Arya was staring up into the night sky.
All around her the others were sleeping. Gendry, Hot Pie, Lommy, and the rest were spread out on the grass lying on rough woolen blankets. After the gold cloaks came looking for Gendry, Yoren had taken them off of the Kingsroad. They were heading up towards Gods Eye using the trails and back roads. Yoren kept away from the villages and towns, they hadn't even gotten to stop at an Inn again. The few people they spotted on the road kept clear and tried to get past them as quick as they could. There were fewer refugees and fresh dug graves here, but there was no mistaking that the land was at war.
She had asked Gendry why the gold cloaks were after him. He pretended not to know. That had to be a lie of course, how could you have a queen wanting to arrest you and not know why? Arya didn't hold that against him. She kept her secret from him and everyone else. Some things you had to keep a secret no matter what.
Since they had gone off the main road they hadn't heard any of what was going on. Arya hoped that Sansa was safe. Despite calling her horseface and always making fun of her needle work she prayed that her sister remained unharmed. She'd heard that Robb had won a great victory at Riverrun and taken the Kingslayer prisoner. Some said his army was marching on King's Landing and that all the Lannister soldiers had been killed or sent running. Tywin Lannister was supposed to be fleeing back to Casterly Rock with just a handful of retainers. Arya hoped Robb was hurrying to the capital as fast as he could to put Joffrey and Cersei and every other Lannister's head on a pike and rescue Sansa.
Arya wanted to see Robb again, and Sansa and her mother and Bran and Rickon. She wanted to go home to Winterfell. She wanted to go to The Wall and hug Jon as he hugged her back. And though she knew it was impossible she wanted to see her father again.
Arya shut her eyes and tried to get some sleep. Tomorrow would be another long day.
By the time Tyrion arrived at the Gate of the Gods he was certain of two things. One that the situation was even worse than he'd expected, and two, that so long as his sister remained in charge they would not get any better.
The journey here had been slowed by all the refugees who were clogging the Kingsroad. Shagga had suggested cutting off a few heads as a way of getting the way clear. Bronn and even Ser Preston who was in command of his guard agreed. Tyrion had decided against killing ordinary folk who were just trying to find some safe place. His family's reputation was quite black enough already without adding to the list of crimes.
So instead he and his procession were delayed a couple of days. Along the way they had crossed paths with a force of thirty or so gold cloaks. Tyrion had inquired what they were doing so far from home. The officer in charge had told him they had two arrest warrants and were looking for a boy by the name of Gendry and for the former Kingsguard Sandor Clegane. The man couldn't tell him what crime this Gendry had committed that demanded so much effort to see him brought to justice. The officer had been more than happy to share the fact that the Hound had been accused of treason and in aiding Sansa Stark in her murder of their beloved king. He was to be returned to King's Landing to answer for his crimes.
Tyrion was certain the Hound was innocent. Not because Sandor had loved Joffrey, Tyrion was fairly certain the Hound had loathed his nephew. But rather because if Sandor were part of a plot Jof would have had a hunting accident or his throat cut in the middle of the night. Clegane was a sour and unpleasant man, but when it came to killing he was very competent. He would never have killed Joffrey in such a spectacular way.
Tyrion tried to order the gold cloaks back to the city. With everything going on there were more important things to deal with than some unknown boy and a former retainer Cersei wanted to kill out of spite. Their commander told him in a very haughty tone that they had their orders from the Queen and that wouldn't obey the Imp.
"What's your name?" Tyrion asked in a friendly manner.
"I promise I will remember it."
Tyrion entered the city with fifty Lannister soldiers, two hundred mountain tribesmen, Bronn, and a small number of servants that included Shae. The guardsmen manning the gate had not been sure what to make of them. They might well have tried to deny them entry had it not been for the Lannister banners they carried. Though he had not been gone all that long Tyrion immediately noticed how much more crowded the streets were. There looked to be squatters in every alley they passed. And most of them were not men, what he mostly saw were old folk, women, and children.
Just how were they going to feed all these people?
On the way to the Red Keep they were crossing through the plaza beneath the great Sept of Baelor. There were at least three dozen masons hard at work laying bricks in the middle of it. Curious Tyrion brought his horse over to one of the men and asked him what they were doing.
"Building a foundation for a statue my lord."
"King Joffrey's my lord." The mason answered, never stopping his labors. "The queen's ordered that he have a statue as big as Baelor's and it'll be all made out of gold too."
