A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Storm of Swords, Part 15

Welcome 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 15 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 25 (“Davos”) and Chapter 26 (“Jon”).

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, please note that the Read of Ice and Fire spoiler thread has been moved to a new thread here on Tor.com. 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 25: Davos

What Happens
Davos’s cell is warm from the volcano below Dragonstone, but it had not helped his sickness, which had grown worse until Maester Pylos started coming and nursed him back to health. After, he is fed unexpectedly good food for a number of days. Davos asks his jailers questions about the outside world, but they never speak to him. He recognizes he is being kept alive, but assumes it is merely so that he may die on the pyre.

Then Melisandre comes to visit him. He asks if she means to burn him. She tells him she was made to keep the darkness at bay, but Davos counters that she is “the mother of darkness,” referring to what he had seen at Storm’s End. Melisandre points out that shadows only exist where there is light. She comments that she cannot make another “son,” as it might kill the king, and invites him to come to her bedchamber, offering pleasure in exchange for his “life-fire.”

Davos tells her he wants no part of her or her god, and she tries to convince him that his faith in his “false gods” is misplaced. She tells him that there are only two sides in this war: her god of light R’hllor, and “the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror.” She asks which side he is on, and Davos tells her he is full of doubt. She asks why he tried to kill her; he asks instead who betrayed him, and she tells him, no one; she saw it in her flames.

He asks why, if she can see the future, she allowed the disastrous campaign against King’s Landing, and she replies that if she had been allowed to come it would have ended very differently, and Stannis was thus punished for his lack of faith. She says Stannis is “the Lord’s chosen,” Azor Ahai reborn, to lead the fight against the dark. She tells Davos that he has served R’hllor even as he doubts him, and leaves. Davos is deeply disturbed by her words, and even tries to see something in the flame of his torch himself.

Three days later Ser Axell Florent appears to throw another prisoner in with Davos, saying the traitors should enjoy each other’s company. The new prisoner pleads that he is no traitor, but Florent leaves without answering, and Davos realizes the new prisoner is Alester Florent, formerly the King’s Hand. Alester commiserates awkwardly with Davos on his losses at the battle, and Davos remembers it is Alester’s nephew Imry who led them to their doom in the river.

Alester opines that they have lost this war all together, and that Stannis will never gain the Iron Throne, and asks if it is treason to say the truth. He says he only meant to salvage something with a peace. He confesses that he sent a letter to Tywin Lannister, offering terms: Stannis to give up his claim to the throne and retract his statement of Joffrey’s bastardy, in exchange for being confirmed as lord of Dragonstone and Storm’s End. He adds that he offered to seal the bargain by wedding Shireen to Tommen. He says that Stannis is always with “the red woman,” though, and talks madness of “stone dragons.”

Davos tells Alester that it is not in Stannis’s nature to yield, and he will never retract his statement about Joffrey while he believes it to be true; nor would he ever allow Shireen to marry the result of incest. Alester protests that Stannis has no choice, and Davos replies that he does: he can die a king. Alester asks if Davos really wants them to die with him.

“No. But I am the king’s man, and I will make no peace without his leave.”

Lord Alester stared at him helplessly for a long moment, and then began to weep.

Commentary
Okay, so first of all:

“Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.”

SCORE. I was right, it was some freaky life-siphoning thing! Go me!

I probably should feel sorrier for Stannis, shouldn’t I? Yeah, well. I’ll get right on that when I have a minute.

“The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good.” She took a step toward him. “Death and life.”

Interesting collection of “opposites.” I wonder whether she thinks “male” goes with all the “good” halves on that list, and “female” with the “bad,” or vice versa? Either way, I call bullshit.

Also, veeery interesting, her little recruiting speech, as it is the first time I recall any of the religions we’ve been introduced to thus far having such an obvious parallel to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God and Satan set-up. Which, er, honestly is not a point in its favor, in my opinion. Too many horrible things have been done in the name of supposedly wiping out Satan for that to do anything but get my hackles up.

Of course, her Satan figure is obviously also an analogue for Winter, which I hear is coming. Somehow, though, I’m a little skeptical of her claim that Stannis is the Messiah figure who’s gonna stop it. I tend to strongly doubt that there is an actual Messiah figure in this series, not a real one anyway, but even if there were, it wouldn’t be him. At least I really really hope not.

