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 12 of A Clash of Kings, in which we cover Chapters 24 (“Theon”) and 25 (“Tyrion”).
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 24: Theon
Theon is admiring his first new longship when a woman joins him; liking the look of her, he immediately begins blatantly propositioning her. She fondles him in return, but tells him she is married and pregnant. This does not deter Theon in his pursuit, and he tells her she can tell her grandchildren she once loved a king.
“Oh, is it love we’re talking now? And here I thought it was just cocks and cunts.”
She introduces herself as Esgred, wife to Sigrin, the man who built Theon’s ship. She asks if he likes the ship, and he says that he does. She laughs and calls it a “sea bitch,” and Theon tells her she just named it. He continues to entreat her to sleep with him; she resists, but playfully, and fondles him again. He asks her to come back to the castle with him, and after more lewd banter she agrees.
They stroll through the port, and the townfolk nod respectfully as they go by; Theon is gratified that they have finally begun to acknowledge him properly. Esgred greets many of the men by name as they pass, and Theon admits to her that he has been away too long to know one from another. He asks if she would be willing to help him choose men for his crew, and she says she might, if he treats her kindly. They pass the ship Theon arrived in, and Theon ignores the calls of the captain’s daughter; Esgred speculates that she had been too “soft and bland” for him, and Theon agrees.
He retrieves his squire Wex roughly from the inn; Wex’s eyes go wide when he sees Esgred, but as he is mute he says nothing. He continues to try to grope Esgred on the ride back to the castle, but she fends him off, and leads him to talk of his family. Theon confesses that his father had barely welcomed him, but claims he is not worried about either his three uncles or his sister Asha; the latter he plans to marry off, if he “can find a man to take her,” as he remembers she was very ugly. Esgred asks about his fourth uncle Euron Croweye, but Theon replies that no one has seen him for two years; he keeps to the Old Way, and is probably dead. She asks whether he will go to see his mother, but Theon says his father relies on him too much for him to take the time. She entreats him to tell him about his exile on the mainland, and he tells her many stories of Winterfell, surprised at how easy it is to talk to her.
When they arrive at the castle, a stableman approaches and addresses Esgred as “Lady Asha.” Asha grins and comments that “her little brother” gave her a ride from the port. Theon is stunned speechless, but then demands to know why she didn’t tell him. Asha replies that she wanted to see who he was first, “and I did.”
Theon is horrified and appalled that he made such a fool of himself. He thinks that he has no place here, and it is Asha’s fault. He dresses and goes down to dinner, only to find Asha sitting at the place of honor to their father’s right. He hisses at her that she’s in his spot, and she replies that his place is at Winterfell. They trade barbs, and Theon drinks too much wine. He says everything she told him was a lie, and Asha replies the part about being wed and with child was true.
Asha leapt to her feet. “Rolfe, here,” she shouted down at one of the finger dancers, holding up a hand. He saw her, spun, and suddenly an axe came flying from his hand, the blade gleaming as it tumbled end over end through the torchlight. Theon had time for a choked gasp before Asha snatched the axe from the air and slammed it down into the table, splitting his trencher in two and splattering his mantle with drippings. “There’s my lord husband.” His sister reached down inside her gown and drew a dirk from between her breasts. “And here’s my sweet suckling babe.”
Everyone in the hall roars with laughter at him, even his father. Asha tells him she could never have fooled him if he’d bothered to learn anything about his subjects. Theon tries to remember if Pyke was this unpleasant when he’d lived here before. Balon retires after the feast, commanding his kin to come lay plans, but Asha doesn’t go immediately, and taunts him for pursuing her. She gropes him again, to his shock, and Theon tells her that when he rules he will send her off “to the silent sisters.” He leaves to join his father.
