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 18 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 25 (“Brienne”).
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 25: Brienne
Hyle Hunt insists on taking the outlaws’ heads back to Maidenpool, against Brienne’s wishes. She expects him to claim the kills, but he tells Lord Randyll that Brienne had slain all three of them. Randyll is surprised, but only calls her a freak of nature, and tells Brienne it’s time for her to don “proper clothes” and go home to Tarth. Brienne declines, and says she means to find Sandor Clegane, in hopes he knows where to find Lady Sansa. Lord Randyll says the Hound is with Dondarrion’s crew, and asks how she expects to find them when he cannot. Brienne answers that she can only try. He speculates that maybe she’ll give up after she gets raped, and kicks her out of Maidenpool. Hyle Hunt speaks up on her behalf, but Randyll shuts him down. Brienne leaves, but Hyle follows her, and tells her to meet him the next day at the Stinking Goose, where he might have information about the Hound.
She and Podrick finally find lodging aboard a damaged ship, and Brienne sleeps badly, dreaming about the men she’d killed. She goes to the Stinking Goose the next day, though she tells herself she does not need Hyle’s help. Hyle meets her there, and tells her that according to his cousin Alyn, the Hound was last seen in Saltpans, trying to find a ship. Hyle speculates that Clegane is trapped there by the various groups after his head. He also avers that the Hound is not with Dondarrion; Randyll is merely claiming that to try and turn the smallfolk against Dondarrion.
Hyle says there is a septon called Meribald leaving the next day to make his circuit of the river lands, and that they should go with him to Saltpans. Brienne informs him that he is not coming. Hyle reveals that Randyll not only ordered Hyle not to protect her, but then dismissed him from his service altogether, for his insolence. He says he is a hedge knight now, and speculates that they would be well-rewarded for finding Sansa Stark. Brienne tells him that is why he is not coming, but he does anyway.
Meribald is a humble, cheerful man who talks of his philosophy about the Seven, and why he wears no shoes (as penance for the maidens he deflowered in his younger years). He offers to pray for them when he learns they are seeking the Hound. They travel through the marshlands, the septon ministering to the people living there. He tells them about the terrible great pack of wolves in the area, numbering in the hundreds and led by a monstrous she-wolf who supposedly cannot be killed and only eats human flesh.
They receive warning of “broken men” in the area from one village, and Meribald asks that if they encounter them to leave the men to him to minister to, rather than kill them. Hyle points out that broken men are dangerous outlaws, but Meribald disagrees. He says they can be dangerous, but they should be pitied more than feared. He speaks eloquently of how a simple village man can end up that way, ground up in the machine of war. The others are silent a while, and then Brienne asks how old he was when he went to war. Meribald answers that he was too young, and watched all his brothers die.
“The War of the Ninepenny Kings?” asked Hyle Hunt.
“So they called it, though I never saw a king, nor earned a penny. It was a war, though. That it was.”
Oh, Randyll Tarly. How do I want to facepunch thee, let me count the ways.
It’s probably just as many ways as I want to hug Brienne and give her kittens and hot chocolate and uplifting Wikipedia links for dealing with the shit she does on a daily basis and still doing what she clearly feels she is born to do and fuck the haters.
Reading some of those Wikipedia entries, though, gives me occasion to remember something that the twentieth and twenty-first century debaters of whether women should be allowed to go to war all too often conveniently forget, which is that women have always gone to war. There is no period of history, no region on earth in which women have not fought right alongside the men, either covertly or openly according to the culture in which they found themselves. Women have fought in armies and led them too—and not just Joan of Arc, either, but women, plural. Women have commanded pirate fleets and flown bombing raids and led uprisings and expanded empires.
And the reason we forget this fact, the reason everyone (including me, sometimes) seems to think that this whole question of allowing women in combat is a strictly modern one, is because we are simply not taught about the ones who have already done it. They were always there, but unless you specifically seek out their stories, as a general rule you simply never hear of them. Seriously, I had a pretty good primary and secondary education by most standards, and I can’t remember learning anything about women famous for their military accomplishments, or even that there was such a thing. It was Joan of Arc and that was it—and I have a suspicion that the only reason she was mentioned is because that period of European history literally makes no sense without bringing her up. (And also because I went to Catholic school, and the Catholic Church rather randomly decided later that she was a saint, so avoiding mentioning her would thus have been doubly difficult.)
In American schools, at least, it seems that Joan of Arc is to the history of women in combat what Marie Curie is to the history of women in science: taught because their contributions were too great to safely be ignored (or stolen), but nevertheless presented as once-off anomalies. They were, we were tacitly assured, merely curious and adorable outliers in the bellcurve of Great Men doing Great Things, and certainly there were no other women out there doing much the same things throughout history, because if there were we’d have all heard about them, right? Riiight.
Erasure: it’s what’s for breakfast!
