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 32 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 54 (“Davos”).
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 Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler 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 54: Davos
In the Map Room, Davos listens to Sallador Saan’s possibly-exaggerated account of the Red Wedding, and thinks that the Freys are cursed, to have flouted guest right like this. Melisandre, Queen Selyse, and Ser Axell Florent all declare it a miracle from R’hllor, but Stannis is pretty sure it’s Walder Frey’s doing. Stannis wants to offer pardons to the remaining Starks and Greyjoys in return for their fealty, but Melisandre tells him she has seen that it will not work, and only more pretenders to the throne will rise.
She urges him to show the realm a sign of his power, but Stannis snorts that he has none to show. Selyse says that he only lacks dragons, and Stannis points out that every attempt to conjure or replace dragons in the past has failed. Melisandre says none of the others paid the proper price, and says if Stannis gives her “the boy” (meaning Edric Storm) for R’hllor, the prophecy will be fulfilled and “your dragon shall awaken and spread his stony wings.” Axell and Selyse add their pleas to Melisandre’s; Selyse says the boy’s very existence is a curse on their marriage, conceived as he was in their own wedding bed. Stannis, however, insists that even if Robert defiled their bed, it was not the boy’s fault.
Melisandre put her hand on the king’s arm. “The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. From his king’s blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born.”
Davos notes that Stannis does not pull away from her as he did Selyse. Stannis muses that it would be “wondrous” to see stone come to life, and remembers seeing the dragon skulls in King’s Landing as a child. Davos then speaks up, and reminds Stannis that no man is more cursed than a kinslayer. Melisandre is angered, but Davos goes on, asking why Edric’s life is needed for this. Melisandre answers that “only death can pay for life,” and a great gift requires a great sacrifice. She reminds them of what even a little of his blood did, but Davos sees no proof that her leech-burning ritual was what actually caused Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy’s deaths.
He further points out that she is “short a king,” as well, and Stannis agrees. Melisandre asks if Joffrey should also die, if that will prove her god’s power, and Stannis replies that it might. Davos adds that it also might not, and shuts Selyse and Axell up when they try to chime in on Melisandre’s behalf. Stannis kicks them all out, but Davos stays behind to remind him that his daughter plays with Edric, and will be heartbroken if Stannis were to murder him. He urges Stannis to meet the boy, but Stannis warns him to lay off.
Davos persists, and Stannis counters furiously that his concern is the realm, not one boy. He speaks of Melisandre’s conviction of his destiny, and his own uncertainty about it. He says his supposed magical sword did not turn the tide at Blackwater, but a dragon would have. He says he has seen things in the flames, too, a king with a crown of fire, burning him to ash.
“If Joffrey should die… what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?”
“Everything,” said Davos, softly.
Stannis warns him to go, and this time Davos listens. He thinks of his family and how he misses them. He looks at the myriad of fantastical creatures, especially dragons, carved into the stone of the castle, and wonders if they were really carved, or were actually real dragons turned to stone. Sallador appears, and opines that if the dragons did come to life the whole castle would collapse. Davos asks if Sallador has forgiven him, and though he pretends otherwise, it seems he has.
Sallador observes that the queen’s men do not care for Davos, and that Davos has been making his own allies among those who feel that Stannis is too firmly under Melisandre’s control. Davos does not outright confirm it, but obliquely indicates it is true. Sallador asks if Stannis will really sacrifice Edric; Davos says he won’t, but Sallador is not convinced. As he leaves, he opines that “the higher a man climbs the farther he has to fall”—Davos knows he means Davos himself, and thinks he agrees.
He goes to Maester Pylos, who tries to convince Davos that being the Hand is the same as commanding a ship. Davos disagrees, and says that he is too lowborn and uneducated for the task. Pylos points out how many renowned scholars, lords and knights had made terrible Hands, and how a blacksmith’s son had become one of the best. He offers to teach Davos to read, along with Edric, Shireen, and Davos’s own son Devan, and Davos accepts. He finds the lessons difficult and humiliating, but perseveres.
After the children leave one day, Davos asks for a message to read rather than a book, and Pylos finds him an old one to puzzle out. Davos stumbles through it, and realizes he is reading a message from the Night’s Watch, warning that the King Beyond the Wall is heading south with an army of wildlings, and that Lord Mormont is missing and feared dead. He demands to know if Stannis has seen this. Pylos says he’d brought it to Lord Alester, who was Hand at the time, and that Alester had told him not to waste his time with it, as they had no men to spare anyhow.
Davos concedes this last point, but asks if Pylos is sure neither Stannis nor Melisandre saw the letter. Pylos is sure. Davos remembers Melisandre’s prophecy (One whose name may not be spoken is marshaling his power, Davos Seaworth. Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends) and Stannis’s vision of “a ring of torches in the snow with terror all around”. Then he remembers the story Sallador told him about how Azor Ahai tempered Lightbringer by thrusting it through his wife’s heart, and wonders if now that is Stannis and Edric’s roles. He decides it makes no matter to them if a wildling king conquers the north, but asks Pylos to find him a different, less troubling letter to read.
