Mummers´ Show

pinkolifant

Chapter 024

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Sansa

When Sansa woke in the morning, Sandor Clegane was sitting and brooding at her feet.

She remembered falling asleep in an iron grip, unable to disentangle herself from his arms harder than stone used to build the high walls of Winterfell, in the midst of unsavoury intoxicating odours. The Hound was very different in the morning, detached, even dangerous in his own mute way. An armoured guard of expressionless terrible face she had learned to know first, towering over Joffrey.

The smell of wine was gone, and two empty buckets used for carrying water arranged neatly next to an empty hearth. His hair was tied backwards with a black string, revealing the ruin of his face in its entirety, completely contrary to his unconscious habit of combing it, in a vain attempt at vanity and hiding, all over the uneven landscape of his scars. She noticed for the first time that his bad ear was even worse than when she first started to fear him in King's Landing.

What has happened to you when you were away from me, she thought. You wouldn't tell me if I asked it of you, would you now? Unless drunk...

Sansa shivered and she didn't want him to get drunk again even if that condition made him more talkative, towards her, at least.

He must have covered her in the night, for a thin blanket of the fisherman's family lay over her shoulders, tender as the spider web, supple as the simple gowns she used to wear in her childhood under heavy woollen cloaks, when she would waddle with her siblings through the summer snow.

He must have gone to the well and brought the water, there was none left after she showered him last night. He did a woman's job, she thought, uncertain if that meant anything at all.

"They are still at it," he told her, and his words sounded strangely like an apology. "The Elder Brother will not come off the wall. I thought of climbing after him, but I am afraid that parts of it would not hold my weight on the spot where he is sitting. The only thing I would be certain to achieve is to have us both break our necks."

A ray of light penetrated the room under the closed door, and Sansa rejoiced at the morning, her heart glad for the departure of the night.

Sitting up warily after uneasy sleep, she gestured to Nymeria who came to her immediately, wiggling her large tail around the hem of her gown. Straightening the heavy folds, she ventured out in front of the house, aware in a corner of an eye that a looming presence followed her at a respectable distance, deepening the gladness in her heart.

"No, Mance," Lord Blackwood said, the dark circles under his eyes much blacker than usual. "We can't break down the wall short of killing him, and that is not our intention."

Gendry leaned on his warhammer and gazed up the wall, as if he were considering bringing it down. Two sparrows already knelt in front of it, with their hands wide open in prayer, not minding the raven nesting on the head of one of them, screeching towards the sun as a rooster would crow to a new day. Nymeria leapt to Gendry and lay down at his feet, sweeter than any real dog could ever be.

"I will never find another kneeler with enough honour to read the part of Eddard Stark. And the very last scene of my mummery will be hollow and meaningless without his presence," Mance said with deep regret. "Elder Brother!" he called out again. "Look, Lady Sansa and the Hound are also up and about. For the sake of your gods, let us help you! There is no such foe that cannot be bested! You threw a dagger at a white walker and you did not perish! By the old gods, you have to survive this Robert Strong!"

But the man above did not move, appearing almost lifeless on the place where he had spent the night, like another stone mounted on the wall, an irregular piece of masonry touching the clear blue sky.

"Look," Sansa called for their attention, "the septas are coming too."

Two grey clad, black looking women, climbed up the street leading to the fishermen's house like hard working ants, their hair completely hidden by the impeccable tall headdresses, leaving visible only two oval shaped faces. One dark, and one somewhat paler with unnaturally dark eyes, not old yet, but somehow wiser than the number of her name days. The darker skinned of the two said, eyeing warily the Hound. "We have come to see the champion of the Faith."

The other one looked at Mance with keen eyes and asked. "They say that you are a northern bard who sings of times long gone, and makes up a mummers' show about a dragon prince and a wolf girl, as one who had known them when they lived. What say you?"

"News fly fast and people talk too much," Mance said with modesty. "My songs are my own."

