The gold cloaks had confined Ser Cleos to a windowless guardroom in the gatehouse. He rose when they entered. “Tyrion, you are a most welcome sight.”
“That’s not something I hear often, cousin.”
“Has Cersei come with you?”
“My sister is otherwise occupied. Is this Stark’s letter?” He plucked it off the table. “Ser Jacelyn, you may leave us.”
Bywater bowed and departed. “I was asked to bring the offer to the Queen Regent,” Ser Cleos said as the door shut.
“I shall.” Tyrion glanced over the map that Robb Stark had sent with his letter. “All in good time, cousin. Sit. Rest. You look gaunt and haggard.” He looked worse than that, in truth.
“Yes.” Ser Cleos lowered himself onto a bench. “It is bad in the riverlands, Tyrion. Around the Gods Eye and along the kingsroad especially. The river lords are burning their own crops to try and starve us, and your father’s foragers are torching every village they take and putting the smallfolk to the sword.”
That was the way of war. The smallfolk were slaughtered, while the highborn were held for ransom. Remind me to thank the gods that I was born a Lannister.
Ser Cleos ran a hand through his thin brown hair. “Even with a peace banner, we were attacked twice. Wolves in mail, hungry to savage anyone weaker than themselves. The gods alone know what side they started on, but they’re on their own side now. Lost three men, and twice as many wounded.”
“What news of our foe?” Tyrion turned his attention back to Stark’s terms. The boy does not want too much. Only half the realm, the release of our captives, hostages, his father’s sword . . . oh, yes, and his sisters.
“The boy sits idle at Riverrun,” Ser Cleos said. “I think he fears to face your father in the field. His strength grows less each day. The river lords have departed, each to defend his own lands.”
Is this what Father intended? Tyrion rolled up Stark’s map. “These terms will never do.”
“Will you at least consent to trade the Stark girls for Tion and Willem?” Ser Cleos asked plaintively.
Tion Frey was his younger brother, Tyrion recalled. “No,” he said gently, “but we’ll propose our own exchange of captives. Let me consult with Cersei and the council. We shall send you back to Riverrun with our terms.”
Clearly, the prospect did not cheer him. “My lord, I do not believe Robb Stark will yield easily. It is Lady Catelyn who wants this peace, not the boy.”
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