The following is a chapter excerpt from A Dream of Spring*. There may be spoilers below, and there may not be - I haven't read the damned thing, either.
Tyrion Lannister, Hand of the Queen, waddled his way down the central aisle of the Red Keep's Great Hall with all eyes upon him. While the sensation wasn't near so unsettling as it had been the day he was marched to the dock in this same Hall to answer for the murder of King Joffrey, those eyes still galled. This Keep has been riddled with wormways since the day Maegor raised it, Tyrion thought as he reached the bench that had been placed at the feet of the Iron Throne, and it's had more holes knocked into it of late. Surely we could trouble the stonemasons to open a passage next to the dais and spare the Hand's dignity. And his aching calves.
Of course, that long walk had not been designed to spare a dwarf's dignity. It had been designed to reflect a ruler's majesty, and it had done so brilliantly mere moments before. Daenerys Stormborn, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and Owner of a Bloody Host of Titles Besides, had been the very picture of majesty as she strode down the aisle to take her seat upon the Iron Throne. The assembled crowed, comprised of the tattered remnants of the Seven Kingdoms' great houses, had lustily cheered the Queen who had saved their lives mere days ago.
As a gust of snow blew in through one of the many rents in the Great Hall's outer wall, Tyrion's thoughts returned to that final battle. When the defenders had been pushed back into Maegor's Holdfast and all had seemed lost, Daenerys had swept in mounted atop Drogon. Flanked by [redacted] mounted on Rhaegal and [redacted] on Viserion, she had engulfed the [redacted] in dragonfire. Those fateful swoops, alongside the brave sacrifice of [redacted] and hundreds more, had won the day.
The Queen had won the war. But it fell to the Hand to win the peace, and the first challenge to that peace lay in the disposition of the man who, flanked by two members of the Queensguard, was now marching before the throne.
Kenyth of House Starr, erstwhile High Septon of the Holy Faith.
The Starrs, minor retainers of House Dayne whose lands lay just southeast of Starfall, had earned little renown in war or peace since the founding of the Seven Kingdoms. As the fourth son of an impoverished and ignoble House, young Kenyth had sought his fortune in King's Landing as a trader before falling in with the Faith. He had proven a most fervent convert, carving the star of the Seven into his own forehead decades before the High Sparrow's recent rule had made such overt acts of fanaticism commonplace. They called him the Seven-Pointed Starr, Tyrion mused, though he may as well have been a Thorne for as deeply as he aimed to embed himself in Robert's side.
Every fanatic needs a focus to rally the faithful, and Starr's had been the increasingly dissolute reign of Robert Baratheon. Starr had railed against King Robert from every street corner in Flea Bottom. Sinner, Starr had cried, adulterer. Whoremonger. Mere whispers of dissent had cost men their lives during the Mad King's reign, but Starr's shouts had been answered by naught but chortles from Robert. Baratheon had once toasted the man from the head of a royal procession, purple wine sloshing from his goblet to answer the howls from Starr's purpled visage. What Queen Cersei thought of the scene as she trundled past in the royal carriage, none had dared ask.
Starr had fallen out of sight for years, but ironically it had been Cersei herself who ultimately shepherded him into power. Once her striving against the High Sparrow had resulted in [redacted], Starr had been raised to the pinnacle of the Holy Faith by the surviving members of the Most Devout. By that time Cersei was in no position to object, and war had finally come to the doorstep of the Crownlands. Starr had raised up a brutish but cunning man called Artur to the newly created position of First Sword of the Faith, and Artur had led the Warrior's Sons to a string of smashing victories.
And in the process, unleashed a reign of terror that had profaned the Holy Sept of
Baylor Baelor, left King's Landing awash in fear and forced a still-aching Tyrion to preside over a most distasteful trial.
While Starr's fanaticism had been unimpeachable in his younger days, small evidence of that zealotry remained in the man Tyrion saw before him. The scarred Star on his forehead was faded and indistinct, and the man's formerly harsh face had rounded into the plump and avuncular features more befitting a wealthy merchant. That's the way of fanatics, Tyrion thought. The true believers die young. The smart ones gather waves of followers to throw themselves onto swords while they sit back and let themselves be worn smooth by endless flows of gold, like stones in a stream.
"Kenyth of House Starr," Tyrion announced, his voice ringing out over the marbled Hall, "you are called here to answer for the crimes committed by the Faith and the Warrior's Sons under your rule."
Kenyth drew himself to his full height, but his face remained a picture of beatific innocence. "My lord Hand," he said, "the Faith and the Warrior's sons stood steadfast against the Crown's enemies in these dark times. Times when the Queen and her forces were absent. How have the Warrior's Sons fallen short of your hopes?"
"For a start, we'd hoped for rather fewer rapes," Tyrion said. "I'd say we'd hoped for no rapes, since these men were supposed to be the representatives of the Gods themselves!"
"Ah, yes," said Kenyth, "it was regrettable that a few of the Gods' servants fell victim to the weaknesses of the flesh."
"A few?" Tyrion felt his anger bubbling to the surface. "Cities have been sacked and Khals have been wed with fewer outrages!"
"There have been excesses," Kenyth allowed, "but you must understand that I knew none of this until scant weeks ago."
