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A Shadow and a Wolf

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PROLOGUE

 

Tyrion Lannister straightened up in his chair. It was the end of afternoon and sunset was coming. The end of the day, though it was no end for him. His duties as Master of Coin were tiresome, even more than those he had when he was acting Hand of the King it seemed. In fact, Tyrion worked as hard as in these times, the difference was he couldn’t enjoy it. When he was acting Hand, people would bow before him, pay him respect even if they had none for him. He was also able to neutralize his sweet sister schemes and plots against him. He discovered that he was very good at wielding power and enjoyed it, even if that was to protect his repulsive nephew. But he was also proud of what he did at this time, he felt useful for his family and, even more surprising, for the people. His father had trusted him enough to name him at this position, going as far as calling him “son”. Well, he hadn’t called him that, but for probably the first time he had acknowledged him as his son. Tyrion had wanted to prove himself worthy of House Lannister and he had. He managed to control Joffrey more than Cersei would ever have been able and he saved the city, leading its defenses during the battle. For that he earned his ugly scar… and the less desirable position on the Small council.

The Realm was tens of millions golden dragons in debt towards the Iron Bank of Braavos. It was the priority, but he also had to be sure the crown had enough to pay back its debts towards his father. Then came House Tyrell (their new ally), the Faith of the Seven, several eastern banks and cartels from Tyrosh and a few minor houses. The debts were so high Tyrion had no idea how the crown would be able to pay them back. The repayment to the Iron Bank was the priority or else Braavos would start to fund Stannis, Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy and who know else against them. He could persuade the Tyroshi to delay the payment as long as the interests would accumulate, perhaps do the same with the minor houses and the Faith (he helped to bring the present High Septon to his position). Lord Mace Tyrell would probably be ready to do anything to please the king, Tyrion could even hope he would forget about the gold Joffrey owned him, but Lady Olenna wouldn’t. As for Tywin Lannister, the Lord of Casterly Rock would never forget the debts towards him, no matter what happened. He would be as ruthless as the Iron Bank on this.

Tyrion couldn’t fail. He would never give the pleasure to his father to show the world his second son was unworthy and unable to carry out his duties. Tyrion needed to find new sources of revenues, but with winter coming he couldn’t raise new taxes on harvests or trade. They needed to fill granaries before it was too late or else hundreds of thousand people would starve to death in the Riverlands, the Westerlands, the Stormlands and the North. So Tyrion had turned to reducing expanses once it was evident little could be done to raise new revenues. The sooner the war would be over the better for that, but he had no control over it, not anymore. At last Lady Olenna Tyrell agreed to cover half the expanses for the royal wedding last week, which was very good considering it was extravagant. “What good is the word extravagant if it can’t be used to describe a royal wedding,” she said. Anyway, extravagant or not, Tyrion saved a great amount of money with this. However, he would have to find new ways to reduce expenses and bring some more revenues to prevent the realm to go bankrupt.

He was looking at the sunset, lost in his thoughts, when his quire entered.

“My lord, you wanted to remind you when it would be time,” Podrick said.

“You’re a good lad Pod. I’ll have you knighted someday,” Tyrion replied. He nearly forgot it with all the work he had to do. Pod could spill wine, but he had a very good memory. He never forgot anything.

With a resigned sigh, Tyrion rose, grabbed one of his ledgers and went to the Tower of the Hand. His father had summoned him to meet him in his solar at this hour and he had charged Podrick with the task of reminding him. He would bring the good news that he saved a tremendous amount of money for the crown a few days ago. His father wouldn’t be pleased, and that was the reason why Tyrion would tell him. You won’t get rid of me so easily father. You won’t get a single opportunity to say I’m useless and incapable. After a short walking in the corridors of the Red Keep and a breathless climb of numberless stairs, he finally reached the top of the Tower and entered the new Small council chambers. His father sat at the end of the table, but someone else was sitting at his left, near the other end.

“You’re late,” stated his father.

“What’s she doing here?” Tyrion asked, hinting at Cersei’s presence.

“Our business concerns her too. Sit.”

Tyrion sat on the other side, face to face with his sister who was looking intently at him. He decided to ignore her.

