A Clash of Kings-Chapter 20
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|A Clash of Kings chapter|
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Tyrion Lannister visits the Guildhall of the Alchemists about the preparation of the Wildfire, and then meets with Ser Cleos Frey about Robb Stark’s terms for peace. He is returning to the Red Keep when he passes a crowd listening to a prophet who takes the Red Comet as a sign of corruption, talking about incest, and even the High Septon forgetting the gods. When he returns to his chamber, Tyrion finds Cersei waiting for him, who complains about sending her daughter Myrcella to Dorne. Now Tyrion knows the informer.
Head pyromancer Hallyne is showing Tyrion Lannister around in a long and dark vault, introducing him to wildfire. The murky green "substance", as the pyromancers call it, is stored here in numerous little clay jars standing on tables between damp walls full of nitre. The vault is located deep under Rhaenys's Hill and reached via steps leading down from the Guildhall of the Alchemists. Tyrion has been warned to dress warmly, which he did with a large shadowskin coat he once got in the Mountains of the Moon. The place is indeed ice-cold, so cold that Timett retreated after a brief taste of it.
Picking up one of the grapefruit-like, hand-sized jars, he notices that the pottery is both fragile and roughened. Hallyne explains that the uneven surface is intentional to keep the jars from slipping when grasped, also sharing that it was Mad King Aerys who came up with the idea of giving the containers the shape of fruits. The liquid is thick, Tyrion observes. That's because of the cold, he learns. However, it will flow like lamp oil when it enters warmer surroundings, eventually self-igniting if those surroundings are too hot. Thus wildfire jars shouldn't be left in the open sun, even for a short time. Once kindled, the liquid will start to expand violently, with the jar inevitably exploding at some point, causing a chain reaction if other jars stand nearby. Moreover, wildfire will burn until nothing is left of it and cannot be quenched by water. It seeps into cloth, wood, leather, steel – lighting them as well. Even a thin coating can burn for an hour, as Tyrion remembers from the flaming sword of Thoros of Myr, which, however, had to be replaced after each melee. Hallyne instructs Tyrion that wildfire oozes even into the clay of its own jars. This makes older stock a delicate matter, in particular as wildfire also gets more fickle with age. Thus the 4,000 containers left from the times of the Mad King are sealed with wax and stored in a lower vault that is watered, Hallyne explains.
Tyrion is annoyed by how pretentious the pyromancers are, calling each other "Wisdom" and hinting at the vast secret knowledge they possess. That doesn't quite fit the reality, where the once powerful guild has only a few members left, who don't even pretend anymore that they transmute metals, and where the head pyromancer wears robes that look patchy and moth-eaten, as Tyrion hasn't failed to notice. Hallyne himself admits that the members of his guild were so decimated during the Sack of King’s Landing that those remaining weren't up to the task of destroying the stocks left from the Wildfire Plot, as should have happened. Over the last few centuries, the pyromancers have been supplanted by the maesters in almost every respect – except when it comes to the creation of wildfire, the recipe for which is kept a closely guarded secret.
Tyrion inquires whether the older stocks can still be used, and Hallyne confirms they can, although they have to be treated with special care. Hallyne explains that, by a count made by Wisdom Munciter this morning, the guild currently guards 7,840 jars of wildfire, including the ones from King Aerys' days (a stock that increased by 200 jars the year before, when, to the immense terror of the High Septon, many were discovered in a storeroom under the Great Sept of Baelor and brought to the Guildhall in a difficult and secret operation supervised by Hallyne himself). Thus the guild should be able to keep the promise, made to Queen Cersei, of delivering 10,000 jars of wildfire, as Wisdom Malliard and Hallyne agree. Tyrion is astonished. He thought that number was only a wild boast, as he knows that the process of creating wildfire is lengthy and dangerous. He asks further questions: Isn't some undue haste involved here, probably leading to defective wildfire? Aren't any mishaps possible during production? Hallyne assures Tyrion that the substance is only handled by trained acolytes and produced in one-man work cells with rooms full of sand above. If a fire breaks out, a secret mechanism opens the ceiling and releases the sand, which will smother the blaze – and the guilty acolyte as well, Tyrion adds. He is so intrigued by this whole set-up that he intends to inspect such a cell at some point, maybe after the war has ended, he thinks to himself.