"Then show us a part so that we can make our own judgement," said the darker, skinny septa turning her attention to Mance, her eyes flushing at him a little too vividly in Sansa's opinion. The way Lady Margaery would look at the Redwyne twins and some other young knights at Joffrey's court before she became queen.

"Might be it calls the champion down among us," said the dark-eyed woman who spoke to Mance first, following the wings of the raven, which lifted flight from the sparrow's head and towards the black immobile shape of a man. The bird croaked only once, shrilly, to the mighty sun, born from the grey mist far away among the waves.

"Might be my players don't want to read on a whim," said the King-beyond-the-Wall.

"Give us a bloody parchment and you shall see," the Hound rasped sternly, stunning Sansa with his eagerness to please, in his own forward way. She found herself blushing under her hair at the sound of his voice, hopeful that the pink of her surprise did not crawl too high up on her heart-shaped face. There were too many people watching, and her thoughts were dwelling in a most improper realm whenever she remembered the horrible things he had told her last. The Hound wanted her as other men did, but the revelation did not sicken her as it should have. His drunken admission rolled something out of his soul and loaded it deep into hers, something new and heavier than steel, weighing a thousand times more than the iron weights the merchants in King's Landing used for their trade.

Sansa forced herself to look at the septas and to stop thinking.

"You are lucky that your part today does not call for talking," Mance told the Hound. "Only for a body presence."

The pale septa smiled at the men, her laugh ringing clearly like small bells on a mane of a horse braided for a fair. She clapped her hands, unceremoniously tossing her boots on the ground, feeling the wall for a place to climb, in a very non septa-like manner. Sansa noticed that her boots had heels of the most unusual making for ladies. She had never seen such craft in King's Landing, and she could swear they were not from Westeros. Without them, the septa was not as tall as she looked when she was standing.

"Septa Lemore," her friend addressed her. "Is this clever?"

"The ways of the Seven are sometimes sinuous, as you know best, Septa Tyene," the older woman said flatly.

In several fast moves the older septa was on the wall, walking as a cat on all fours on its top, sure-footed and bent like a four-pawed creature. Sansa thought how Septa Lemore now seemed rather short even for a woman, yet awkwardly gracious in her large robes, streaming behind her in the morning breeze.

Like in a real song, Sansa concluded, admiring the septa's bravery.

Lemore sat next to the bald monk whose head was barren under the sky, towering more than a head above her headdress, so that she barely reached his shoulder. Her bare feet started dangling in the air, next to a pair of long, equally unclothed holy legs of the champion of the Faith.

"I was told you wanted to help me yesterday, Elder Brother," she told him and her voice had the effect nothing else did since the heralds merrily announced the man's doom.

The monk lowered his gaze and looked at something other than the sky for the first time since he went up the wall.

"Septa… Lemore," he said politely, uncertain and yet courteous as if they had not been seated twenty feet above the street and more than fifty above the jagged rocks on the outer side of the wall. "It is most kind of you to have come all the way here."

"Elder Brother," she replied without hesitation. "I am only repaying your kindness. Look, the song of your friend will continue below, don't you want to hear how it ends?"

"I wanted to hear it very much before, but somehow it slipped off my mind," he said. "Will you help me to listen again?"

He stretched a hand to Lemore who grasped it eagerly and helped a much taller man to turn his back to the sun, and look instead at the opening in front of the fisherman's house.

Gendry and Nymeria have proudly cleared out the sparrows and they stood guard some thirty feet away in the direction of the city, growling or staring menacingly at anyone with the intention to pass. And everyone was becoming a significant lot of them as the hours of the morning slowly dwindled.

A man in full dark armour, although a closer look would reveal it was rather patched, with a helm completely covering his face, stood alone in the middle of the clearing. Sansa was laid in front of him, tied firmly to the pallet she had slept on, wearing the white weirwood mask. She fancied herself an offering the red priestess would make to the Lord of Light, the nefarious red woman from the Free Cities Mance had told her stories about, burning innocents, and reading wrong destinies in her flames.