Until the advent of the Internet and the search engine and social media where people can link you to things American schools don’t bother to teach you about, I basically had no idea most of the women I linked above even existed. Ching Shih is considered to be one of the most successful and feared pirates in history, and yet the only pirates I ever learned about were guys like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. Granted, that is also due to American history curriculums tending to ignore the fact that anything exists outside of Europe and America itself (two erasures for the price of one!), but if you want European/American examples, I am just as boggled that I was dragged through the history of World War II umpty bazillion times in grammar and high school, and yet never even heard of the Night Witches, or that over 2,000 American servicewomen won combat decorations during the war despite technically not being allowed to fight, and so forth and so on.
My reason for bringing all this up (other than that I think it’s interesting and that you should know about it) is that re: Brienne specifically, I like to think that Martin is using Randyll Tarly and his ilk to mirror (and, hopefully, cast a light upon) that real world tendency to forget and erase and dismiss the reality (and validity) of women warriors despite the fact that they’ve been around since forever. Because I know they exist in ASOIAF just as they do in the real world. Even just in Westeros there is that one noble family whose name I am sadly blanking on right now whose women have all traditionally gone into war. Not to mention the first Aegon’s sisters, who, if I infer correctly, kicked just as much ass as he did when conquering the crap out of the Seven Kingdoms back in the day. And yet every time, it seems, that another woman wants to do the same, everyone gasps and clutches their pearls, like it is JUST UNHEARD OF and CANNOT be BOURNE, it will TEAR APART the very FABRIC of SOCIETY. I will SAVE this woman from her foolishness by degrading her and mocking her and threatening her with rape! See how noble I am?
To which I say: you know nothing, Randyll Tarly. Also, please die in a fire.
Aaand now it’s time to move on, I think.
Hyle Hunt: well, it’s one of two things. Either he is genuinely ashamed of the trick he played on Brienne and is genuinely trying to make amends for it, or this is just yet another trick he’s playing on her and it’s all going to end very badly. Obviously we are all hoping for the former. If the latter, then he is an even bigger asshole than Tarly. Tarly, make no mistake, is a giant, huge, unwiped asshole, but at least he has the dubious virtue of being honest about his assholery. Ugh.
Also, yet another mention of Nymeria! Who, I note, besides being a warrior queen of sorts herself (technically. Work with me here) I believe is also named after an actual human warrior queen. OMG SYNERGY
…Though I am really wondering how people know that the giant slavering supposedly-man-eating leader of this giant pack is female. I mean, it’s not like you can tell from a distance, and I would tend to think that people who don’t maintain a healthy distance from Nymeria’s exercitum luporum don’t tend to live to tell wolf gender tales later. Soooo I guess that’s just a little creative license on Martin’s part there.
[Hyle Hunt:] “And there’s this other band, led by this woman Stoneheart… Lord Beric’s lover, according to one tale. Supposedly she was hanged by the Freys, but Dondarrion kissed her and brought her back to life, and now she cannot die, no more than he can.”
Hi there, Catelyn.
Stoneheart, huh? Well, that’s apropos, I guess. It certainly gets the point across, if nothing else. I highly doubt she and Beric are actually lovers, of course. I only saw her for a second in the last book, but that was more than enough for me to conclude that sexytimes are, shall we say, unlikely to be high on her list of current priorities. But thanks for the gruesome image anyway, Hyle. Yeek.
Ooh, does this mean Brienne and undead!Catelyn are going to run into each other at some point? Because that would be… er.
Well, I was going to say “awesome,” but on reflection I don’t know that that’s necessarily the right prediction to make, there. Um. I guess it depends on whether Catelyn blames Brienne for failing in her original mission or not. And seeing as how Catelyn seems to be in a slightly vengeful mood these days… you know what, let’s root for them not meeting up, ever, let’s go for that, much better.
I almost completely elided Meribald’s speech about the broken men, for obvious reasons, but it’s definitely worth noting that it was beautifully written, and evoked the haunting, elegiac air Martin was going for wonderfully. One of the more striking passages I’ve come across in the series, in my opinion.
And last but not least:
Half a dozen [ships] were in port, though one, a galleas called the Titan’s Daughter, was casting off her lines to ride out on the evening tide.
I… think this is the ship that took Arya to the crazy death cult people? The name sounds very familiar, anyway, and later Brienne mentions that it was a Braavosi ship, so it seems reasonable to suppose.
If so, that means Brienne’s timeline is considerably behind Arya’s. Which kind of messes me up, because now I’m not sure whether anyone’s personal timelines are in sync with any of the others. There have probably been more hints like this one scattered through the text to help the reader line up respective timelines, but if so I’m pretty sure I’ve been missing them.
*shrug* Oh well. I’ll be aware of it for now. And it’s a thing I’ve seen done before, where an author will progress fairly far with one character’s storyline and then back up to do the same with another character, and so forth, with the hopeful goal of having everyone match up by the end of the book. We’ll see if that’s what happens here.
And that’s our show, kids! Have a lovely week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!