Part 3: Divulging
Antlers streaming with fire. Antlers stuck on the throat of a direwolf. Haunting his dreams night after night.
He knew who to blame for the second dream. Arya Stark. The Stark girl with her story, her questions and her suspicions.
And the first dream? Perhaps Robert grumbling about the marriage of Daenerys Targaryen to a Dothraki horselord. “If only you had done your job and not let those damn Targaryens escape from Dragonstone!”
Fire and blood. Blood of the dragon. Dragon fire.
Nonsense. The only dragons still existing are the stone dragons back at Dragonstone.
Or it could be the letter from Cressen warning him about the fire priestess from Asshai, newly arrived at Dragonstone, converting many from the Faith of the Seven to the Red God. Including his own wife.
I don’t care about any god. Why should it matter which god anyone chooses to worship?
Dreams were not prophecies or harbinger of dooms to come, his mother had taught him. They were merely manifestations of the thoughts un-thought during the waking hours. The things shelved to the deep recesses of the mind.
The things we’re afraid to admit even to ourselves.
Or manifestation of a guilty conscience, his mother had continued.
I have nothing to feel guilty about. I have done nothing wrong. I have done my duty, always. It is what I do that counts, not what is in my heart.
That girl had accosted him one day when he went to the Tower of the Hand to speak to Ned Stark. Started speaking to him without so much as a by your leave or “my lord”.
“Are you the king’s brother?”
“You know I am. And you should address me properly, child.”
She shrugged. “You don’t look like him.” A pause. “My lord. Or like Lord Renly.”
“And you don’t look like your sister. Siblings don’t have to look alike.”
“I know that. Sansa is prettier. Everyone said so.”
Not what Stannis meant.
“Well, I wouldn’t know,” he replied.
She looked at him skeptically at first, but then said, “No, you wouldn’t, would you?”
She continued. “Your brother killed Lady. Ordered her to be killed, really, but it’s the same thing.”
He raised his eyebrow. Lady?
“You should refer to the king as His Grace. And the wolf attacked Prince Joffrey, it should be punished. And you shouldn’t keep wolves as pets anyway.”
She looked angry. “It wasn’t Lady, it was Nymeria. My direwolf. And she was only trying to protect me. And they’re not pets.”
The names were confusing him. “Why was it not your wolf that was punished, then?”
She hesitated. “Nymeria … ran away. They couldn’t find her.”
There was something in that hesitation, and the fact that she averted her eyes from him. Only for a few moments, but enough to tell him she was hiding something.
He pushed that thought aside for a more pressing matter. Punishing one wolf for the crime of another was ill done. It was not justice. Robert should not have done that.
“Maybe Old Nan is right. It was a warning. That stag killing the mother direwolf,” Arya Stark continued.
Is this how children tell a story? Jumping from one place to another without warning?
“When they found the pups, the mother was dead, with stag antlers on her throat.”
She was looking at him with a curious expression.
“House Stark and House Baratheon are not enemies,” he finally said.
“But you don’t like my father. Everybody said so. The servants, the knights, even the lords.”
“Little girls should not be spying on other people’s conversations.”
“It was hardly spying, no one is making a secret of it. They say you wanted to be the Hand yourself, my lord. They say you dislike my father because your brother … His Grace, I mean … loves my father more than he loves you.”
So this conversation has a purpose after all. She wanted to see if I am her father’s enemy.
“I don’t have to account for myself to a child,” he scoffed.
“You will need to answer to the king if you do anything to harm my father. He loves my father like his own brother. No, more than he loves his real brothers. Everybody said so.”
This has gone on long enough. He didn’t know why he had indulged this infernal child. This rude child.
Just because she is the same age as Shireen -
He could not resist one last question though. “Do you always believe the things “everybody said”? I have to say, I am quite disappointed. For some reason, I expected better from you. Perhaps I was mistaken.”
For the first time since she started the conversation, Arya Stark seemed uncertain.
She is only a child. Why do I persist in wanting to win the argument? Walk away. Now.
Before he could turn to walk away, he heard a woman’s voice shouting, “Arya! Arya!”
Arya Stark did not move from the spot she was standing.
“Do you always ignore it when you are summoned?” He asked.
“That’s only Septa Mordane. Calling me for the sewing lesson.”
“And is it the septa or the lesson that you object to?”
“I don’t understand why I have to learn sewing. Or dancing.”
He replied automatically, without giving it much thought. “I’m sure you have to.”
He regretted continuing the conversation in the first place. Yet she was looking at him with the eyes of a child now, a child searching for answers, instead of an adversary challenging him.
“There are things we have to do, whether we like it or not. Whether we want to or not. Because it is our duty,” he finally said.
