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 22 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 39 (“Arya”).
Apologies for the one chapter post, but a little bird tipped me off (without spoilers, thank you) that Chapters 40 and 41 apparently really need to go together, so rather than try and cram all that in, I figured it would be better to wait till next week to tackle whatever’s about to go down. I’m either agog or very apprehensive. Or both.
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 NEW lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. (The first one is now closed but can be found here.) 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 39: Arya
Arya watches from atop the ridge as Beric’s outlaws attack the Mummers holed up in the septry below, angry at being left out of the fight but at least glad that Gendry had been held back as well. She is savagely glad to see the Mummers go down. The battle is fierce but short, and Beric lets a couple of the fleeing Mummers go, commenting that their news will give “the Leech Lord and his goat” cause for concern. Thoros is pleased to find that one of the captives is “Septon” Utt, who wails and weeps for forgiveness for what he does to the boys he finds. The outlaws give him and the other captives swift drumhead trials and hang them; Arya thinks only that it was a shame they hadn’t done the same for Sandor Clegane, instead of treating his wounds and letting him go.
The leader of the eight surviving brown brothers tells how the Mummers were only the latest in a string of “visitors,” taking everything they had. They camp that night in the brewhouse adjacent to the now-ruined sept, eating food the brothers provide; Lem takes offense when one of them asks them not to pray to their false god while under their roof, but Beric reprimands Lem, saying they will respect the brothers’ rules. Arya examines Beric uneasily, and he asks if he frightens her; she says she thought the Hound had killed him, and Lem interjects that Thoros healed it. Beric gives Lem an odd look, but agrees before sending Lem off. Then Beric asks Thoros how many times he has brought Beric back; Thoros answers that it’s been six times, and pleads with Beric to stop courting death so, as “a seventh death might mean the end of both of us.”
Beric shows Arya each of his grievous wounds and explains how he got them, and complains that his memories of his earlier life have begun to fade. Arya asks Thoros if he could bring back a man without a head, but Thoros explains that he has no magic, only prayers, and he does not know why the last rites he gives Beric bring him back from the dead, when they have never done so before. He says it was R’hllor’s doing, not his. Beric tells Arya that he would forego her ransom for her father’s sake, but they need the gold too badly. Arya asks, what if Robb doesn’t want to ransom her because she’s not like a real lady, but Beric and Thoros assure her that he will. She asks if Beric swears he will get her back to her mother, and he swears it on his honor as a knight.
Later that evening, Gendry suddenly goes to one knee and offers his services as a blacksmith to Beric. Beric tries to demur, but Gendry insists, and Beric asks why; Lem adds that he’d be a fool to throw in his lot with their like. Gendry answers that he liked what Beric had said about being Robert’s men, and that he had given the Hound a trial; he would rather smith for Beric than for anyone else. Beric takes his sword and knights Gendry.
They hear a laugh, and all turn to see Sandor Clegane there. He trades insults with Lem et al for a moment, until Beric asks why he is there. Clegane answers that he wants his gold back. Beric says he gave him an IOU for that, which Clegane greets with contempt, and then says that the gold is gone, sent to buy grain and seed. Clegane asks mockingly if Beric is going to make Arya a knight too, and she declares hotly that she could be a knight if she wanted, and says she’ll kill him and his brother next time. Clegane calls them common thieves, and leaves.
Thoros muses that Clegane has lost not only his gold but “his master and kennel” as well, since neither the Lannisters nor the Starks would have him now. Beric orders the men to keep watch for Clegane, but not to harm him. They all sleep uneasy that night, and Arya reflects on how everyone had left her, even her father, and now Gendry was too. She takes out Jaqen’s coin and recites her list, though she is beginning to forget some of the faces on that list. She hears wolves howling before she finally falls asleep. The next morning as they head out, Gendry comes up and tries to apologize to her, but she tells him if Gendry wants to be a “stupid outlaw knight” and get himself hanged, she doesn’t care.
Aw. Well, I guess I can’t really blame Gendry for picking what seemed to him the least awful of the veritable array of awful groups out there for him to choose from, but I’m very disappointed that it seems to signal an end to his companionship with Arya. Not just because I’m hoping a little bit that they’ll get together, eventually, but also because as Arya herself points out, everyone in her life has failed and/or abandoned her at some point, so it would have been really cool if there could finally be an exception to that rule.