“You’ll be pleased to learn that after one conversation with Olenna Tyrell, I’ve saved the crown hundreds of thousand on this wedding,” he said, trying to be a disappointment to his father’s hopes as usual.

“Never mind that now. We have something important to discuss,” his father replied.

“I’m Master of Coin. Saving money is important.”

Cersei didn’t stop looking at him with a little smile all this time. It bored him.

“Stop that,” finally returning her gaze. “You’re making me uncomfortable.”

His father chose that moment to speak of the subject he summoned him for. “Your sister has learned that your new friends the Tyrells are plotting to marry Sansa Stark to Ser Loras.”

“Very well,” Tyrion said, a little bit surprised. “She’s a lovely girl. Missing some of Loras’ favorite bits but I’m sure they’ll make do,” he added in a mocking tone. Though Loras will be a far better husband for Sansa than Mad King the Second. Better someone who loves cocks than someone who loves to beat you.

“Your jokes are not appreciated.”

“It wasn’t my best, but I thought−”

“I bring them into the royal fold and this is how they repay me, by trying to steal the key to the North out from under me.”

“Sansa is the key to the North? I seem to remember she has an older brother,” Tyrion pointed.

“The Karstarks have marched home. The young wolf has lost half his army. His days are numbered. Theon Greyjoy murdered both his brothers. That makes Sansa Stark the heir to Winterfell. And I am not about to hand her over to the Tyrells.”

That was news. Tyrion was aware of the murders of his cousins Willem and Martyn by the hand of Rickard Karstark. He had been horrified by this. They were the twin sons of his uncle Kevan, only fourteen-years-old. Squires. Children. Nothing more. The sons of an uncle who always showed him respect. And Lord Karstark had killed them to avenge the death of his own two sons who died fighting. Robb Stark reacted by beheading his lord bannerman. Tyrion would have sent him to the Wall instead, they needed men more than ever now. An honorable decision, but a foolish one nonetheless. The son of Ned Stark should have taken Lord Karstark hostage and forced his men to fight alongside him if they wanted their lord to be released once he would win. And if the young king was defeated, he could give Lors Karstark to Joffrey for better terms of surrender. But the boy made the same mistakes than his father, acting with honor without considering the consequences. There were the consequences. Half his men had deserted him. He would never be able to defeat the Tyrell-Lannister alliance now, no matter what he did. His father would crush him. And of course, if Robb Stark died, Sansa was the Lady of Winterfell. Who controlled Sansa controlled the North and his father would make sure it was the Lannisters.

Tyrion didn’t really like the King in the North. When he came to Winterfell after his visit to the Wall, the young lord had given him a very cold welcome. Now Tyrion knew why. He thought Tyrion and his family had tried to kill his brother, not without good cause. If only Jaime and Cersei had been more discrete. How much blood was shed because of this? However, Tyrion admitted he understood the young man. What would he do himself if the Starks had Jaime beheaded? And Tyrion couldn’t help but feel sad about Bran and Rickon. He remembered the smile the cripple boy had on his face when Tyrion told him he would ride again. He didn’t seem to have smiled much for the last days at this moment. Did he have enough time to try the saddle I gave him the plans for? As for Rickon, how old was he? Six? Seven? It seemed there was nothing good in the Greyjoys. All they were capable of was plundering, murdering, slaughtering, and betraying now. He could still smell the burning sailors in Lannisport, ten years later. He turned his attention back to the conversation.

“The Tyrell army is helping us to win this war. Do you really think it’s wise to refuse them?”

“There’s nothing to refuse. This is a plot. Plots are not public knowledge. And the Tyrells won’t carry this one out until after Joffrey’s wedding. We need to act first and kill this union in its crib.”

“And how do we do that?” Tyrion asked. He already knew the answer.

“We find Sansa Stark a different husband,” his father replied.

“Wonderful.” Of course, that’s what his father would do. Sansa was the king’s ward, the Hand could marry her to whoever he wanted. Who would the girl have the misfortune to wed? Lancel? Cleos? Tion?

“Yes, it is.” For the first time in the meeting, Cersei spoke. She stared at Tyrion, a great smile upon her lips. Tyrion stared back, not understanding first. Then, as he understood, he turned to his father who looked back at him very seriously.

“You can’t mean it,” Tyrion said in a low voice. He can’t really think about it.