Baelor had been the most beloved of all the Targaryen kings. The smallfolk and the faithful had adored him. Tyrion had thought him rather befuddled, but he had at least built the Great Sept and ruled peacefully for ten years. His statue was of polished bronze and stood twenty feet high, it was far and away the largest statue in all of Westeros. The idea that a boy king who had ruled for all of a day, and whose greatest accomplishment was taking Ned Stark's head and starting a war, deserved such a monument was laughable.
"Do you have any idea how much gold a statue that size would take? It would bankrupt the whole realm."
The mason managed to shrug as he kept laying brick. "Aint my concern my lord."
"Don't you think your efforts might be better suited to strengthening the gates?"
"It's the queen's orders my lord."
"Of course it is," Tyrion mumbled. "Yet another of my sister's brilliant schemes. By the way, does she also plan to build a little altar in front of the statue? So that people can sacrifice puppies and other small animals?"
The man stopped and gaped, clearly having no idea how to answer.
"Never mind my good man. I am sure our beloved queen will have it built later."
When Tyrion at last arrived at the Red Keep he dearly treasured the looks of dismay and revulsion people aimed at the tribesmen. The looks of fear were even better. People had never looked at him that way. He had seen such looks directed at his father and Jaime some times. His father had always said that fear was the most genuine form of respect.
Deciding that walking through the halls with two hundred and fifty armed men might be a bit much Tyrion decided to bring Bronn, Shagga, Ser Preston and twenty Lannister men with him. It was enough to be thoroughly intimidating while not seeming to be an invasion.
He soon learned his sister was meeting with the Small Council. As he and his company approached the door to its chamber there was a solitary figure waiting outside dressed up in white cloak and armor. Tyrion was startled when he recognized who it was.
"Lancel? Is that you?"
"Cousin," Lancel replied trying to sound stern. His right hand was gripping the hilt of his sword as his eyes were darting about. "What are you doing here? And who are these men?"
"I am here to see my sweet sister and these men are just here to keep me safe."
"No need to be so scared." Bronn said. "We didn't come here to get blood all over your pretty white cloak."
"I am not scared!"
Bronn sneered. "Yes you are."
"When did you become a member of the Kingsguard?" Tyrion asked. "Does your father know? He certainly didn't when I set out."
Lancel straightened his back and lifted his chin. "His grace personally anointed me a knight and then named me as one of his seven."
"I had no idea Tommen was so fond of you."
"After what happened to our beloved King Joffrey the Queen Regent wanted someone on whom she could absolutely rely."
Tyrion nodded. "I am sure the king's enemies from Dorne to the Wall are quaking in fear knowing they have to face you. I must say you certainly have improved your station. The last time I saw you King Robert was throwing a boot at your head and screaming for you to get him more wine."
Lancel's cheeks flushed. "I was the king's squire and did as I was bid."
"And you did your duties very well. I never saw anyone better at pouring wine, truly. I can understand why my sister promoted you to the Kingsguard. So few know how to handle a pitcher."
Lancel's grip on his hilt tightened. "Would you like me to show you my skill with a sword?"
"Oh no need, Jaime watched you practice a few times. How did he put it? 'Exceedingly mediocre' I believe. Now that my brother and Selmy are gone I think you should fit in perfectly."
"The queen knows my value."
"Oh, I am sure she does." Tyrion leaned forward and made a show of sniffing him.
"What are you doing?"
"Are you wearing lavender oil? It's rather a nice scent, reminds me of a Summer Isle girl I used to fuck."
"I… it was a gift from the queen."
"Like your knighthood and white cloak?"
"Watch your tongue, I will not take any insults."
"After your time with Robert I would expect you'd be used to them by now. I see you have cut your hair, and that you are wearing it as Jaime used to." Tyrion shook his head. "So has she tried to have you mimic him in certain other areas?"
Lancel looked about. "I don't know what you mean."
"Yes you do, but don't worry I won't interfere. Having to deal with you should be punishment enough on my dear sweet sister. Now if you will excuse me I have a meeting to attend."
"You are not permitted…"
Tyrion ignored him and walked past. Bronn and the others followed his example as a baffled Lancel stood there not knowing what to do.
When Tyrion opened the doors to the Small Council Chamber the discussion abruptly cut off. They all turned to stare as Tyrion strode in followed by Bronn, Shagga, Ser Preston and the Lannister men at arms.
"No need to get up." Tyrion told them as he approached his sister.
Littlefinger, Varys, Pycelle, and Slynt all remained seated. Their eyes fixed not on the dwarf but on all the armed men following behind him. After the recent events they all had to feel a bit nervous. One could go from being powerful to being a head on a pike very quickly.
