May 25 2012 2:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 20

A Read of Ice and Fire on Tor.comWelcome 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 20 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 42 (“Davos”) and 43 (“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, The Powers That Be at 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 42: Davos

What Happens
Davos wonders why he has been included in Stannis’s parley with Ser Cortnay Penrose when Stannis has ignored him since they’d arrived at Storm’s End, and notes that Stannis looks terrible. Davos’s son Devan, who is one of the king’s squires, has told Davos that Stannis has been plagued by nightmares since Renly’s death, and only Melisandre can get him to sleep; Davos thinks she might be doing more than just praying with Stannis.

Cortnay greets the party with barely-concealed contempt. Stannis tells him his fortnight to consider Stannis’s terms is up, but Cortnay still refuses to surrender Edric Storm to him. Lord Florent assures him Stannis means the boy no harm, but Cortnay only curses him and the others who have switched allegiance to Stannis after Renly died as turncoats. Davos privately agrees with him. Cortnay refuses to believe their accusations that Brienne of Tarth murdered Renly, and challenges Stannis or his champion to single combat to decide the siege. Stannis refuses, and Cortnay ends the parley.

The other lords try to encourage Stannis to accept the challenge, arguing that it will save thousands of lives, but Stannis shuts them all up and rides ahead with Davos and Melisandre instead. He asks Davos’s opinion on whether threatening Cortnay’s father would induce Cortnay to surrender, but Davos thinks it will only backfire. Stannis accuses Davos of having a higher opinion of Cortnay than of Florent et al, and Davos admits that he does, which makes Stannis laugh and comment that his Onion Knight always tells the truth. Stannis grumbles that both his brothers were more beloved than he, and vows revenge for Cersei’s part in Robert’s death.

Davos asks about Renly’s death, and Stannis says that he dreams of it sometimes, and that he was in bed when Renly died, and insists his hands are clean. Davos thinks there is something wrong with that, but merely agrees. Stannis says that Renly brought his doom on himself, but that Stannis loved him.

Back at camp, Stannis speaks with Davos privately in the command tent, and asks his council on how to deal with Storm’s End. Davos opines that he should leave Storm’s End alone and head for King’s Landing; Cortnay is no threat to him, and once Stannis dethrones Joffrey Storm’s End will come to him with the rest. Stannis disagrees, saying he cannot afford to have people think he was defeated here. He tells Davos that if Cortnay were to fall, he believes the next in command would yield the castle to him easily. Davos counters that Cortnay is perfectly healthy, but Stannis tells him Cortnay will be dead in a day.

“Melisandre has seen it in the flames of the future. His death and the manner of it. He will not die in knightly combat, needless to say. […] Her flames do not lie. She saw Renly’s doom as well. On Dragonstone she saw it, and told Selyse. Lord Velaryon and your friend Salladhor Saan would have had me sail against Joffrey, but Melisandre told me that if I went to Storm’s End, I would win the best part of my brother’s power, and she was right.”

Astounded, Davos points out that Renly only came to Storm’s End because Stannis did, but Stannis tells him Melisandre saw another future where they met at King’s Landing and Renly’s forces crushed him. He says Melisandre is disliked among Stannis’s followers but she serves “as needed”. He orders Davos to take a boat to land beneath the castle that night, unseen; Davos tries to argue that there are cleaner ways, but Stannis tells him “the flames do not lie”, and Cortnay is already dead.

Davos goes that night in the boat, with Melisandre, and tells her he wishes she were an onion. She laughs at his disavowal of her task, and points out that he is the one who brought her. He asks if she killed Renly, and she answers “not I”. Davos says she is a liar, and asks who “rowed” her to him. She answers that there was no need, as Renly was “unprotected”, but there are old spells woven into the walls of Storm’s End that prevent “shadows” from passing.

They enter a tunnel in the cliff below the castle which leads to a portcullis, and Davos tells her they can go no further. Melisandre throws off her robe to reveal she is naked and very pregnant underneath. Davos watches in shock as she gives birth to a shadow thing, which immediately twists between the bars of the portcullis and inside the castle.

He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it.


So that… just happened. Wow.

*blink blink*

Seriously, I have no response. I was pretty sure Melisandre was responsible for the shadow thingy that killed Renly (ha ha, I was right), but let’s just say I was definitely NOT aware of the spell’s… method of delivery.


(Yes, special punner’s hell, I know. But c’mon, it was just lying there.)

