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 10 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 20 (“Tyrion”) and 21 (“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 20: Tyrion
Tyrion is down in the alchemists’ vault, examining their stockpile of wildfire. The alchemist with him, Wisdom Hallyne, explains some of the more unsettling properties of the wildfire to him, including that it eventually soaks through its clay containers, becoming increasingly more unstable the older it is. There are some four thousand jars from King Aerys’s day that Hallyne thinks ought to have been destroyed, but are technically still usable, though very dangerous. They bring the total stockpile to almost eight thousand jars. Tyrion had thought the alchemists’ initial promise of ten thousand a wild exaggeration, and cannot decide whether to be pleased or terrified that they might reach their goal.
Hallyne assures Tyrion that his people are well-trained and will not make mistakes, but opines that the same cannot be said of the soldiers who will be using the wildfire in battle. Tyrion tells him to send as many empty clay vessels as he can spare to the captains on the gates. Hallyne doesn’t understand why, but agrees. As he escorts Tyrion out of the vault, Hallyne tries to push for the king to visit the guild, or vice versa. Tyrion thinks Joffrey would be entirely too interested in learning how to use wildfire to torture people, and makes vague assurances.
Outside, Bronn meets Tyrion and tells him he has been summoned by two people: Ser Jacelyn Bywater and Cersei. Tyrion decides to piss off Cersei by going to Bywater first. At the Gate of the Gods, Bywater shows him to his cousin Cleos Frey, who has arrived with a letter from Robb Stark offering peace terms. Cleos looks haggard, and complains that Tywin’s men have gone rogue, pillaging and ravaging indiscriminately; his party was attacked twice despite being under a peace banner. He reports that Robb “sits idle” at Riverrun, and that his strength dwindles every day. Tyrion reads the letter and remarks that the terms will never do. Cleos asks if they can at least trade the Stark girls for Tion and Willem Frey; Tyrion tells him they will propose their own exchanges and send him back with fresh terms. Tyrion leaves Cleos, and tells Bywater that the alchemists will be sending empty jars to the gates, and Tyrion wants the men to drill handling them with green paint and then with lamp oil.
Tyrion heads back to the keep, thinking that if he could keep the Stark boy busy with negotiating peace terms until Ser Stafford finishes assembling his host at Casterly Rock, then he and Tywin could “smash the Tullys and Starks between them.” This doesn’t solve the problem of Renly and Stannis, though. He is briefly distracted by a prophet ranting about the evils of the nobility, but is relieved to see he receives almost as much derision from the crowd as agreement.
He finds Cersei in his rooms, irate with him for ignoring her summons, and for offering Myrcella to the Martells. Tyrion asks if she plans to marry Myrcella to Tommen, and Cersei threatens to cut out his tongue. Tyrion points out she will be much safer in Dorne than in King’s Landing, and that Prince Doran’s grudge against the Lannisters is dwarfed by the one he holds against the Baratheons. He also thinks Myrcella will be treated well there. Cersei insists the offer is too much, and Tyrion insults her crudely. She slaps him, and he warns her that will be the last time. Cersei laughs and tells him Eddard Stark had thought himself safe from her as well.
“How safe do you think Myrcella will be if King’s Landing falls? Renly and Stannis will mount her head beside yours.”
And Cersei began to cry.
Tyrion Lannister could not have been more astonished if Aegon the Conqueror himself had burst into the room, riding on a dragon and juggling lemon pies. He had not seen his sister weep since they were children together at Casterly Rock.
He tentatively tries to comfort her, but she rejects him venomously. He promises her nothing will happen to Myrcella, and she calls him a liar. She curses Jaime for letting himself get captured, and their father too, and wishes she had been born a man so she wouldn’t need any of them. They argue about Tywin’s tactics; Cersei thinks Tywin is leaving them exposed to Renly’s forces, but Tyrion disagrees. Then he distracts her by showing her the letter from Robb Stark. He senses that Cersei will eventually agree to send Myrcella to the Martells now.
And certain knowledge of an informer too… well, that was the plum in his pudding.
Holy crap, Cersei had an emotion!
