"Never," she whispered, shivering. "Never, I swear it."
He paid that no mind. "There are other charges laid against Your Grace, crimes far more grievous than simple fornications. You admit Ser Osney Kettleblack was your lover, and Ser Osney insists that he smothered my predecessor at your behest. He further insists that he bore false witness against Queen Margaery and her cousins, telling tales of fornications, adultery, and high treason, again at your behest."
"No," said Cersei. "It is not true. I love Margaery as I would a daughter. And the other ... I complained of the High Septon, I admit it. He was Tyrion's creature, weak and corrupt, a stain upon our Holy Faith. Your High Holiness knows that as well as I. It may be that Osney thought that his death would please me. If so, I bear some part of the blame ... but murder?
No. Of that I am innocent. Take me to the sept and I will stand before the Father's judgment seat and swear the truth of that."
"In time," said the High Septon. "You also stand accused of conspiring at the murder of your own lord husband, our late beloved King Robert, First of His Name."
Lancel, Cersei thought. "Robert was killed by a boar. Do they say I am a skinchanger now? A warg? Am I accused of killing Joffrey too, my own sweet son, my firstborn?"
"No. Just your husband. Do you deny it?"
"I deny it. I do. Before gods and men, I deny it."
He nodded. "Last of all, and worst of all, there are some who say your children were not fathered by King Robert, that they are bastards born of incest and adultery."
"Stannis says that," Cersei said at once. "A lie, a lie, a palpable lie. Stannis wants the Iron Throne for himself, but his brother's children stand in his way, so he must needs claim that they are not his brother's. That filthy letter ... there is no shred of truth to it. I deny it."
The High Septon placed both hands flat upon the table and pushed himself to his feet. "Good. Lord Stannis has turned from the truth of the Seven to worship a red demon, and his false faith has no place in these Seven Kingdoms."
That was almost reassuring. Cersei nodded. "Even so," His High Holiness went on, "these are terrible charges, and the realm must know the truth of them. If Your Grace has told it true, no doubt a trial will prove your innocence."
A trial, still. "I have confessed - "
" - to certain sins, aye. Others you deny. Your trial will separate the truths from the falsehoods. I shall ask the Seven to forgive the sins you have confessed and pray that you be found innocent of these other accusations."
Cersei rose slowly from her knees. "I bow to the wisdom of Your High Holiness," she said, "but if I might beg for just one drop of the Mother's mercy, I ... it has been so long since I last saw my son, please ..."
The old man's eyes were chips of flint. "It would not be fitting to allow you near the king until you have been cleansed of all your wickedness. You have taken the first step on your path back to righteousness, however, and in light of that I shall permit you other visitors. One each day."
The queen began to weep again. This time the tears were true. "You are too kind. Thank you."
"The Mother is merciful. It is her that you should thank."
Moelle and Scolera were waiting to lead her back up to her tower cell. Unella followed close behind them. "We have all been praying for Your Grace," Septa Moelle said as they were climbing. "Yes," Septa Scolera echoed, "and you must feel so much lighter now, clean and innocent as a maid on the morning of her wedding."
I f**ked Jaime on the morning of my wedding, the queen recalled. "I do," she said, "I feel reborn, as if a festering boil has been lanced and now at last I can begin to heal. I could almost fly." She imagined how sweet it would be to slam an elbow into Septa Scolera's face and send her careening down the spiral steps. If the gods were good, the wrinkled old cunt might crash into Septa Unella and take her down with her.
"It is good to see you smiling again," Scolera said. "His High Holiness said I might have visitors?"
"He did," said Septa Unella. "If Your Grace will tell us whom you wish to see, we will send word to them."
Jaime, I need Jaime. But if her twin was in the city, why had he not come to her? It might be wiser to wait on Jaime until she had a better notion of what was happening beyond the walls of the Great Sept of Baelor. "My uncle," she said. "Ser Kevan Lannister, my father's brother. Is he in the city?"
"He is," said Septa Unella. "The Lord Regent has taken up residence in the Red Keep. We will send for him at once."
"Thank you," said Cersei, thinking, Lord Regent, is it? She could not pretend to be surprised.
A humble and a contrite heart proved to have benefits over and beyond cleansing the soul of sin. That night the queen was moved to a larger cell two floors down, with a window she could actually look out of and warm, soft blankets for her bed. And when time came for supper, instead of stale bread and oaten porridge, she was served a roast capon, a bowl of crisp greens sprinkled with crushed walnuts, and a mound of mashed neeps aswim in butter. That night she crawled into her bed with a full stomach for the first time since she was taken, and slept through the black watches of the night undisturbed.
The next morning, with the dawn, there came her uncle.
Cersei was still at her breakfast when the door swung open and Ser Kevan Lannister stepped through. "Leave us," he told her gaolers. Septa Unella ushered Scolera and Moelle away and closed the door behind them. The queen rose to her feet.
