*clash* The sound of wooden swords clashing rings out throughout the large room. This room lies in the Tower of the Hand, located in the Red keep, possibly the second most important building in the kingdom. This room however has no real importance, it is designed as a ball room and is primarily used for lessons and the occasional dance function. Recently the dance performed in this room is somewhat different.
Syrio slashes at my leg, I spin to my other and riposte towards his shoulder, which he catches and returns. Back and forth, getting faster and faster, eventually Syrio strikes my side. “Dead” he says, like he always does when he wins, which is everytime.
“Your body is eager, you strike faster than usual, less complaints, but your mind is not in this room, and this means it is open. The dance is a meld of mind and body, missing one leads to stumbles, and with blades that stumble means” He strikes me again. “Dead. Now take some water, tell me where your mind has gone that the great Syrio Forell fails to command your attention.” He mocks me with false arrogance.
When father told me a month ago that I would be getting a dance instructor, I thought it would be like all the other tutors that forced me to try and be what I wasn’t. But Syrio was different from them, he was incredible, and I have never loved father more than when he let me use needle to train. Except for when he gave me Nymeria. She was lying down on the floor, where she always was. When we first started our lessons I had to calm her down from barking at Syrio whenever he struck me. Now she trusts him and doesn’t interrupt, except when Syrio told me to catch cats to train my speed, she would join the chase then.
“My friend, Ser Baskerville, he was in the finals for the melee yesterday, and it was one of the most amazing fights I had ever seen. Thoros had a flaming sword and i thought Ben would be in trouble, but he was winning the whole match, just slashing and cutting everywhere, sometimes he moved so fast I didn’t even know what was going on!” I confess. I was so proud and bragged to Sansa when Ben won the tournament, but she was just going on and on about Loras. So what if he won the joust, when the Mountain knocked him down he just got beaten like a child and the Hound had to save him. Ben told me that is what happens when you put an athlete in the battlefield, as soon as the rules go out the window they can’t fight as well as even the common soldier because they are too distracted by everything going different from how it usually does. He did say that Loras will learn from this experience to not lower his guard so much.
“Ah yes, I saw this match yesterday, though I will confess my seating was likely not as good as yours.” He teases me, he stood with my fathers other guards, and was lower than I was. “This knight was definitely impressive, he moved like a viper and struck like a tiger, yet I couldn’t help but feel he was holding back throughout the fight, as if he was testing himself.” That is one of the best compliments Syrio has given a fighter. Most of the others would be ‘a difficult fight’, saying though they are good he is better. “But this is in the past now, we cannot dwell on it, for if our eyes are looking to the past we cannot see the present, and in the future we will be...” He strikes towards me again, I block this time. “Dead” I say. We continue with our practice, though I still wonder from time to time what Ben is doing now, usually followed by ‘Dead’.
It has been three weeks since the tournament, and it has been very busy. Immediately after the reward ceremony, I brought my 2 chests of gold, one big and one small, to the Iron Bank. I somewhat smugly paid back my 1.2 dragons debt, and deposited a total of 29900 dragons with a little less than 100 was taken out for some celebrating.
I went to the Red Keep in the evening, where I was invited to the table of honour with the other champions.Thoros was also invited, and we were seated just down from the royal and Hand’s family. We made merry with many stories shared all around, the king particularly happy that he had such a variety. The stories and gossip about high society from Ser Loras Tyrell might not have been to his fancy, but Thoros gave many a good story of adventure and combat, while I set the scene with stories of dark woods filled with terrifying beasts and difficult hunts.
Thoros and the king later dared me to drink with them, which I obliged. I might not enjoy the bottle to such a degree as the 2 of them, but I still drink on occasion and with my increased metabolism and control of my internal organs I could match them for most of the night. It was an enjoyable evening for the most part, though the glares I kept getting from the queen and her eldest were annoying and made sure that I only ever drank from mine, Thoros’s or the king’s bottle. I refused every other drink that came my way, either with excusing myself, forgetting the drink somewhere or spilling the drink in a clumsy stumble, to the amusement of the gathering, just on the off chance. I thought the queen and her brat would be smart enough to not poison me in the middle of the king’s feast, but considering they were willing to start a war over 2 broken fingers, I had my doubts.
There were 2 people that I was seeing for the first time that interested me. From the corner of my eye I observed them as they watched my performance at times and could tell they weren’t fooled for even a moment. They were the masters of Coin and Whispers, Lord Peytr Baelish and Lord Varys respectively.
I had heard of Baelish sometime ago when I was still in the North. He was a famous Brothel owner and money lender 2 decades ago, when due to his exceptional accounting skill he was brought by the late Hand, Lord Jon Arryn of the Vale, to serve as the master of coin. Since I arrived in kings landing I learnt several other facts. The first is that he seems to control the city watch, called the Goldcloaks, due to their corruption and greed. I discovered that when I visited the brothels and wondered how they never seemed to be bothered by customers, peasant or nobles. I later found that the brothels belonging to Baelish apparently received extra protection from the Goldcloaks, while the other brothels in the city would be constantly raided and accused of crimes, arresting the owners, giving him exclusive monopoly over the flesh trade and other activities in King’s Landing. From those facts I pieced together who was running things in King’ Landing.