Cersei glared at her younger brother. She was in a black gown and seated at the head of the table. "What is the meaning of this? Why are you here? Where is father?"
"Read these, they should answer everything." Tyrion held out a scroll and a letter. Both sealed with their father's stamp. Cersei snatched them from his hand. "Please don't tear them up. I hear you have a bad habit of ripping up important documents."
"Pieces of paper don't mean anything."
"They do depending who wrote them."
Her mouth twisted but she did not reply. Cersei opened the scroll and began reading it. Halfway through Tyrion saw her eyes widen. "What nonsense is this?" She flung the scroll down on the table. "Why would father name you to serve as Hand?"
Because with Jaime gone he has actually decided to acknowledge me. Tyrion didn't say that. Cersei would never believe it and given what was in the letter it wasn't actually necessary. "I suppose it's a sign of the faith he has in me."
"Father wouldn't trust you to run a brothel never mind the entire realm! Tommen named father to be Hand of the King and to bring his army here. When will he arrive?"
"He isn't coming sweet sister, neither him nor his army. He has better uses for it than making you and my nephew feel safe."
"He cannot refuse, it was a royal command."
"And yet he has." He saw her open her mouth to argue. Tyrion just pointed to the letter that was still in her hand. "Read that and I think you will clearly understand the situation."
Cersei's mouth snapped shut. She broke open the wax seal and began to read.
Tyrion saw her eyes widen and her face grow noticeably paler. Once she had finished she read it a second time, as if to be sure the words were really there. The members of her council began casting uncertain looks at one another. All of them knew Tyrion as a drunkard, a gambler, and a whore monger. He was important only due to who he was related to. No one had ever taken him seriously.
When Cersei was at last done she slowly crumpled the letter in her hands. Her arms were trembling. "This is a lie, father could not mean it."
"Send a raven to Harrenhal if you want confirmation, but if you try and ignore father's words like you did Ned Stark's you will be the one to regret it."
"Why?" She demanded. "Why would father do this to me?"
"Because every decision you have made since Robert's death has been utter folly. If you are allowed to make any more of them it may lead to our ruin."
"It is because of me that our family rules this country!"
"And it's also because of you that Jaime is dead now."
Cersei leapt to her feet. Her arm lashed out and struck him across the face hard enough to knock him down.
Bronn and others put hands on weapons and everyone tensed to see what would happen next.
Tyrion slowly got back to his feet and rubbed his cheek. "You are as gentle and ladylike as ever dear sister."
"Don't ever say that what happened to Jaime was my fault. Do you hear me?"
Tyrion stared up at her. "Do you acknowledge me as Hand of the King?"
Cersei glared at him hatefully. "Yes."
"And will you obey all my commands?"
"A Queen does not obey!" She snapped.
"Shall I tell father that is your answer then?"
Cersei hesitated. "I am willing to listen to your suggestions if they make sense."
"Father didn't send me here to advise sweet sister, he sent me here to rule." This was the moment that would decide whether or not he had any real power here. Everyone who was watching was judging him. "Either acknowledge my authority and agree to support me in all things or I write to our father you mean to defy him."
He saw her right hand twitch. No doubt her impulse was to slap him again. Tyrion had a very little bit of sympathy for her. She had spent all those years with Robert being frustrated. Then she had finally been freed of him and enjoyed real power. It had to be very bitter to have it snatched away again.
But that tiny bit of sympathy couldn't compare with the simple pleasure of seeing his vain, cruel, and vindictive sister being forced to acknowledge his power over her.
"Since father has entrusted you with the post of Hand, I will support you. Until father arrives to take the position."
Not quite a ringing endorsement but it would do.
"Good, so glad to know we are on the same side." Tyrion turned to the council members. "Well then, first order of business. Lord Baelish, you are under arrest. Ser Preston put him in a black cell."
Preston motioned and a couple of his men moved to obey.
"This is an outrage, what are the charges?" Littlefinger demanded.
"Treason and conspiracy should do for now."
As he two soldiers took hold of him Petyr Baelish made no effort to resist. "My Lord Hand whatever you may have heard I have always been loyal to the crown."
"Yes, when I think of you loyalty is the first word that pops into my mind."
He waited until Lord Baelish had been removed.
The Lord Commander of the City Watch stiffened in his seat. His eyes jumping from Tyrion to the soldiers standing behind him.
"As you may know my father and his soldiers are currently located in Harrenhal, your new seat. My father is a very busy man, trying to organize the army and plan a successful campaign wears heavily on him. He would be greatly relieved if you were to take possession of your new seat and take charge of the castle itself."