Hallyne comes back to the importance of handling the jars with care. While the pyromancers always keep the power of wildfire in mind, common soldiers may not be so considerate, he suggests. This could lead to a catastrophe, as Hallyne's father already explained to King Aerys and his grandfather to King Jaehaerys. Tyrion inquires whether the guild has a sufficient supply of jars. Hallyne says they have. He is bewildered when Tyrion asks whether the pyromancers can cede a few thousand empty jars to him, to be delivered to the captains in charge at each of the city gates. Tyrion does not share what exactly he intends to do with the jars, yet he hints that his request has been triggered by Hallyne repeatedly stressing that wildfire needs to be handled carefully.
Tyrion has seen enough and asks Hallyne to escort him back to his litter. While climbing the stairs back up, the pyromancer stresses what an honor it has been to welcome the Hand of the King at the Guildhall, something that hasn't happened since the times of Rossart, who, however, was a pyromancer himself. The mention of Rossart as well as of the interest King Aerys took in the work of the pyromancers reminds Tyrion of some of the stories his brother Jaime told him about those days, such as the Mad King using the alchemists for burning the flesh off his enemies. Thus he is apprehensive when Hallyne brings up a scenario he has already talked about with Cersei, namely that King Joffrey himself could visit the Guildhall, maybe for a feast. Tyrion suspects that any direct contact with the pyromancers could put the idea into Joffrey's head of using them the same way the Mad King did. He tells Hallyne that, in light of smallfolk starving, the King has banned all feasts until the war has been won. Which he only did on his uncle's insistence, as Tyrion thinks by himself. Hallyne then proposes that he and some of his brothers could make a demonstration of the "dread secrets of our ancient order" at the Red Keep to distract Joffrey from his many duties, and Tyrion has no objections against what he suspects would be nothing but a few magic tricks.
After a walk through the twists and turns of the Guildhall, they come to the Gallery of the Iron Torches, a marked contrast to the rest of this building of black stone. In the long echoing chamber with walls and floors of polished black marble, columns of wildfire flames surround high black metal columns, creating an effect of emerald radiance. However, Tyrion is not that much impressed, as he knows that wildfire is too valuable to be wasted on such appearances and that the huge iron torches have only been lit for the occasion of his visit, to be extinguished shortly after he has left. They emerge atop the steps of the Guildhall that lead down to the Street of the Sisters near Visenya's Hill and Tyrion bids farewell to Hallyne. He walks down to his litter, where Timett and a number of Burned Men are waiting for him, the latter a most appropriate escort considering his task at the Guildhall, Tyrion thinks. They are also a necessary precaution, as only three days ago King Joffrey has made the Crown more enemies by having his men shoot at protesters who had gathered at the gates of the Red Keep chanting for food, killing four, then telling the crowd he gave them leave to eat their dead.
Tyrion is surprised to find Bronn at the litter as well. Bronn has two messages for Tyrion: Jacelyn Bywater, the Commander of the City Watch, urgently requires him at the Gate of the Gods and Cersei has "summoned" him to Maegor's Holdfast, the latter message delivered by Lancel Lannister. Tyrion decides to see Bywater first, as the man isn't prone to waste his time whereas letting Cersei wait will arouse her anger, making her act stupidly, which Tyrion prefers to her composed cunning.
The litter arrives at the Gate of the Gods and Tyrion, walking across the usually busy market square inside, notices that the place is nearly deserted. Bywater informs him that Ser Cleos Frey has arrived with peace terms from Robb Stark. Tyrion is pleased with this news. He meets Ser Cleos, who looks terrible and is hesitant to talk with Tyrion, as his orders are to deliver the message to Cersei. He describes the dire situation in the Riverlands, in particular around the Gods Eye and along the Kingsroad: The river lords are burning their own crops, trying to starve the Lannisters, while the Lannister foragers are torching every village and putting smallfolk to the sword. That's just the way of war, Tyrion thinks. Cleos tells him that, even with a peace banner, his group was attacked twice by marauders on its way to King's Landing, losing three with six wounded. Tyrion studies Robb's impossible peace terms and is amused. Cleos shares that Robb is idle at Riverrun, probably afraid of facing Tywin Lannister on the battlefield, while he is weakened every day because river lords are leaving his host to defend their own lands. Tyrion wonders whether all of this is how his father intended it, then informs Cleos that the terms are inacceptable, including exchanging Sansa and Arya Stark for Willem Lannister and Cleos' younger brother Tion. Yet he is going to consult with Cersei and the Small Council on own propositions for an exchange of hostages, to be delivered by Cleos. Cleos isn't pleased with the prospect of going back to Riverrun and tells Tyrion that Robb will not give in easily. It is in fact his mother, Catelyn Stark, who wants this peace, not him. Tyrion says Cleos should rest and that he will send for him when more is known.
