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 5 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapter 9 (“Arya”), and Chapter 10 (“Davos”).
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 9: Arya
Once off the kingsroad, Yoren’s caravan makes excruciatingly slow time, but Arya decides it would still be worse to go off on her own even though she herself can slip by their scouts with contemptuous ease. The others are treating Gendry like someone special now, though Gendry rejects this angrily, and Lommy speculates that he might be “the wolf lord” traitor’s bastard. Arya tells him he is not.
Yoren decides to go around Gods Eye to the west to avoid notice, but food soon becomes scarce in the forest. Arya catches a rabbit once, and even the chained men get some; Jaqen thanks her, but Rorge calls her “Lumpyface Lumpyhead Rabbitkiller.” Yoren is bitter that they are treated with suspicion and hostility at the few homesteads they do pass, and mutters that it used to be that a man in black was honored wherever he went.
They have to detour far out of their way to avoid a party of armed men who the scouts report have obviously been fighting, since Yoren is not sure what their allegiance is, and soon after they come upon a village that’s been burned and pillaged, with corpses displayed on stakes. They rescue a tiny girl and a woman with her arm cut off. Hot Pie confesses he’s scared to Arya, and she admits the same, and they have something of a reconciliation.
The woman dies after a day. That night Arya goes to sneak out of the camp to pee out of sight of the men, but Hot Pie stops her and warns her there are wolves in the woods. Arya pretends to be scared and goes back to bed until Hot Pie is gone, and then sneaks out again. She is in the middle of pissing when she sees eyes shining at her in the dark, and one of the wolves surrounding her comes out and bares his teeth. Arya is terrified, but then the wolves simply leave, and Arya races back to camp. She tells Yoren about the wolves, and then about Nymeria and how she drove her wolf off with rocks.
“I bet if she’d been in the city, she wouldn’t have let them cut off Father’s head.”
“Orphan boys got no fathers,” Yoren said, “or did you forget that?” The sourleaf had turned his spit red, so it looked like his mouth was bleeding. “The only wolves we got to fear are the ones wear manskin, like those who done for that village.”
Arya wishes she was home, and Yoren reflects aloud that it might have been better if they’d gone by sea, or not left King’s Landing at all; until now, he’s only lost three men in thirty years on the kingsroad, but he seems sure that’s going to change. He tells Arya to sleep, but she lies awake, listening to the wolves howling and something she thinks might be screams.
Oh, this is probably wishful thinking, but what if that wolf were part of Nymeria’s super-pack, and that’s why he didn’t attack, and therefore an Arya-Nymeria reunion is imminent, yes yes? That would be SO COOL.
Hey, I can hope!
Gendry: I like him, he seems like a decent guy. And I love that the others are theorizing that he’s Ned’s bastard. That’s just all kinds of ironic, that is.
I also love that Arya thinks that she’s not being brave enough, when she’s in reality being braver than about 97% of girls her age could possibly hope to be. And not her particular brand of stupid reckless courage, either, but the kind that lets you walk through a scene of utter carnage and still go on and do what you have to do. “Keep calm and carry on,” as the British would say. That’s the kind of courage you want.
The wounded soldiers the party avoided: probably not terribly important in the grand scheme of things, though I might turn out to be wrong on that. But my impression was it’s all just to convey the general atmosphere of pillage pillage pillage. I’m unclear from the chapter whether I’m supposed to infer that that particular group of soldiers were also the ones who destroyed the village Yoren et al come upon later, but again, I’m not sure it actually matters from our point of view.
Lastly, Yoren seems to be having a bit of a crisis of faith in this chapter, or the nearest equivalent. If he ends up chucking it all to go live in a tree or something and leaves Arya and Gendry (and the rest of the recruits, I suppose) in the lurch, I shall be very Put Out.
Chapter 10: Davos
Davos watches as Melisandre presides over the burning of the icons representing the Seven, and shushes his sons when they mutter rebelliously about it. He thinks of how the queen’s men had destroyed the sept and imprisoned the septon as well, and feels ill. He thinks that Maester Cressen would have stopped this; Davos knows that the maester had fallen to the poison he had attempted to use on Melisandre, and so dares not attempt to kill her himself.
Davos thinks some of the other lords are not thrilled by this either, but doesn’t dare speak to them about it, as they consider themselves far above the Onion Knight. He doesn’t begrudge the fingers Stannis demanded from him for his smuggling, in light of all that he has received in return, but worries what will happen if Stannis fails to gain the throne.
Melisandre tells the crowd of an ancient legend in Asshai of a burning sword called “Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” Stannis strides forth and in a carefully staged manner draws out a smoldering sword from the pyre of the Seven, though he is forced to drop it when it catches his glove on fire. The Queen and Melisandre declaim it as the fulfillment of the prophecy, but Davos keeps silent.
The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos.
