A Game of Thrones-Chapter 58
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Ned is visited in the black cells by Varys, who brings him news. Cersei Lannister will visit the next day and Varys urges Ned to admit to treason, tell his son to lay down his sword, and denounce Stannis and Renly. When Eddard states that his life is not worth that much, Varys tells him that Cersei has Sansa, whose life is also at stake.
The cell that Ned has been imprisoned in contains nothing but straw that stinks of urine. There are no windows, so the darkness is absolute. Ned thinks back to Robert’s words, “The king eats and the Hand takes the shit,” and thinks, “The king dies, and the Hand is buried.” The cell is deeper under the Red Keep than Ned could imagine. He remembers the story of Maegor the Cruel murdering the masons to keep the secrets. He remembers Cersei’s words, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” and he knows that he has played and lost.
As his injured leg throbs, Ned damns them all, but can only blame himself; he was a fool. To keep himself sane, he thinks and plans aloud. Stannis and Renly Baratheon are both likely gathering armies at Dragonstone and Storm's End. Catelyn will raise the North and the armies of River and Vale will join her.
As time drags on, Ned finds himself thinking more and more of Robert Baratheon as he was in the flower of his youth. In the darkness of his cell he can hear Robert ask him, “Gods, how are we come to this? You here and me killed by a pig.” Ned broods on how he failed Robert by hiding the truth and letting them kill him.
Finally, when Ned is half asleep, a jailer arrives with water, which he drinks eagerly. He asks the jailer for news but is ignored. As his solitude grows, Ned remembers when he was 18 at the Tourney at Harrenhal, when Rhaegar Targaryen won the joust. Ned remembers the moment when all the smiles died, as Rhaegar rode past his own wife to bestow the queen of beauty’s laurel on Lyanna. It was a crown of winter roses. In his delirium, Eddard grasps the laurel, but there are thorns underneath and blood trickles down his fingers. Then he remembers his promise to Lyanna again.
The jailer continues to come with a jug of water each day, and eventually Ned no longer asks questions. He is sure that Cersei will not kill him as long as Catelyn holds the Imp.
A new jailer arrives with wine, but no food. The voice that tells him to drink is familiar; it is Varys in a very effective disguise. Varys tells him that his younger daughter escaped (which is for the best since Joffrey has no love for her), and that Sansa is still betrothed to Joffrey and kept close by the queen. Sansa pleaded for his life in court a few days previous. Ned reminds Varys that Cersei will not kill him because Catelyn holds her brother. Varys replies that Tyrion is the wrong brother. Besides, Catelyn has let Tyrion escape and he is probably now dead in the Mountains of the Moon.
Ned accuses Varys of standing by while his guards were slaughtered; Varys replies he was unarmored and unarmed and surrounded by Lannister soldiers. Varys continues by telling him that he plays his part: a courageous informer would be as useless as a cowardly knight. Ned asks if Varys will free him from this pit, and is told that he could but he would be the prime suspect. When asked if he would deliver a message, Varys admits that he will read it and then decide if it serves his purpose first. When asked his purpose, Varys states that it is peace.
Varys tells Ned that he has struggled to keep Robert alive and protected him from his enemies for 15 years, but could not protect him from his friends. Then Varys asks what madness led Ned to tell the queen he knew the truth of Joffrey’s birth. Ned tells him that it was mercy; he had hoped to save the children’s lives. Varys remarks that he often forgets that Ned is one of the few honest men in the world, but he also notes that when he sees the reward Ned has earned he understands why.
Ned then asks if Varys questioned Lancel Lannister about the wine. Varys explains that Cersei gave Lancel the wineskins, telling him it was the king’ favorite vintage. In any case, if it had not been the boar, it would have been something else because Cersei needed to be rid of Robert to deal with his brothers: Stannis the iron gauntlet and Renly the silk glove. Varys then points out to Ned that he should have taken Littlefinger’s advice and supported Joffrey—Ned is shocked that Varys knows about the offer.
Varys then informs Ned that the queen will visit him tomorrow and that she is frightened of him, but she fears other enemies more: Jaime Lannister fights the Riverlords, Lysa does not love the queen, the Martells lust for vengeance for the murdered Elia and her babes, and Robb Stark marches down the Neck. Robb may only be a boy, but he is a boy with an army. Then there is Stannis who has a true claim to the throne, is a skilled military tactician and is utterly without mercy. Most of all, Cersei fears that while her father battles the Starks and their allies, Stannis will descend on King's Landing, kill her and her children and proclaim himself king.
However, Varys explains, Cersei knows that that “a tame wolf is more use than a dead one,” but that telling her Stannis is the true heir will only lose him his head. Ned asks if he is expected to serve a woman that killed his king and crippled his son. The reply is that Varys expects him to do his duty: tell the queen he will admit his treason, tell his son to lay down his sword, denounce Stannis and Renly and carry Cersei’s secret to the grave. Cersei knows Ned is a man of honor and will let him take the black. Ned accuses Varys of being Littlefinger’s man, but he denies it, saying Littlefinger is the second most devious man in the kingdom. Varys only feeds him choice whispers so that Littlefinger thinks he is his, just like the queen. Ned continues that that sounds just like Varys and asks whom the eunuch truly serves. Varys replies that he serves the realm, and the realm needs peace.
When Varys asks what his answer will be, Ned says his life is not worth that much. Varys brings up Sansa, telling Ned that neither he nor the queen has forgotten about her. Caught off-guard by this, Ned begs Varys to leave Sansa out of his schemes, insisting his daughter is just a child. Varys notes that Rhaenys Targaryen was a child also when the Lannisters broke down her door. As he leaves he tells Ned that the next visitor can bring him either some bread, cheese, and Milk of the poppy or Sansa’s head. The choice, Varys says, is up to Ned.