King Robert and his hunting party had returned earlier this noon. Him, Ser Barristan the Bold, Lancel Lannister his squire, and a few other hunters. Robert would always be tired from all the hunting so he would be off to his chambers with his prizes. Their return, however, was earlier than expected so there wasn’t anyone to greet them on their return journey.
“No need to celebrate my return, Ned. I’m in need of rest. Goodness knows that I’m fat to even hunt!” he burst out his laughter. “Oh, please. Don’t hesitate to eat what I hunted. Two deer. Lancel!” he boomed. “Get these dead animals to kitchen and skin them!”
“Y-Your Grace, how would you want-”
Robert cut him off too abruptly. “Do you want to skin them yourself? Be my guest, then! Have them roasted however you want. Make sure that you don’t disappoint our honoured guests.”
His squire left, and when Robert turned to look to Ned, he said, “Can you believe him? He’s been nothing but a pain in the arse when we went hunting. Ser Kevan’s son, he is.”
Ned let out a chuckle. “Leave the poor lad be, Robert. People need you in your throne room now.”
“Seven hells, it’s the reason why I make you as my Hand, Ned. So I can go off hunting and whoring. It’s the reason why the pin is on you now instead of the Kingslayer. The Gods knows how much I miss Jon Arryn.”
From Ser Barristan’s account, the old knight explained that they left in a scurry hurry. Lady Lysa Arryn feared for her son’s life. Fear? On what? He remembered when Maester Luwin knocked on their chamber’s door in the night and received the letter from Cat’s sister, saying that the Lannisters were behind her husband’s assassination. She did mention to be aware of the Lannisters at any cost.
“You should get some rest, Robert. Who knows you might go off hunting again without my knowledge.”
His friend let out a laugh. “Ned, you know me. The day after tomorrow, we’ll go hunt near the Kingswood. Go, Ned. The people look to you in my stead. I’m too fat to even listen to their complaints. Go, before I drag you with me to hunt as well.”
Ned thought, thought deeply into his mind after his meeting with Robert. He found himself sitting on his office chair behind his office desk. There was much paperwork to do, and it took a heavy toll on him. “How did Lord Tywin manage to do all these for two decades to King Aerys?” he asked, shaking his head.
After signing five delegation papers, the warning from Cat’s sister came to his mind again. She said Jon Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters, he remembered Catelyn said those words to him when they were awakened by Maester Luwin. She said the King is in danger. He placed the quill down gently. Why would the Lannisters murder Jon Arryn? He thought about it deeply. Lannisters. Murderers. Lannisters. Murderers. Lannisters. Murderers. Lannisters! It echoed in his heads. He remembered now, his son fell from the broken tower of Winterfell… Bran.
Ser Jory entered the Tower of the Hand after not hearing any knocking from him. He stood before him, saying, “My Lord Stark, the people is requesting an audience.”
“And the king?” Ned asked.
He was hesitant, at first. “Busy… my lord.”
“Alright, then. See to it that the girls are in their chambers.”
There were dozens of people commoners requested to have an audience with the royal officials, some were nobles. They complained too much about outlaws and bandits roaming free and about around the countryside. Ned had to admit that they weren’t facing many troubles during his trip down south from his home. Only because they were the king’s party with veteran and seasoned soldiers during Robert’s Rebellion. None could dare hope to attack them, less to even raid their party.
The throne room was filled with nobles, commoners, guards and the famous kingsguards. The commoners were the one Ned was supposed to hear and listen to what they have to say. They were all over Westeros but most of them were countrymen of the crownsland and the stormlands. And there it was the Iron Throne, where Balerion the Dread helped forge it with dragonfire on behalf of Aegon the Conqueror, made of swords surrendered by his enemies.