I’m not sure if the chapters in this book are actually getting denser/longer (it’s hard to tell when you’re looking at an electronic version), or if it’s just that my natural
affliction affection for verbosity is slowly coming unsquashed from the hole I periodically try to stuff it into (Wheel of Time Re-read readers: shaddup), but these summaries just keep getting longer. And it is Annoying.
So, as this chapter demonstrates, Davos is a morally upright, reasonable, perceptive, intelligent guy who is not afraid to speak truth to power, stands up for what he believes in, seeks to better himself for the good of others, protects the innocent, has an absolutely delightful aversion to fanaticism, and is a good dad.
Therefore, if he actually survives past the end of this book I will be ASTOUNDED.
Happily so, because damn if he isn’t one of my favorite supporting characters right now, but given that this series seems to be an exercise in worshipping at the altar of Machiavelli Was So Right, Bitches, Davos might as well be walking around with a giant glowing neon target painted on his forehead. Maybe with a big blinking arrow pointing down at it for extra emphasis.
(I may have expressed this sentiment about Davos before, but even if so it bears repeating in my opinion.)
Granted, he’s had that target on him pretty much from the moment he was introduced as a character, and he’s made it this far, so maybe I am not giving him enough credit. And Sallador did point out that he is gathering allies. But, you know, (a) gathering political allies among the disenchanted of your king’s subjects can look an awful lot like “preparing for a coup d’état” to the paranoid—and what monarch isn’t paranoid?—and (b) I’m not sure how much having political leverage of any kind will avail you when your number one opponent is a woman who can literally kill you with her vagina.
Well, okay, with the magical shadowy assassiny products of that vagina, but still. It’s not like that’s better.
So Davos had better hope that Stannis never finds out that his Hand is doing such potentially seditious politicking behind his back, because I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping Melisandre from popping out an instant solution to her pesky ex-smuggler problem is the fact that Stannis likes him so much, and would probably instantly suspect her if Davos were to suddenly die in a suspiciously X-Files-ish manner.
Or even if he died in a completely mundane manner, actually, since Melly is currently claiming that her leech thing was totally responsible for Balon falling off a bridge and Walder Frey being THE GIANT INFECTIOUS BOWL OF ROTTING PIG ANUSES he is and offing Robb.
Which hey, maybe her curse really was the cause for the deaths, or at least the catalyst for them. I tend to doubt it, if for no other reason than I refuse to accept a death curse that kills off Robb Stark but spares fucking Joffrey as legit—just because you’re a morally defunct death curse doesn’t mean you can’t have taste.
Or, um. Something like that. (Sometimes I am amazed at the shit that comes out of my mouth. Or keyboard. Whatever.)
Anyway, I suspect we’re never going to find out for sure, because that is just how Mystical Shit rolls in this story, but either way the backfire on Melly is that any untimely deaths of her political opponents, no matter how innocuous or natural-seeming on the surface, are going to look seriously hinky to Stannis. Who, I am gratified to see, still maintains a healthy amount of skeptical eyebrow-raising when it comes to the Holy R’hllors on his payroll. Which is a trait I can always appreciate in a person, even if I dislike them for other reasons.
So, stalemate for the moment. At least I hope.
[Stannis:] “She talks of prophecies… a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone… she speaks of signs and swears they point to me.”
Well, uh, except that I’m pretty sure that if anyone is “a hero reborn in the sea,” it’s probably actually Davos. Which, now that I’ve realized that (i.e. three seconds ago when I reread that bit), gives me a smidge more hope re: Davos’s life expectancy range. Which then leads me to wonder whether Melisandre herself realizes (or admits) that.
I would tend to think not, if only because if Davos is a hero, and Melisandre is his enemy, then what does that make her, hmm?
I mean, it seems pretty cut and dried to me, but of course everyone believes that they are the hero of their own stories. And yeah, sure, but, well. On the one hand, we’ve got a person who wants to murder an innocent child in cold blood and use said murdered child’s parts to cook herself up a weapon of mass destruction, and on the other hand we’ve got a person who is like, hi, that makes you a monster, how about no.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Any magical destiny Messiah that requires an act so heinous to achieve his goals is not a Messiah I want saving me. Thanks, but me and my thermal undies will be fine over here basking in the toasty warmth of my lack of horrific guilt by proxy, you feel me?
Of course, there is one place in this chapter where the otherwise awesome Davos has an epic fail, and that of course is his decision to ignore the letter from the Night Watch. Which:
Granted, he’s perfectly right that they have no troops to spare, but the part I’m headdesking about is his decision not to even mention it to Stannis. Because keeping vital tactical information from your war leader/king/boss type person always ends well!
Who cares about Mance Rayder conquering the north, you ask? Um, YOU DO, Davos. Because if it’s not your problem now, it’s going to be your problem later, and by then it might be a bigger problem than anyone can handle.
I dunno. Davos’s thought that it didn’t matter seems a pretty clear indicator, to me anyway, that while his loyalty may be secure, he doesn’t really believe that Stannis will actually win this game of thrones.
And… yeah, I think he’s probably right. Unless Melisandre just keeps killing every other contender that pops up, like a never-ending continent-wide game of Whack-A-Royal, but I suspect that might max out her Mystical Holy R’hllor MasterCard faster than she thinks.
Or, I don’t know what I’m talking about and am totally wrong. Won’t be the first time! Join me next Thursday and find out!