(Also, what does she think Stannis is going to do against a season? Call me crazy, but I’m thinking a sword, even one made of fire, is going to be rather less than effective as a weapon for fighting catastrophic climate change. Though at least the image of Stannis—or anyone—trying to challenge a blizzard to single combat is fairly hilarious.)

I find myself wondering, not for the first time, if Melisandre believes her own spiel. I mean, obviously her magic is for real, but I wonder if she truly believes it is granted by a divine power or if that’s just the prop she uses to justify it. I also wonder which possibility is more frightening: that she does, or that she doesn’t.

…And on re-reading this chapter, I think I’m pretty much leaning toward the opinion that she really is a true believer. And yep, that’s much more scary.

Well, at least her need for a new Magical Shadow Assassin Baby gas tank meant that Davos got nursed back to health. Although, granted, his blatant rejection of her advances might render his health a fairly moot point soon, but I have a feeling Davos has got more to do than just be a sacrificial lamb for The Cause, so yay anyway.

Why does she need Davos specifically, though, I wonder? I mean, surely Dragonstone is stuffed with guys who’d be willing—eager, even—to volunteer some life essence in exchange for Freaky Untold Pleasure™? Guys who don’t want to assassinate her, even! So why is she going for the hard sell, i.e. Davos?

*shrug* Well, who knows. Maybe girl just likes herself a challenge.

Lord Alester Florent is interesting in that I fell like he is both completely (or almost completely) right in his assessment of Stannis’s chances, and yet at the same time a complete idiot for thinking Stannis would listen to him about it. Davos nailed it: even without Melisandre’s helping of zealot crazy, Stannis would never back down on a point of order, nor retract a statement which he knew to be true, no matter how destructive the truth may be.

More astounding on Alester’s part, of course, was believing that any monarch would be all hunky-dory with their right-hand man (no pun intended) going behind their back and negotiating treaties without their say-so. Seriously, dude. Even if Stannis would have agreed with your basic premise (which he really didn’t, obviously), he would have rejected the deal just on the basis of the fact that you didn’t clear it with him first!

I mean, come on. That shit is not cool even on a friend-to-friend level; how Alester thought it would fly with a king is downright mystifying. But then, Alester somehow doesn’t strike me as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Shame that’s probably going to get him burned to death, though.

 

Chapter 26: Jon

What Happens
Jon goes to find Ghost well away from his camp with Styr the Magnar and his Thenns. He tells Ghost that they are going over the Wall the next day, and there will be no way for Ghost to come with him. He instructs Ghost instead to go find Castle Black, and hopes that his direwolf’s appearance there will serve as a warning, though Jon doesn’t dare send a note with him. Ghost bounds off, and Jon hopes that the wolf understood him.

He heads back to camp, reflecting that he should have tried to kill Mance Rayder on the Fist, but he’d missed his chance, and had not had a chance to run for Castle Back either, mainly because of Ygritte. He had told himself, the first time he slept with her, that he would only do it the once, to prove himself to the wildlings, but was quickly proved very wrong on that score, to his guilt, and Jon wonders if his father felt this weak when he dishonored himself in Jon’s mother’s bed.

He is summoned to see the Magnar, who is with Jarl, Dalla’s sister’s “pet.” Jon reflects that Styr is none too pleased that Mance gave Jarl joint command of their company, and notes that he often ignores the younger man. The Magnar demands that Jon tell him how the crows’ patrols work, and Jon reluctantly explains that they ride on mules in groups of four, some on top of the Wall and some at its base, and that they are sent out irregularly rather than on a set schedule. He answers honestly that only Eastwatch, Castle Black, and the Shadow Tower were manned when he left, and only dares to lie to exaggerate the Watch’s numbers. The Magnar is suspicious, but dismisses him.