“Our duty to who? And how do we know what is our duty, and what is not?”
“Arya! Come inside this instant or I will be forced to tell you lord father.” The voice was more insistent this time.
She sighed. And started running inside. Not very proper and ladylike, Stannis thought. But this child did not seem to be the type who would care about that.
She stopped mid-run, and turned around to look at him. “You still owe me an answer, my lord.”
“I told you, the Starks and Baratheons are not enemies. I am not your father’s enemy.”
But I am not his friend either. Or his brother. The chosen brother of my brother is not my brother.
“No, not that question. The one about duty.”
Why should I indulge this child?
But she posed it as a challenge this time, rather than as a child needing an answer from an adult.
“I hope you have the answer the next time we meet, my lord.”
He was about to say to her, “Why should we ever meet again? I have no business with a child like you,” when she walked away, yelling, “I’m coming! Stop fussing,” at the top of her lungs.
He felt sorry for the poor septa.
He was writing a letter to his daughter that night when Davos came to his bedchamber. Or trying to write one anyway. He never knew what to write to her. Shireen wouldn’t be interested in the business of the council or the court, he thought.
Davos had come to King’s Landing to accompany his fifth son Devan, who Stannis had appointed as his squire to replace one of his squires who had been knighted. And to deliver to Stannis a letter from Maester Cressen. A very important letter, too important to be entrusted to a raven. Or to anyone else.
Stannis had sent a letter to Cressen asking for information about poisons. He had questioned Lord Arryn’s servants about his condition before his death. As a precaution, in case the letter to Cressen fell to the wrong hand, Stannis had written three different sets of symptoms, and asked the old master to look up the type of poison responsible for each. He dared not ask any of the maesters in King’s Landing.
Most of them are probably bought and paid for by the Lannisters.
Davos had met Stannis in his study when he first arrived, bringing Devan with him. The boy was courteous, but did not look terrified of Stannis. Unlike Bryen Farring, his other squire. Devan had been squiring for Lord Celtigar for almost a year.
“Bryen will let you know your duties,” Stannis told him.
After the boys left, Davos was about the give him the letter from Cressen, but Stannis stopped him. “See me in my chamber tonight,” he said. Davos looked curious, but did not ask any question.
He read the letter from Cressen as soon as Davos gave it to him that night. He skipped past the name of the poison for the two other sets of symptoms, and went straight to Jon Arryn’s. Tears of Lys, was Cressen’s answer. A very expensive and rare poison. Cresssen had underlined the words “rare” and “expensive”. He had not asked any question. The old maester knew Stannis well enough to know that questions would not be welcomed. Instead he wrote at the bottom, in tiny letters almost invisible to the eyes: Tread softly, my lord.
Stannis went to the fireplace, tore the letter up into little pieces, and fed the pieces to the fire. He watched it burn slowly, until only ashes remained. Can’t be too careful, he thought, the chambermaids who come to clean the room could be somebody’s spies. He thought of his next move - finding out who would have access to the poison.
No, not just access, access and ability to slip it to Jon Arryn. Probably in his food or drink; the poison was tasteless according to Cressen.
But then again, he thought, it didn’t necessarily have to be someone in proximity to Jon Arryn. They could have paid someone in Lord Arryn’s household to do the deed. One of the servants, or one of the squires.
Or one of the maesters treating him during his illness.
Stannis suddenly remembered Davos was still in the room with him. Davos was sitting silently, his expression inscrutable. But a flick of his eyebrow told all.
“Ask the question you want to ask, Ser Davos.”
“Are you in any kind of danger, my lord?”
“No.” He reconsidered. “I don’t know. I could be. I might be. There are certain things that I have to find out. But asking questions could let certain people know that I have knowledge about a certain secret.”
“A secret that Lord Arryn knew as well?”
“And this secret led to his death?”
“That is my suspicion, yes. The timing is very convenient for certain people. But I do not know for sure. And I certainly can’t prove it. Yet.”
“But if you are in possession of this secret as well, my lord, surely your life is in danger too.”
“The persons most affected if this secret is divulged might not know yet that I share Lord Arryn’s knowledge. Otherwise, I would have met the same fate as Lord Arryn at the same time.”
Davos did not seem convinced. “But if you are asking questions about his death now, surely they would suspect something, my lord.”
“How do you know I am asking questions about Lord Arryn’s death?”
“Maester Cressen was researching poisons back at Dragonstone. I saw the books in his chamber. It must be related to your letter. And the fact that you wanted me personally to deliver his reply to you. Not a raven, or anyone else.”
