A Clash of Kings-Chapter 20
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Tyrion visits the Guildhall of the Alchemists to discuss the production of wildfire then meets with Ser Cleos Frey about Robb Stark's peace terms. On the way back to the Red Keep, Tyrion passes a prophet preaching of corruption and incest. When he finds Cersei waiting in his solar, the pair argue about strategy and sending Myrcella to Dorne, which gives Tyrion the identity of an informer.
Tyrion is glad he took the advice to dress warmly, despite looking like a ball of striped fur bundled up in his shadowskin cloak. Deep under Rhaenys's Hill, the chill in the dank vaults behind the Guildhall of the Alchemists is so bone-deep that even Timett retreated after a brief taste.
By the light of a sealed lamp, Tyrion inspects a fragile, grapefruit-shaped clay jar. The jar has a pebbled texture to keep it from slipping when grasped, and when Tyrion tilts it to peer inside the murky green wildfire oozes toward the lip. When Tyrion remarks on its thickness, the pallid and obsequious Pyromancer Hallyne explains that "the substance" (as the pyromancers call it) flows more easily as it warms.
Tyrion is annoyed by the alchemists' pretentiousness. Their habits of calling each other "wisdom" and hinting at vast stores of secret knowledge do not match the reality of a declining guild in moth-eaten robes who no longer even pretend to transmute metals. The Maesters of the Citadel have supplanted the once-powerful guild in almost every respect ―except the creation of wildfire, which remains a closely-guarded guild secret.
Hallyne explains that once kindled, wildfire cannot be quenched and will seep into cloth, wood, leather, or even steel and set them afire as well. Tyrion recalls from the flaming sword of Thoros of Myr that even a thin coating can burn for an hour, though it ruins the sword. When Tyrion asks why the wildfire doesn't seep into the clay pots, Hallyne explains that it does, and thus they have a lower vault full of pots from the reign of King Aerys II Targaryen, whose fancy it was to shape the jars like fruit. By rights, those jars should be destroyed, but so many of the guild's masters were killed during the Sack of King's Landing that they lack the skill and have flooded the vaults instead. Hallyne adds that the whereabouts of much of King Aerys's stock was also lost, such as a cache of two hundred jars discovered only last year under the Great Sept of Baelor. Hallyne admits this older stock can still be used, but urges extreme caution, since wildfire grows more volatile with age and will self-ignite if left in even direct sunlight for too long, causing it to expand violently and create a chain reaction among nearby jars.
When Tyrion asks how many jars they have, Hallyne quotes the morning's count by Wisdom Munciter as 7,840 jars, including 4,000 from King Aerys' older stock and says he is confident the guild will meet its promise of 10,000 jars. Tyrion is astonished, delighted, and terrified. He knows creating wildfire is a lengthy and dangerous process, and thought the number was only a wild boast. He insists he does not want any undue haste or defective wildfire, but Hallyne assures him the wildfire is prepared only by trained acolytes in work cells designed to fill with sand and smother any fires―and the hapless acolyte. Tyrion is interested in inspecting how such a cell would work, but he does not have time.
Hallyne reiterates the importance of handling wildfire with care, suggesting that common soldiers in the frenzy of battle may not be as considerate as trained pyromancers, and any little mistake could be catastrophic. In response, Tyrion requests as many spare jars as possible to be delivered to each of the city gates.
As they walk back, Hallyne stresses the honor of welcoming the Hand of the King for the first time since Lord Rossart, who was of their guild himself. The mention of Rossart reminds Tyrion of the stories of Mad King Aerys II using the alchemists to burn his enemies, and he decides it would be best to keep Joffrey well away from the pyromancers to prevent him getting the same idea. As such, when Hallyne proposes hosting a feast for Joffrey, Tyrion explains that Joffrey has forbidden feasting (at Tyrion's insistence) until the war is won. However, Tyrion has no objections when Hallyne instead proposes a demonstration of the "dread secrets" of his ancient order at the Red Keep; there is no harm in a few magic tricks.
After navigating the twists and turns of the Guildhall, they come to the long and echoing Gallery of the Iron Torches, where columns of wildfire flames burn around black metal columns and reflect off the black marble walls to bathe the hall in emerald light. However, Tyrion is less impressed because he knows the cost of wildfire means the torches have been lit only to impress him.
