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 30 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 63 (“Daenerys”) and 64 (“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!
Chapter 63: Daenerys
Daenerys goes down to the docks, dressed in Dothraki finery; she tries to reject the bell Jhiqui braids into her hair, but Jhiqui insists that she has earned it for destroying the Palace of Dust. She reflects that her whole life has been fleeing from something, and now she was doing it again, for some of the factions in Qarth are looking to kill her now, including the surviving warlocks. She had laughed at this at first, but Xaro tells her, troubled, that magic seems to be working much better than it had previously.
She thinks of how Xaro had entreated her to marry him again, and she had refused; coldly, he told her to leave the city, then. She tried to bargain with him for a ship, but the only thing he wanted from her is one of her dragons. She told him that not a third of all the ships in the world would be worth one of her dragons, and Xaro left and did not return, and began demanding his gifts back, and Dany knows it is time to leave.
She discusses the things she saw in the Palace of Dust with Jorah on the way to the docks, noting the repeated use of the number three; Jorah points out that the sigil of House Targaryen is a three-headed dragon, meant to represent Aegon, Visenya and Rhaenys. She asks what the vision of Rhaegar meant by “His is the song of ice and fire,” but Jorah doesn’t know. She notes that Rhaegar’s son had been named Aegon, and he’d had a sister named Rhaenys, but there was no Visenya, and both the children had been murdered by the Lannisters in the uprising.
At the docks, Dany rides down to where the ships from the Summer Islands, Westeros, and the Nine Free Cities are docked, hoping to find one to hire, but none of them are willing to take on a hundred Dothraki and/or dragons. At length Jorah warns Dany that she is being followed, by a white-bearded old man and a huge swarthy eunuch. They pretend to be shopping at a brass merchant’s booth while discussing whether their tail means them harm.
They move away from the booth, but a Qartheen stops them and offers Dany a jeweled box. Dany opens it to find what she thinks at first is a costly scarab brooch, but it comes to life as a poisonous manticore. The box is knocked from her hands and the manticore is crushed, and Dany realizes it is the old man and the eunuch who saved her. She prevents Jorah and her bloodriders from killing them, and the old man introduces himself as Arstan Whitebeard and the eunuch as Strong Belwas.
Belwas tells her they were sent to her by “the fat man with sweet stink in his hair,” and Dany realizes he means Magister Illyrio. Arstan reveals he is from Westeros, and tells Jorah he saw him joust at Lannisport. Belwas comments he has killed many “horse boys” in the fighting pits, and Dany warns him to speak with respect to her people. Arstan tells her they were sent to bring her back to Pentos, and that the Seven Kingdoms are “bleeding,” with Robert the Usurper dead and four kings vying for his throne. He plans to hire three ships for them; Dany remembers her visions, and instructs Arstan to rename them.
“Vhagar,” Daenerys told him. “Meraxes. And Balerion. Paint the names on their hulls in golden letters three feet high, Arstan. I want every man who sees them to know the dragons are returned.”
Errrrm. I would feel a lot more pleased on Dany’s behalf at this development if Illyrio weren’t behind it.
Wasn’t he one of the guys Arya saw skulking around the bowels of the Red Keep a million years ago? And didn’t he basically sell Dany like cattle to the Dothraki? Yeah. He may not hold the gold medal for untrustworthiness in this series (if only because we haven’t gotten any firm confirmation that he’s Up To Something, and there are far too many candidates with much uglier credentials in contention), but he’s definitely made it to the finals. In My Opinion.
Of course, my opinion may not be worth much, since it turns out Xaro isn’t really a traitor after all. I mean, he’s a greedy dick out for his own advantage, don’t get me wrong, but compared to most other people Dany’s encountered in her life, his brand of petulant passive-aggressiveness at not getting what he wanted was positively benign. Which is kind of sad, but hey, I’ll take it.
Of course, getting back to Illyrio’s possible traitorousness, it’s perfectly possible that his diabolical plan is as simple as wanting to put Dany back on the throne in Westeros and get a dukedom out of it or something. In which case the diabolicalness of his plan is much more a matter of perspective. (But then, it always is, I suppose.)
I guess this also means I should consider whether I am actually rooting for Dany to get the throne back, or if I think someone else should have it. And… I really don’t know that I am, honestly. I really like Dany as a character, and I’m rooting for her survival and happiness as a person (even as I acknowledge how slim the chances of the latter at least might be, because I’m relatively certain by this point that Martin is actually physically allergic to happy endings), but in a weird way that’s sort of why I don’t want her to get the throne. Because seriously, at this point winning this damn game of thrones isn’t a fate I’d wish on anyone I liked!
But, that’s kind of counterproductive, since it means only people I hate would get the throne, and obviously giving absolute power to someone I don’t like spells disaster for everyone, because that is just how good a judge of character I am!