And Davos recognized the shadow, but of COURSE we don’t find out whose it is. Grumble. I’m banking on Stannis, but if so, judging from his conversation with Davos earlier in the chapter I’m also betting Stannis isn’t actually aware that his priestess-slash-illicit lover is using their magical shadow babies to assassinate his political enemies.

*reads that again*

Some of the sentences I have written as a result of doing these blogs seriously blow my mind.

Anyway. That said, Stannis obviously knows that Melisandre has something to do with the deaths, otherwise why have Davos ferry her under the wall? So, he is still complicit in the murders even if he is ignorant of how exactly she is accomplishing them – his protestations to Davos about his hands being “clean” notwithstanding. Gentleman, protest too much, methinks, etc.

I wonder if knowing the actual method would even give him pause. I also wonder if using Stannis as a magical shadow assassin generator will have long term negative effects; going by what Devan told his father about Stannis’s nightmares, it’s certainly having short term ones. Not that I’ll cry a bitter tear if he melts into a puddle of goo or whatever, but it’s interesting to consider academically.

Either way, assuming I’m right, he is a naughty, naughty Stannis. Adultery and conspiracy to commit magical murder instead of facing his enemies in honorable combat, tsk tsk. Where is all that moral rectitude now, eh, Stanny? Sheesh, the hypocrisy positively reeks. Ugh.

Not to mention, he’s still an idiot even aside from all that, for not listening to Davos and leaving Storm’s End be in the first place. You’d rather assassinate an honorable man by proxy than worry that people are going to think less of you for not taking a hold that, as far as I can tell, has no strategic importance to your ultimate goals whatsoever?

Whatever, dude. I hope you do melt into a puddle of goo. Would serve you right.

“A grey man,” [Melisandre] said. “Neither white nor black, but partaking of both. Is that what you are, Ser Davos?”

“What if I am? It seems to me that most men are grey.”

“If half of an onion is black with rot, it is a rotten onion. A man is good, or he is evil.”

I am absolutely tickled by this exchange, in a very gallows’ humor kind of way. Because on the one hand, y’all probably know how much I just ADORE absolutism (which is to say, *barf*), but on the other, everyone’s “grey” morality in this story is precisely what’s caused everything to go to hell in a hundred-mile-an-hour handbasket in the first place. Well, unless you’re Ned, in which case it was the opposite that caused it.

So… um. The lesson being, you’re screwed either way?

Well, that’s cheerful.

So bye bye to Cortnay, I guess, which is a real shame because he was just about the only decent person to appear in this entire chapter. So naturally he’s toast. (I like Davos, but I also agree with his assessment of himself; he ain’t the worst, but he ain’t the best either.)


Chapter 43: Jon

What Happens
Jon is awoken by the sound of a horn, and goes to report to Mormont that Qhorin Halfhand’s party is at last approaching, which is a great relief as he had been expected days earlier, and the men had begun to argue about what to do without his numbers. When Qhorin’s company arrives it is clear that they had seen action on the way. Qhorin recognizes Jon, and tells him he knew Eddard Stark.

They report to Mormont, and Qhorin tells them that his men were attacked by Alfyn Crowkiller, a notorious raider. Crowkiller died, but some of his men escaped. Qhorin captured one alive long enough to question him, and he and Mormont retire inside his tent to talk more. Jon thinks of how he had overheard some of the men muttering about mutiny; he had considered going to Mormont, but assures himself it is just talk. He had distributed the things he found with the buried cloak among the brothers, but kept one of the dragonglass blades for himself, and made a dagger from it. He thinks the cloak and other items must have been buried for a reason, but that no one can think of what it might be.

He takes food and drink into the tent, and listens as Qhorin tells Mormont that every raider chief north of the Wall is assembled with Mance Rayder in the mountains according to the man they questioned, preparing for an assault on the lands beyond the Wall. Mormont says they must warn the king(s), but Qhorin thinks only Winterfell will be of any use. Mormont comments that at least Rayder will be delayed by having to scale the Wall, but Qhorin tells him they are planning to breach it with sorcery; there is something in the Frostfangs Rayder thinks he can use to do that, and he is searching for it.

Qhorin says he must send scouts into the mountains to find out what this thing is Rayder is looking for; Mormont is unhappy at the risk, but Qhorin says that what they are there for, to die in defense of the realm. He suggests sending three groups of five, commanded by Jarman Buckwell, Thoren Smallwood, and himself. He says either the scouts will come back or Rayder will attack.

Mormont slumps and tells him to choose his men, whereupon Qhorin immediately chooses Jon; Mormont protests Jon is hardly more than a boy, but Qhorin counters that the old gods are still strong beyond the Wall.