Tyrion joins Bywater watching several hundred new recruits drilling in the field. There is no shortage of recruits for the City Watch of King's Landing, because men just want food and a bed, yet Tyrion has no illusions about how useful these ragged creatures will be in a battle. He tells Bywater he did the right thing contacting him and that he will leave Cleos in Bywater's care. Cleos is to receive every hospitality, including maesters treating his wounded escorts, yet none of them is to set foot into the city, as Tyrion doesn't want information about the conditions in the capital to reach Riverrun. He also informs Bywater about the jars that will be delivered by the alchemists to the city gates, instructing him to train the men at the spitfires with them on how to use wildfire, first by filling them with green paint, then with burning lamp oil. Men who spatter the paint or burn themselves firing the lamp oil should be replaced. The rest might eventually be trusted to handle wildfire. Bywater thinks this is a wise measure, although he has no love for "alchemist's piss". Tyrion agrees, yet he has to use what is given to him.
Back in his litter, Tyrion considers the implications of Robb's peace terms. He thinks they offer a golden chance for the Lannisters and intends to send Cleos back and forth between King's Landing and Riverrun, feeding Robb's illusion that real negotiations about an easy peace are going on while gaining some time for Ser Stafford Lannister to train his new troops at Casterly Rock. Once that host is ready, Stafford's and Tywin's armies could march on Riverrun, smashing the Starks and Tullys between them. What bothers Tyrion more right now than the King in the North are the two Baratheon kings, with Renly moving his huge army towards King's Landing along the Roseroad, if very slowly, and Stannis probably sailing his equally huge fleet up the Blackwater Rush any day now. The thought of the large stock of wildfire that will be available gives Tyrion some comfort, but still...
A commotion on Cobbler's Square pulls Tyrion out of his musings. A sizable crowd has gathered to listen to the rantings of a prophet, his garb of undyed wool with a hempen rope as belt identifying him as one of the begging brothers. 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!” He jabbed his bony finger back at comet and castle. “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!||”|
Some in the crowd pick up the "Fire!" shout, but there seem to be more who deride the prophet. Tyrion takes solace from this, as he orders the Burned Men to clear a path through the group and weighs the comment about the "twisted little monkey demon". The prophet does have a point about the High Septon, though, Tyrion thinks, smiling as he remembers a joke Moon Boy made the other day about the cleric's gluttonous ways.
Having arrived at the Red Keep without any further incidence, Tyrion climbs the step to his solar. The developments of the day have made him a bit more hopeful. What he needs most is time, in particular for completing the construction of the chain he has ordered. When he is entering his chambers, Cersei is already there, furious that her brother left her waiting. Tyrion is angry as well, as Crawn and his Moon Brothers were supposed to guard the place in his absence. Cersei calls him a "disgusting little worm" for planning to mary off her only daughter Myrcella like a bag of oats. Thus Tyrion knows his plot has been successful and he's curious now who shared the information with Cersei. He suggests that princesses are there to get married and asks Cersei whether she had intended for Myrcella to wed her brother Tommen, prompting Cersei to slap a cup of wine out of his hand.