This is more than I expected from a city like the capital. Congested cities and corruption go hand in hand, you never get one without the other, even Winter Town has it’s criminal elements, like thieves bribing guards and rigged trials, but it is still relatively ordered, no-one wants to push it too far and risk the Starks famous Ice, a magical greatsword, cutting their heads off, and the corruption is limited to mostly minor patrollmen and lowly officials.
But in King’s landing the Goldcloaks, the primary law enforcement and even the men responsible for defending the city from invaders is corrupt from the inside out, and worse the one holding the leash isn’t even the king, but instead it is Baelish. If he wanted to he could command the Goldcloaks to side with whoever he chose in the event of an invasion, completely controlling the city. I suppose the reason he was able to do so was by primarily focusing on the sordid activities and leaving the businesses of powerful people alone. The players in the city look down on such lowly activities, not realising a monopoly means he now makes more money than any other business and can buy a small army, which he has done.
That however is a problem for the king and the Starks, I have no intention of delving into that sort of mess.The only solution I could offer is murder Baelish and the commanding officers in the watch and then promote the least awful middle officers to command and fill the missing ranks with Stark men.From personal observance I can attest they are loyal and dutiful. Then it is just the slow retraining of the Goldcloaks ranks till they reach an acceptable standard.
It would be hard and we would be met with heavy resistance. The backers behind the Goldcloaks would not like their investments being made worthless. But with the biggest supporter, Baelish, removed the other parties would lack the unity and strength to contest the Hand of the king. The newly promoted officers would be the ones that want this to work the most as it is the way they can remain in power. The lower officers will be kept in check by the stark men, and with their former superior’s heads as warning, they will fall into line.
The rank and file soldiers are the least corrupt of the bunch and the easiest to correct. There will be a good number of them who accepted the odd bribe and abused their position, but the majority of them joined the Goldcloaks to secure their livelihood. They don’t care who is in charge, they will mostly be too new and green to have gotten especially dirty. With proper officers, training and benefits they will quickly become an elite unit once again. There will still be corruption, but it will be reasonable, and the fact the royal family is once again the ones in charge of the city’s armed forces is the important point.
The reason I don’t suggest this to Ned is that it is impossible for the king to agree to go all the way. Half measures won’t work, he might be able to arrest the officers in the Goldcloak for corruption, but Baelish is not just a Lord, but he is the master of coin. Even if they call for a trial, that man has been in power for 2 decades and will cover his tracks well.A trial would fail to kill him or likely even prove he is innocent. It would only put him on the offensive, making sure we don’t try anything like this again. From there he will simply erode any good work we have done, the Stark men will be either killed or crippled in ‘accidents’, or they will be corrupted and bribed like the previous guards.
Men like me will likely join the fate of the former. Baelish will not touch Lord Stark or his family, but he will likely be kept deep in bureaucracy for the foreseeable future, as will happen when you become the enemy of the man that manages your money. I have no confidence from keeping my family safe from a man who controls 4,000 armed men who can accuse me of anything and have me jailed and killed. I could assassinate him, I have the capability to infiltrate the castle and one of the disadvantages of having such a high position is that their movements are primarily routine and predictable. He will likely have taken precautions and have guards, but if I climb one of the walls and towers, kill the watchers, and the castle is mine. I could literally shoot him with an arrow anytime he walks in an open pathway or through the gardens, climb down the walls and be out of there before anyone can find me. I have had to do this several times in the past to weaken our enemies leadership.
Ned would never agree to such an evil act, murdering a man on assumptions without a trial. I would either have to find some way to broach the topic to the king, or do it in secret behind everyone’s back. However, I don’t have enough of a standing with the king for him to take my advice to kill his Master of coin, and even if he doesn’t hang me for conspiring treason, the word would definitely get to Baelish making me number one on his shit list. There is no need to take such a risk though, so the guy is corrupt, so are half the people in this world, so long as he doesn’t harm me, my loved ones or my interests, we have nothing to do with each other.
Varys on the other hand is something of a mystery, having only heard his name recently. It was when I was visiting Arya in the Keep and spoke to Ned who was complaining about the Small council. He told me about the members on it and most I already knew about, but Varys was the only I was hearing about for the first time. Master of Whispers is essentially head of information and is responsible for spying on potential threats, both internally and externally.
Varys had once served the previous king, Aegon Targaryen, the Mad King, and later swore to serve Robert in exchange for his life. Ned claims that he is very good at his job, smart and seems to have good intentions, though I take that with a pinch of salt considering the source. Don’t get me wrong, Ned is in no way stupid, but he is somewhat straightforward when it comes to people and a bit too trusting of those who are supposed to be on his side.
Despite my acts being seen through by the more astute observers, I continued the charade for the sake of the masses, and the evening ended on a high note. Nedhashis work cut out for him if he wants to sort through this mess. With Roberts clear lack of enthusiasm to work, I think his only hope will be to get Joffrey away from his mother and raise him with some morals before Robert dies. Maybe a new king with some actual want for ruling would correct the kingdom, though I fear Ned has left it too late.