Excerpt, Chapter 25: Flashman and the Iron Throne

I'd been a week on horseback before the crags of Casterly Rock loomed in the distance. And quite a sight it was, too: crenellations and battlements built on a sheer cliff, black against the blazing sky like something out of The Thousand and One Nights.

I entered the city with a small group of escorts. They were picked officers from the Guides, long-bearded and armed to the teeth like a troop of Baluchi badmashes[1] – exactly the sort of ruffians you want at your back.

Lannister horsemen met us: a mass of red cloaks and burnished plate armor, for all the world like European knights.
As I was escorted – which is to say, roughly pushed – into Casterly Rock, I ran across some of the Lannisters' more irregular forces.

Some wag remarked that Darwin's theories only started making headway when Britain discovered Westerosi mountain clans. This is probably true. Picture, if you will, a crowd of louse-bitten men wrapped in fur and wearing horned helmets. A sea of body odor and missing pieces: eyes, teeth, and manners. One hillman slobbered his discontent at me. It was Moon Brothers dialect, so I only caught enough to be mildly insulted.

Unbidden, my mind dredged up one of Arnold's Latin tags: "Quintili Vare, legiones redde!"[2]

They finally shuffled me off to what seemed a small office.

It was filled with ornately carved furniture of some wood I couldn't identify: dark reddish stuff. The patterns reminded me of Elspeth's passion for Second Empire pieces: masses of laurel leaves and Romanesque columns as table-legs.

A rather deformed-looking man sat at the desk. Only when he drummed his fingers on the table did I realize that his arms were rather too short. Dwarfish. So this was Tyrion Lannister, then. House Lannister's "Imp". And, by a quirk of fate, its current head.[3]

The mannikin pointed at me.

"You," he said. "You look old and British enough to be important. Who are you?"

My hillman escort poked me in the ribs, presumably as encouragement.

"Harry Flashman, Your Highness," I said. "Representative of the Governor General – er, Victoria's Hand. Retired British officer. Um. VC, former diplomatic functionary in Afghanistan, India, China—in a manner of speaking –and, ah…"

I debated mentioning that I was distantly related to the Pagets, but decided against it.

"…and I have a message for House Lannister."

Tyrion's brow furrowed. Fingers laced together as he leaned forward, resting his chin on them.

"In private," he said.

The hillman nodded and withdrew.

So did the occasional courtiers.

Only one man remained: a dark, scruffy-looking fellow in a mail hauberk. He was big enough, though, for all his stubble – and seemed more dangerous than the barbarians and Lannister popinjays I'd seen outside. He had the ghost of a smirk when he looked me over.

Bronn, no doubt. They'd briefed me on him before I left. A "sellsword". Tyrion's pet mercenary.

Tyrion looked up. Rubbed his hands together.

"Well!" he said. "Let's get down to brass tacks, shall we? You want the Lannisters docile. Correct?"

Well, I'll give Tyrion one thing: he was direct. A rare quality in Westeros. I realized that something was bothering me about his diction. Careful, but almost sarcastically so – and with the hint of a drawl.

"…Correct," I said.

"And you're either demanding my surrender or considering me for some sort of regency. Correct?"

"Er, yes. I'm supposed to report back, you see. It's—ah, a bit irregular but—"

"Terms?" he said.

"—ah, what?"

He flapped his hand in an impatient circle.

"Terms," he said. "For letting the Lannisters keep Casterly Rock. You obviously have them. What are they?"

Direct, as I said. And not by halves.

"Well, you see—"

"Oh, out with it."

"We're worried that you'll try to free your family," I said. "We want someone who will – er – cooperate with the Empress's Hand in King's Landing."

Tyrion was silent for a moment.

"So you want me to be a puppet king," he said at last.

"Literally," added Bronn.

Tyrion gave him an "oh-how-original" glare, which was gleefully ignored.

"Anything else?" Tyrion said.

"Her Majesty's government doesn't want another rising on its hands," I said. "Just an easy transition."

Tyrion was giving me a flat stare, as if I'd said the stupidest thing in the world.

"A rising."


"Mr. Flashman," he said. "I'm an alcoholic dwarf who spends his days shopping for whores."


"Now, if Her Majesty's government can somehow produce an unusually stupid chimpanzee with Lannister blood, then I'll concede you have me beat. But Joffrey's already dead."

He sat back, twiddling his thumbs and waiting.

"…Welcome to the Empire," I said.

We all exhaled. I appreciate diplomatic immunity as much as the next man – assuming that the next man is traveling through a medieval wasteland filled with rape and pillage – but it's much better when a tyrant knows you're useful to him. Even a tyrant as dissipated as Tyrion Lannister. For their part, tyrants are usually grateful that they don't have to torture and execute you yet.

"Now then," I said. "I believe you mentioned whores…"

[1] Colloq., "bandits". From Hindi.

[2] "Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!" Allegedly uttered by Augustus after the Germans had annihilated Varus's legions at the Teutoburg Forest. From Suetonius.

[3] Tyrion Lannister, variously called "The Imp" and "The Halfman" for his dwarfism, was Tywin's younger son. He inherited leadership of House Lannister after the capture of his father and brother by British forces in the Riverlands Campaign.