Davos is no fool, Stannis thought. “I could use your wit and wile around here, onion knight. To help me look into this matter,” he said, smiling.
“If you wish me to stay, my lord, I will.”
Stannis was tempted. Very tempted. To have one of the only two people he truly trusted here with him, in King’s Landing. Helping him figure out how to solve the two issues – proving that Robert was not the father of Cersei’s children, and finding out who poisoned Jon Arryn. And if Davos was in Dragonstone, it would be hard for Stannis to get his counsel. In case the letters fell into the wrong hands.
But no, he knew he could not ask Davos to stay at King’s Landing. Even if he wanted to. Even if he needed to. Davos had his duties at Dragonstone, captaining his ship. And bringing Davos into the secret could put him in danger. When it was not his battle to fight.
And in the end, it should not be about wants or needs, he reminded himself. It is about duty. We each have our duty.
“No, Ser Davos. You have your duties at Dragonstone, and I have my duties here.”
Davos looked disappointed. “I am a knight sworn to protect you, my lord.”
“You are a knight sworn to protect the realm, Ser Davos. And the innocent. Do not confuse your duty with your loyalty.”
They were interrupted by his squire coming in and announcing that Lord Stark had requested to see him, and was waiting outside.
Why would Ned come looking for him in his bedchamber, this late at night? He recalled the first Small Council meeting Ned chaired. He was as displeased as Stannis was about Robert’s plan for the tourney celebrating his appointment as Hand. Especially after Petyr Baelish said that they would have to borrow from the Lannisters to pay for it. Stannis had sat silent the whole meeting, until Ned asked him what he thought of the idea.
“A very ill-considered one,” Stannis had said. “But very few people can talk Robert out of anything, once he has made up his mind.”
Renly had laughed uproariously. “That’s a challenge, Ned. Stannis wants to see if you can convince Robert. To see if you are worthy of being Robert’s Hand.”
Stannis was furious. He glared at Renly. “That is not what I meant at all.”
“I’m sure it’s not,” Ned had replied, before Renly could.
He didn’t know whether Ned had said it just to keep the peace, or if he truly believed it.
Bryen Farring was waiting for his answer. “Ask Lord Stark to come in,” Stannis said.
Ned was taken aback to see Davos with Stannis in the room. “My apologies. I did not know you have a visitor. I will wait outside.”
“No, it’s fine, Ser Davos is just leaving.”
Not really, but Stannis did not want Davos pressing his case to stay at King’s Landing. He could see from Davos’ expression that he was gearing up to do just that, marshalling all the arguments, preparing all the justifications.
He might be tempted and convinced by Davos’ arguments. Without realizing it, over the years, he had come to rely so much on this man.
This is my battle. I have to fight it on my own.
Ned’s face lit up at the mention of Davos’ name. “Ser Davos Seaworth, who saved the people of Storm’s End with his onions and salted fish? An honor to finally meet you, ser.”
Ned seemed genuinely pleased. Davos was taken aback. Stannis was too. He did not know that Ned would know the details, down to what Davos brought to Storm’s End that fateful night.
He must know about the fingers too.
“The honor is mine, Lord Stark. I have heard so much about you.”
“Good things, I hope?” Ned was looking at Stannis, smiling, as he asked Davos the question.
Stannis was curious how Davos would answer this question. Davos had heard all his complaining, about Robert preferring Ned Stark in everything. It was not in Davos Seaworth to tell a bald-faced lie.
“Your decency and honor is well-known all over the Seven Kingdoms, Lord Stark.”
A non-answer, if ever there was one.
Davos excused himself, asking in a low voice as he was leaving, “Any message for Maester Cressen, my lord?”
“Tell him not to worry,” Stannis replied.
Of course the old man would worry anyway, he knew.
Ned apologized for coming so late. Stannis waved it off. He sat and waited. Ned seemed to be weighing his words.
“I suppose I should state my business directly.”
“Yes, I would prefer that.”
“It’s about Jon’s death. I heard that you were … asking questions.”
“Who did you hear this from? Lord Varys, I suppose?”
Ned looked surprised. “No, not from Varys. I was making my own inquiries, and was told by various parties that you have been asking some of the same questions, before I was. Some of them thought you were making an official investigation on behalf of the council, and that I would already have all the facts.”
“As the Hand, you mean? That I would have reported it to you? Is that your expectation as well? That I have to report everything to you?” He could not keep the note of bitterness out of his voice.
“No, of course not. Only that in this matter, I wonder-“
“I never represented myself as making inquiries on behalf of the council. Or that it was an official investigation.”
“But as someone who sits on the Small Council, and who is also the king’s brother, surely your position might lead some people to believe that.” Ned’s voice was gentle rather than stern, but that only irritated Stannis more.
