Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 13 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 26 (“Arya”), 27 (“Daenerys”), and 28 (“Bran”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, The Powers That Be at Tor.com have very kindly set up a forum thread for spoilery comments. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 26: Arya
Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie were in the village storehouse with the other prisoners for eight days before Clegane gave the order to march, and every one of those days he had chosen one of them to “question” (i.e. torture to death), making the rest watch. Arya sees that there is no rhyme or reason to who is chosen, except to terrorize the others with its random nature. Arya concludes that she is no water dancer, and thinks that Syrio would never have let himself be captured or stood by while others were tortured. She thinks that the Lannisters have taken everything from her, and that being brave did no good at all.
Clegane tells them they are going to serve Lord Tywin at Harrenhal. The soldiers rape all the women regularly as they travel (except for Arya, even though she had been revealed as female), and Clegane beheads one for fighting back. Arya recites all their names over and over at night so she will never forget them. The captives whisper that it will be better when they get to Harrenhal, but Arya remembers the stories of the haunted keep Old Nan had told her, and is not so sure.
Harrenhal is surrounded by Tywin’s army, and Arya is astonished at both how huge and how unpleasant the fortress is in appearance. The prisoners are made to strip and clean themselves, and two of the older female servants inspect Arya and demand her name. She tells them it is Weasel, and tries to request to tend the horses, but the women strike her for insolence and send her to be a scullery maid under Weese, who is an understeward for the Wailing Tower. Weese tells Arya and the other five who went with her that they should be grateful for this opportunity.
“My nose never lies,” he boasted. “I can smell defiance, I can smell pride, I can smell disobedience. I catch a whiff of any such stinks, you’ll answer for it. When I sniff you, all I want to smell is fear.”
Well, this is delightful.
I suppose it’s better than the alternative? I guess?
And Arya, you are a water dancer, girl. Just for not going bugshit under the nightmare conditions you’re in, you’re already braver than most of us. Man.
There were a lot of really terrible scenes in Schindler’s List (though merely referring to them as “terrible” seems almost disrespectful to the level of visceral horror they embodied, because they were true), but one of the ones that stuck with me the most is the scene where Ralph Fiennes’s character is sitting on his balcony overlooking the concentration camp with a rifle, casually shooting prisoners, for no other reason than that they happened to be in his line of sight.
He did it because he could. And more importantly, because he knew that there would be absolutely no retribution for his actions. It’s amazing what changes a total lack of consequences can wreak in a person’s behavior. For some it is the instinctive need to impose order (or justice, or aid) where there is none, but it seems like for far many more, the result is to become as precisely as much of a monster as one can.
I hope someone kills Gregor Clegane soon. I hope it’s Arya, but at this point I’ll settle for him slipping in the damn tub and breaking his neck. Of course, that would necessitate that he take a bath first. So assassination it is! Works for me.
Chapter 27: Daenerys
Daenerys and her small khalasar enter the city of Qarth to great fanfare and pageantry. The warlock, Pyat Pree, tells her Qarth is the greatest city in the world; Dany won’t go that far, but admits to herself that it is very impressive indeed. She recalls how the Dothraki referred to the Qartheen as “Milk Men” for their paleness, and that Drogo had longed to sack their cities, and thinks the cityfolk must find her very savage-looking.
As they proceed through the city, the merchant prince Xaro Xhoan Daxos extravagantly promises her that the Thirteen shall crown her queen of Qarth, while Pyat entreats her to come to the House of the Undying and “drink of truth and wisdom.” Dany, who is sour on magicians these days, tells Pyat that the only palace she wants is the one at King’s Landing, and the means to take it. Pyat agrees gracefully and moves off; Xaro praises her wisdom and disparages the art of the warlocks. He tells Dany the warlocks were mighty once, but now they are “hollow husks” of their former glory. He moves off as well, and Jorah mutters that he doesn’t trust either man. He opines that they should not stay here, as he mislikes “the very smell of the place.”
My great bear, Dany thought. I am his queen, but I will always be his cub as well, and he will always guard me. It made her feel safe, but sad as well. She wished she could love him better than she did.
Xaro puts Dany up in a wing of his enormous palace and showers her with every luxury, promising a great feast the next day, which Dany thinks is to show off her dragons to the elite of the city. Xaro and Pyat leave, and the third seeker, Quaithe the shadowbinder, warns Dany to beware of all who come to see her dragons, for “when they see they shall lust”. She leaves, and Dany thinks that Quaithe puzzles and unsettles her. Dany then sends Rakharo to get the lay of the city, and Jorah to the docks to see if there are any ships who might be able to carry them to Westeros. Jorah protests, but she insists.