After bidding farewell to Hallyne on the doorstep, Tyrion descends the broad steps to the Street of Sisters near Visenya's hill where Timett waits with his litter and an escort of Burned Men, a most appropriate escort for a visit to the pyromancers and a necessary precaution since Joffrey rained arrows on a hungry mob at the gates of the Red Keep only three days past. Tyrion is surprised to find Bronn waiting as well, with two messages: Ser Jacelyn Bywater urgently requires Tyrion at the Gate of the Gods and Cersei commands him to attend her in her chambers. Tyrion decides to see Bywater first, as the man is not prone to waste his time and forcing Cersei to wait will make her angry and stupid, which he prefers to composed and cunning.
The normally-busy food market inside the Gate of the Gods is nearly deserted as Tyrion crosses it to meet Ser Jacelyn, who informs him that Ser Cleos Frey has arrived with peace terms from Robb Stark. Tyrion is pleased, but Cleos proves reluctant to discuss the terms since his orders are to deliver them directly to Cersei. Gaunt and haggard from his journey, Cleos describes the dire situation around the Gods Eye and the kingsroad, where the river lords are burning their own crops to starve the Lannisters, who are in turn torching every village and killing the smallfolk. Tyrion dismisses this as the way of war while Cleos adds that even with a peace banner his party was attacked twice by broken men, losing three men and another six wounded.
When Tyrion is amused by Robb's impossible peace terms, Cleos shares that Robb sits idle at Riverrun, likely afraid to face Lord Tywin in battle, and grows weaker as the river lords disperse to defend their lands. Tyrion wonders if that was his father's plan, then informs Cleos that the terms―including the exchange of Willem Lannister and Cleos' brother Tion Frey for Sansa and Arya Stark―are unacceptable, and Cleos will be expected to carry the small council's counteroffer back to Riverrun. Cleos is not pleased with the prospect of recrossing a war zone and points out that it is Catelyn Stark who wants this peace, not Robb. Tyrion counters that Catelyn wants her daughters and urges Cleos to rest and await further instructions.
Tyrion rejoins Jacelyn Bywater watching several hundred recruits drilling beyond the gate. With so many refugees, there is no lack of men joining the City Watch for food and a bed, but Tyrion has no illusions about their worth in battle. He commends Bywater for contacting him and instructs him to give Ser Cleos and his escort every hospitality but to keep them outside the city to hide the truth of conditions there. He also instructs Bywater to use the jars the alchemists will deliver to train spitfire crews to handle wildfire using paint and burning oil. Bywater calls this a wise measure, although he has no love for "alchemist's piss". Tyrion agrees, but insists he must use what he is given.
Back in his litter, Tyrion reflects that if he can use negotiations to keep Robb dreaming of an easy peace at Riverrun until Ser Stafford Lannister readies his new host at Casterly Rock, then Stafford and Lord Tyrwin can smash Robb's forces between them. Tyrion only wishes the Baratheons would be as accommodating. With Renly creeping up the roseroad with his massive southron army and Stannis poised to sail his fleet up the Blackwater Rush any day, Tyrion takes small comfort from his stockpile of wildfire.
A commotion in Cobbler's Square pulls Tyrion out of his musings. A sizable crowd listens to the rantings of a prophet garbed as a begging brother. Calling the red comet in the sky above Aegon's high hill "the Father's Scourge", he proclaims:
We have become swollen, bloated, foul. Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the High Septon has forgotten the gods! He bathes in scented waters and grows fat on lark and lamprey while his people starve! Pride comes before prayer, maggots rule our castles, and gold is all... but no more! The Rotten Summer is at an end, and the Whoremonger King is brought low! When the boar did open him, a great stench rose to heaven and a thousand snakes slid forth from his belly, hissing and biting! There comes the Harbinger! Cleanse yourselves, the gods cry out, lest ye be cleansed! Bathe in the wine of righteousness, or you shall be bathed in fire! Fire!
Wounded by being called a "twisted little monkey demon", Tyrion takes solace from the hoots of derision drowning the echoing shouts as he orders the Burned Men to clear a path. He agrees with the prophet about the High Septon, however, smiling at the memory of a joke Moon Boy made at the gluttonous cleric's expense.
