The man bowed low. "How may I serve Your Grace?"
His face was vaguely familiar, though Cersei could not place him. Old, but not so old as Pycelle. This one has some strength in him still. He was tall, though slightly stooped, with crinkles around his bold blue eyes. His throat is naked. "You wear no maester's chain."
"It was taken from me. My name is Qyburn, if it please Your Grace. I treated your brother's hand."
"His stump, you mean." She remembered him now. He had come with Jaime from Harrenhal.
"I could not save Ser Jaime's hand, it is true. My arts saved his arm, however, mayhaps his very life. The Citadel took my chain, but they could not take my knowledge."
"You may suffice," she decided. "If you fail me you will lose more than a chain, I promise you. Remove the quarrel from my father's belly and make him ready for the silent sisters."
"As my queen commands." Qyburn went to the bedside, paused, looked back. "And how shall I deal with the girl, Your Grace?"
"Girl?" Cersei had overlooked the second body. She strode to the bed, flung aside the heap of bloody coverlets, and there she was, naked, cold, and pink . . . save for her face, which had turned as black as Joff's had at his wedding feast. A chain of linked golden hands was half-buried in the flesh of her throat, twisted so tight that it had broken the skin. Cersei hissed like an angry cat. "What is she doing here?"
"We found her there, Your Grace," said Shortear. "It's the Imp's whore." As if that explained why she was here.
My lord father had no use for whores, she thought. After our mother died he never touched a woman. She gave the guardsman a chilly look. "This is not . . . when Lord Tywin's father died he returned to Casterly Rock to find a . . . a woman of this sort . . . bedecked in his lady mother's jewels, wearing one of her gowns. He stripped them off her, and all else as well. For a fortnight she was paraded naked through the streets of Lannisport, to confess to every man she met that she was a thief and a harlot. That was how Lord Tywin Lannister dealt with whores. He never . . . this woman was here for some other purpose, not for . . ."
"Perhaps his lordship was questioning the girl about her mistress," Qyburn suggested. "Sansa Stark vanished the night the king was murdered, I have heard."
"That's so." Cersei seized on the suggestion eagerly. "He was questioning her, to be sure. There can be no doubt." She could see Tyrion leering, his mouth twisted into a monkey's grin beneath the ruin of his nose. And what better way to question her than naked, with her legs well spread? the dwarf whispered. That's how I like to question her too.
The queen turned away. I will not look at her. Suddenly it was too much even to be in the same room as the dead woman. She pushed past Qyburn, out into the hall.
Ser Osmund had been joined by his brothers Osney and Osfryd. "There is a dead woman in the Hand's bedchamber," Cersei told the three Kettleblacks. "No one is ever to know that she was here."
"Aye, m'lady." Ser Osney had faint scratches on his cheek where another of Tyrion's whores had clawed him. "And what shall we do with her?"
"Feed her to your dogs. Keep her for a bedmate. What do I care? She was never here. I'll have the tongue of any man who dares to say she was. Do you understand me?"
Osney and Osfryd exchanged a look. "Aye, Your Grace."
She followed them back inside and watched as they bundled the girl up in her father's bloody blankets. Shae, her name was Shae. They had last spoken the night before the dwarf's trial by combat, after that smiling Dornish snake offered to champion him. Shae had been asking about some jewels Tyrion had given her, and certain promises Cersei might have made, a manse in the city and a knight to marry her. The queen made it plain that the whore would have nothing of her until she told them where Sansa Stark had gone. "You were her maid. Do you expect me to believe that you knew nothing of her plans?" she had said. Shae left in tears.
Ser Osfryd slung the bundled corpse up over his shoulder. "I want that chain," Cersei said. "See that you do not scratch the gold." Osfryd nodded and started toward the door. "No, not through the yard." She gestured toward the secret passage. "There's a shaft down to the dungeons. That way."
As Ser Osfryd went down on one knee before the hearth, the light brightened within, and the queen heard noises. Jaime emerged bent over like an old woman, his boots kicking up puffs of soot from Lord Tywin's last fire. "Get out of my way," he told the Kettleblacks.
Cersei rushed toward him. "Did you find them? Did you find the killers? How many were there?" Surely there had been more than one. One man alone could not have killed her father.
Her twin's face had a haggard look. "The shaft goes down to a chamber where half a dozen tunnels meet. They're closed off by iron gates, chained and locked. I need to find keys." He glanced around the bedchamber. "Whoever did this might still be lurking in the walls. It's a maze back there, and dark."
She imagined Tyrion creeping between the walls like some monstrous rat. No. You are being silly. The dwarf is in his cell. "Take hammers to the walls. Knock this tower down, if you must. I want them found. Whoever did this. I want them killed."
Jaime hugged her, his good hand pressing against the small of her back. He smelled of ash, but the morning sun was in his hair, giving it a golden glow. She wanted to draw his face to hers for a kiss. Later, she told herself, later he will come to me, for comfort. "We are his heirs, Jaime," she whispered. "It will be up to us to finish his work. You must take Father's place as Hand. You see that now, surely. Tommen will need you . . ."