“I can and I do,” his father replied, as if he was stating an evidence.

Tyrion couldn’t believe it. “Joffrey has made this poor girl’s life miserable since the day he took her father’s head. Now she’s finally free of him and you give her to me? That’s cruel, even for you.”

“Do you intend on mistreating her?” His father seemed more curious than concerned and his next words proved it. “The girl’s happiness is not my concern, nor should it be yours.”

“She’s a child!” Tyrion shouted.

Cersei chose this moment to stand in the conversation. “She’s flowered, I assure you. She and I have discussed it at length.”

“There, you see? You will wed her, bed her and put a child in her. Surely you are capable of that.” Tywin Lannister spoke without a hint of emotion. He didn’t care about the girl. He saw her as a tool to get his hands on the North, not as a frightened child who had been beaten and nearly raped since her father died before her eyes. He was going to force Tyrion upon her, a girl whose family was in war against his own, who was about twenty years younger than his second son, who hated the Lannisters with very good reasons… and who had Tyrion’s lover as her handmaiden.

Tyrion was angry and disgusted. Sansa was a person, not some child’s workshop. “And if I refuse?”

“You wanted to be rewarded for your valor in battle,” Tywin Lannister told him on a mocking tone. “Sansa Stark is a finer reward than you could ever dare hope for. And it is past time you were wed.”

“I WAS wed,” Tyrion stated firmly. That made his father turn his head. “Or don’t you remember?” He stared directly in the eyes of the man who sired him, daring him to deny it, to deny what he did to Tysha and what he forced Tyrion to do back then.

Tywin stared back, grinding his teeth, and let it out. “Only too well.”

Both of them stared at each other for a few seconds, while Cersei made a nasty comment that it was more than what Tyrion could hope for. Tyrion looked at the table. He couldn’t refuse. If he refused, his father would once again point that he was a burden and a shame to his family. Sansa was far from a bad match. The girl was lovely, young, beautiful, courteous, well educated, a real lady in every sense of the term. She was also intelligent, much more than most of the people would believe. Tyrion was still impressed by the way she had endured the bad treatments she was submitted to when he was acting Hand. She was also the heir to Winterfell, which means Tyrion could rule the North as regent if they had children. But still, she was a child. A flowered child perhaps, but still a child. Her father was killed by his own nephew, her family was in war against his. Sansa’s life would be miserable with him as her husband. She would never see him as something else than her goaler. They would never be happy together, especially more once her brother would be defeated. But Tyrion had no choice. Tywin would wed Sansa to another Lannister if Tyrion didn’t. Her life would be even more miserable with one of his cousins. There was no escaping, nor for him, nor for Sansa. While he was deep into his thoughts, the Hand of the King turned to the Queen Regent.

“Tyrion will do as he’s bid. As will you.”

“What do you mean?” Cersei asked, plainly unaware of their father’s meaning.

“You’ll marry Ser Loras.”

In other circumstances Tyrion would have laughed, but strangely he felt some pity for his sister on this moment. Now you know what it is like, big sister.

“I will not,” Cersei said, looking away. But she would, just like Tyrion would. No one could disobey Tywin Lannister.

“The boy is heir to Highgarden. Tyrion will secure the North, you will secure the Reach.”

“No, I won’t do it,” his sister repeated.

“Yes you will. You’re still fertile. You need to marry again and breed.”

“I am Queen Regent, not some broodmare.” Now Cersei was shouting.

“YOU’RE MY DAUGHTER! You will do as I command and you will marry Loras Tyrell and put an end to the disgusting rumors about you, once and for all.” Tywin spoke in a tone that let no place to discussion. But Cersei tried a last attempt. As usual, when orders wouldn’t work for her, she would plead.

“Father, don’t make me do it again please.”

“Not another word!” Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West, Lord of the Westerlands, Shield of Lannisport and Hand of the King rose on his feet and looked down on his children with contempt. “My children! You’ve disgraced the Lannister name for far too long.”

As his father walked, Tyrion and Cersei stayed behind, deep in their thoughts. If they ever shared something, that was the contempt of their father for them. Except perhaps the love they had for Jaime, though it wasn’t the same sort of love. How am I going to announce it to Shae? She is not going to like it.