Okay, that’s not fair. Obviously she has lots of emotions, and some of them are positive ones, even. And it’s never been in doubt that she loves her children. It’s just hard to sympathize with that when she uses her love for her family (well, the ones who are pretty enough for her, anyway) as an excuse to do horrible things to everyone else. Small issue there.
And… um. Okay, I’m trying to think back now. Cersei found out about Tyrion’s deal with the Martells, so which of the council did he give that info to, again? Dammit, I’m going to go look this up, hang on.
…Ah, it was Pycelle. Well, there’s a shocker, the old bastard read the letter before he sent it. And then tattled to Cersei. Uh-huh.
And also: oh, Tyrion meant that deal with the Martells to work? Whoops, my bad. Of course, I was also expecting Cersei to put a hell of a lot more into that fight, so. That said, all bets may be off once she finds out that Tyrion is also proposing to ship off Tommen as well.
Tyrion remembered the red priest Thoros of Myr and his flaming sword. Even a thin coating of wildfire could burn for an hour. Thoros always needed a new sword after a melee, but Robert had been fond of the man and ever glad to provide one.
Ha ha, Thoros, you old con man. I should have guessed his flaming sword wasn’t even dinky magic, but a trick. Tchah, I don’t know whether to be contemptuous or amused. Probably both.
I have to wonder if we’re ever going to get to actually see any magic in the Seven Kingdoms. I’m probably just forgetting something, but it seems to me all the real magic we’ve seen at all in this universe has been across the ocean – usually in Daenerys’s immediate vicinity. Not including the Others, of course, but even they are not magic, per se, as in the spell-casting wand-waving eye-of-newting abracadabra variety. As usual, I can’t decide whether I find that annoying or not.
But as far as non-magical things go, the wildfire thing is terrifying to contemplate – both in tactical terms and just in general. Here, soldiers, please stand there and hurl thousands of probably-disintegrating clay pots of flaming white-hot death around! What could possibly go wrong?
Well, at least Tyrion has enough sense to try and, you know, train his soldiers to deal with the flaming white-hot death. Which is something that occurred to no one else, apparently. Oy, these people.
Also, I left it out of the summary but here’s something delightful for you:
Only three nights past, another mob had gathered at the gates of the Red Keep, chanting for food. Joff had unleashed a storm of arrows against them, slaying four, and then shouted down that they had his leave to eat their dead.
Wow. I suppose it’s too much to hope that there’s a guillotine in Dear Baby Joff’s future, huh. Curses!
The begging brother’s speech was remarkable to me in that it’s one of the only wild-eyed hysterical religious rants I’ve come across where every thing he said was true. Seriously, here, I’ll quote it for you:
“We have become swollen, bloated, foul. Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the High Septon has forgotten the gods! He bathes in scented waters and grows fat on lark and lamprey while his people starve! Pride comes before prayer, maggots rule our castles, and gold is all . . . but no more! The Rotten Summer is at an end, and the Whoremonger King is brought low! When the boar did open him, a great stench rose to heaven and a thousand snakes slid forth from his belly, hissing and biting!”
Well, okay, the snakes bit isn’t true, technically. Unless Robert had a tapeworm, which given his obesity I tend to doubt.
And, well. The ladies fornicating with fools thing is a false rumor, right. And okay, I object to describing Tyrion as “a twisted little monkey demon,” because that’s just mean.
…But the incest part, that was totally true! So there!
Chapter 21: Bran
Bran rides Dancer into the Great Hall at Winterfell, filled with nobility and gentry and the local villagers, to great cheering; Bran knows it is the harvest and Robb they are really cheering, but feels proud, at least until he has to be carried to his chair. He welcomes the crowd formally, and Rodrik tells him his father would have been proud. The feast is enormous and loud, and Bran feels detached from the company. He wishes he could leave, and has a brief waking dream of being in the godswood until Rodrik speaks to him again. Bran remembers the last feast here, when his father had welcomed the king and his family to Winterfell, and thinks of how almost all his family is gone, now.