Sansa found it easy to condemn the knight above her in empty words, but it was of another one she thought: "How could you? I have given you my trust and you repay me by making me your captive!"

The armoured man did not speak, he only lifted her skirts with the cold precision of a maester, so that they revealed ankles and knees, indifferent to the pleas of his victim.

"Lyanna Stark has no fear of men," the victim still spoke. "You can take my honour if you so wish and I will find a way to my death willingly, not regretting the young years of my life. Death can be found in many places, my prince. But before I go, I have to concede you one victory," Sansa's voice faltered as Mance instructed her it should. "Know that I have started to think highly of you, and your betrayal has crushed my heart. I hope that my father, my brothers, or Lord Robert Baratheon will find strength to punish you for what you intend to do."

Sansa raised her hands high above her head, tied together with a hempen rope, and struggled to look at the armoured man. And to see what was behind the slits of his helm, again as she was told to do.

She continued speaking softly towards the closed helm, with defiance gone, and only sorrow left in her voice.

"Why?" she pleaded. "Why not show me your true face if we both know how it looks. The rubies on your armour speak clearly of who you are. Rhaegar… if I may call you so now that your men have told me I am but one of the many mistresses you took. Rhaegar… Why take me? Why now if you have spared me such destiny before? I do not understand."

"Your Grace," Mance peered from the inside of the house and spoke with haste and obedience, as a loyal squire would to the knight he served. "Riders are after us. Take the girl on your horse and let us run. It could be her brothers, or her betrothed."

But still as he spoke another armoured knight whose face was hidden by a non-conspicuous helm pushed Mance roughlyaside, and then ran down the one who lifted Sansa's skirts with a practised swing of a broom, playing the role of a long tourney lance.

Sansa's heart swooned for she would have recognised that man in any disguise he wore, and feigning that she didn't know him as Mance explained she should do, proved demanding beyond count.

The mute knight collapsed, exaggerating his fall, clumsily holding the broom-lance in place between his arm and his body, dying too prominently for his passing to leave a lasting impression.

Septa Lemore giggled on the wall, and took one half of the lance that the Elder Brother was holding, aiming at nothing in particular in the blue air of the morning. "Doesn't look that difficult, does it?" she said.

"It used to be easy," he replied, "but killing is the greatest sin there is against the Seven. I abandoned the ways of the soldier. It is wrong."

"The one down there is still wriggling, look," she pointed out.

"But I won't be, two days hence. Or the queen's champion if the gods so wish. It still remains wrong."

Down below the victorious knight threw Sansa over his shoulder and disappeared back into the house, while the one who supposedly died crawled away like a toddler towards Gendry and Nymeria, a blond curl crawling out shyly from under the helm, revealing Ser Daven Lannister to a knowing pair of eyes.

"More, I beg you," cried Septa Lemore. "The lady has to unmask the saviour of her honour."

But instead of Sansa, or her knight, Mance Rayder came out in person holding his lute, and began singing, under the voice, of a distant past, and two people long gone.

"Many a mile, and many a perilous way,

Measure the distance between the Neck

And the deserts of Dorne.

The mystery knight took the lady away,

And first she struggled and then she spoke.

x

She told him her father would pay him in gold,

She told him her betrothed would kill him,

She asked him to let her go!

But the knight in his armour remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

His sword was laid between them.

xxx

The evil prince sent his men

To bring back the knight and the lady

For weeks they rode and hid in the bogs,

With sheep, with peasants, among the thorns,

And she wanted to thank him.

x

She asked him who he was,

And why the prince defy he would

For a lady he never knew?

But the knight in his armour remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

His sword was laid between them.

xxx

Ambushed they were, near the walls of King's Landing.

Five cloaks of gold made the knight bleed,

Still the wolf in the lady would never yield!

