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 1 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover the Prologue and Chapter 1 (“Arya”).
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!
Maester Cressen watches the comet in the sky above Dragonstone, and tries to tell himself it is not a bad omen. A white raven has arrived from the Citadel in Oldtown, announcing that summer is officially at an end. His assistant Pylos shows in the princess Shireen and her fool Patchface. Shireen, who is nine and disfigured by greyscale, wants to see the white raven. Pylos goes to get it.
Shireen is worried about the comet, which “the red woman” had called dragonsbreath, and the coming winter, and Cressen tries to reassure her. Pylos brings the raven; Shireen is delighted, but Patchface’s nonsense song (The shadows come to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord) upsets it. Cressen contemplates Patchface’s sad history, how he had almost died in the same shipwreck that claimed Stannis and Renly and Robert’s father’s life, and had been “broken in body and mind” ever since. No one understands how he survived two days in the ocean without dying.
Pylos comes in to tell Cressen that Ser Davos Shorthand has returned and is in counsel with the king (Stannis). Cressen is upset that he was not summoned, and has Pylos help him on the arduous route to Stannis’s council chamber. On the way, he runs into Ser Davos, who tells him that his mission to gain support for Stannis from the storm lords was unsuccessful. Cressen is not surprised. Davos also informs him that Renly has created his own version of the Kingsguard, the Rainbow Guard, with Loras Tyrell as their Lord Commander. Cressen thinks this is typical of Renly’s flamboyant nature.
Davos had refused to sugarcoat to Stannis the fact that without the storm lords, he does not have the numbers to confront the Lannisters, but tells Cressen that Stannis will not heed him. Cressen continues on to the council chamber (which has a table carved in the shape of Westeros). Stannis tells him bluntly that he had not summoned Cressen because he is old and sick, and that Davos failed him re: the storm lords, who either are sitting the matter out or are declaring for Renly, which infuriates Stannis. Stannis complains that he got stuck with Dragonstone while Renly got Storm’s End; Cressen points out the circumstances that had made that necessary, but Stannis only insults him in return.
Cressen tries to encourage Stannis to treat with either Renly or Robb Stark, but Stannis is contemptuous of Renly, and intensely bitter that Robert had obviously viewed Eddard Stark as more of a brother than he did Stannis. Cressen suggests allying with Lysa Arryn instead, and marrying Shireen to Lysa’s boy; Stannis seems to be seriously considering the idea, but then his wife Lady Selyse enters and taunts Stannis, asking if he really going to beg aid from “widow women and usurpers.” She offers her family’s support, but Stannis thinks the Florents are too close to Highgarden to risk Mace Tyrell’s wrath.
Selyse, fervent in her new faith that the red woman, Melisandre of Asshai, has converted her to, urges Stannis to accept “The Lord of Light,” and all the swords he needs will come to him. She suggests that the storm lords would come to him if Renly should die, and adds that Melisandre has “gazed into the flames, and seen [Renly] dead.” Cressen is horrified that she is hinting at fratricide, but Stannis is clearly considering the idea, and kicks Cressen out.
Cressen returns to his rooms, and decides that Melisandre’s madness must not be allowed to spread beyond Dragonstone, and finds a rare poison which he intends to slip into her drink at dinner. He wakes later to find that no one has summoned him for the meal, and goes down alone. He trips over Patchface and falls, and to his shock Melisandre helps him up. But then she takes Patchface’s tin bucket helm and puts it on Cressen, making sport of him, and the diners all laugh. Cressen then sees that his place at the table has been taken by Pylos, and Stannis tells him that he is “too ill and too confused” to be of any use anymore, and Pylos is replacing him.
Stricken, Cressen asks if he might at least have a place to eat, and Davos offers to have him sit by him. Cressen is dismayed, as this puts him too far away from Melisandre, but accepts. Davos tells him Melisandre has predicted their victory, and so Stannis means to press his claim despite the numbers. Cressen speaks again to Stannis and tries to advise him to ally with the Starks and Arryns, but Stannis declares them as much his enemies as the Lannisters, and Selyse says the only ally Stannis needs is “R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow.“
Cressen declares that R’hllor has no power here, and at Melisandre’s instigation Selyse makes him wear Patchface’s helm again for speaking “folly”; Stannis agrees to the humiliation. In desperation, Cressen puts the poison in his own wine cup and offers to share it with Melisandre as an apology. Melisandre agrees, and puts her hand over his, telling him it is not too late to spill it. When he refuses, they both drink.