“The gods of the First Men . . . and the Starks.”

Mormont looked at Jon. “What is your will in this?”

“To go,” he said at once.

The old man smiled sadly. “I thought it might be.”

Qhorin is a real upbeat guy, ain’t he?

But, in an eminently practical way, I guess. Though I personally would be rather less enthused than Jon is to be under the command of a man who seems to regard the lives of his men to be commodities so easily spent. In defense of something, true, and he seems to regard his own life the same, so at least he can’t be accused of hypocrisy, but still. It’s nice that you don’t fear death and all, dude, but a little less casualness toward the idea would be appreciated, hmm?

Everyone seems to have taken Jon’s find of the cloak and stuff rather… casually. I mean, I don’t know exactly how I thought they would react, but I thought there would be more reaction than that. *shrug*

Oh, and there’s an invasion coming, apparently. Ironically, considering what I just said in the previous paragraph, I feel like I probably should have had a stronger reaction to that, but I’m just kind of like, “well, that figures.” Considering how utterly unprepared the rest of the continent is for it, if I were a raider king I’d probably view it as a prime opportunity too.

By now it’s just kind of the trendy thing to do: come on, everyone, let’s all attack Westeros! It’s like they’re the new hot nightclub, except with less glitter and more massacres. Whee? Probably not whee.

Also, big magical MacGuffin in the mountains, eh? Well, I’m sure finding it won’t be fraught with danger at all. NEVAH. (Don’t click that link if you have work to do today.)

“I knew a brother drowned himself in wine once. It was a poor vintage, though, and his corpse did not improve it.”

“You drank the wine?”

“It’s an awful thing to find a brother dead. You’d have need of a drink as well, Lord Snow.” Edd stirred the kettle and added a pinch more nutmeg.

Oh, Dolorous Edd. You are my very disgusting and completely unsanitary favorite. Heh.

And that’s all there is, there ain’t no more – FOR NOW. Weekend, ho!

Pat .
1. dolphineus
Shadow babies FTW!
Finally! Been waiting for you to get here!
They just hit this on the TV show two weeks ago. So creepy!

Also, I want to see Qhorin and Greatjon Umber thumb wrestle.
2. Lsana
It's worth pointing out that Stannis isn't worried about being defeated out of pride. He's thinking about how he's going to gain and hold the loyalty of the realm. He's not going to do it by being beloved; the only option he sees is to be respected and feared. If one old man with a token garrison can force him to back down, he's not going to be respected and feared for very long. Yes, he might be able to take King's Landing, but he'd spend the rest of his life putting down rebellions from the other lords.
Rob Munnelly
3. RobMRobM
Nice of you to pick up on the fact that Stannis appears to be bedding Mel - adds that special something when you consider that the shadow baby looked like someone well known to Davos. Also makes one consider exactly how Mel's powers must work. Interesting stuff.

Have to say, I'm a big Qhorin fan. GRRM knows how to get a new character going in relatively few pages, and Qhorin is one of those. It added perspective for me to realize that there are older and tougher rangers out there than Benjen who didn't get the top job but are doing great things out in the field. (Qhorin is Shadow Tower's head ranger, the westernmost outpost of the NW.) I remember a chill on my first read when Jon is heading fully into wildling country now. Very cool.
Sky Thibedeau
4. SkylarkThibedeau
I have a whole lot of questions about Stannis and our Miss Mel that rereading this chapter has evoked. Sadly its not something that can be posted here but people reading can probably guess.
Matthew Hunter
5. matthew1215
Regarding Jon's finding the cache: we know this is a story and a find like that is probably significant under the rules of storytelling. To Jon and the rest, this is something that falls into the category of "unusual, maybe worth thinking about, but lacking any obvious answers". Jon did the sensible thing and handed out the stuff to people who are likely to use it, and what else would he be supposed to do with it? The alternative would seem to be sticking it in someone's backpack and forgetting about it.

I'm sure Sam intends to research it as soon as he gets to a library, but he's not exactly near one at the moment.

Regarding the shadow babies... Leigh, I was sure that would get a *headdesk* from you. Perhaps your desk is broken? "Some of the sentences I have written as a result of doing these blogs seriously blow my mind." .. If you ever go back and reread this after you finish the series, it's going to be even worse.