She made the knight's lance swirl and twirl,

Running down each of the two foes still standing.

x

To a village she had him brought

A help, at last, to unclasp his helm!

But it was all for naught,

For the knight in his armour remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

His sword was laid between them.

xxx

A girl in the village died that night, of sickness no one could heal,

The lady buried her then, where the gold cloaks now lay so still.

Her face was pale, her hair was ashen,

And the evil prince would never see

That her eyes had been blue as the sky,

Not grey as they should have been.

x

She never told the knight what she did,

Enchanted, she followed his lead,

Wondering where he would take her.

The knight who always in his armour remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

His sword was laid between them.

xxx

The lady carried a token, a dagger of black stone,

It came from the North,

A gift from the crow on the Wall.

Sharper than steel, the crow had told her,

But she never tried it at all.

x

She measured the knight when he slept,

She recalled the banners that after them came,

And those of the evil prince who took her.

While her true knight in his armour remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

His sword was laid between them.

xxx

The knight wrote words with a stick in the sand

For they had ridden that far south

To return her home he vowed,

Even to Robert Baratheon.

When she would no longer have to fear the royal hands.

x

The lady released him from his vows,

The black stone opened the way.

And when he slept, she cut through his helm,

And spilled a stream of silver hair

As no other man could have

But the Prince of Dragonstone.

x

Rhaegar who never took her!

Rhaegar who didn't touch her for months!

Rhaegar who came to save her!

And as the knight in his armour he remained

Mute as the night

Kind as the day

And when in the evening they finally slept,

She took the sword from between them.

xx

"Which sword?" a Warrior's Son cried from a circle of unwanted spectators behind Nymeria when the song ended, and met the force of Gendry's hammer from very close by, before anyone could answer him.

Mance bowed to the Elder Brother and the septa on the wall. Then he took to cursing the onlookers heartily, choosing his words with the same care as when he sang, whether they were proper or not.

"If your swords are rusty, holy people, please, do leave here and visit some of the places of great esteem in this city, held by Lord Littlefinger. You will find food for swords of all sizes there, or so I heard. This song happens to be of a different kind."

"Have you paid a visit to one of those unholy houses of ill repute?" asked Septa Tyene when the unwanted public started dissipating.

"I sang a rhyme or two here and there," Mance said without looking at the woman. "Dornishman's wife and that. A bard has to know well the town where he will one day sing his life's work."

At that, the Hound came out of the house, armourless and unmasked, and rasped from the bottom of his burnt throat, looking up with grim determination: "Brother! Would you come down now, so that I can teach you how to send my dead brother to seven hells properly this time? I am offering!"

The Elder Brother grinned sheepishly and started a descent without giving a second look to Septa Lemore who still held a piece of his lance.

"You forgot something," she told him when she came down herself.

"Boy, that is, Gendry," the Hound said making a great effort at courtesy. "You have skilled hands. Can you find a place to work and make this lance whole by tomorrow? Even if it's not entirely the smith's work. It is the lance the Elder Brother used in the battle of Trident so there is a chance that it fits him better than any other we could find now in haste."

Gendry nodded and turned to leave, almost colliding with the large shape of the Lady Brienne of Tarth who was the last person standing in the show's audience when all the others left.

"My lady," he said.

"I stayed with Pod and Ser Hyle last night. I came to return the Elder Brother's possessions as soon as I heard about the summons," she said, holding out the hiltless dagger and the black pendant. "I would also like to gift the Elder Brother with my own shield, such as it may be," she added and put forward a painted rounded shield, where the path of a falling star had been bathed in dragonfire in the woods of Harrenhal.

"Mance, what say you?" the Hound called the singer, glancing at the possessions returned. "If the smith could put both of these at the end of the spear..."

"...they would kill a white walker..."

"... maybe they could kill an ordinary monster as well," Sandor Clegane finished his thought. "Than you can write a proper buggering song about it and let the Lady Sansa sing it accompanied with the harp. She has more beautiful voice than you. And I dare say she plays equally well."