Returning to the Red Keep without further incident, Tyrion ascends to his chambers in a hopeful mood, thinking all he needs is time to piece it all together. Entering his solar, he is confronted by Cersei, who is furious at him for ignoring her summons and plotting to sell her only daughter like a bag of oats. Knowing his ploy has worked, Tyrion points out princesses like Myrcella are born for such marriage alliances, unless Cersei planned to wed her to her brother Tommen. Cersei declares she will not allow Myrcella to be shipped off to Dorne. Without missing a beat, Tyrion points out that Dorne will be much safer than King's Landing, and the feud between the Lannisters and House Martell goes back only a generation, whereas the Dornishmen have warred with Storm's End and Highgarden for a millennium.
Tyrion explains that he proposed nine-year-old Myrcella become a ward of Prince Doran Martell until she turns fourteen, at which time she will marry Trystane Martell, who is just two years older. Cersei insists Myrcella will be a hostage, but Tyrion opines that she will be treated more kindly than Sansa Stark, especially with Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard as her sworn shield. Cersei still worries that Doran Martell might kill Myrcella to avenge the murder of his sister Elia Martell, but Tyrion insists Doran is too honorable to murder an innocent girl and the terms are too rich to refuse: he has also promised the prince his sister's killer, a council seat, and some castles on the Dornish Marches. Cersei accuses Tyrion of offering too much without her consent, but he insists Doran would not accept less and asks if Cersei means to offer sexual favors instead. When she slaps him, Tyrion promises her it will be the last time, but Cersei only laughs and suggests Tyrion's faith that their father's letter will protect him might be as misguided as Eddard Stark's faith in King Robert's last will. Tyrion notes to himself that unlike Lord Eddard he has the City Watch, his clansmen, and a party of sellswords, though he supposes Stark had delusions of support as well.
Rather than argue, Tyrion declares that Renly and Stannis will mount Myrcella's head beside Cersei's if they take the city. To his astonishment, Cersei begins to cry, something Tyrion has not seen since they were children. Awkwardly he moves to comfort her, but she wrenches away, which hurts more than any slap. He promises nothing will happen to Myrcella, but Cersei calls him a liar and declares he has not kept his promise to free Jaime. Tyrion assures her that Jaime remains safe at Riverrun until he can find a way to free him.
Cersei laments that if she were a man she would not have allowed any of this to happen. She wonders how Jaime could let himself be captured and questions what their father is doing hiding in Harrenhal. Tyrion assures her Lord Tywin is making war, proposing that Tywin is a lion waiting to pounce while Robb is a fawn frozen by fear. Cersei is not convinced, pointing out that Jaime would not sit idle if their father were the prisoner. To himself, Tyrion agrees that Jaime never had any patience, but he only says that not everyone can be as bold as Jaime, but there are other ways to win a war, and Harrenhal is strong and well situated.
Cersei adds that King's Landing is neither and Renly's host will soon be at their gates. Tyrion assures her the city will not fall in a day, giving Lord Tywin time to march down the kingsroad to take Renly in the rear. Hungry for reassurance, Cersei asks what will happen if Robb Stark marches. Tyrion explains that Harrenhal prevents Roose Bolton from crossing the Trident to reunite the northern forces, and even if he could, Robb does not have the strength to take Harrenhal and march on King's Landing. Meanwhile, Lord Tywin's army lives on the fat of the riverlands and their uncle Stafford is raising another army at Casterly Rock.
Wondering how Tyrion knows all this, Cersei asks if Lord Tywin confided in him. Tyrion replies that he only looked at a map, which causes Cersei to accuse him of mere speculation. Drawing out Robb's peace offer, Tyrion asks why Robb would offer terms―even unacceptable terms―if he were winning. Suddenly all queen again, Cersei asks how the terms came to Tyrion instead of her, but Tyrion quips that his job as Hand is to hand her things. As he hands her the letter, Tyrion muses that getting slapped by Cersei is a small price to pay for her agreement to the Dornish marriage, which he can sense he will now get. The identity of an informer is just the plum in his pudding.
References and Notes
- Analyses and summary of the chapter in the course of a 10th reread by Slynt.
- Review and summary by Leigh Butler.