Tyrion could see the man let out a breath and relax in his seat. No doubt he'd feared the same treatment Littlefinger had just received. "I would of course be only too happy to claim my new lands. Alas I am needed here."
"Your devotion to duty warms my heart. You wish only to serve the crown, that is correct isn't it?"
"It is my Lord Hand."
"You can best serve in Harrenhal. I am sure I can find someone to take over your duties here. But you are the rightful lord and the only one to take charge there."
Slynt considered that, and slowly nodded. "If that is where I am needed I will go. I admit the idea of seeing my castle for the first time is not unpleasant."
Tyrion nodded. Slynt would see the castle but would never rule. His father would make that clear the moment the fool arrived. Slynt had served the family well in the matter of the succession. The Lannisters would pay the debt, the man would be allowed to keep his lordship. Some vacant lands in the west had been set aside for him. Harrenhal though was far too valuable a prize to waste on a common butcher. "You should prepare my lord, you will want to depart as soon as possible."
With a respectful bow Slynt made his way out.
"Grand Maester Pycelle, Lord Varys, I look forward to working closely with both of you and count myself lucky to have such wise counsellors to advise me. If you would not mind I would like the chance to catch up with my dear sister."
Both of them stood and politely departed.
Tyrion then dismissed his men. He and Cersei were soon alone.
"Do you feel big now?" Cersei asked.
"Slightly, maybe an inch or two."
"Why did you arrest Littlefinger? If not for him Ned Stark might have seized the throne."
"Let's just say he has been less helpful to me than to you. I intend to ask him some questions, and I think a few nights in a black cell will make him think harder about his answers."
"Do you intend to execute him?"
"I haven't decided yet. Depends on his answers."
Cersei waved the whole matter away. "Do you know what father wrote in his letter?"
"Yes, he informed me before I set out."
She continued as if he had not spoken. "He threatened to have me married to a Dornish lord and then sent to live with him! In Dorne! What is father thinking? The Martells loathe us, they have never forgiven our family for the murder of Princess Elia and her children. If I were trapped there I wouldn't survive a year."
"Father knows all that, that's what made it such an effective threat."
"How could father turn on me? His only daughter."
"Oh it wasn't so hard, you have no idea how furious he was with you after Jaime was killed. If you weren't his own blood I think he would have had you executed."
"How can father blame me? Do you think I wanted Jaime to be killed? I loved him!"
"Yes, often and in all sorts of ways."
Cersei glared at him murderously.
"Oh don't bother to try and pretend how virtuous you are. I've known about you and Jaime fucking for years. I'll keep your secret. I may loathe you but I am fond of Tommen and Myrcella, I won't do anything to hurt them."
"I suppose I should thank you for at least that much. If you know just how much I loved him then you also know I would never have harmed him."
"Yet you as good as killed him when you had Sansa Stark beheaded."
"She murdered Joffrey! How could I have spared her?"
"No one is saying the girl needed to be spared, but you could have delayed the execution and put her in a cell. Knowing what the girl's fate would be the Starks might have worked out an exchange with us. At the very least by keeping her alive it would have forced them to spare Jaime. Your killing the girl was an invitation for Robb Stark to take revenge."
"I never believed he would dare."
"What did you think he would do? Throw a garland of roses on Jaime's head and let him go?"
"I expected him to fear our family's revenge."
"We are at war and we've already taken his father's head. If you expect the Starks to cower in fear of us you had best think again. Do you understand we are losing this war? And we have not even yet to face the Baratheon forces."
"I know things are dangerous, why do you think I summoned father and his army here? Father should not be cross with me, I am his precious daughter."
From the time Cersei had been fifteen and started to blossom she had been able to charm and bend almost any man to her will. So far as Tyrion knew there were only three men in all the realm who had been immune to her beauty and sweet words. Sadly for her they had been himself, their father, and Robert Baratheon. Cersei always assumed that she would always be able to get anything she wanted from a man. She always resented when that failed to occur, as if every man's devotion were her birth right.
"Precious daughter or no, understand that father is quite sincere about banishing you to Dorne if you interfere in any way. Give up all notions of ruling, be satisfied with being a mother to your two children."
"Because being a wife and mother is all I am good for? Because a woman cannot be fit to rule?"
Tyrion thought of Catelyn Stark. A strong woman and as different from Cersei as day was from night. Despite their differences he respected her and could see her acting as a fair and just ruler.
"No, because you are not fit to rule."
"Things will change. Father will forgive me and when that day comes you had best be careful." Cersei stormed out of the room.
"Yes," Tyrion said to the empty chamber. "Just as soon as Jaime comes back to life."