A sound of bucket dropping on the floor was heard on the inside, from one very astonished lady, not at all used to simple praise from the Hound's mouth. Sansa marvelled that he even knew she could play the high harp.

"I cannot take this shield, my lady," the Elder Brother said, but the tall blond woman knelt on the smooth white stones of the street in front of him.

"You have saved my life in that fire pit, as surely as my mother had given it to me," she said. "I cannot say more about my shield for the oaths I have to keep, but I beg you, take it. It has been touched by one single thing that could help you against Ser Robert Strong, by the words of his own maker."

"She's lying," said the Hound in a cruel voice, "at least about where she slept. I may have seen this Hyle Hunt and the Imp's squire in one of the winesinks I visited last night, and her ladyship was most definitely not there."

"I don't drink in common room with men, I retired to bed early, my lord," Brienne replied after a moment of hesitation, and then she implored the Elder Brother. "Please. You have met me at the Quiet Isle and you trusted me enough not to let me die at the hands of the Lady Stoneheart. You need a shield. And this one may bring the help you so desperately need."

"Well, my friends, if I may call all of you so," said the Elder Brother looking around with a warm smile on his lips. "I was lost, but it seems that you have found me again. I will take all things offered, for the Seven bless and guide the giving hand, and pray for such outcome as will please the gods."

"Training first, prayers later, if it please you," said the Hound, gesturing to the Elder Brother to follow him.

"One more thing, brother," Septa Lemore said. "The trial will not take place on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor, but in front of the city gates in the direction of the kingsroad."

"If I didn't know better, I would say that this lord priest of yours who seems to think so highly of the Elder Brother's head is waiting for a Targaryen pretender, and using the trial by combat to have Queen Cersei and King Tommen delivered as a welcoming gift," Mance had to say to two visibly embarrassed septas.

"It seems that we have all travelled far too long with Lord Baelish," the Elder Brother had to disagree, "to even consider such base treachery from His Holiness..."

"It is probably just as you said, wildling," the Hound added and finished Mance's thought again. "And then preferably after Ser Robert Strong kills the Elder Brother first."

"Not going to happen," Gendry said firmly, clutching together the pieces of a broken lance, the dagger and the black stone.

"I can inlay the breastplate of the Mad King with the river stones from the ghost of the High Heart. For luck," said the Lady Sansa through the open window.

"He needs more than luck, my lady, to see this through," the Hound said coldly, "but indeed filling the holes where Aerys' rubies used to be could make the breastplate less vulnerable to Gregor's unearthly blows."

"Remember, all of you," Mance counselled. "When your laws betray us, we will do it the wilding way."

"What is the wildling way?" Septa Tyene was curious.

"You steal your women and you cut down your enemies. There is no middle ground."

"I could get used to wildlings," the Hound laughed hoarsely, pulling the Elder Brother away from the mummers' company and the two septas.

Mance

When they left, Mance ignored as hard as he could Septa Tyene's unmistakable look of offering him freely what he would have to pay for in some places. He murmured behind Sandor Clegane's back in placid amusement: "Our ways would only give you trouble, my giant friend. The woman you want has already stolen you before you even dared in earnest to do the same."

Mance most certainly did not want to steel any woman any time soon. He could not stand to open his being to a woman and lose her again. Once had been quite enough. In his mind, the earth had not yet cooled down on Dalla's funeral pyre remains, covered with soft snow so far from King's Landing that the distance hurt. And the eyes of the King-beyond-the-Wall still watered every time he remembered that she would have still been alive if she didn't choose to carry his child. I could not protect you, my love. One more victim fallen on the unglorified battlefield of womanhood. Why do you all have to be mothers? Mance thought and wished his errand was over so that he could go freely and look for his son. In the Citadel, that is where the fat crow went.