A guardsman enters with two new guests: Lady Meera of House Reed and her brother, Jojen. Rickon asks who they are, and Little Walder sneers that they are “mudmen” and “frogeaters,” but Bran knows they are crannogmen, from the Neck. Luwin whispers to Bran to greet them warmly, as Howland Reed was a great friend to Bran’s father. Meera announces that they have come to formally re-pledge their fealty to the King in the North. Bran replies they can swear it to him in Robb’s stead; he is confused by the unfamiliarity of their oath, and struggles to find an appropriate response.
Jojen asks where the direwolves are as they sit down, and Rickon replies that they are in the godswood, as “Shaggy was bad.” Bran asks Rodrik if they really eat frogs, and Rodrik says they do; Bran remembers that the crannogmen are poor folk, and supposes they do not have sheep or cattle. Meera smiles when she catches him staring at her.
After the feast there is dancing, but Bran is hot and tired and soon has Hodor carry him to his chambers, surprising Joseth the horse handler along the way in the middle of an assignation, which Bran ignores. He gets into bed and sends Hodor away, and remembers something his father had told him: that the finest knight in the land was Ser Arthur Dayne, and that he would have killed Ned if it weren’t for Howland Reed. Bran wishes his father had told him the rest of that story, and falls asleep.
He dreams he is prowling through the godswood with his brother; they are restless with all the noise from the “man-pack” that evening. They scent intruders in the wood and quickly find them, a female and a young male. Neither smell afraid, and Bran remembers faintly that the girl is named Meera. The boy tells her that the black one is full of fear and rage, but the grey is “stronger than he knows.” He asks if Meera can feel them; she tells him no, and warns him to be careful.
“He won’t hurt me. This is not the day I die.” The male walked toward them, unafraid, and reached out for his muzzle, a touch as light as a summer breeze. Yet at the brush of those fingers the wood dissolved and the very ground turned to smoke beneath his feet and swirled away laughing, and then he was spinning and falling, falling, falling…
HAHAHAHA, that is hilarious. Whoops, did I say I wanted magic??
Again I am deeply amused by writing the commentary to one chapter before going on to the next. I guess the only question is whether you consider dreamwalking with your
soulbonded wolf brother magic of the “spell-casting wand-waving eye-of-newting abracadabra” variety, or, um, something else. I may be splitting hairs here.
And Bran’s getting so good at it, apparently, that he can sort of do it even while awake. HMMMM.
In any case, ENTER THE SWAMP PEOPLE. Which is a show whose existence I am kind of resignedly horrified by, for the record. Louisiana seriously gets no breaks when it comes to representation in popular culture, I swear. TRUE BLOOD I AM LOOKING AT YOU.
Anyway! Okay, not swamp people, they’re crannogmen, whatever. Who also appear to be part-time direwolf whisperers, and isn’t that interesting. I deduce, therefore, with my staggering powers of deducement, that they are probably all close with nature and shit, and therefore that I am supposed to expect them to be all full of lore and knowledge about old gods and old magic and oh heeeeey, I bet they know them some children of the forest!
Coincidence? I HOPE NOT.
I also hope that Meera and Jojen are going to be nice direwolf whisperers and help Bran learn to steer this thing, and not do something horrible like steal the wolves or something. Because that is NOT ON.
But, in any case: wolf-walking! I am intrigued by your ideas, plotline, and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
Also, there was feasting. It’s a good thing I had already eaten when I read this chapter, because otherwise I may have had to break off for a snack. I (obviously) left out the description of the feast, but it’s seriously about an entire page, listing pretty much every medieval food item ever. As a pretty dyed-in-the-wool believer in the delightfully simple “Appetizer – Entrée – Dessert” form of meals, whenever I read about these kinds of things I always rather boggle at it.
Because, how did people not have their stomachs burst all the time with these three-million course things? Do they tell you beforehand how many courses there will be so you can ration your portion-taking appropriately, or do you just assume a default of “billions” and take like one bite of each course? And if so, how freaking wasteful is that? And what if you really like one dish and would rather nosh on that and leave the rest?
…Aaaand I just put way way way too much thought into that, so I think it might be time to quit while I can still maintain at least a sliver of a modicum of pretense that I might possibly be ahead.
Ergo, I quit! Ha, just kidding. I only quit till next week, promise. See you then!