Yes, you can go ahead and roll your eyes at me now. I’m doing it myself, don’t worry.
But there is also another consideration in my general tendency to not be rooting for Dany to get the throne, which is that everything I’ve absorbed thus far seems to point to the fact that the Targaryens as a whole were horrible people and worse rulers, even if specific members of the family did not/do not suck, and I kind of think it was a good thing in the aggregate that they got punted off the throne. And even if Dany herself would make a good ruler, I’m not at all convinced that Targaryen name should be allowed back in the building on general principle, if that makes sense.
But then, the Targaryens weren’t the ones smashing infants’ heads against walls, and all the other delightful things that happened during Robert’s usurpation, so maybe my thoughts on this make no sense, comparatively speaking. Yes, everyone sucks, Martin, thank you, message received.
Whatever. At this point as long as it’s not a Lannister on the throne, with the possible exception of Tyrion, I’ll call it a marginal win.
As usual, Martin manages to mention food a lot in this chapter, but I found remarkably little of it to be appetizing this time. Maybe I’m just not adventurous enough, but cold shrimp and persimmon soup sounds really gross. Not as gross as honey-roasted mice (!!), of course, but I should think that would go without saying. Sheesh.
The warlocks whispered of three treasons . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love. The first traitor was surely Mirri Maz Duur, who had murdered Khal Drogo and their unborn son to avenge her people. Could Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos be the second and the third? She did not think so. What Pyat did was not for gold, and Xaro had never truly loved her.
Okay, so I’m not sure yet who’s going to betray Dany for gold (because really, that could be just about anyone), though Illyrio is a possible candidate, but I bet all the money in my pockets right now (which is, er, five dollars, I need to go to the bank) that the betrayal for love is gonna be Jorah.
“What is a mummer’s dragon, pray?”
“A cloth dragon on poles,” Dany explained. “Mummers use them in their follies, to give the heroes something to fight.”
Ser Jorah frowned.
That? That is a thing, right there. I don’t know what the thing is that it is, I just know that it is one. So There.
Of course, so is the blue rose and the dead man in the ship and everything else they brought up from Dany’s visions in the magicians’ house, but I’m just saying, this one in particular jumped out at me.
Chapter 64: Arya
Arya pretends the heads on the walls of Harrenhal are Joffrey, instead of the people Roose Bolton had had executed for collaborating with the Lannisters. She also tries to ignore the women who are staked out naked in the ward, “free for the use of any man who wanted them,” as punishment for sleeping with Lannister soldiers. Gendry has asked if she was admiring her work; he is angry because they’d executed Lucan, and accuses her of giving them all to the likes of the Mummers and Rorge and Biter. She can’t really blame him, and wishes sometimes she’d left with Jaqen. She angrily throws away the coin he gave her, but then goes and gets it back.
She brings water to Bolton’s rooms, where he is having a strategy meeting while simultaneously being leeched. Ser Aenys Frey is worrying about being besieged at Harrenhal by Lord Tywin, but Bolton assures him that Lord Tywin is far away, dealing with King’s Landing. Aenys points out that Stannis had thought Tywin was far away too. Ser Harys Haigh asks how their boy king will prevail against Tywin when Stannis Baratheon could not, and Bolton replies that Robb has beaten the Lannisters every time he has faced them.
“He has lost the north,” insisted Hosteen Frey. “He has lost Winterfell! His brothers are dead…”
For a moment Arya forgot to breathe. Dead? Bran and Rickon, dead? What does he mean? What does he mean about Winterfell, Joffrey could never take Winterfell, never, Robb would never let him.
Ser Hosteen insists that Robb needs to bend knee to the Lannisters, and Bolton asks with a smile if he would like to tell him that. His dismisses the meeting, and has Arya remove his leeches. Qyburn (rumored to have dabbled in necromancy) reads Bolton a letter from his wife, which Bolton ignores to send orders to Ser Helman Tallhart, who has taken the Darrys castle, to execute the captives and burn the castle down before striking east toward Duskendale. Arya remembers the Darrys castle was where Cersei had made her father kill Sansa’s wolf, and is glad. Bolton also announces he intends to hunt down the wolves that have been getting bolder in the area, attacking men’s camps in the woods.
Bolton and the others leave, and Arya assures herself that if Bran and Rickon are really dead that Robb will avenge them, and wonders, if Winterfell is fallen, if she is still a Stark. She cleans Bolton’s chambers and sees that there is a map of the region among his papers. She goes and practices her “needlework” in the godswood, reciting her list all the while; after, she salutes the trees and says “Valar morghulis” to them.