Septa Tyene showed no intention to leave, so Mance had no choice but to hang his lute on his belt, unlace his bear leather boots and climb carefully up on the wall. To dream of new verses and of ways of killing a monster of the south, should the Elder Brother fail.

"You have never met Ser Arthur Dayne, have you?" Septa Lemore asked from below, her eyes keener than the eyes of an eagle circling high above the peaks of the Frostfangs.

"No," he felt obliged to reply. "But I did see the wolf girl as a young crow on the Wall. She came up with her father and brothers. I never forgot her."

"May the gods watch over you, Mance Rayder," Septa Lemore said and yanked her brazen friend to leave. "Until we see each other again."

Jaime

Brienne left Jaime only in the morning.

Or in what passed for morning in the eternal darkness of the black cells where the candle left by Cersei died well before they were done and able to sleep in the presence of each other.

They didn't do much that night. Or not much by the standards of soldiers used to a fast tumble and the easy joy of completion.

Jaime could not remember when was the last time, or if there ever was a time, when he was allowed to wake up with the woman he wanted in his arms. She had caressed him and run her dry fingers skilled in arms all over his body in the dark, curious to discover how he was. Jaime only missed the light to start purring from satisfaction, where the unnatural warmth was so kindly provided by the omnipresent distant pulsing of Cersei's wildfire. When he was concerned, the Lannister words could have changed to announce "Hear me purr!" from that day on and for all days to come. He sincerely hoped that his father turned restlessly in his grave if by some miracle the gods would let him hear Jaime's foolish thoughts.

He was allowed to touch her in return, only to prove true his fervent belief that her freckled harsh-looking skin was indeed softer than silk or Myrish lace. There was so much of her all around him that he wished he had been born a dwarf, instead of Tyrion. Then he could get even more lost in the maze of her firm limbs, anchored safely against her flat chest. Purring aside, Jaime would never admit such thoughts aloud to anyone alive.

A weakness.

A softness unmeasurable that could be used against him with power more destructive than fire or hard steel.

Brienne left him a maid, and Jaime found that for some things, at least, quite unexpectedly, he could very well use his left hand. The memory of which made him grin broader than the fool caught in the middle of the king's favourite jest.

I betrayed Cersei, he thought with equal part mirth and chagrin. Another broken vow...

Jaime vowed never to swear another vow in his life.

Abandoned in the darkness, he found that he could, and perhaps should, think clearly again. He carefully lifted the floor where they didn't sleep. Afraid of falling through it at night, they had stayed very close to the dungeon wall in the most gentle embrace.

The corridor below was narrow with three openings at the end, warm and stinky. He tried the least smelly one, only to hit the wall hot like burning embers. The other, longer corridor, also led to a heated wall, on which one could climb, using holes that could serve as stairs. But the height and the direction was uncertain, and Jaime suspected his left hand and both feet would be severely burnt before he would ever reach the top. The scaling of that wall would most likely lead to falling back down in agony, and to long time suffering of injuries in the darkness, without ointments or the milk of the poppy to relieve the pain.

The last corridor stank worse than the Great Sept of Baelor when he stood vigil next to the decomposing body of his Lord Father. With heavy heart, he followed down a moderate descent, half expecting to see a pile of fresh corpses staring at him with glassy eyes at the end of the way.

The room he found was pristine and empty, except for a neatly ordered table, containing metallic and glass instruments of all kinds. A long rectangular working surface was covered by a dark grey cloth falling over its sides and down to the straw covered floor. Hooks, forks, measuring instruments, sewing needles, bottles, crystal vials, tongs, pliers and pincers of all sorts and sizes. For some tools, he had seen the Grand Maester Pycelle use them in his work, and some knives were broader than those used to cut open a boar in the royal kitchens.

In the middle of the table burned a single black candle.

Except that it was not made of wax, or tallow, and the flame was not a flame, but a black substance, the same one that the candle was made of. Crystal. Black glass. It coloured the surroundings in a stark purple glow, providing the darkness with an unworldly charm, a gloomy brightness, unnatural and ancient like the ruins of old Valyria were described in the boring books Jaime had to study as a boy.

