A Clash of Kings-Prologue
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Maester Cressen broods on the omens all around him on Dragonstone. When news arrives that the Stormlords will not support Stannis Baratheon’s quest for the Iron Throne, Cressen comes into conflict with Queen Selyse and the red priestess Melisandre over what course they should take. In a desperate attempt to kill Melisandre, Cressen shares poison wine with the red woman, but dies while she remains unaffected.
From the balcony of his chambers, where the ravens arrive,Maester Cressen is watching the blood-red comet whose tail spreads across the dawn over Dragonstone with a sense of foreboding. He feels it is an omen, and chides himself as an 80-year-old feeble man who now believes in omens, yet he has never seen a comet so bright nor of that color. Now, it is even visible during the day. At the same time, hot steam has begun to issue from vents beneath the Dragonmont volcano, and a White Raven has arrived from the Citadel, declaring the end of this 10-year-long summer (10 years, two turns and 16 days, the longest in living memory); too many omens to deny. It is enough to make any man believe in omens, but the old maester cannot decide what they might mean. Cressen came to Dragonstone 12 years ago with his lord, but has never liked it here, and never considered it home.
Cressen’s young soon-to-be successor Pylos interrupts his thoughts to bring word that Princess Shireen, with her fool, wishes to see the white raven. The title “princess” is a new appellation for the young girl, now that her father, Lord Stannis, is a king. Cressen bids Pylos to show them in. The shy Shireen is followed by the shuffling Patchface, who is wearing a mock helm made from a bucket with antlers and cowbells; the maester thinks how now only Shireen laughs at the antics of this sad excuse for a fool. Shireen’s face is ugly even discounting the disfigurement from a bout of greyscale that nearly claimed her life as an infant. Shireen asks to see the white raven, and the maester will not deny her since she has been denied too much during her almost ten years. She is the saddest child the maester has ever known and he considers her another mark of his failures. Now his dreams are nightmares with theRed Woman.
While Pylos goes to fetch the white raven, Cressen thinks how the somber 25 year old Pylos is not a good match for the citadel because he, like the citadel, is grim. Cressen asks Shireen why she is up at this early hour. The young girl explains that she has had nightmares of dragons coming to eat her—the maester thinks that she has always had nightmares. Cressen, thinking of the many dragon-inspired statues and buildings of Dragonstone, attempts to comfort her by explaining that Dragonstone was once the westernmost outpost of the ancient Freehold of Valyria. The dragon towers were created to make the fortress seem more formidable. He explains that the Valryians had long-forgotten ways of shaping stone and used them to make the thousands of stone dragons on the island. She is unconvinced, telling him that the Red Woman says the thing in the sky is dragon’s breath. He attempts to tell her that the thing in the sky is a comet and will be gone soon.
Shireen states that her mother says the White Raven means it is not summer any more, and the measter confirms that it is true. He then goes on to tell her about the White Ravens, and how the Citadel determined it was the end of summer. He says that it is hoped that there will be a warm autumn with bountiful harvests—the maester knows that a long summer is said to bring a long winter, but does not want to frighten the child. When she asks if it will snow, the maester says it will but he prays it will not be for years yet. Then, Pylos returns with the white raven, and the maester introduces the raven to Shireen. Shireen is delighted to learn that it can speak.
Patchface begins to sing, “The shadows came to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord,” hopping from one foot to the other, “The shadows came to stay, my lord, stay my lord, stay my lord.” He jerks his head with each word, the bells in his antlers ringing up a clangor. This causes Shireen to tell the maester that this song scares her, and then ask the maester to make him stop—she does not like the song and claims he has been singing it often lately. Cressen thinks back to how the old Lord Steffon Baratheon found the fool in Volantis while seeking a wife for Rhaegar Targaryen. Upon their return journey, within sight of home, their ship sank. Everyone aboard was killed, including the lord, his lady and over 100 sailors. Patchface was washed up on the shore three days later, his naked skin clammy cold. They took him for dead, but then he coughed up water and survived, albeit broken in mind and body, hardly capable of speech, let alone wit. Many suggested that it would be kindest for Cressen to let the mad boy die, but he refused, and he wonders at that decision. Cressen assures Shireen that Patchface is just rambling and does not comprehend any of what he says.
