Ned finally gets to King’s Landing, but there’s no rest for the wicked, nor for the terminally honourable. His presence is requested as a council meeting the moment he steps foot in the Red Keep. Exhausted and dressed in borrowed clothing, his own not having arrived yet, he meets the other four who make up the council. Seeing Renly for the first time through Ned’s eyes we are told that the handsome young Baratheon is the spitting image of a young Robert. Lest we think Ned is friends with someone who was always fat and ugly, I guess. What I really don’t get is how Renly beat Ned here, weren’t they part of the same travelling expedition? Ned greets him as having arrived safely, but how Renly managed to beat Ned by enough time to have rested and dressed, I don’t know.
Littlefinger gets in a jab about the way Renly’s dressed: richly, with lots of gold-threat adornment and an emerald brooch. (Well, how else are we supposed to know a character’s gay if he’s not faaaabulous. What? I said minimal spoilers, I didn’t say spoiler-free.) Ned gets tired of the battle of wits with Littlefinger very quickly and goes over to greet one of the two members of the council we haven’t met yet: Grand Maester Pycelle. The other is Stannis Baratheon, the middle brother, and he left King’s Landing for Dragonstone, the domain he rules. Pycelle is an old man and easily tired, so he asks if they could get down to business. Ned wonders if it’s not better to wait for Robert and Ser Barristan to catch up, and it surprises only him, but I’m guessing none of the readers, no matter how new, that Robert never bothers. He does send commands, though, such as this command to host a tournament, which will cost the crown a hundred thousand gold pieces. Littlefinger, who’s in charge of the treasury, matter-of-factly comments that it’ll have to be borrowed from the Lannisters. Ned doesn’t get it, the treasury was stuffed with gold during the Targaryen times, so what happened to it. Uh, Ned, have you seen Robert’s belly? Anyway, the crown already owes Tywin Lannister 3 million gold pieces, what’s a few hundred thousand more? That’s just half of the crown’s total debt, by the way, another 3 million is spread all over the place, including overseas in the Free Cities.
Even knowing for a fact that Jon Arryn was poisoned, I still think ulcers had a great deal to do with his death.
As good at delusion and fantasy-building as any of his children, Ned calls a halt to the proceedings until he can get a hold of Robert and talk him out of it. He hasn’t actually seen Robert since The Incident, because it was the king and not Ned who followed my lead to the nearest bottle of booze. Unlike me, he stayed there for the entire rest of the trip.
Littlefinger intercepts Ned on his way back to his chambers and leads him away to see Catelyn. The way is through the dungeons, down a bluff to the river’s bank, on horseback through the city. The whole way Littlefinger is telling the truth about taking Ned to see his wife and Ned hilariously doesn’t believe him. When their final destination proves to be a brothel, Ned decides it’s some sort of long, elaborate joke at his expense and attacks Littlefinger. Ser Rodrik has to stop him.
Catelyn and Ned hug, and they slip from “my lord” and “my lady” into “my love” at some point in the conversation. The conversation is about Bran and the attempt on his life. When Ned finds out that Bran’s direwolf saved his life, he starts feeling extra-guilty about Lady’s death. Ned doesn’t see why Tyrion would want Bran dead and Littlefinger suggests it’s not likely that one Lannister would act without others. Could even Robert have been involved? Ned doesn’t want to believe it, but Robert’s willful ignorance is as bad as involvement and Ned has seen that in spades. Littlefinger suggests that they forget the whole thing, obviously that’s not an option. Ned’s on a warpath now. He wants Catelyn to go back home to take care of the boys while he handles the investigation in King’s Landing. Littlefinger promises he can keep Varys in check. Ned and Catelyn get a moment alone and he gives her instructions for fortifying the north in case of war. He wants his strength known and on display for when he’s finished gathering evidence and is ready to take it to Robert. And despite the fact that he knows Robert isn’t really the man he can trust anymore, this is the path Ned fully plans to take: the straightforward path. Oh, Ned. In many ways, many sad ways, you are the most naive and delusional Stark of them all.
