Was this a trap? Tywin wondered as he stared at the still, lifeless wooden crate in the dust. A fool’s gamble? His eyes flicked up to the cloudless sky, each fleeting shadow cast down from above a silent reminder that the age of Dragons had, indeed, arrived.
Should the rumours be true and this silver-haired wench before him were wholly impervious to dragon fire, they were all utterly assailable. Pregnable. She need only give the word just as she did on the Goldroad and those flying beasts would open their fearsome jaws and decimate them all.
Would she do that, this self-professed Mother of Dragons? Would she burn this pit to the ground and save only herself? It depended entirely on the contents of the crate now before him.
Cersei huffed beside her father, and he sensed her waning patience as she closed her fist.
“Well?” Tywin demanded, though his tone was deceptively genial.
Sandor eyed him beadily and gave a grunt before he kicked the side of the box. Once, hard. And then again so the box flipped over.
A supernatural shriek pierced Tywin’s ears and there burst forth a ghoul so desperate and terrible that Cersei startled. It flung itself instantly at them both, skeletal, rotting hands outstretched and clawed as if to gouge out their very eyes. Tywin’s proud daughter recoiled, her hand flying instantly toward her abdomen, fear leeching into her face even as her eyes hardened. Tywin was already on his feet, Widow’s Wail drawn and readied even as his own guards stood frozen as if spellbound. Jaime stood beside him, sword in hand.
A sudden jerk and the monster was snatched back, barely a whisper away from meeting Tywin’s own blade. Sandor jerked the chain in his hands once more and the creature snarled before its gaoler swung his blade and cut it clean in two.
An eerie stillness as all eyes in the Dragonpit stared at the divided carcass, watching as it twitched and turned as if in agony. Its fury was writ plain, its unholy screeching reverberating off the ancient stone walls around them so the skin could crawl with terror anew. Still it swiped, still it grasped futilely, one half lost while the other strove to find.
Again another blow, a limb chopped off. Again another, and then another.
“The only way to to kill’em is by burnin’ ‘em or cuttin’ ‘em with dragonglass,” Ned’s bastard spoke now, eyeing Tywin evenly. Jon Snow walked over from his tent to the twitching torso and retrieved his own blade: a roughly hewn black dagger with a deep, dull lustre that Tywin knew instantly. Rock glass from Dragonstone. A single stab was all it took: the unnatural monstrosity seemed to shatter instantly, turning to a dark body of liquid for but a moment before collapsing to a black putrid puddle on the arid ground.
A harsh silence as every son of the Andals and every daughter of the First Men stared. As every self-made ruler and usurper, mercenary and knight came to the same reckoning. The Greyjoy kinslayer was first to speak, declaring his allegiance as belonging to him and his people alone. And Tywin barely paid the swaggering, traitorous whelp heed when he turned like the brash recreant he truly was and departed their company.
Instead, the old King stared at the obsidian pool before him, a stone of sickening icy dread forming in the pit of his stomach. The rules of man's great game of thrones were changed forever.
The real battle had come.
"You cannot mean this."
The sun was slipping under the horizon now, the shadows in the great room having lengthened in the last few moments till they brushed and blended into dark. But even in the dim flickering light, his daughter’s agitation burned bright as day.
Tywin watched as Cersei paced the length of the small council's table before rounding back to glare at him. "Let them fight and die in this war alone!" she seethed and pleaded. "It's why we left them the North all these years! Let this be their fight."
She stopped in front of Jaime now. "Tell him, brother!" She stared into his eyes and held them in a silent conversation of the thousand silent conversations between his twin children. One would think they shared a soul, although Tywin knew better.
"I'm sorry, Cersei,” his son murmured instead. "But I will serve our King. We have to fight this... these..."
"It will be slaughter." Her voice had died to a whisper, a hiss. “You will go and you will die, and for what? Do you honestly believe, do you think we would make a difference? Do you truly want to die up North? In that desolation, that hideous, lifeless, cold white nothing?"
"I do not intend to die at all," King Tywin eyed his daughter steadily. "Which is why we must enter this war."
"We all saw what we saw!" Cersei sat down beside her father now. "How can we even hope to forfend such nightmares..." She stared at her hands before her for a moment, and when she met his stern gaze this time, she wore a tight and nasty smile.
"Don't you see?" she pleaded, her mother's emerald eyes gleaming. "If they fight the undead and win, our world continues although they may not. Their numbers will surely suffer and we will be the sole beneficiary of their heroic deeds for then, we can deliver our own death blow when they march South. But if they should lose—"
"If they should lose — and they most definitely will without our help — the undead will outnumber us thirty to one, and then the time of Man will truly be over!" Tywin snapped, his gaze hardening. "Your cowardice will cost us all. Even as a strategem against Daenerys and the North alliance, the odds are hardly in our favour. Your plan has all the hallmarks of self-sabotage and reckless optimism that only desperate, hysterical self-preservation will weave and wreak. I intend to see out both wars, and thus I would never leave the fate of humankind to an untried, unlearned, undisciplined company of children up North. They may have the numbers, daughter, but not the mind nor the mettle!"
Tywin stood now and Jaime drew himself straighter, suddenly alert. The old familiar pain shot up Tywin's breast and arm but he schooled his face to a glare.
"No," he eyed Cersei coldly. "It is decided. I will send a raven to Winterfell and give the Targ girl and Ned's bastard my word to fight alongside them. For now."
"And if that blonde bitch should demand that we bend the knee?"
"Then the gods help us all for her grasping stupidity."