"You're telling me you were surprised?" Tyrion was astonished at the man's audacity. "Your man Artur swept the dungeons and handed out stars and swords to thieves and murderers! His son paid thirty pieces of silver to half the cutthroats and pirates in the Stepstones! What did you suppose would happen? That they'd all break out in hymns?"
"You take issue with our recruitment in desperate times," Kenyth replied, "but did the noble Night's Watch not fill its ranks in the same fashion?"
"There was justice on the Wall," snarled Tyrion, struggling to master his temper. "The sword and the block stood ready for any man who broke his vows. But your men ran amok while you and Artur did nothing!"
"Lord Bloodraven was said to have a thousand eyes and one," said Kenyth, "but the Gods granted Artur and myself but two apiece. My lord Hand, you cannot expect us to intercede when knowledge of ill deeds is kept from us."
"You kept that knowledge from others!" Tyrion knew that he was fighting a losing battle with his own anger. "Artur's picked men kept reports from reaching the Gold Cloaks, and some victims were promised further violence if they raised their voices! Is this how you defend the weak?"
Tyrion wished the assembled crowd could see Kennyth's unctuous visage as he smiled in the face of this latest charge. It was a smile that begged to be greeted by a mailed fist.
"Stories, my Lord," said Kenyth, "stories planted, I fear, by those who had grown uneasy that the Faith could finally rival them in strength. As so many of these so-called crimes took place far outside the city walls, only the Gods themselves can sift truth from rumor."
"Facts," shouted Tyrion, "facts that were written in great detail!" He waved several of the parchments that had been piled atop the ebon bench in front of him. Varys' little birds had been unstinting. "There were numerous attacks within the city, and ten of them within a stone's throw of the Great Sept itself!"
For the first time, Kenyth's oily calm began to dissipate. He swallowed hard and said, "It seems that you know...much, for a man who has been absent from King's Landing for so long."
Deanerys had asked him to present a face of calm and dispassionate justice, so Tyrion was grateful to use a touch of humor to lighten his stormy mood. "Well," he said, "that is what I do. I drink, and I know things."
"Ah, drink," said Kenyth, his features growing calm once more as he warmed to a familiar topic. "Love of the grape debases both men and women in the sight of the Gods, and it was drunkenness that led many of these strumpets astray. As I'm sure my lord Hand has read the accounts of these incidents, I'm confident that you found no complaints from sober and virtuous maidens contained therein."
Well, so much for humor, Tyrion thought, surrendering himself to a tide of mounting rage. "Are you saying that a cup of wine gave your animals the right to use these women like..." As his voice raised to a shout, Tyrion made one last, supreme effort to reign in his anger.
"No. No, let us set that aside for the moment. Shall we discuss instead the fate of your newest recruits? The scions of eight noble Houses have recently pledged themselves to the Warrior's Sons," Tyrion said, "but they did so with no knowledge of the depths of your depravity. Their lord fathers and lady mothers have publicly beseeched the Faith to set them free, but you have refused. Surely you see the wisdom in releasing these boys from oaths made in ignorance?"
"Those oaths are not mine to sunder," said Kenyth, "they are compacts with the Seven, and only the Gods may set them free. If these lads will stand vigil in the holy sept for seven days and seven nights, perhaps the Crone will show us her wisdom in this matter."
Tyrion looked down to see his own hands curled into fists by the man's placid arrogance. A scathing retort rose in his throat, only to be cut off by a voice raised behind him.
"Enough," said Daenerys, "My lord Hand, I thank you for your faithful service in this matter." Her gaze swept over the Hall. "Lords and ladies, people of Westeros, well before we reached the gates of the city we had heard many dark tales. Tales that wicked men had allowed the innocent to be ravaged and corrupted the very Faith that binds the Seven Kingdoms into one. I knew that there could be no peace and no healing until these men were dealt with, and the Faith set to rights."
"But when the Queen must deliver justice, you may wonder why I set my Hand over this matter. The Queen owes you justice, and she also owes you truth. And the truth is this. I was afraid."
A murmur of confusion rippled through the crowd.
"I was afraid because I could not claim my legacy as your Queen without also claiming my father's. I have heard the...darker tales of his rule. If my first act as Queen was one of violence, would the whispers begin? Would the people deem me King Aerys come again, burning innocent men with wildfire for imagined slights?"
"But this city will no longer be ruled by fear, and neither will your Queen. I am not my father. This man and his band of thugs are no innocents. And dragonfire is not wildfire. Let me show you the difference." Daenerys rose gracefully from the Iron Throne, stood for a moment surveying the crowd, and then called out with a clear voice.
Another murmur ran through the assembled throng, this time dissolving into gasps of fear and awe. The great black dragon, who had been curled in the courtyard outside the Great Hall, snaked its serpentine head through the gap in the Hall's shattered wall. Gusts of snow melted into rain as they drifted past the great beast's head, spattering on scale and marble as as they fell. Daenerys' features softened with a mother's love as she gazed upon Drogon's fierce visage, but they swiftly hardened into a regal glare she turned her head to lock eyes with Kenyth of House Starr. Her face remained impassive, but her eyes flared as she uttered a single word.
* Not really.