Cersei declares that, as Queen Regent, she forbids Myrcella to be shipped off to Dorne the way Cersei herself was shipped off to marry Robert Baratheon. Tyrion insists that Myrcella will be safer in Dorne than in King's Landing, even though House Martell has no cause to love the Lannisters, as pointed out by Cersei. After all, the feud between the Lannisters and the Martells only dates back one generation whereas the Dornishmen have warred against Highgarden and Storm's End for a thousand years. Besides, Doran Martell will likely treat Myrcella better than Sansa has been treated by Joffrey. The plan is to have Myrcella be the guest of the Martells for the next five years, maybe under the protection of Ser Arys Oakheart, then let her marry Trystane Martell who is just two years older. Myrcella is not going to be a guest but a hostage, Cersei insists, and Prince Doran might decide to kill her at any point to avenge the murder of his sister, Queen Elia. Tyrion dismisses the thought as he considers Prince Doran an honorable man. Besides, the other things he has offered Dorne for cementing an alliance with House Lannister – handing over Elia's murderer, a council seat, castles in the Dornish Marches – are even more attractive than a marriage bond, guaranteeing that Prince Doran will not refuse them and will keep Myrcella safe. Cersei accuses Tyrion of having offered too much and without her authority or consent. Tyrion is angered and derisive: What would Cersei have offered the Prince of Dorne instead, the hole between her legs? She slaps him. He promises her that this is the last time she has hit him, but she laughs at him and tells him not to threaten her, delivering her own threat by suggesting Tyrion's belief that their father's letter protects him might be equally misguided as Eddard Stark's belief that he was protected by King Robert's last will. Tyrion wonders whether, while Lord Eddard could not rely on the City Watch, nor on sellswords or northern clansmen, it is wise to put his trust in men like Varys, Bywater and Bronn.
To calm Cersei down, Tyrion suggests that Renly and Stannis would put both hers and Myrcella's head on spikes, if they conquer King's Landing. To his utmost bewilderment, this comment prompts Cersei to cry, something Tyrion has not seen since they were children. Awkwardly he tries to comfort the angry and grief-stricken sister, yet is rejected in a hurtful manner. Still, he assures Cersei he didn't want to frighten her, promising her that nothing will happen to Myrcella. She calls him a liar who gives empty promises, proven by his failure to deliver on his promise to free Jaime. Jaime remains safe at Riverrun until Tyrion will find a way to free him, he assures her again.
Cersei admits her frustration that her gender keeps her from acting the way she thinks is necessary, while the men in her family are proving themselves ineffective in this war. How could Jaime allow himself to be captured by that boy? What is their father doing in Harrenhal, is he hiding? Why are he and Robb Stark not engaged in battle? Tyrion proposes an allegory with Tywin as lion and Robb as fawn. While the lion lying in wait speaks for composure and deliberation, the fawn lying in wait just betrays fear. Cersei is not convinced, pointing out that Jaime would not sit idly by if their father was the prisoner. Tyrion knows she is right. An impatient Jaime would probably try to storm the walls of Riverrun, wasting his forces in the process, he thinks to himself, but only says that not everyone can be as bold as Jaime. Cersei should trust their father; Harrenhal is strong and well situated. Whereas King's Landing is not, Cersei adds. What if Renly storms the city? Tyrion tells her that the city can't be conquered in a day and that, in case King's Landing comes under siege, Lord Tywin will march his forces swiftly down the Kingsroad and fall into Renly's rear. Tyrion notices that his words give Cersei some reassurance. But what if Robb Stark decides to march? Tyrion explains that Harrenhal prevents Roose Bolton from crossing the nearby fords of the Trident to reunite the northern foot forces with the rest of the host, and if Robb intends to march on King's Landing, Harrenhal is in the way and too strong to be conquered probably even by the combined forces of Stark and Bolton. In the meantime, their father feeds his troops on the fat of the Riverlands and their uncle Stafford is raising a new army at Casterly Rock.
Cersei wonders how Tyrion knows all of this, asking whether Lord Tywin shared his thoughts with him. Tyrion replies that he merely needed to look at a map to realize what is going on. Cersei becomes disdainful, accusing him of speculation. Tyrion decides it's time to inform her about the peace terms offered by Robb Stark, drawing out the letter Cleos brought. The terms are unacceptable, but it is a beginning, Tyrion tells her. Cersei takes on the role of the Queen again and wants to see the letter, asking why it was not delivered to her first. Tyrion jests that he is Hand to the King, so his task is to hand her things. He thinks to himself that getting slapped by Cersei is a small price to pay for the Dornish marriage, which he will get now, he senses. In addition, he has learned who Cersei's informer is, which really is the plum in this pudding for Tyrion.