After a brief discussion with his disgruntled sons, Davos heads to an inn near the docks, where he meets with a flamboyant former pirate named Salladhor Saan, whom Davos had recruited to Stannis’s cause but who remains cheerfully flippant about the entire matter. Saan tells Davos about Tyrion’s arrival at King’s Landing, and thinks that the city is ripe for the taking. He also relates that Renly has left Highgarden with his new queen and a “mighty host” and now marches toward King’s Landing. He also openly opines that the sword Stannis pulled from the fire was not Lightbringer, and tells Davos the true story of how Azor Ahai forged the sword, where after several failed tries he completed it by plunging it into the heart of his own wife, Nissa Nissa. Saan takes his leave, and Davos tries to picture himself stabbing his wife for a magical sword, and cannot.
He is summoned to attend Stannis soon after, and upon arriving finds many of the other lords leaving. One of them, Ser Axell Florent, stops to tell Davos how he’d seen a vision in the flames of the Seven’s pyre that guarantees Stannis’s victory. Davos answers carefully that he’d only seen fire and smoke, and pushes past him to Stannis.
Stannis shows him a letter which he plans to distribute far and wide in the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, in which he declares that Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella are not the issue of his brother Robert, but the product of incest between Cersei and Jaime Lannister, and thus Stannis lays claim to the throne. He signs the letter with the closing “Done in the Light of the Lord.” He asks Davos’s opinion on the letter, dismissing the rest of his lord followers as sycophants and bootlickers. Davos points out that Stannis has no proof of the incest he accuses Cersei and Jaime of; Stannis counters that there is a bastard of Robert’s at Storm’s End (Edric Storm) who is the spitting image of Robert and thus will cast doubt on Joffrey and Tommen. Davos further points out that most people will not see Edric at Storm’s End, which Stannis acknowledges as “a difficulty.” Davos reluctantly voices his other concern with the letter: the closing.
“You have given me an honored place at your table. And in return I give you truth. Your people will not love you if you take from them the gods they have always worshiped, and give them one whose very name sounds queer on their tongues.”
Stannis stood abruptly. “R’hllor. Why is that so hard? They will not love me, you say? When have they ever loved me? How can I lose something I have never owned?”
Stannis tells Davos he believes in no gods, least of all this new one, but there is no doubt that the red priestess has power of some sort, and he believes she may prove his advantage in a field where he is otherwise outnumbered. He says the Seven never did anything for him, and so now it is time to try someone else.
Mm, a new POV character. And not a once-off Prologue type, either, or at least so I assume. Interesting.
And foreboding, all of it. There’s nothing uglier than a religious war; they fester and burn both. And ironically enough, it’s often the ones who normally would be perfectly happy to leave religion out of it altogether who get worst caught in the crossfire. I.e. Davos.
I like Davos a lot, but then I have an awful lot of sympathy for him for his clear aversion to this whole religious brouhaha, probably because I would feel exactly the same. Fanaticism sucks across the board, in my arrogant opinion, but it never sucks more than when it is used to bolster political gain, which is just the worst kind of hypocrisy if you ask me.
Or maybe “hypocrisy” is not the right word I’m looking for, since it is of course perfectly possible for said fanatic to sincerely believe that declaring himself king/emperor/supreme ruler/whatever by divine fiat in order to crush out the unbelievers is the right thing to do, but in that case it’s even worse. Mark my words, the bit in the U.S. Constitution mandating the separation of church and state was one of the single wisest clauses ever inserted into a charter of law.
Be that as it may, the merits or lack thereof of the sincere religious tyrant are not really our concern here, because true devotion (for good or ill) is clearly not Stannis’s problem. And in his attempt to ride Melisandre’s god’s influence to political ascendancy, Stannis proves that he’s just smart enough to be incredibly stupid. But hey, maybe he wants to be king over a land that will be tearing itself apart with religious wrangling for centuries to come!
Sacking temples and burning icons, of all the damn fool things to do. And then this letter! Which, don’t get me wrong, spreading the news about the incest and Joffrey’s total lack of a legitimate claim to Robert’s throne is all good in my book, even if Davos is right about the lack of proof, but Davos is also right that the “my new god trumps your old gods” part is going to completely drown the rest of it out anyway.
And this burning sword business was just hilariously painful. Like, COME ON. It wasn’t even a good fake miracle! If that monk guy who got killed in the tourney could rustle up a flaming sword, Melisandre could do at least that much as well, surely? Or, hey, maybe not. Maybe all her power is good for is shrugging off poisonous substances, how would I know?
Either way, I do not buy for a moment that Melisandre actually believes Stannis is Azor Ahai any more than Stannis does, in fact, which is also hilarious and painful. And ironic. I sure would like a look inside her head, to see how much (if any) of her religious devotion is real and how much is smoke and mirrors. Her power is real, obviously, at least to some extent, but that means nothing in terms of her true convictions.
And of course, now I have to wonder where the real Azor Ahai and his actual magical burning sword are going to pop up, because they totally are. Let me go out on a limb and say, they ain’t going to show up where Melisandre would prefer. I also really hope the new Azor doesn’t feel the need to forge his sword by murdering his wife, because what the fuck.
So, watch your back, Davos. Stannis may not care that you think this new god is rubbish (for the very good reason that he thinks the same, the hypocrite), but everyone else is going to care, a lot. And that’s the kind of caring that can get a good agnostic very much killed.
And that’s our show, ladies and gennemun! Have a fabulous and possibly Superbowl-oriented weekend, and I’ll see you next week!