the room.
"The King is ill," Cersei told him through pursed lips.
"Oh, dear," said Varys. "Not seriously I trust?"
"An affliction of the stomach," Littlefinger said. "After he broke his fast he was taken ill. Pycelle is purging him now."
"We must delay Stark's confession," Cersei said.
"Your Grace," Slynt began. "Already crowds are gathering at Baelor. The word has spread."
"If we delay it could mean trouble," added Varys. "We must have Stark proclaim Joffrey the true king even if the King is not present. Already whispered rumors are spreading."
Cersei knew what rumors these were Varys knew, and she did not question him.
"There is more word of Renly Baratheon," added Varys. "He is in Highgarden and they appear to be about to support his claim."
Cersei closed her eyes and sighed. "And Stannis? What news of him?"
"Only that he is still on Dragonstone and still claims he is the rightful king."
"Saying he is king does not make him king," said Littlefinger. "As for Highgarden, perhaps a Dornish alliance will make them look over their shoulders and think twice about advancing on King's Landing."
"Dorne has no love for us," said Cersei. "Doran Martell's sister and her children were killed during the Sack of King's Landing if you recall."
"Quite true," said Varys. Well, not exactly true, but he would take that information to the grave.
"We must have father's armies," Cersei said suddenly. "Send him a raven and command him to come here at once."
"As you command, Your Grace," Varys replied. "But it will take time. And he may not come."
"I am the Queen Regent. His grandson is the King. He will obey."
Varys knew he would not obey. Tywin Lannister never obeyed anyone in his family. He was the lion of Casterly Rock, not one of the lambs. "He will come much faster if the Stark bannermen are headed north to their homes."
Cersei gave him a sharp stare and then turned to Slynt. "Stark is to be brought to Baelor in a half an hour. Make sure there are enough men to keep the crowds at bay. You may leave us."
"As you command, Your Grace," Slynt said with a short bow and then left the room in a hurry.
"And the King?" Littlefinger asked. "He would surely like to be there when Stark confesses. And he must pardon him."
Cersei gave the master of coin a withering look. "I am the Queen Regent. I have the power to grant life or death to any traitor."
"Beg pardon, Your Grace," said Littlefinger in a fawning manner. "Of course, that is your right."
Varys felt mighty pleased with himself, but kept a solemn face. "I do hope the King is better soon."
"It is but a minor illness," Cersei said, a touch of worry in her tone, however. She stood. "Come, my lords, it is time we heard a traitor confess."