He pushed away from her and raised his arm, forcing his stump into her face. "A Hand without a hand? A bad jape, sister. Don't ask me to rule."
Their uncle heard the rebuff. Qyburn as well, and the Kettleblacks, wrestling their bundle through the ashes. Even the guardsmen heard, Puckens and Hoke the Horseleg and Shortear. It will be all over the castle by nightfall. Cersei felt the heat rising up her cheeks. "Rule? I said naught of ruling. I shall rule until my son comes of age."
"I don't know who I pity more," her brother said. "Tommen, or the Seven Kingdoms."
She slapped him. Jaime's arm rose to catch the blow, cat-quick . . . but this cat had a cripple's stump in place of a right hand. Her fingers left red marks on his cheek.
The sound brought their uncle to his feet. "Your father lies here dead. Have the decency to take your quarrel outside."
Jaime inclined his head in apology. "Forgive us, Uncle. My sister is sick with grief. She forgets herself."
She wanted to slap him again for that. I must have been mad to think he could be Hand. She would sooner abolish the office. When had a Hand ever brought her anything but grief? Jon Arryn put Robert Baratheon in her bed, and before he died he'd begun sniffing about her and Jaime as well. Eddard Stark took up right where Arryn had left off; his meddling had forced her to rid herself of Robert sooner than she would have liked, before she could deal with his pestilential brothers. Tyrion sold Myrcella to the Dornishmen, made one of her sons his hostage, and murdered the other. And when Lord Tywin returned to King's Landing . . .
The next Hand will know his place, she promised herself. It would have to be Ser Kevan. Her uncle was tireless, prudent, unfailingly obedient. She could rely on him, as her father had. The hand does not argue with the head. She had a realm to rule, but she would need new men to help her rule it. Pycelle was a doddering lickspittle, Jaime had lost his courage with his sword hand, and Mace Tyrell and his cronies Redwyne and Rowan could not be trusted. For all she knew they might have had a part in this. Lord Tyrell had to know that he would never rule the Seven Kingdoms so long as Tywin Lannister lived.
I will need to move carefully with that one. The city was full of his men, and he'd even managed to plant one of his sons in the Kingsguard, and meant to plant his daughter in Tommen's bed. It still made her furious to think that Father had agreed to betroth Tommen to Margaery Tyrell. The girl is twice his age and twice widowed. Mace Tyrell claimed his daughter was still virgin, but Cersei had her doubts. Joffrey had been murdered before he could bed the girl, but she had been wed to Renly first . . . A man may prefer the taste of hippocras, yet if you set a tankard of ale before him, he will quaff it quick enough. She must command Lord Varys to find out what he could.
That stopped her where she stood. She had forgotten about Varys. He should be here. He is always here. Whenever anything of import happened in the Red Keep, the eunuch appeared as if from nowhere. Jaime is here, and Uncle Kevan, and Pycelle has come and gone, but not Varys. A cold finger touched her spine. He was part of this. He must have feared that Father meant to have his head, so he struck first. Lord Tywin had never had any love for the simpering master of whisperers. And if any man knew the Red Keep's secrets, it was surely the master of whisperers. He must have made common cause with Lord Stannis. They served together on Robert's council, after all . . .
Cersei strode to the door of the bedchamber, to Ser Meryn Trant. "Trant, bring me Lord Varys. Squealing and squirming if need be, but unharmed."
"As Your Grace commands."
But no sooner had one Kingsguard departed than another one returned. Ser Boros Blount was red-faced and puffing from his headlong rush up the steps. "Gone," he panted, when he saw the queen. He sank to one knee. "The Imp . . . his cell's open, Your Grace . . . no sign of him anywhere . . ."
The dream was true. "I gave orders," she said. "He was to be kept under guard, night and day . . ."
Blount's chest was heaving. "One of the gaolers has gone missing too. Rugen, his name was. Two other men we found asleep."
It was all she could do not to scream. "I hope you did not wake them, Ser Boros. Let them sleep."
"Sleep?" He looked up, jowly and confused. "Aye, Your Grace. How long shall - "
"Forever. See that they sleep forever, ser. I will not suffer guards to sleep on watch." He is in the walls. He killed Father as he killed Mother, as he killed Joff. The dwarf would come for her as well, the queen knew, just as the old woman had promised her in the dimness of that tent. I laughed in her face, but she had powers. I saw my future in a drop of blood. My doom. Her legs were weak as water. Ser Boros tried to take her by the arm, but the queen recoiled from his touch. For all she knew he might be one of Tyrion's creatures. "Get away from me," she said. "Get away!" She staggered to a settle.
"Your Grace?" said Blount. "Shall I fetch a cup of water?"
It is blood I need, not water. Tyrion's blood, the blood of the valonqar. The torches spun around her. Cersei closed her eyes, and saw the dwarf grinning at her. No, she thought, no, I was almost rid of you. But his fingers had closed around her neck, and she could feel them beginning to tighten.
Chapter Four BRIENNE
I am looking for a maid of three-and-ten," she told the grey-haired goodwife beside the village well. "A highborn maid and very beautiful, with blue eyes and auburn hair. She may have been traveling with a portly knight of forty years, or perhaps with a fool. Have you seen her?"