Petyr Baelish had lost track of time.
Sitting in a black cell beneath the Red Keep that was easy to do. There was no sunlight to separate day from night. There were no guards outside his door to speak with and pass the time. Once each day a gaoler came with a torch. He brought a loaf of brown bread, a mug of water, and an empty slop bucket. Petyr had tried to talk to the man each time. It was no secret that the guards here were paid next to nothing. He'd hoped to strike up a conversation and see what might be possible. At the very least he'd hoped to get a little information about what was going on. Petyr simply couldn't believe that the Queen or anyone else would take the Imp seriously. If Tyrion really believed he had power then surely Cersei would be plotting to disabuse him of that foolishness.
Yet, no matter how he tried, the turnkey never spoke so much as a word. The man simply went about his tasks as quickly and quietly as he could and then departed, leaving him once more in darkness.
This lack of communication troubled Petyr greatly. In his experience people of low standing always took advantage of their betters when the opportunity presented itself. They might try and impress or act the bully or seek to ingratiate themselves, but they all made some sort of effort. The fact his jailer would not so much as answer him suggested the man saw it as a risk. Just what were they saying about him? That he was doomed? That he was ruined and had no hope of rising again? That he was bound for the gallows?
Whenever great men fell there was always a storm of talk. Most of it was bound to be false, but the words mattered. If people believed he was finished then his agents and allies would abandon him as quickly as possible. Petyr was quite sure that many already had, his career had made him an expert on loyalty, and he cherished no false hopes.
No matter the damage he could repair it. He knew what people wanted to hear. He was a master of playing to the hopes and fears of all sorts of lords and ladies. Petyr was certain that if he were just given a fair hearing he would be able to talk his way out of this unfortunate situation. He was just too valuable to throw away.
The only thing Petyr really feared was that he might be killed off without a chance to defend himself. Some lords were quite capable of that. Tyrion didn't strike him as the sort for hot blooded vengeance. Jaime and Cersei were capable of it. Men like Tywin Lannister and Varys were the cold blooded type, they would kill when it served a purpose, but usually abstained from petty retaliation. Despite Tyrion's reputation Petyr thought he had a bit of Ned Stark in him. The Imp would at least make a show of trying to be just.
Petyr was sure that would be enough.
He was asleep when they came for him.
The door to his cell clanged open and there was the blinding light of a single torch. This time however a pair of gold cloaks accompanied his jailer. The two men grabbed him by his arms and hauled him roughly to his feet. Without a word they marched him out of his cell.
"What is going on? Where are you taking me?"
"Shut your mouth, you'll see soon enough."
It had been a long time since anyone, other than King Robert or Cersei, had spoken to him like that. Petyr decided that it would indeed be best to just keep quiet. After all, these two would not decide his fate.
As they took him up stairs and through the halls Petyr soon realized where they were headed.
When they reached the Great Hall the two guards dragged him towards the throne, only letting go to throw him down before its steps.
"Lord Baelish, so very good to see you again. Did you enjoy your holiday?"
The words came from the Imp who was sitting on the Iron Throne. His feet were hanging in the air. About his neck was a golden chain of hands.
While still on the floor Petyr glanced about. There was a dangerous looking sell sword that he remembered from Tyrion's arrival on the dais just to the right of the throne. Also there were about a dozen gold cloaks present. No Cersei, no Small Council, no nobles gathered to bear witness, this was clearly being treated as a private matter.
That was most definitely not good.
He would have to give a truly magnificent performance. Petyr slowly came to his feet and offered a graceful bow with one hand pressed to his heart. "It was most restful, though the accommodations left quite a bit to be desired."
"Is that so? I had you placed in the same cell as Lord Stark. Surely a residence fit for a Hand of the King and Lord of Winterfell would be ample for a former Master of Coin."
"I should hope to enjoy a better fate than Lord Stark did."
"I am sure you do."
The Imp's tone and words gave away nothing. Petyr had known Tyrion for a good many years, he had been a frequent customer at his whorehouses. The dwarf was known to be a successful gambler and to have a biting tongue. Otherwise people had passed him over as a stunted, drunken fool. Petyr suddenly wondered if Tyrion had simply been playing a role for all those years, as he had. For the Imp seemed most comfortable sitting there in judgment.
"May I say my Lord Tyrion that your position suits you? I had never realized what a regal figure you are."
Tyrion snorted a laugh and rolled his mismatched eyes. "Yes, I have seen my nephew upon the throne. I don't doubt I look as 'regal' here as he does." He deliberately kicked his feet in the air, drawing a chuckle from his sell sword.
Petyr did not laugh. He stood there with hands to the side trying to look at ease. "My Lord Hand, since I have been brought before you may I assume I am to receive the King's justice?"
"You are indeed Lord Baelish. Much as I received it from Lysa Arryn." The Imp leaned forward slightly. "Tell me what you know about a certain dagger, one forged of Valyrian steel and boasting a hilt made of dragonbone."