The Iron Throne was a monstrosity of spikes and jagged edges and twisted metal. It is uncomfortable, and the back is fanged with steel which makes leaning back impossible as soon as Ned climbed up the iron throne and sat. As big as it was, the Iron Throne had been located on a high platform in the throne room within the Red Keep. Members of the Kingsguard stand guard below, protecting the King or the Hand of the King during the king’s absence.
Ned nodded to the herald to begin the petition and pleading to what he has to hear from them. “First person in the line, come forward!”
The person explained everything that his hut and stock was raided. He was lucky not to have any wife or father children else it would be another difficult matter again to handle. Outlaws that raided his abode spared his life in return they rummage his stocks to nothing. “They’ll say winter is coming, my lord Hand. Prices of food and livestock are increasing, taxes ever go higher and I still pay them however I could.”
Winter is Coming. Those were the words of House Stark, his house. “The crown will compensate for your losses, and we’ll provide the livestock and provisions for winter that you have lost.” He knew what the horrors of winter could bring upon them all. If only the tourney didn’t have an extravagant expenses for the champions’ purses. We may have to borrow from Lord Tywin Lannister again. The thought of that wasn’t pleasing at all.
He bowed down deeply. “Thank you, my lord. Seven blessings to you and your family.”
“And to you as well.”
The second petitioner came forward and explained about how he lost his family in the riverlands. They were just farmers, and he mentioned about a large men with his hounds on the move. “They put their swords through my sons’ throat. Only three they were, and they took my daughter, not reaching her second year yet.”
“And who are these men you’re talking about? Who took your children?”
“I can’t say, my lord.” He began crying. “The one who was leading was big. Big as a horse. They had a sigil. A sigil with three dogs, yellow background me thinks. Please, help me get my Aela back.”
A sigil with three dogs on a yellow background… dogs, dogs, dogs… Big as a horse, he said. He knew the man. Ned met him during the sack of King’s Landing, when Lord Tywin marched his army through the goldroad. It could only be one person. The Mountain.
“I’ll send word to the riverlands and the westerlands at once to return your daughter back, and with compensation. I’m sorry about your sons. I know gold won’t bring them back but it’s all the crown can offer now.” Ned definitely needed to send word to Lord Tywin Lannister not only concerning about the crown’s debts but also related to his bannermen’s raiding. This was treason to break the peace, and also an act of war and irresponsibility to his bannermen to let them roam so freely. “Three thousand dragons would do. My blessings to you and your family. May the Seven and the Old Gods bless you with their wisdom and hope.”
“Thank you, my lord. May the gods bless you too.”
“Jory, meet me at my chamber as soon as this meeting is over. I will need someone to carry out my letters.” And hopefully Lord Tywin would comply to our request.
According to Varys the westerlands and Casterly Rock’s mines were still brimming with silvers and golds and that the westerlands were currently thriving and prospering with health and harvests like the reach.
It goes on and on. They were more or less the same; complaining about their losses and that the crown’s treasury have to be spent until it was completely exhausted. The Hand’s Tourney, how much Ned despised it or would want to take part of it; they spent forty million dragons only for the champions’ purses. Ned still had to garner the cost of the extravagance expenses of the tourney regarding the pastries, the arms and armours, horses and much more. Ned was frustrated. It was incredulous to know that the small council or even Jon Arryn couldn’t stop the crown’s treasury from being empty.
When it was finally over past afternoon near evening, Ser Barristan came forward before the throne and requested Eddard’s presence to the small council’s room to discuss matter about the financial issues that was a recurring problem since he and his family arrived to King’s Landing. Ned had already done what was necessary to restore the treasury. Raising taxes and doubling the prices on wines and whoring to 10% seemed wasn’t enough.
Ned followed Ser Barristan to the small council room, but as they were making their way the knight spoke, “I do believe that His Grace King Robert wants to go for another hunt?”
Ned sighed deeply. “Yes, he told me when he got back.”
“It’s what clears his mind, he says. Killing reminds him of the day he slew Prince Rhaegar at the Trident. It eases his mind and heart.”