He gave in to the urge to touch it and cursed himself for a lackwit who could have burned, but the material was quite cool, a dark magic at work if there was one existing in the world. Jaime tried to remember everything he knew about the order of the maesters and their life in the Citadel but nothing seemed to include miraculously burning black candles which were not candles at all.

Tyrion would know. But Tyrion was not there, and Jaime was left to fend for himself.

A set of steps echoed from outside, behind the locked door on one side of the room, and Jaime realized he could not go back in time not to be seen. So he sank under the table, quiet as a grave. The soil under it was malleable, sinking with too great an ease under his body weight. He squatted on it gingerly, breathing through his mouth to evade the smell, entirely not wanting to think about what all might be buried under his feet. And if the remains would be animal, or human, or both.

It was Qyburn and Cersei, he an image of calmness, and she, more upset than when she visited him last.

"See, Your Grace, there's nothing to worry about," Qyburn said. "The candle is still burning. As long as it is so, nothing will sever your champion from life."

"It is a joust, you idiot," she disagreed, "if he only but gets unhorsed, the High Septon may concede his defeat."

"A trial by combat should lead to the death of one of the opponents, as far as the laws of the realm are concerned," Qyburn said, "so you would be in your right to demand the trial to continue. But trust me when I tell you that our champion will not sit idle if by some miracle he should be unhorsed. He will be driven to the living blood of his opponent until it turns as dead as his own. I swear it by all the knowledge I have gathered over the years. All that has to be done is to make certain that our champion understands clearly who his enemy is, in no vague terms. His Holiness will undoubtedly already establish this designation when he announces the parties in the trial as is custom. And then Ser Robert Strong will show the persistence of the Starks in dealing with winter, and rain the wrath of the old kings in the north down to this unhappy brother of the Faith who should have stayed on the Quiet Isle where he belonged. I wouldn't like to be in his place."

"What if the wind blows out the candle?" Cersei asked and Jaime had to stop himself from laughing hard at her inability to see the obvious. That the flame was not the flame, and the candle not the candle. He calls you Your Grace, sweet sister, and the sheer flattery makes you close your eyes to the truth.

"Your Grace," Qyburn said in confirmation of Jaime's thoughts. "This candle was lit by the black blood of a living dead. I achieved this only two days ago, in the afternoon, just before the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard graced us with his presence again. None of the members of my former order in the Citadel was able to make a glass candle burn in a hundred years. They claimed that only the return of the doom of old from across the sea could set the flameless candles alight. But I did it from sources entirely available in Westeros-"

"I am not interested in your explanations, Maester Qyburn," Cersei decided to end the conversation with a threat, and Jaime thought it well done. The lioness has to let the servant know that she still has claws. "If you are wrong and I am condemned, I will see to it that the blade of the King's Justice finds you first, much sooner than it will ever find me."

They left, and locked the door. Jaime crawled out from under the table more confused than ever, stiff and in a cold sweat. The sweetness of the unexpected embraces in his cell entirely washed out by the new terror.

He hoped that Brienne would visit him before the trial as they planned to relay the things he learned, for better or for worse. And to secure his timely escape should the Elder Brother prevail and Cersei be in real danger.

For good measure, he tried to move or otherwise disturb the ominous candle in its quiet fireless burning, pulling it and pushing it with various instruments at his disposal, careful to lay them back on the spot they occupied before he took them.

In vain.

The corpses rotted in peace beneath him. The entire Red Keep seemed like a great graveyard of human wisdom and kindness, and the cursed black candle remained burning. And Jaime could not help but wonder why Qyburn mentioned the damn Starks to give account of what the monster of obviously his creation was capable of.

Jaime crawled back to his cell, burdened by his discoveries, resigned to wait for whoever would visit him next.

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