A man who has a little less faith in things working “as they should” and a lot more humour than Ned is Tyrion and he’s having dinner with the Watch higher-ups. A few well-aimed jabs at Thorne see the master-at-arms huffily leave the room and Tyrion happily claims the man’s share of crabs (ew! not those type of crabs! actual crabs!) for himself. This opens up the opportunity for the dialogue to fill us in on Thorne’s back story: he fought on the wrong side in the rebellion and Robert’s victory saw him and other knights face a choice: death or the Night’s Watch. He’s a master-at-arms because the Watch doesn’t get many seasoned knights as recruits. During the dinner, Maester Aemon calls Tyrion a giant and Tyrion call Maester Aemon kind. Neither is joking. Aemon is a very old, blind man who seems to command a lot of respect from the others.
After dinner, Tyrion and Mormont are left alone. Mormont doesn’t feel it’s safe for Tyrion to travel back south without sufficient escort and decides to send three men with him as far as Winterfell. Tyrion is kind: he asks if Jon can be one of the three. Mormont refuses, but not to be cruel. He says seeing his home and family again so soon would only make the whole adjustment process harder on a young recruit. Besides, the men are meant to be for protection. Mormont himself hasn’t seen his family in a long time. With Jory in exile on Essos, the Bear Island is ruled by Mormont’s sister Maege.
It’s all civil and friendly enough, but Mormont does have ulterior motives for being kind to Tyrion, a fact Tyrion has no trouble discerning. Mormont hopes that Tyrion can convince his powerful family to save the dying Night’s Watch. Not enough men to guard the wall (three and a third for each mile, Tyrion does fractions in his head very quickly), Mormont himself is sixty-eight, old and tired and without a suitable replacement. It’s not just the lack of manpower, Mormont is afraid that when winter comes (not enough alcohol in the house for this drinking game), it will bring white walkers with it. Tyrion is embarrassed by the man’s earnestness and doesn’t believe in white walkers, but promises to tell the king, et al., about Mormont’s request. He plans to keep his word, but he knows how empty this promise is, Robert’s not interested in such things and neither are the Lannisters. It’s been a long time since the frozen north brought any danger to the Seven Kingdoms and they’ve forgotten to be afraid.
On his way to his room, Tyrion is seized by a sudden urge to “look once more off the end of the world.” Don’t lie, Tyrion, you just want to write your name in the snow with your pee from 700 feet again. As he walks along the Wall, he runs into Jon standing guard, his wolf keeping him company. Tyrion has obviously warmed up to FYC a lot, he says hello and provides ear scritches. Awww. Jon’s kept up being nice to his fellow recruits, he fills Tyrion in on his successes as a teacher. Jon knows that Tyrion is leaving and is sad about it. I say again: awww. Stop being cute, you two, this is a serious book about seriously fucked up people. Jon has messages for his brother: a taunting “I’ll keep you safe” for Robb, and a permission to appropriate his stuff for Rickon. He’s a bit young for your collection of porn magazines, or the Westerosi equivalent thereof, Jon, don’t you think? He doesn’t have a message for Bran, he just wants Tyrion to help Bran the way Tyrion helped him. Tyrion promises to do what he can and Jon pulls off his glove to shake Tyrion’s hand, calling him a friend. Tyrion does the same. It’s touching, but is frostbite a mandatory part of establishing friendship? Can’t you just be friends with people without losing any fingers?
They stare into the woods beyond the Wall for a while. Uncle Ben is somewhere in there and Jon has been hoping that the guard duty would mean he’d get to be the first one to see his uncle return, but it’s been a vain hope. Jon vows to go looking for his uncle if he doesn’t come back. Now that they’re friends, Tyrion responds in a non-committal but encourage manner instead of telling Jon what a stupid idea it is. The chapter ends here, but I think that they probably pee off the Wall together in a male bonding friendship ritual before Tyrion goes back down and rides off south the next day.