Of course, Robert was a strong warrior on the battlefield that led his soldier on the frontlines with his Warhammer. Ned remembered the battle of the Bells and the Trident during his rebellion. It was mostly for his beloved betrothed, Lady Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister. “Whoring and drinking as well? Is that his resolution only?” He was baffled at it. “I thought when he became king he could find conciliation at least. He got his justice at the Trident.”
“He received his justice, that I can confirm, but dreams are dreams. They came to him often than it shouldn’t be, truth be told, and that’s why King Robert always go on hunting rather than always listening to what the people have to complain.”
The King shits and the Hand wipes. Littlefinger’s jest reminded Ned. He wasn’t wrong there. “Are you going to accompany His Grace to hunt?”
“I have to, as the Kingsguard duty is to protect the king from harm. Ser Mandon Moore will be following the hunting party as well.”
They finally reached before the small council’s door. “Thank you for accompanying me, Ser Barristan. Make sure Robert gets back in one peace.”
“I’ll stand guard and vigil before anyone could get past me. You have my word as a knight.” Ned entered the room as the door closed behind him.
Everyone were seating at the small council’s table, except for the Queen Cersei Lannister. Lord Baelish, Lord Varys, Lord Renly, and Grandmaester Pycelle. What’s worst was that they were books, ledgers, inks and quills on the long table as well. He would be very busy today, and the remainder of his days as Hand of the King. He was still weary from the journey to King’s Landing but he would have to face it.
Maybe his wife was right about declining the offer to serve beside Robert as Hand of the King. Maybe Cat was right that he should stay in Winterfell and rule the north instead of the seven kingdoms.
“My lords, what news?” Ned asked, making his way towards to his seat at the small council.
“Same thing, Lord Stark.” replied Lord Baelish, ever with a smile that makes him uncomfortable.
Ned made his way around the table and chose his seat beside Lord Renly and Lord Baelish. He sat down. “Has the streets and the people rioted against us?”
“You have predicted correct, my lord. Flea Bottom is speaking about revolting and the streets are unsafe, such is the Street of Sisters. The Street of Flour is filled with angry demanders for lower prices. Many nobles find their pouches and pockets almost empty with the fees on whoring and the extravagance of pleasure in brothels and such. I’m sure that Lord Baelish knows this too well.”
“Very,” he replied. “My clients aren’t too pleased with the decision we have taken here. I suppose we may have to look for another alternative option at best.”
“Our farming incomes will have to wait for the next harvest. It’ll be our last as well since winter is coming. Lord Baelish, how fare is our request from the west?”
“Lord Tywin demands why does the King and the royal officials demand such request. We are already in late payment to Lord Tywin, the Iron Bank and the Faith.”
“I know that already, Lord Baelish, but does Lord Tywin accept our request?”
Lord Renly was the one to response before the Master of Coin could. “He has but it would be the last one the Lannisters would send to King’s Landing for now. He has agreed to lend one million dragons and is being sent through the goldroad with guards.”
“Should we stick to the decision we have taken, then I suppose we have to increase the revenues and incomes tenfold, and invest the treasure in business and trading.” suggested Littlefinger. “If may work, with a little suppression of here and there just might work.”
“It’ll have to.” agreed Eddard. “How is the gold cloaks fare in the streets?”
“Lord Commander Janos Slynt is showing sheer diligence in his duty to keep the King’s peace, however, several fights have broken out that two died in Flea Bottom in the charges of trying to steal a loaf of bread and a fish.” answered the Master of Whisperers, Varys. “Ser Jacelyn Bywater, an honourable and brave person and is liked by the smallfolk did his best to supress the riots with kindness than Lord Commander Slynt could.”
“Good. If the smallfolk doesn’t like the new taxes we have delegated then we lower the tax from fifteen percent to ten percent. As for the golds and silvers from Casterly Rock, I want Lord Baelish to put them in good use, invest them in business, trades, farming, all those. You are the Master of Coin, after all.”