"The one used by a common foot pad to try and murder Brandon Stark?"
"I told Catelyn Stark that it belonged to you. That it had been mine and had been lost in a wager."
"You don't deny it?"
"No, I would never call Catelyn a liar."
"That's unexpectedly forthright of you. Do you want to explain why you did that? Or shall I just go ahead and have Ilyn Payne brought in?"
Petyr glanced about the chamber at the gold cloaks. "My reasons might embarrass you and your family. Could I reveal them to you in private?"
Tyrion said flatly. "I don't much care about that. In any case I doubt what you say will have much effect. There are already plenty of salacious stories going about. Some might even be true."
"As you wish." Petyr took a deep breath and spread his hands before him. "The truth is I did recognize the blade, it belonged to King Robert. I assume it was one of the many items he brought north with him on his visit to Winterfell."
"Then why not tell Lady Stark that?" Tyrion demanded. "Though I know you are not in the habit you could have simply spoken the truth."
"Had I told Cat she would have confronted the King and demanded to know who might have given it to the assassin. I know her very well and am certain that is what she would have done. I had a very strong suspicion of who the guilty party was. A certain someone who had access to the King's personal belongings, a violent temper, and a great deal of arrogance and short sightedness."
Petyr saw the Imp's eyes widen and his mouth set in a hard grimace.
"You can imagine what would have occurred. Catelyn demanding justice on behalf of her son. Cersei furious at the very implication. Lord Stark and King Robert both put into a very difficult situation. I had to do whatever was necessary to prevent such a confrontation."
"And your solution was to accuse me?"
"Catelyn is no fool and she was never one to let a matter drop where her family was involved. Had I claimed ignorance she would have remained in King's Landing digging for the truth. I needed to give her a name that she could accept. You were there in Winterfell and given your, shall we say, less than sterling reputation, it would be easy for her to believe such a thing. I was able to convince her and Lord Eddard that she should return home while he and I looked further into the matter."
"Yes, a wonderful answer for everyone but me."
"I could not have foreseen she would run into you on her journey home. My intention was to convince you to leave King's Landing upon your return as I kept Lord Stark searching for further evidence before confronting you. Save for your unfortunate meeting with Cat all the unpleasantness would have been avoided."
"And what did you do when you heard the news I had been taken by her?"
"At that point there was nothing for me to do."
"You could have gone to Ned Stark and told him that the dagger was never mine!"
"If I had done that he would have lost all faith in me. He would certainly have gone to King Robert, thereby creating the very situation I had tried to avoid. And even had I done so there was no guarantee it would have saved your life. It was likely you would already be dead."
"Indeed, and why should you be so inconvenienced over something as trivial as my life?"
"Please try to understand that what I did I did for the good of the King and the realm."
"No Littlefinger, just like always you were only thinking about yourself. The men who died when my brother attacked Ned Stark and all those who were lost when my father sent Ser Gregor out raiding; their deaths are all on your head."
Petyr bent his neck. "I am sorry for all of that and will not deny my share of blame. I can only hope that my many years of service to the Crown will not be forgotten and that my good deeds will wash out the bad."
"I've gone over the ledgers while you have been enjoying the hospitality of the dungeons. All you did was borrow money from my father, the Iron Bank, and anyone else who would lend it to you. I am sure the next Master of Coin will be able to do that just as well."
Petyr got a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"My Lord Hand…"
"Before man and the Seven I judge you guilty." Tyrion cut him off. "I said I would give you the same justice Lysa Arryn gave me, but since I believe you didn't intend to murder me I'll actually give you a better choice than I was offered. I won't have you tossed off the top of the Red Keep. Instead you can either go to the Wall or you can have a trial by combat." He nodded to his sell sword.
Petyr was familiar with men who very good at killing and thought nothing of ending a man's life. The sell sword had the look about him. He had not fought seriously since his ill-fated duel with Brandon Stark and had no illusions about his skill with a sword.
"If I choose trial by combat will you allow me a champion?"
The sell sword spoke for the first time. "Any of you lads want to fight for him step up."
None of the guards moved a muscle.
"I have a great many friends. If you would allow me a few days I am sure I could find one who would fight for me."
"I wouldn't be so sure." Tyrion told him. "I have had all your properties and wealth seized. You don't have the gold to buy a friend anymore."
Don't be so certain. Petyr thought. He had set up many hidden accounts and properties not just in Westeros but across the Narrow Sea as well. If he were free he could access them, but so long as he remained a prisoner…
"Well, I have always wanted to visit the Wall."
"I am sure you will enjoy it. I myself found it surprisingly beautiful, in a brutal, horribly uncomfortable sort of way."
At Tyrion's nod the same two guards took hold of him and began to march him out. Petyr did not make any effort to resist and tried to remain as dignified as the situation allowed. He had fallen, but the fall had not broken him. He was alive, and so long as he lived there was always the chance to climb again.