He goes looking for Ygritte, and finds her in an ice cavern, which she has been exploring. She tells him the tunnels go for miles, and even lead under the Wall if you know Gorne’s Way; Jon recognizes the name as a King-beyond-the-Wall from three thousand years earlier, and they tell each other the story of his battle with Winterfell and the Watch. Ygritte claims that Gorne’s brother Gendel escaped back to the Wall with the remainder of their forces, but got lost in the tunnels and never came out, and now no one knows the way through.

She entices him to lie with her in the cave, and Jon finds himself singing her praises. Ygritte is startled (and then very appreciative) when he discovers a new way to pleasure her with his mouth. She asks if that’s something lords in the south do, but Jon says no one taught him that, he just thought she’d like it. She teases him for being a virgin before her, and tells him about her first lover, explaining that her people are only allowed to “steal” women from villages other than their own, so that they won’t be cursed with children who are weak and sickly, or even monsters. Jon protests her claim that he “stole” her, but she is adamant that he did.

She shyly asks if he can do that “lord’s kiss” thing again, and offers to try putting her mouth on him in return. Jon wonders why something that feels so good is so wrong. They make love again, and Ygritte declares that they should just stay in the cave forever and “join up with Gendel’s children.”

Commentary
Aw, that’s kind of sweet, in a really demented way. “Sexing you is so awesome, let’s desert and go starve to death in an ice cavern!” *snort*

Well, and so Jon went along with Ygritte—and how. There was a lot of sex in this chapter. I’m still not sure why I get so amused every time there’s a sex scene in this series, but there it is. And come on, there’s no way Jon spontaneously “inventing” the art of cunnilingus isn’t at least a little funny. (I also giggled at how long it took me to come up with how to summarize that bit without sounding ridiculous—especially since I’m pretty sure it sounds ridiculous anyway.)

I feel bad that being with Ygritte makes Jon feel so bad, but at the same time I kind of wish he could just enjoy it without also beating himself up about it. It’s not like he’s going to get so many other creature comforts out in the barren wasteland he’s trekking through, playing the double agent. And naturally, like any other character I like, I just want him to be happy, or at least as happy as he can reasonably be. Which in this series means clearing an alarmingly low bar, but anyway.

Plus, you know. Sex is good. Sex is fun, or at least it should be. There’s no way to deny, though, that this is a particularly biased opinion based on life experiences and circumstances which Jon Snow does not share at all—or at least he didn’t use to. (Used to? Eh, there’s no way to make that grammatically correct, leave it.) It’s probably more important to see the situation from his point of view, in which it represents the corruption of everything he stands for by oath, than it is to see it from my own, but, well. That’s just depressing.

He had never truly been a Stark, only Lord Eddard’s motherless bastard, with no more place at Winterfell than Theon Greyjoy. And even that he’d lost. When a man of the Night’s Watch said his words, he put aside his old family and joined a new one, but Jon Snow had lost those brothers too.

Speaking of depressing. Ouch.

And aw, bye, Ghost. I really hope you’re planning to have fun storming the Castle! It’s too bad Jon hasn’t worked out warging yet, because that would be super handy right about now, wouldn’t it? Oh well.

And while I have my issues with Ygritte’s people, at least they have hit on why incest is bad—the actual physical reason, I mean. Of course, with such a small population/gene pool, her folk would have had a great deal more opportunity to witness the results of the practice than most, so there’s that.

(It really is almost kind of unrealistic, on reflection, that Daenerys doesn’t have any signs of defects from inbreeding (that I’m aware of, anyway). Viserys either, unless having a wretched personality counts. Cersei and Jaime’s kids are one thing, since that’s only one iteration of inbreeding, but the Targaryens have been doing it for generations—surely there should be some physiological evidence of it now. Of course, Dany’s father was apparently completely bugnuts, so maybe Martin just decided to restrict it to congenital madness?)

But anyway. So Jon’s about to go over the Wall, huh. I mean, assuming he doesn’t take Ygritte up on eternal ice-cave sex, of course, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that she was kidding about that. Too bad, because I’m betting that option would have been a lot more fun.

(And by the way, if that story about Gorne and Gendel and the tunnel under the Wall doesn’t turn out to be a GIANT Chekhov’s Gun I will be astounded.)


And that’s all there is, there ain’t no more, kids! FOR NOW. Have a weekend, and I’ll see you next Friday!

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