A smile appeared on his face. “Of course, Lord Hand, a wise decision. We can see that the crown’s treasury is starting to fill on its own again.”
“If that is all, then I conclude this meeting. I have to admit, my lords that my head is not particularly well today.”
“Being the Hand of the King is no easy task to wipe the King’s arse.” sneered the Master of Coin, closing his ledgers and preparing to leave the room as all the others.
If there is one thing I can’t trust you in, it’s that I must keep you away from my daughters from your vulgar tongue. “Conclude this meeting, then.”
When they all leave, Grandmaester Pycelle stood up from his seat ever so slow and almost appeared he was about to stumble to the ground. He was mumbling words so stiffly and softly that Ned couldn’t make out his words. The old grandmaester turned to look at Ned. “I am meant to give you this, Lord Stark,” he said, producing a small scroll from his sleeves and hand it to him. “A letter from Winterfell from your son.”
A letter? “Thank you, Grandmaester Pycelle. You may take your leave now.”
Grandmaester Pycelle left with a weak bow and slowly make his way towards the door out. Ned opened the letter and read it.
Bran has awakened from his coma but he cannot remember what happen to him when he fall or before that happen. Maester Luwin says that he is a cripple, and that his legs won’t be of use to him anymore. Bran isn’t himself most of the times. I have sent a word to Jon at the wall of this news.
Acting Lord of Winterfell, Robb Stark
His younger son had awakened from his unconscious fall. Brandon Stark, named after Ned’s oldest brother after himself. The fall was a crippling blow to Cat and his little boy Bran. Now that he couldn’t move, ride a horse or even shoot arrows at the archery range would deprived him from doing what he desire, depriving him from being a knight of the kingsguard members. Robb has not mention anything about Rickon, Ned found it queer and a little worried for his youngest.
He rolled the letter back and out of the small council’s room with a reminder of dissatisfaction that the problems weren’t going anywhere to solving it. Borrowing from the westerlands was their only priority should Ned have to choose between Lord Tywin and the Iron Bank. Even so, the Lannisters and Iron Bank of Braavos had similarities. A common word of House Lannister was A Lannister always pays his debts, and for the Iron Bank: The Iron Bank will have its due.
Because the debts the crown’s in debt now was over six million and that they borrowed again means that they would have to pay back their debts slowly as they were gaining incomes and revenues from invested economical buildings. It’d take time but it will have to do. He never had this kind of staggering problem in the north and this was already as challenging.
Ned reached the throne room and was making his way back to his chamber, to make a stop first to his daughters’ room before retiring to his tower. As he was making his way he was stopped by Littlefinger, the Master of Coin. He seemed to be holding a ledger. “Good news?” he asked. Ned was about to answer what he meant but he was cut off. “Perhaps you would like to share it with your wife?”
He was surprised to know about this when Lord Baelish was one of them who got out of the small council’s room before Grandmaester Pycelle. “My wife is in Winterfell.” Ned replied.
Lord Baelish was walking pass him, but stop for a moment to reply, “Is she?” He gave a sly smile before walking away again.
Is she? Ned remembered that Cat was staying at Winterfell to take care of Bran and Rickon. The day he left he remembered the part where Catelyn was talking down to Jon when he was saying his farewell. What could he mean? Ned followed Lord Baelish.
They rode down to Street of Silk where many of Littlefinger’s brothels made their revenues to the crown, being one of the best sources of incomes in King’s Landing. They tied their horses near the fences and got down. “I told her she’d be safest in here,” he said, turning back to where the brothel situated. “One of several such establishment of my own.”
It fired him up. He raised his left hand and grabbed Littlefinger’s neck from behind and pushed him against the wall near the doorway. He wasn’t expecting it but Littlefinger was struggling as Ned tightened his grip on his neck. “You’re a funny man, huh? A very funny man.” Who did he think he is? Bringing him to one of his own brothels he owned? He had such audacity to even think one.