He had to admit to himself, however, that Ned had a point. It was something that had not occurred to Stannis, in his zeal to find out the truth.
“Well, it’s done now. I don’t think there is any use going back to them to clarify, it will only bring up more questions.” Something else occurred to Stannis, however. “When you were asking the questions, I suppose the same issue did not come up? Especially since you are higher up in the council. Hand of the King and all. If there is an official investigation, it would be the Hand of the King, and not the lowly Master of Ships who conducts it.”
Ned merely smiled. “Point taken, Stannis. Perhaps we were both being … imprudent in our methods. Let me ask you this then. Do you think there should be an official investigation on Jon’s death?”
Stannis considered his answer. Jon Arryn was like a father to Ned. He deserves to know the truth. And Stannis could tell Ned had his own suspicions as well. Based on what, Stannis did not know.
“I don’t think it would be wise to have an official investigation.” He put the emphasis on “official.”
“But you think there should be an investigation nonetheless?” Ned asked. “May I ask why you thought Jon’s death is not a natural one?”
“Of course you may ask. Whether I will answer or not is up to me.”
Ned seemed at a loss. Finally he repeated the question, after a long pause. “Tell me, Stannis. Why do you suspect that Jon’s death involved some kind of treachery?”
“Why do you?”
The unspoken tension lying between them – do I trust you enough to tell you my reasons? And if you don’t trust me enough to tell me your reasons, why then should I trust you?
There was another long silence. Ned was looking at him with plaintive eyes and an earnest expression.
This is not a man who plays games.
Stannis weighed everything he knew about Ned Stark, against his own bias and personal feelings towards Ned. Ned had never liked the Lannisters. In fact, it had caused a big rift between Ned and Robert when Robert accepted Tywin Lannister’s men raping Elia Martell and killing her and her children. Stannis recalled too that Ned wanted Jaime Lannister to be sent to the Wall, for killing the king he was sworn to protect. If only Robert had listened to Ned then, Stannis thought. If the Lannisters were responsible for Jon Arryn’s death, Ned would want justice to be done.
Ned started speaking before Stannis could make up his mind. “I have thought long and hard of this. In fact I have made up my mind to tell you before I came here. That’s why I seek you out in your chamber, Stannis. As you may know, Lady Arryn is my wife’s sister.”
Stannis nodded, and waited for Ned to continue.
“She managed to slip through a letter through someone in the king’s party. A message for my wife. Hidden and written in a secret language known only to them."
All the secrecy. Lysa Arryn must be terrified. “And what did the letter say?”
“That Jon was murdered. Poisoned. By the Lannisters.”
So Lysa Arryn did know something after all. Perhaps he was wise not to have written to her. Terrified as she was, she might have done anything. She would tell the truth to her sister, but not a stranger like Stannis.
But how reliable is Lysa Arryn’s account? This question had not occurred to him before, but he thought of it now, as he remembered bits and pieces he had heard and observed about Lady Arryn throughout the years.
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“But you said so yourself, Ned. You know I have my suspicions.”
“Regarding the manner of Jon’s death, yes, but not about the likely culprit. What made you suspect the Lannisters?”
“Let me ask you this first. Do you believe Lady Arryn’s account?”
Ned seemed almost offended. “Lysa would not lie. Not to her own sister.”
“Maybe not. But … how should I put this? When was the last time you saw Lady Arryn?”
“It has been years. Why?”
“I am not a very observant man, or a very understanding one, when it comes to women. But having spent fifteen years in King’s Landing with Lady Arryn, I will only say that I have some … reservations … about the reliability of Lady Arryn’s account about anything. I don’t think her words are enough as proof.”
“And yet you suspect the Lannisters as well.”
“For my own reasons. And it is only a suspicion at this point. I have no proof.”
“Do you intend to seek this proof?”
“Yes. Jon Arryn might not have been a surrogate father to me the way he was to you and Robert, but he was a valued colleague. And even if he was not, justice must be done. Murder and treachery must be punished, no matter who it is. Anyone who breaks the law must be punished.”
“Even the person who saved the people in Storm’s End from starving?” A wry smile from Ned.
“Do you disagree with that?”
Ned was quiet. “You did it with your own hand, at least. I can’t disagree with that.”
“You have not asked me what prompted my suspicion of the Lannisters.”
“I was hoping my gesture of telling you my reasons would convince you to trust me. Or is that too optimistic?”
“No. I will tell you the reason. Because ultimately it involves the fate of the kingdom. And as Hand, you should know it. And you are the only person alive Robert will listen to, Ned.”
“I’m all ears, Stannis.”