In the solar, Balon lays out his war plan: Theon, along with his uncle Aeron, is to take eight longships to harry the Stony Shore and raid the fishing villages, while Asha is to take thirty ships to assault the Glover hold at Deepwood Motte, north of Winterfell, and Victarion is to sail up Saltspear below to strike Moat Cailin, cutting “the pup” off from the North completely. Stung by his paltry role in the campaign, Theon tries to protest, but Balon and the others ignore him. When he leaves, he falls on the rope bridge, and Asha helps him across, twitting him for not being able to hold his liquor.
“I liked you better when you were Esgred,” he told her accusingly.
She laughed. “That’s fair. I liked you better when you were nine.”
AHAHAHAHA, oh my God.
Talk about your jaw-dropping reveals. I think I almost yelled out loud when I realized who “Esgred” really was. Holy crap, you guys.
Asha is either completely awesome or utterly horrifying, and I can’t decide which. I think she might be both. Because, yes, take-no-shit warrior chick who catches spinning axes in midair, I am totally down with that, but GIRL, that was your little brother you’re fucking with! Almost literally!
Granted, your little brother is an arrogant douchenozzle who wants to ship you off to a convent and was stupid enough to tell you so to your face, so there’s that, but still. The ick factor is a little through the roof, here.
Woooo, okay. Brotherly-sisterly groping, not disturbing at alllll. Yeah.
So that was a great deal, in retrospect. Hell, it was a great deal even before I knew Theon was hitting on his own sister. I only quoted the one line of Theon and Asha’s “banter,” but that about sums up what the rest of it was like, trust me. The bit I left out where Theon asks to drink “Esgred’s” breast milk was especially classy.
My, the Iron Islanders are an earthy folk, aren’t they? Or maybe “salty” is the more appropriate word. “Crusty”? “Grody”? Or maybe we should go for straight-up “dirty,” hah. And people think I have a potty mouth! At least I don’t generally run around yelling about “cocks and cunts,” eh?
Well, except for just now. But Martin said it first, so it doesn’t count, neener! I am commenting on his use of language, y’see.
Which, for the record, I find hilarious, a fact which I’m sure shocks no one. Naughty, naughty GRRM, failing to adhere to FCC regulations and making his characters curse like real people! I can just imagine how often he’s gotten flak for it, too. I confess to feeling a certain kinship with him on that.
I’m a little bit conflicted about how to feel about Theon at this point. I still don’t actually like him (see above re: douchenozzle), but his treatment at the hands of his own family is tripping all my “defend against mean bullies” reflexes. I really, really dislike bullies.
And yet allowing for the general horribleness of their culture, of course, it’s not entirely unreasonable (or at least not terribly surprising) that Asha (and Theon’s uncles, for that matter) would move to secure their own positions against Theon, who can only be viewed as an interloper who clearly bears none of them any particular good will.
And for Asha it’s especially so, as she stands to lose everything she’s gained if Theon takes the throne. Viewed from that perspective, publicly humiliating Theon in such a shame-oriented culture was a brilliant move, politically—if a shitty (and creepy) move in most other ways. Although the two of them did seem to end the chapter on a curiously conciliatory note.
Also, dude. Either his dad is actively trying to get Theon to defect right back to the Starks, or well, I suppose he just thinks his son is a douchenozzle, and doesn’t trust him enough to give him the good pillage and rapine. I can’t say he doesn’t have a point there.
Speaking of pillage and rapine, to the mapmobile, Robin! Because where the fuck are these places?
Ah. Welp, I was pretty much completely and utterly wrong about where Balon was aiming, wasn’t I? My bad!
That’s actually a scarily good battle plan there, too. If Victarion succeeds in taking Moat Cailin, it seems to me that Robb is effectively boxed in, trapped between the Lannisters in the south, the Greyjoys to the west and north, and Stannis to the east. Well, Stannis is a bit occupied with giving his kid brother a wedgie at Storm’s End at the moment, true, but I’m sure he’s left behind sufficient forces at Dragonstone to block any attempt from Robb to go around the eastern side of the Neck via sea.