Of course, who knows what will happen. They might not yet be done with each other by a long shot for all I know.
I’m still hunting for the fly in Beric’s ointment, so to speak, but so far their Robin Hood routine seems to be holding up to scrutiny, more or less. And while I’m still rather contemptuous of their idea of justice (though Gendry has a point that their version of justice is better than just about anyone else’s at the moment), Beric and Thoros’s tolerance toward other religious traditions demonstrated here inclines me to ease off the “fanatic” button, for the moment, as regards their particular sect of Holy R’hllorism. (I’m betting Melisandre wouldn’t have taken the brown brother’s admonition nearly as in stride, is all I’m saying.) Being a devout follower of a religion is one thing, but it’s when a person can’t deal with anyone who isn’t also a devout follower of that particular religion that my zealotry alarms start to seriously go off.
So, points there to Beric et al. He’d better watch to make sure his other devotees don’t start getting extracurricular forcible conversion ideas, though. That’s one slippery slope that can prove to be particularly ugly if you don’t keep a close eye on it.
Kill them all, [Arya] thought fiercely. She bit her lip so hard she tasted blood. Kill every single one.
I’m a little conflicted over my instinctive glee at Arya’s bloodthirstiness. On the one hand, violence is bad, duh, and I feel like I really shouldn’t be glad that anyone is all Yay, violence! on general principle. However, I think my approval re: Arya’s inclination toward violence is borne more out of a protective instinct than anything else: I’m not glad that she is into it for the sake of violence itself, but because I feel that her willingness to fight is the thing that is most likely to help her stay alive, considering the situations she continually manages to land herself in.
Which is sad-making. But unfortunately, just because a thing is upsetting doesn’t mean it’s not true.
That said, her budding assassin ways are still disturbing. It’s one thing to be willing and able to defend yourself from those who would harm you, but it’s quite another to numb yourself into straight-up sociopathy. But learning to kill so young… I’m not sure how well anyone in Arya’s situation would be able to avoid it, really. Sigh.
So they let Sandor go, huh. Well… I’m mostly okay with that, even if Arya really isn’t. I don’t necessarily blame her for it, but on the scale of evil we’ve got to play with here (and it is Laaaarge), Sandor’s really very far down the line. And he did win their stupid trial by combat thing, so I guess it’s nice that Beric’s people keep their word?
I have no idea what he was on about coming back, though. There’s no way he honestly thought they were going to return his gold, so that was about something else. Thoros’s point that he has nothing to go back to leads me to believe that maybe Sandor is (subconsciously or otherwise) in the market for someone else to hold his leash. Hmm.
So, Thoros breathed fire into Beric, and that resurrected him? Six times? When it never has other people? Erm. Yeah, that’s definitely weird. I’m still not sure I buy any of the R’hllor shtick from either Thoros or Melisandre, but at this point I’m thinking that if there is a Chosen One, Beric looks to have a hell of a lot better claim to the title than Stannis does. I mean, the guy’s walking around with his skull caved in, WTF, not to mention all the other things that totally should have done him in. That shit ain’t normal.
Also, trust Martin to come up with the worst kind of immortality ever: nothing can kill you, but you have to walk around with all the deathwounds that didn’t work? Yuck. That is some Death Becomes Her shit right there. (I love that movie, but I found the end of it to be genuinely horrifying. Perfect comeuppance, though.)
And Arya asking about whether Thoros could bring back a man without a head… damn. I didn’t quite get it at first, but when I did realize what she was asking I just wanted to give her a giant hug. Even more so when she revealed that she thinks Robb and her mother might not want her because she’s not like a “real girl.” Jeez, just punch me right in the feelings, why don’t you.
Arya baby, you are amazing and awesome just as you are, and I really hope you learn to believe that. You totally can be a knight if you want. I hope that you will.
And then Beric promises to return Arya to her mother, and… I believe him. Hrm. Let’s see if I’m impossibly naïve or not!
But not until Later! Have a delightful and advantageous weekend, O my peeps, and I’ll see you next Friday!