“He does have power here, my lord,” the woman said. “And fire cleanses.” At her throat, the ruby shimmered redly.
Cressen tried to reply, but his words caught in his throat. His cough became a terrible thin whistle as he strained to suck in air. Iron fingers tightened round his neck. As he sank to his knees, still he shook his head, denying her, denying her power, denying her magic, denying her god. And the cowbells peeled in his antlers, singing fool, fool, fool while the red woman looked down on him in pity, the candle flames dancing in her red red eyes.
Aw, poor Cressen. And that makes two Prologues in which the POV character doesn’t survive it. I wonder if that’s going to be the tradition for all the books?
Also, damn but I apparently suck at compression. WHYYYY can I not summarize these things more succinctly? Argh. Though, this Prologue was pretty long, and also very exposition-heavy, so maybe it isn’t totally my fault.
Sometimes when the world grew very still and silent of a night, Maester Cressen fancied he could hear Lord Stannis grinding his teeth half a castle away.
*wince* Well, that about sums that up, doesn’t it. I’m about 95% sure that we never actually met Stannis in AGOT, and I’m made more sure by how I’m convinced I would have remembered meeting someone so fundamentally unpleasant. And you know, for someone’s unpleasantness to stand out in this crowd makes you pretty darn unpleasant, you guys. The way he treated Cressen was just nine kinds of shitty. The guy practically raised you, and you can’t show even the smallest bit of compassion, dude? Yuck. What a dick.
Of course, other than Stannis being an obtuse jerk (in a way delightfully different from the way his brother Robert was an obtuse jerk – thank God for family traditions, not), obviously the big thing here is the introduction of The Red Woman, Melisandre. Because we all know how generally well it goes when the monotheists get all Manifest Destiny with the pagans even when there isn’t real magic around to further complicate things!
Yeah. So I’m gonna go ahead and say she’ll be Trouble. You know, just in case the red symbolism wasn’t enough of a tip-off all by itself. Good to know that this whole mess is likely to turn into a religious conflict as well as a political one. Since it wasn’t nearly complicated enough as it was, heh.
Though I have to say I found Patchface and his Not At All Portentous jingles to be much creepier than The Red Chick, at least for the moment. This might be because, oddly for Martin (at least based on what I’ve seen so far), Melisandre really didn’t seem to be quite set up right as a character. I mean, yes with all the ominous references before we actually meet her, and obviously having Lady Selyse under her theological thumb is not a good thing (I’m of the opinion that theological thumbage is a Bad Thing across the board, actually), but Cressen’s decision to outright assassinate her seemed… abrupt. And not completely justified by the things he thinks about her before he makes the choice – especially since he made that decision even before he saw Stannis apparently buying into her crap at dinner.
I can only assume that this is because whatever it is that she did do before this scene to justify Cressen trying to kill her is something we the readers can’t know about yet. At least I hope so, because otherwise that was just kind of weird.
(Although, now that I think on it, people coming up with cuckoo rationales for killing people when religion is involved is… not exactly uncommon. Blerg.)
Also, this will make no sense to you if you haven’t read the Kushiel books by Jacqueline Carey (though you should totally read them if you haven’t), but the name “Melisandre” is causing me some serious cognitive dissonance at the moment. Blink blink blink.
(It does not help that even though I’m sure “Asshai” is meant to be pronounced “Ah-SHY,” every time I see it I mentally hear “ASS-high,“ and then I giggle. Because I am twelve. Sigh.)
“The dragons cannot come to life. They are carved of stone, child.”
Well, maybe they wouldn’t have, but now you said it, so obviously it’s totally going to happen now! Sheesh.
(Or not. I don’t know. But hey, Dany’s eggs were stone before they hatched, so it’s not like there isn’t precedent here! I’m just saying.)
Speaking of Not At All Portentous Things, here, have a comet! I love that Melisandre is all claiming it for her god, because you just know Dany is all convinced it’s for her and her dragons. And really, that would make more sense anyway. I mean, assuming comets are actually omens and/or dragonsbreath, and not just splodges of ice and rocks flying around in space, which in this world they very well might be – the former, I mean. That sentence made a lot more sense in my head.