Dany bathes and thinks of how she wishes to make her kingdom beautiful again, but now that Drogo and his khalasar is gone she does not know how she will overthrow men like Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark or Jaime Lannister. She tells herself that the Bleeding Star led her to Qarth for a purpose, and if the gods mean for her to succeed they will send her a sign.
Jorah returns with a ship’s captain named Quhuru Mo, whose ship called at Oldtown six months earlier and learned there that Robert Baratheon is dead, his son Joffrey is on the throne, and that Robert’s brothers apparently mean to claim the throne for themselves. He also says that Lord Stark was seized for treason, though Jorah snorts at the very notion that Ned would besmirch his “precious honor.” Dany is elated at the news, though disappointed to learn that Mo has no plans to sail back to Westeros for another year. She promises him a great reward for his news should he come to her once she is on the throne in King’s Landing, and sends him away.
Jorah thinks she should not speak so freely of her plans, but Dany replies that she wants the whole world to know now that the Usurper is dead. Jorah counters that Robert’s death changes nothing in practicality, but Dany retorts that it does; like Drogo’s khalasar, the once united Seven Kingdoms will fly apart in the wake of it’s leader’s death. Jorah warns her it will not be easy, and she tells him she is no longer the frightened girl he’d met in Pentos, nor is she her brother Viserys. Jorah admits that no, she is more like her brother Rhaegar, but even Rhaegar could be killed.
“Robert proved that on the Trident, with no more than a warhammer. Even dragons can die.”
“Dragons die.” She stood on her toes to kiss him lightly on an unshaven cheek. “But so do dragonslayers.”
So very little actually happened in this chapter, which indicates to me that we’re setting up for something big on the horizon in Dany’s storyline.
I confess I was a little puzzled here at all the luxury and respect being showered on Dany, who is a member (by marriage) of a people who apparently like to (or would like to) pillage the crap out of the Qartheen whenever they get a chance, and also (as Dany herself points out) has practically zero strength of arms at her disposal. And yet they’re apparently going to just crown her queen? That seems precipitous. Maybe I’m just severely underestimating the awesomeness of dragons to them?
Or maybe, there’s an ulterior motive here we just haven’t seen yet. All things considered, that’s the much more likely scenario. Given that, though, I wonder at Dany just walking into what seems to me to be a perfect potential trap. Now that she’s in Xaro’s super-mega palace, what’s to say he ever has to let her out again?
*shrug* Or maybe I’m paranoid, who knows. But then again, Jorah seems to agree with me, and while he’s not my favorite person, one thing he definitely isn’t is stupid. And just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not blah blah yadda, and all.
Re: Jorah, I caught myself thinking that Dany should just marry him, which is a tad upsetting. I don’t think Jorah actually deserves to have Dany that way, but unfortunately there’s nothing like unrequited pining from a man to soften a girl’s heart toward him. And I mean me, not Dany.
Though it’s obviously happening to Dany, too. Be careful, girl! It would really suck if you conquered the Seven Kingdoms only to find that your husband gets the throne instead of you!
(I’m assuming here that the laws of the Seven Kingdoms mirror Europe’s historically, which generally follows the right of male primogeniture; I don’t recall if that’s been established in so many words, but given the culture it certainly seems like a reasonable assumption to make. Of course, if Dany actually succeeds in conquering everyone it’s not she can’t say “fuck Salic law, I am the boss of me!”, so okay. But I definitely feel that should be covered in the pre-nup, just in case!)
Things you’re missing if you’re only reading my summaries of the chapter: porno walls! Hah. The description of the city (and its people) in general was quite lovely; all Martin’s descriptive passages tend to be elegantly worded, in fact, even when they’re describing something objectively disgusting. Which is a pretty neat trick, when you think about it.
Randomly: my deeply ingrained English spelling skills betray me! I’ve had to go back and take a “u” out of every single instance of “Qarth” or “Qartheen” I’ve typed in this entry. It’s just wrong, man! U after Q! Makes my brain itch to take it out! Fnarr.
Chapter 28: Bran
Bran watches as Meera “spars” with Summer with a net and spear. Summer knocks her over and knocks the spear away, but gets hopelessly tangled in the net, and Jojen declares his sister the winner. Meera frees the struggling direwolf from the net, and Summer bounds over to wrestle playfully with Bran. Meera asks if he never grows angry, but Bran says, never with him. He thinks that Meera reminds him of Arya, and tells her and Jojen that he wishes they were his wards instead of the Walders. Meera tells him of her home, Greywater Watch, and Bran says he wishes he could visit. Meera tells him he would be welcome anytime, and Jojen adds that he should come now. Meera tells Bran that Jojen has “the greensight”, that tells him what will happen sometimes. Bran asks him to tell about his sight, and Jojen says he will if Bran tells him about his dreams. Bran tries to protest his dreams mean nothing.