Ser Kevan looked older than when she'd seen him last. He was a big man, broad in the shoulder and thick about the waist, with a close-cropped blond beard that followed the line of his heavy jaw and short blond hair in full retreat from his brow. A heavy woolen cloak, dyed crimson, was clasped at one shoulder with a golden brooch in the shape of a lion's head.
"Thank you for coming," the queen said.
Her uncle frowned. "You should sit. There are things that I must needs tell you - "
She did not want to sit. "You are still angry with me. I hear it in your voice. Forgive me, Uncle. It was wrong of me to throw my wine at you, but - "
"You think I care about a cup of wine? Lancel is my son, Cersei. Your own nephew. If I am angry with you, that is the cause. You should have looked after him, guided him, found him a likely girl of good family. Instead you - "
"I know. I know." Lancel wanted me more than I ever wanted him. He still does, I will wager. "I was alone, weak. Please. Uncle. Oh, Uncle. It is so good to see your face, your sweet sweet face. I have done wicked things, I know, but I could not bear for you to hate me." She threw her arms around him, kissed his cheek. "Forgive me. Forgive me."
Ser Kevan suffered the embrace for a few heartbeats before he finally raised his own arms to return it. His hug was short and awkward. "Enough,"
he said, his voice still flat and cold. "You are forgiven. Now sit. I bring some hard tidings, Cersei."
His words frightened her. "Has something happened to Tommen?
Please, no. I have been so afraid for my son. No one will tell me anything. Please tell me that Tommen is well."
"His Grace is well. He asks about you often." Ser Kevan laid his hands on her shoulders, held her at arm's length.
"Jaime, then? Is it Jaime?"
"No. Jaime is still in the riverlands, somewhere."
"Somewhere?" She did not like the sound of that. "He took Raventree and accepted Lord Blackwood'
said her uncle, "but
on his way back to Riverrun he left his tail and went off with a woman."
"A woman?" Cersei stared at him, uncomprehending. "What
woman? Why? Where did they go?"
"No one knows. We've had no further word of him. The woman may have been the Evenstar's daughter, Lady Brienne."
Her. The queen remembered the Maid of Tarth, a huge, ugly, shambling thing who dressed in man'
s mail. Jaime would never abandon me
for such a creature. My raven never reached him, elsewise he would have come.
"We have had reports of sellswords landing all over the south," Ser Kevan was saying. "Tarth, the Stepstones, Cape Wrath ... where Stannis found the coin to hire a free company I would dearly love to know. I do not have the strength to deal with them, not here. Mace Tyrell does, but he refuses to bestir himself until this matter with his daughter has been settled."
A headsman would settle Margaery quick enough. Cersei did not care a fig for Stannis or his sellswords. The Others take him and the Tyrells both. Let them slaughter each other, the realm will be the better for it. "Please, Uncle, take me out of here."
"How? By force of arms?" Ser Kevan walked to the window and gazed out, frowning. "I would need to make an abbatoir of this holy place. And I do not have the men. The best part of our forces were at Riverrun with your brother. I had no time to raise up a new host." He turned back to face her. "I have spoken with His High Holiness. He will not release you until you have atoned for your sins."
"I have confessed."
"Atoned, I said. Before the city. A walk - "
"No." She knew what her uncle was about to say, and she did not want to hear it. "Never. Tell him that, if you speak again. I am a queen, not some dockside whore."
"No harm would come to you. No one will touch - "
"No, " she said, more sharply. "I would sooner die."
Ser Kevan was unmoved. "If that is your wish, you may soon have it granted. His High Holiness is resolved that you be tried for regicide, deicide, incest, and high treason."
"Deicide?" She almost laughed. "When did I kill a god?"
"The High Septon speaks for the Seven here on earth. Strike at him, and you are striking at the gods themselves." Her uncle raised a hand before she could protest. "It does no good to speak of such things. Not here. The time for all that is at trial." He gazed about her cell. The look on his face spoke volumes.
Someone is listening. Even here, even now, she dare not speak freely. She took a breath. "Who will try me?"
"The Faith," her uncle said, "unless you insist on a trial by battle. In which case you must be championed by a knight of the Kingsguard. Whatever the outcome, your rule is at an end. I will serve as Tommen's regent until he comes of age. Mace Tyrell has been named King's Hand. Grand Maester Pycelle and Ser Harys Swyft will continue as before, but Paxter Redwyne is now lord admiral and Randyll Tarly has assumed the duties of justiciar."
Tyrell bannermen, the both of them. The whole governance of the realm was being handed to her enemies, Queen Margaery's kith and kin.
"Margaery stands accused as well. Her and those cousins of hers. How is it that the sparrows freed her and not me?"
"Randyll Tarly insisted. He was the first to reach King's Landing when this storm broke, and he brought his army with him. The Tyrell girls will still be tried, but the case against them is weak, His High Holiness admits. All of the men named as the queen's lovers have denied the accusation or recanted, save for your maimed singer, who appears to be half-mad. So the High Septon handed the girls over to Tarly's custody and Lord Randyll swore a holy oath to deliver them for trial when the time comes."