Bolton returns with several wolf corpses and orders dinner. Arya brings it to him, and dares to ask him if he will take her with him when he leaves Harrenhal. Bolton tells her he means to give Harrenhal to Lord Vargo when he leaves, and “Nan” will stay with him, and calmly threatens to cut her tongue out if she questions him again. Arya leaves and goes back to the godswood, where she kneels and prays for guidance. She hears a wolf howl in the distance, and then seems to hear her father’s voice, telling her “the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. Arya protests there is no pack anymore, the Starks are scattered or dead.
“You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.”
“The wolf blood.” Arya remembered now. “I’ll be as strong as Robb. I said I would.” She took a deep breath, then lifted the broomstick in both hands and brought it down across her knee. It broke with a loud crack, and she threw the pieces aside. I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth.
That night she goes to Gendry, and entreats him to wake Hot Pie and meet her at the gate by the Tower of Ghosts with provisions and weapons, lying to him that Vargo intends to cut off the left foot of all the servants once Bolton is gone. She goes back to Kingspyre and steals Bolton’s map and dagger, and then goes to the stables and lies that Bolton has ordered three horses saddled. She manages to get the horses to the gate without being seen. Gendry and Hot Pie eventually show up, and Gendry points out there is a guard on the postern. Arya tells them to wait for her, and slips ahead to the gate. She notes the guard is too tall for her to reach his throat, and lies to him that Bolton has ordered all his guards receive a silver piece. She pulls out Jaqen’s coin, but lets it fall to the ground, and when the guard bends to get it, pulls out the dagger and slits his throat, whispering “Valar morghulis” as he dies. Hot Pie and Gendry join her at the gate.
“You killed him!” Hot Pie gasped.
“What did you think I would do?” Her fingers were sticky with blood, and the smell was making her mare skittish. It’s no matter, she thought, swinging up into the saddle. The rain will wash them clean again.
So, Arya just took a level in… whatever you call it when you become capable of slitting someone’s throat in cold blood. “Badass” is both completely accurate and horribly inappropriate at the same time, which is a bit of a trick.
I dunno, I’m very conflicted right now. (Shocking. In this series? Never!) I’m glad for her in the sense that being able to be that cold will greatly increase her chances of survival, but I’m sad that that’s what it took to do that. I mean, she’s, what, ten years old, and already a semi-skilled assassin? And she’s only going to get better at it, to boot. That’s… disconcerting, to say the very least.
Also, I really want to know what Valar morghulis means. Arthurian legend and Tolkien assure me that words/names that start with “mor-” are Bad News, but I want to know what bad news Arya’s spewing around, because I’ve Got A Bad Feeling about it.
Also also, I’m not 100% on this but I’m pretty sure that whoever was talking to Arya in the godswood, it wasn’t Ned. Xaro and others have been pointing out that magic has been getting… magickier lately, so hey, maybe the old gods are waking up from their dirt nap too, eh?
(“Dirt nap,” hah. Because they’re trees, get it? And their roots are in the SOIL, which is DIRT, and it’s FUNNY.
… Guys? Hello?)
Also cubed: leeches. EEEEWWWWWWW
“It is queer to see the common wolves of the south so bold.”
BECAUSE NYMERIA IS TOTES THE BOSS OF THEM, THANK YOU. And now she and Arya are going to be reunited, y/y? And it is not going to go horribly, y/y? Right, Martin? RIGHT?
Also, the direwolf thing in ASOIAF specifically aside, a lifetime of reading fantasy novels has trained me to be automatically horrified when wolves are hunted as game, in fiction or in real life. I’m not anti-hunting as a general thing, but killing wolves other than in self-defense is just – wrong. Because they’re wolves, and they deserve better. Don’t ask me to explain it better than that.
I was a little surprised that Gendry was pro-Lannister, but I suspect that’s more a situational thing than a real political stance – things were better for him before the coup, is all.
I’m having trouble remembering how much we saw of Roose Bolton before this, but I suspect everything was second-hand until now. And as usual, Martin has pulled his trick of having the man seem one way from a distance (reliable, loyal, a good warrior) and quite another up close, i.e. a guy who would totally mutilate a serving girl just because she dared to speak to him. Jesus.
Also, the kind of guy who would order the extended torture and rape of women – as punishment for being raped in the first place. (Don’t EVEN try to tell me Pia and the rest freely consented to jack shit with the Lannister soldiers, because I will seriously cut you.) That’s… I don’t even have words for that.
In other words, Roose Bolton: DO NOT WANT.
Ugh. Yet another one on the list. If you were to play seesaw, and have all the sympathetic characters in ASOIAF sit on one side, and all the varying-degrees-of-horrific characters sit on the other… well, let’s just say, that will be a supremely uneventful playground event.
The carrion crows wheeled about the gatehouse in raucous unkindness
Isn’t “unkindness” the name for a group of ravens? I thought it was a “murder” of crows.
(Also, this. Because I am easily amused.)
And that’s the game, kids! Have a lurvely weekend, as I hope you always do, and I will see you next Friday!