Pylos, who went to fetch Cressen’s breakfast, returns to inform him that Ser Davos Seaworth has returned during the night, has been with with Stannis most of the night, and is now in council. Cressen complains that he should have been notified, as it is his duty to advise the king. Asking pardons of Shireen, the old man has Pylos help him hobble with his bad hips to the Stone Drum, the main keep of Dragonstone. He passes windows from where he can see 3000 men in the host camp outside the wall, and the anchorage filled with ships—no ship that has come within sight of Dragonstone has been allowed to leave. Once in the Stone Drum, Cressen leaves Pylos, stating he wants to see Stannis alone. As he ascends the stairs he regrets leaving Pylos. He meets Ser Davos coming down the stairs. Davos reveals that his mission as envoy to the Stormlands has been a failure. It is as Cressen has told Stannis: the lords sworn to Storm's End have no love for Stannis and will not support his claim. Instead, they have joined with the lords of the Reach in supporting Stannis’ younger brother, Renly.
News of Renly claiming the crown leads Cressen to worry for the youngest Baratheon. When Ser Davos mentions that Renly has instituted a new Kingsguard, Cressen recalls that Renly was always fond of games and rich bright fabrics as a child. “Look at me, I’m a dragon,” and “Look at me, I’m a wizard,” the boy had always been shouting. Cressen sees Renly’s bid to be king as no more than another game: “Look at me, I’m a king.”
Cressen asks Davos if he could bring Stannis any hope, but Davos insists that the only hope he could bring would have been the false sort. This leads Cressen to recall that Ser Davos was once a notorious smuggler who sailed past a Redwyne blockade in the dead of night in a black ship, to deliver onions and salt fish to Lord Stannis’ starving garrison during the Siege of Storm's End. It allowed them to survive until Lord Eddard Stark could lift the siege. Stannis knighted Davos for his deed. However, as punishment for his past misdeeds, Stannis himself cut short all the fingers on Davos’ left hand save the thumb; Davos had insisted that Stannis do the cutting. Cressen realizes that a man like that would give no false hope to Stannis. Ser Davos declares that if Stannis marches on King's Landing now, as is his intent, with so small an army it will only be to die. Cressen responds that Davos has done all he can and that it is now his turn.
Cressen finds Stannis in the top room of the keep, looking down at the Painted Table, which is shaped as a detailed map of the continent of Westeros. Stannis greets him with the statement that he knew he would come whether he summoned him or not. He says that Cressen is now old and needs his sleep, and that he would have learned what Davos knew on his own anyway. Talk between the maester and the king quickly turns into a rant by Stannis about how the Baratheon birthright of Storm’s End, the Stormlands, and its income should have passed to him rather than Renly when their brother King Robert assumed the Iron Throne. Stannis did not want Dragonstone, but when his brother commanded it, he occupied it and built his brother’s fleets. It is an old grievance made new by the fact that Dragonstone, ancient and strong though it is, commands the allegiance of only a handful of lesser lords whose stony island holdings are too thinly occupied to supply the men that Stannis needs to seize his rightful throne.
Cressen explains that Robert did him an injustice, but gave him lordship of Dragonstone because a man’s strength was needed to hold it; Renly was just a boy. To this Stannis comments that Renly is still a boy, a thieving child; Renly has never done anything to deserve the throne. Stannis wonders aloud why the gods had to inflict him with brothers. Then he asks about the advice Renly gets from his maester and Cressen states he doubts Renly seeks council; Renly is bold and heedless, much like Robert.
