Eddard Stark rode through the towering bronze doors of the Red Keep sore, tired,
Hungry, and irritable. He was still ahorse, dreaming of a long hot soak, a roast fowl, and
A featherbed, when the king’s steward told him that Grand Maester Pycelle had
Convened an urgent meeting of the small council. The honor of the Hand’s presence was
Requested as soon as it was convenient. “It will be convenient on the morrow,” Ned
Snapped as he dismounted.
The steward bowed very low. “I shall give the councillors your regrets, my lord.”
“No, damn it,” Ned said. It would not do to offend the council before he had even begun.
“I will see them. Pray give me a few moments to change into something more
“Yes, my lord,” the steward said. “We have given you Lord Arryn’s former chambers in
The Tower of the Hand, if it please you. I shall have your things taken there.”
“My thanks,” Ned said as he ripped off his riding gloves and tucked them into his belt.
The rest of his household was coming through the gate behind him. Ned saw Vayon
Poole, his own steward, and called out. “It seems the council has urgent need of me. See
That my daughters find their bedchambers, and tell Jory to keep them there. Arya is not
To go exploring.” Poole bowed. Ned turned back to the royal steward. “My wagons are
Still straggling through the city. I shall need appropriate garments.”
“It will be my great pleasure,” the steward said.
And so Ned had come striding into the council chambers, bone-tired and dressed in
Borrowed clothing, to find four members of the small council waiting for him.
The chamber was richly furnished. Myrish carpets covered the floor instead of rushes,
And in one corner a hundred
fabulous beasts cavorted in bright paints on a carved screen
From the Summer Isles. The walls were hung with tapestries from Norvos and Qohor and
Lys, and a pair of Valyrian sphinxes flanked the door, eyes of polished garnet smoldering
In black marble faces.
The councillor Ned liked least, the eunuch Varys, accosted him the moment he entered.
“Lord Stark, I was grievous sad to hear about your troubles on the kingsroad. We have
All been visiting the sept to light candles for Prince Joffrey. I pray for his recovery.” His
Hand left powder stains on Ned’s sleeve, and he smelled as foul and sweet as flowers on a
“Your gods have heard you,” Ned replied, cool yet polite. “The prince grows stronger
Every day.” He disentangled himself from the eunuch’s grip and crossed the room to
Where Lord Renly stood by the screen, talking quietly with a short man who could only
Be Littlefinger. Renly had been a boy of eight when Robert won the throne, but he had
Grown into a man so like his brother that Ned found it disconcerting. Whenever he saw
Him, it was as if the years had slipped away and Robert stood before him, fresh from his
Victory on the Trident.
“I see you have arrived safely, Lord Stark,” Renly said.
“And you as well,” Ned replied. “You must forgive me, but sometimes you look the very
Image of your brother Robert.”
“A poor copy,” Renly said with a shrug.
“Though much better dressed,” Littlefinger quipped. “Lord Renly spends more on
Clothing than half the ladies of the court.”
It was true enough. Lord Renly was in dark green velvet, with a dozen golden stags
Embroidered on his doublet. A cloth-of-gold half cape was draped casually across one
Shoulder, fastened with an emerald brooch.