Also, Winter Is Coming, No, Like, For Real This Time. Well, after autumn, of course. Heh. Which I’m guessing must be a two-to-three year affair at least. Seriously, I do not get how this climate is supposed to work at all. I mean, so, there are crops which get ripe in the summer, and then more, other crops in the autumn? There must be, because otherwise you would have the fairly ironic proposition of everyone starving in the decade-long summer because there are no harvestable crops!
I’m probably overthinking this, but really, agriculturally speaking it is nuts. Also, it will be hilarious if I get to the end of all the currently published books in this series and winter still hasn’t shown up. I will laugh and laugh and laugh.
Randomly: a table shaped like a continent is an AWESOME idea. Map tables, I love it. When I’m rich enough to be obnoxious in my decor I’m totally getting one. No, seven – one for each continent! (Australia is obviously the coffee table.)
Chapter 1: Arya
Arya thinks on how Yoren had cut all her hair off in the alley after her father’s execution and told her that she was “Arry the orphan boy” until his convoy of recruits for the Wall reached Winterfell. Yoren had warned her not to slip up in their company lest she find herself betrayed, and probably raped into the bargain. They left King’s Landing with no trouble, but now Arya is being tormented by two of the boys in the party, Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie.
Lommy calls her “Lumpyhead” and taunts her that she can’t possibly know how to use her sword, and that she probably stole it. Hot Pie demands she give the sword to him, ignoring another boy (called the Bull) who says to leave her alone. Arya tries to placate Hot Pie by offering him her wooden practice sword, but he tries to take Needle anyway. Arya knocks him off his donkey and proceeds to beat him until he soils himself. Yoren drags her off him before she kills him, and drags her off to give her a whipping.
Yoren tells her, after, that the pie boy didn’t kill her father, and hitting him won’t bring her father back. He also tells her that there was apparently a change of plans, as Yoren was there to bring Eddard Stark back to the Wall with him.
“Joffrey,” Arya breathed. “Someone should kill him!”
“Someone will, but it won’t be me, nor you neither.”
Lommy and Hot Pie stay away from her after that, and that night she watches the comet in the sky, which makes her think of her father’s sword Ice, and how it must have looked when it took her father’s head. She dreams of home, but thinks of Jon Snow more, and wishes they could go to the Wall before Winterfell so she could see him again.
Hopefully it does not make me a terrible person that I can cheer for her in this situation. Because make no mistake, her situation is shitty, but (a) it could be SO much worse, and (b) she is still kicking ass anyway, and I heart her for it.
I kind of wish Yoren hadn’t told her Ned was meant to take the black, though. That’s just rubbing salt on a fresh wound at this point. Though I guess it’s a good thing that Arya understands just how much of an utter tool Joffrey really is. Yoren’s opinion aside, it would be ten kinds of awesome if Arya got to be the one to kill him, but I’m still banking that it’s going to end up being Mommy Dearest who offs the little snotstain, so unfortunately Yoren’s probably right. Woe.
I’m also kind of oddly disappointed that the plan is apparently to drop Arya off at Winterfell, and not to take her to the Wall. I recognize, by the way, that my disappointment on this score is totally crazypants, because, Jon’s presence notwithstanding, why the hell would Arya want to go get inevitably outed as a girl in Rapist Central when she could be at home?
But the thing is, I guess, is that I have this hope that she has Great Things in store for her, and unfortunately, Great Things pretty much never involve taking the easy road and going home. It just don’t work that way, pilgrim.
Plus there’s my whole feeling that Jon and Arya as a team would be ridiculously awesome. Together, they fight frozen zombies! Whoo!
Well, we’ll see. Great Things could just as easily result from my earlier Arya prediction, which was that she’ll end up joining up with Robb. Actually, where is Robb now? He could be at Winterfell by now, right? Okay, then. I’m good.
Also, I am imagining going through life being called “Hot Pie,” and am vaguely inclined therefore to even maybe forgive that boy some of his rage issues, because damn.
And that’s what I’ve got for this one, kids. I hope your holiday season was lurvely, and that the Mayans were totally wrong about 2012, because I’ve got a lot of epic fantasy to get through this year, y’all. See you next week!