When Stannis asks what he is to tell the few anxious bannermen he does command, Maester Cressen reminds him that House Lannister is his true enemy and suggests that he join with Renly to defeat them. Stannis flatly refuses. Cressen yields immediately and suggests a partnership with the new King in the North, Robb Stark, who commands all the power of Winterfell and Riverrun. Stannis again refuses, claiming that Robb is a green boy and another false king that seeks to steal half of his kingdom. Cressen suggests that half a realm is better than none and that Robb may even submit in exchange for help in avenging his father, but Stannis remains adamant and launches into another rant about the slights he received at the hands of his brother Robert, including the fact that Robert treated Eddard Stark more as a brother than him, and praised him for lifting the siege of Storm’s End when it was Stannis that had held the castle. When Jon Arryn died, Robert offered the office of Hand of the King to Eddard instead of Stannis. He says to Maester Cressen:
|“||“Why should I avenge Eddard Stark? The man was nothing to me. Oh, Robert loved him, to be sure. Loved him as a brother, how often did I hear that? I was his brother, not Ned Stark, but you would never have known by the way he treated me. I held Storm's End for him, watching good men starve while Mace Tyrell and Paxter Redwyne feasted within sight of my walls. Did Robert thank me? No. He thanked Stark, for lifting the siege when we were down to rats and radishes. I built a fleet at Robert’s command, took Dragonstone in his name. Did he ever take my hand and say, Well done, brother, whatever should I do without you? No, he blamed me for letting Willem Darry steal away Viserys and the babe, as if I could have stopped it. I sat on his council for fifteen years, helping Jon Arryn rule his realm while Robert drank and whored, but when Jon died, did my brother name me his Hand? No, he went galloping off to his dear friend Ned Stark, and offered him the honour. And small good it did either of them.”||”|
Cressen then proposes a marriage pact between Shireen and young Robert Arryn. Stannis dismisses the possibility of bringing the weak and sickly Robert to Dragonstone, as planned before Lord Arryn’s death, because Lysa Arryn is paranoid and hides him in the Eyrie. Cressen urges him to send Shireen and her fool to the Eryie instead - Dragonstone is a grim home for a child. Stannis now agrees that it is worth a try.
Then Stannis’ wife, Queen Selyse, arrives to argue that Stannis should not have to beg or bargain for help from widows and usurpers; they all owe their allegiance to him as the true king. Queen Selyse has been entirely converted to the worship of the foreign god R'hllor by the red priestess Melisandre of Asshai. Stannis tells her he needs swords, and asks whether she has an army. She replies that House Florent can provide an army, but Stannis retorts that they can only provide 2,000 men, and are too close to Highgarden. The queen proclaims that the comet is an omen from the Lord of Light that He will aid Stannis in his conquest. Stannis, who does not share his wife’s newfound faith, questions how many men the Red God will deliver him. Selyse insists that R’hllor will provide all the power of Highgarden and Storm's End. Stannis reminds her that those men now support Renly. Selyse agrees, but suggests that if Renly should die, his army would join Stannis. She then notes that Melisandre has looked into the flames and seen Renly dead. Cressen is horrified by the notion and pleads that fratricide is evil. Stannis declares that he has heard Cressen’s advice and will now hear hers, and sends the aged maester away.
By the time Cressen joins Pylos at the bottom of the steps, he can hardly stand erect, and has to be helped back to his rooms. In his room, Cressen contemplates his options. He raised Robert, Stannis, and Renly after their father died, and cannot watch one kill the other. He knows that everything Queen Selyse said has been preached to her by Melisandre, the red priestess. It is her who must be silenced before she can convert King Stannis to her evil schemes and spread her mad religion beyond Dragonstone. Therefore, Cressen goes to a small workroom under the rookery stair and retrieves a small vial of purple crystals, a poison known in Westeros only as the Strangler. Dissolved in wine, one of the small crystals is enough to cause the victim's throat muscles to constrict more tightly than any fist, making it impossible for the victim to breathe. Cressen plans to put one in Lady Melisandre’s drink at the feast Stannis is holding for his bannermen tonight. He does not like having to do this, but feels he must, and wonders if the comet is his, foreboding murder.