“I dreamed of a winged wolf bound to earth with grey stone chains,” [Jojen] said. “It was a green dream, so I knew it was true. A crow was trying to peck through the chains, but the stone was too hard and his beak could only chip at them.”
“Did the crow have three eyes?”
Jojen says the crow came to him after he almost died of a fever, and Bran blurts that the crow came to him after he fell, but that the crow had lied; he’d told Bran he had to fly, but he is broken and cannot. Meera disagrees, and Jojen says Bran is the winged wolf, and that the crow sent them there to break Bran’s chains. He says the crow is in the North, beyond the Wall. Bran asks how he would break the chains, and Jojen says he must open his third eye, the one the crow gave him. Nervously, Bran tries to change the subject, but Jojen is insistent, asking him if he’d dreamed of Summer, of being Summer. Bran grows agitated, and Summer snarls and moves to threaten Meera and Jojen, but Jojen stands his ground and asks if it is the falling that scares Bran. Bran thinks it is that, and “the golden man” too, but he cannot make himself say it. Jojen will not let up:
“It’s your anger, Bran,” her brother said. “Your fear.”
“It isn’t. I’m not a wolf.” Yet he’d howled with them in the night, and tasted blood in his wolf dreams.
“Part of you is Summer, and part of Summer is you. You know that, Bran.”
Bran tries to call the wolf off, but Summer ignores him and attacks Jojen and Meera, joined by Shaggydog. The siblings jump into a tree to avoid the wolves, and Bran shouts for Hodor to drive them off. Hodor does, and Bran has him take him to Maester Luwin.
Bran tells Luwin about Jojen claiming to have the greensight, but Luwin doesn’t believe he truly has it. Luwin says that the children of the forest used to have that power, but the First Men cut down their weirwoods. Luwin says that he used to study magic himself, but while it may have once been a “mighty force” in the world, it no longer works. Bran protests that sometimes it does, referring to the dreams he and Rickon had had about their father’s death before they’d learned about it, but Luwin assures him that “no living man” has the greensight any more.
Bran relates this to Meera later. He apologizes for Summer, but says that Jojen lied. Meera suggests that perhaps Luwin could be wrong; Bran is doubtful of this. Meera tells him of a dream Jojen had, that Luwin had served Bran a rich and savory meal while serving the Walders a meager and poor one, yet the Freys liked their meal better than Bran did his. Bran doesn’t understand. Meera says when he does, they’ll talk again. Bran assures himself that Luwin is right, and that there is nothing bad coming to Winterfell, but he is disappointed at the idea that there is no more magic.
So long as there was magic, anything could happen. Ghosts could walk, trees could talk, and broken boys could grow up to be knights. “But there isn’t,” he said aloud in the darkness of his bed. “There’s no magic, and the stories are just stories.”
And he would never walk, nor fly, nor be a knight.
Well, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you’re wrong, Bran my boy.
So, okay. It’s been hinted about here and there (like in the preceding Dany chapter, for instance) and said straight out too, probably, in other places besides this chapter, but it’s worth stating for the record that I do get the gist here, with why magic and supernatural happenings seem to be oddly truncated in Westeros, and actually everywhere.
Which is that apparently there used to be plenty of magic about, but for some reason it’s dwindled in recent centuries. Or maybe it hasn’t dwindled so much as it’s gone dormant. I don’t think we’ve really gotten much concrete information about why magic has gone underground, though Luwin’s comments about the concerted efforts to stamp out the old gods certainly lend a clue, but I think it’s also safe to say that Recent Events point toward a swinging of the pendulum back the other way.
Magical thingies are a-coming back, y’all, and from all indications that might be at least semi-awesome for Bran (and Dany), but it looks like it’s going to seriously suck for most of the rest of the population. Yay?
So that’s all very interesting. And now I am deeply rooting for Bran to Get It and Accept His Wolfness and run off with the Wonder Swamp Twins to go find the children of the forest before whatever bad thing that is so totally coming to Winterfell gets there. My guess is it has something to do with a certain pseudo-Viking warrior chick coming to ravage Deepwood Motte, and from there stab inland to Winterfell. Dun!
Also, whoa with the offhand ravishing of Lady Hornwood! I left it out of the summary, but apparently she’s been kidnapped and forcibly married to Roose Bolton’s bastard son. Dude, that so sucks. Can’t you damn assholes leave a woman to her grief? No, of course not, what was I thinking? Bastards. (Literally and figuratively, in this case.) We only met the lady in question for a hot second, but that doesn’t stop me from being extremely pissed on her behalf. Grr.
And yeah, that’s what I got for now. Happy Friday, troopers, and see you next week!