“Ned!” said a familiar voice from above. It was Cat.
He quickly removed his grasping hand from Littlefinger’s neck and went inside hurriedly. Up the stairs quickly and he saw that Ser Rodrik Cassel was guarding one of the big door covered with costly silk curtains. “My Lord Stark, Lady Cat is inside.”
“Can I know what are you and my wife is doing here?” Ned asked, incredulous.
“She insisted to go to King’s Landing, my lord.” replied Ser Rodrik. “It’s regarding about your son, Bran Stark.”
They entered the room which looked more like an office of administration – a place where Littlefinger would do all his brothels’ paperwork, it would seem. And there stood his wife, Catelyn, and no else. Wearing a simple blue gown with her auburn hair tied to a ponytail. She walked slowly towards him with a comforting yet sad smile on her lips. They hugged together. It broke off when Littlefinger entered the room from another door from behind. Ned almost wanted to forgive him about earlier but he just couldn’t seem to do it.
“Ned, Lord Baelish have told us who the dagger belonged to.”
“Dagger? What dagger?”
“I should have thought earlier that there is a person who entered Bran’s room with a dagger and tried to assassinate him.”
“What?!” he exclaimed, not aloud. An assassin tried to murder his crippled son for no reason? Anger was boiling inside of him again. “Cat, tell me everything.”
“I don’t know, we have no proof or any evidence to back it up. But I suspect the Lannisters are behind this. This dagger,” she pulled out a dagger from her waist belt. Ned took it from her and unsheathed it. The dagger looked plain but it was a finely made of Valyrian steel with a smooth dragonbone hilt. “It belongs to Tyrion Lannister, the Imp.” she finished with distastefulness in her words.
“Tyrion Lannister? And why would the imp want to murder an innocent boy?”
“As I said, we suspected that the Lannisters were behind Bran’s fall. I think he also suspected us to know about it and that’s why he sent an assassin to kill Bran, our poor boy. We are lucky to have his direwolf nearby to kill him before he could do his task.”
“The Lannisters were behind this? And they sent an assassin to do their dirty work? Are you sure about them, Cat?”
“She is sure, Lord Stark. I can confirm this.” Littlefinger intervened. “This dagger belongs to me before but I lost it at Joffrey’s tourney when the Knight of the Flowers, Ser Loras Tyrell unseated Ser Jaime. As we know this dagger belongs to Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf son of Tywin Lannister.”
“I think Bran saw something he wasn’t expected or intended to see. But I can very well feel that the Lannisters are in this.” his wife said.
The Imp was there when the King’s retinue was at Winterfell. He feasted on their food and lavish on their drinks, and when his son Bran fell he tried to have him killed? The Lannisters sure have the guts to do this. But something told him otherwise that it made him hesitant to doubts. “Are you sure this belongs to the Lannisters? We can’t simply have him arrested without any proof could lead to hostility and war.”
Cat sighed. “Ned, they tried to kill your son, our poor boy. I know it in my bones they are behind this. They can buy a fine Valyrian dagger why can’t they hire a skilled assassin as well? We can to suggest to King Robert that they were suspected to be behind this.”
“The mere suggestion that the Queen’s brother tried to kill your boy would be considered treason.” said Littlefinger.
“We have proof. We have the blade.” Cat countered, looking at him.
“Which Lord Tyrion will say was stolen from him. The only man who could say otherwise has no throat, thanks to your boy’s wolf.”
She turned back to meet her husband in the eyes. “Petyr has promised to help us find the truth. He’s like a little brother to me. He would never betray my trust.” Of course he wouldn’t. The fact that he tried to defend your honour against his older brother to win her heart. He remembered it.
“I’ll try to keep you alive, for her sake. A fool’s task, admittedly, but I’ve never been able to refuse your wife anything.”
“I won’t forget this. You’re a true friend.”