Hours later, Cressen wakes to discover it is dark and he has overslept for the feast; he is surprised he has not been summoned for the feast. He calls for Pylos, who should have awoken him for the feast. Pylos does not come, so he has to shout for the servants. As he crosses the long gallery, the comet outside the windows looks malevolent to him, but he thinks he should not fear. When he enters the great hall, he finds Stannis and his bannermen have begun without him. As Cressen crosses the room, Patchface the fool lurches into him while singing the same song from the morning and they both fall to the floor. Face to face with Cressen, the fool says “Under the sea you fall up, I know, I know.” Cressen is too feeble to rise on his own, and fortunately strong hands lift him to his feet. When he turns to thank the knight he believes helped him, he comes face-to-face with the enticing Melisandre herself, clothed in red silk and her eyes red. The red priestess mockingly advises him to mind his steps, intoning her religion's prayer, “For the night is dark and full of terrors.” Cressen insists that only children fear the dark. Melisandre gives him a riddle, “A cleaver fool and a foolish wise man”, and places Patchface’s ridiculous antlered helm upon Cressen’s head, telling him “A crown to match your chain, Lord Maester.” All around him, Cressen hears laughter. He removes the crown, fighting his rage. He tells her he needs no crown but truth, to which Melisandre replies that some truths are not taught in Old Town.
When he reaches the high table, Cressen sees that Stannis has given his accustomed seat to Maester Pylos. When questioned why he did not wake him, Pylos, blushing, states he was told to let Cressen rest and that Cressen was not needed here. Cressen looks at the gaudily knights and captains: aged and sour Lord Ardrian Celtigar, handsome Lord Monford Velaryon, plump 14 year old Lord Duram Bar Emmon, homely Ser Axell Florent, Lord Guncer Sunglass, and the Lysene captain Salladhor Saan. Only Davos is simply dressed. Melisandre sits to Stannis’ right, in the place of high honor. Of all the lords, only Lord Davos will meet his gaze, with pity in his eyes. Stannis declares that Pylos will now assume all of Cressen's duties, insisting that Cressen is too ill and confused to be of use to him any longer. Cressen cannot believe it is Stannis’s voice that states this. He is heartbroken by the rejection, thinking how he was the one that loved him as a boy despite all, and Stannis was the one that was unloved. Cressen accepts and meekly pleads for some place at the table; he belongs at Stannis’ side. Of all the assembled lords, only Ser Davos offers him a seat.
Davos thinks that Melisandre is too far from him to get the Strangler into her cup. Meanwhile, the fool states “Here we eat fish, under the sea the fish eat us. I know, I know.” Davos informs him that it is fool's business tonight as Melisandre has seen victory in her flames, and that Stannis intends to press his claim. After a final plea for Stannis to make common cause with Lysa and Robb, Cressen is told by Stannis that he makes common cause with no one. Cressen states that, even as the rightful heir, he needs allies; Queen Selyse states he has an ally in R'hllor. To this Cressen replies that gods make uncertain allies, and here R'hllor has no power. The Red Woman tells him that if he believes that, he should put the crown back on, and Queen Selyse commands thus. Stannis orders the fool to give the crown to Cressen. After the fool places the crown on Cressen’s head, he sees a way to get to the Red Woman.
Cressen is close to Davos’ cup, which he takes, slipping the crystals into it. Only Davos seems to notice. Cressen proposes to Melisandre that they share a cup of wine to toast to her god’s power. She agrees. Davos tries to stop him, asking what he thinks he is doing. He replies that he is doing what he must do for the sake of the realm and his lord. Before they drink, she gives him the opportunity to back out, but Cressen refuses. Melisandre drinks most of the contents of the cup, leaving only a small amount for Cressen. Cressen pushes away his fear and drinks as well. The ruby at Melisandre’s throat glows as she insists that her god R’hllor does have power. While Melisandre looks on unaffected by the poison, Cressen collapses and dies.