One interesting thing about this series is the way that events in the south around the iron throne move at a blistering pace, while the North is sort of like a slow-motion video of a man in a black cloak screaming "OOOOOHHHHH NOOOOO THEEEE FROZZZZZZZEN ZOOOOOOMMMMMBBBBBIIIIIIEEEEESSSSS ARE COMING!" I keep wanting to throttle everyone in the south until they stop fighting and notice the zombies.
6. Paulie
Love the closing to this post Leigh...I think everyone should have a "weekend ho"...LOL
Gary Singer
7. AhoyMatey
Thanks for the entertaining commentary as always Leigh! Guaranteed chuckles...

It's interesting that Melisandre has totally black and white expectations of good and evil, but happily goes ahead as a "good" person and pushes out some shadow assassin babies. It really comes down to “us” vs. “them”, and “us” means always good, while “them” means always evil.
Matthew Smith
8. Blocksmith1

It has been awhile since I have commented on your WOT or ACOK reread discussions...been reading them consistently though.

Had to chime in on this though. If you want a truly great description of a rotten onion you need to read the Steven Brust Vlad Taltos series. In either Jhereg or Yendi (its very early in either beginning of chapter 1 so should be easy to find) there is a truly perfect discussion on how different types of "humans" would interpret a rotten onion. I think you would appreciate it.
9. cleopatra2525
Love the read and re-read. However, I am that person:

No: Back at camp, Stannis speaks with Davos privately in the command tent, and asks his council on how to deal with Storm’s End.

Yes: asks his counsel on how to deal with Storm’s End.
10. Lsana

Melisandre sees no contradiction there. She believes that her shadow-babies are good--being shadow which is a creation of light, which is a gift of the Red God. She would probably think of them as kind of like angels. Yeah, from our perspective that sounds either hypocritical or completely looney, but our perspective isn't hers.
Rob Munnelly
11. RobMRobM
@8 - you can also look to early parts of the Shrek movie as well.
Joe Vondracek
12. joev
Either way, assuming I’m right, he is a naughty, naughty Stannis. Adultery and conspiracy to commit magical murder instead of facing his enemies in honorable combat, tsk tsk. Where is all that moral rectitude now, eh, Stanny? Sheesh, the hypocrisy positively reeks.
Well, from Stannis' viewpoint, he's the lawful and legitimate King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. Therefore, whatever he does is right, and those who oppose him are wrong. No hypocrisy needed when you're the top dog.
Everyone seems to have taken Jon’s find of the cloak and stuff rather… casually. I mean, I don’t know exactly how I thought they would react, but I thought there would be more reaction than that. *shrug*
Heck, they've got steel swords and axes and stuff. Those are way better than some old dragonglass weapons! Now if he'd found a cache of sandwiches, then there'd be a big reaction.
Steven Halter
13. stevenhalter
Not just does everyone want to attack Westros, but lots of people seem to be aiming at Winterfell. I'm kind of picturing Theron doing his treacherous attack somehow and standing there all "Ha, I've won" with his pseudo-Vikings when a whole horde of crazed raiders shows up. That picture is almost amusing except for what it implies would be happening to the people currently in Winterfell--not that GRRM seem to have many compunctions about slaughtering all and sundry.
Except Arya, let's do try not to slaughter Arya-- 'k George?
Peter Stone
14. Peter1742
At this point, I think it's no longer a spoiler to note that Cressen called Melisandre a "shadowbinder" in the Prologue. Those readers who remembered that (and you'd have to have a pretty good memory, since at that time you'd have no clue what a shadowbinder does) would have known who was responsible for Renly's death several chapters earlier.
Julian Augustus
15. Alisonwonderland
Martin slips a huge clue into this chapter that no one is guaranteed to notice (I ceratinly didn't!) except in a re-read. Very well done there.
Julian Augustus
16. Alisonwonderland

about who the shadow resembles: isn't it obvious? Recall that when Catelyn first saw the shadow in Renly's tent her immediate reaction was that it looked like Stannis. And it totally makes sense that somehow Melisandre is using some essence of Stannis to create the shadow "babies", which is why he looks drawn and haggard and is having nightmares.
17. Hedge Knight
@15 - Please clue the rest of us in to the huge clue you observed on your re-read! Post in the spoiler thread.
Julian Augustus
18. Alisonwonderland

The spoiler thread seems deader than Ned. Spoiler: read again the conversation between Stannis and Davos
19. sofrina
@14 - thank you! i knew that wasn't a spoiler. "shadowbinder of asshai" is one of the spookiest phrases in this entire series.
Katie Pi
20. Darth_Katie
Man, Ser Courtnay is one of my favorites. You go dude. You go.

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