And then there’s the Vale of Arryn, just sitting there being a big fat lot of no help whatsoever. THANKS, LYSA. Grr.
The question, I guess (well, one of many, but this is the one that occurs to me) is whether the Greyjoys will be able to keep what they take in the long term. I’m sure they’re super-great at the whole smash-and-grab raiding shtick like the good little pseudo-Vikings they are, but digging in and holding a fortified position? Hmm.
Chapter 25: Tyrion
Tyrion enters Cersei’s quarters and trades barbs with his cousin Ser Lancel before kicking him out to speak with Cersei privately. Cersei hopes that he’s not here to complain that she sent Vylarr to throw the mad prophets in jail for slandering the Lannisters when he wouldn’t, but Tyrion tells her no, he’s there to tell her Stannis has sailed from Dragonstone. Cersei panics, but Tyrion starts laughing and tells her he’s attacking Renly at Storm’s End, not King’s Landing. Cersei is stunned, then gleeful, and she and Tyrion share a moment of camaraderie. Tyrion invites her to share a celebratory cup of wine with him, and doctors her cup when she’s not looking.
The next day Tyrion receives word that Cersei is too ill to attend audiences, and Tyrion graciously agrees to handle Ser Cleos without her. In the great hall, Tyrion and the Council inform Ser Cleos that Robb Stark’s terms are unacceptable, and Tyrion lays out the counter-proposal: Robb must swear fealty, return to Winterfell, send hostages from each of his bannermen, free Jaime, and give him the Stark host to lead against Renly and Stannis. Cleos points out that Stark will never accept those terms, which Tyrion knows perfectly well. Tyrion says to tell Robb that they have raised another great host at Casterly Rock to pin him between that and Tywin’s forces to his east, and that they have forged an alliance with Dorne by the betrothal of Trystane Martell to the Princess Myrcella, but he will send Eddard Stark’s bones back with Cleos as a gesture of good faith. He refuses to send either the Stark sisters or Ned’s sword Ice, though, and privately prays Arya is found before Robb finds out she is missing. Then Tyrion declares that as Cleos is his cousin, he ought to be escorted by Lannister guardsmen, and commands Vylarr to take his entire company with Cleos when he goes. Pycelle gasps and protests that they cannot strip all of the Lannister guard from the queen, but Tyrion overrides him.
Alliser Thorne then pushes forward, demanding to be heard, and Tyrion feigns amazement that he is in town. Thorne sourly tells Tyrion of the two rangers who rose from the dead to kill one of the Watch and almost the Lord Commander as well. Tyrion remembers uneasily the night he had stood on the Wall with Jon Snow and felt that there was something uncanny beyond it, but he is more concerned that he will become a laughingstock if he takes Thorne’s claim seriously. When Thorne confesses that the proof he’d brought (one of the dead men’s hands) had rotted away, Tyrion quickly makes a mockery of him and dismisses him, though he also arranges to spread rumors among the starving cityfolk that there’s food to be had on the Wall if they join the Watch. Thorne tells him he is a fool, and Tyrion has him escorted out.
Afterward, Varys and Littlefinger come up to congratulate Tyrion on his deft maneuvering, though Littlefinger points out that Cersei will never allow all the Lannister guards to be sent away. Tyrion disagrees. Littlefinger then complains that Tyrion lied to him about Myrcella wedding Robert Arryn, for which Tyrion apologizes. Littlefinger leaves in a huff, and Tyrion tells Varys to convince Cersei all the Lannister guards are needed to camouflage his scheme to free Jaime.
Varys stroked a powdered cheek. “This would doubtless involve the four men your man Bronn searched for so diligently in all the low places of King’s Landing. A thief, a poisoner, a mummer, and a murderer.”
Tyrion says four men among a hundred are easy to miss, aren’t they? That evening, Tyrion takes Timett and Shagga to Pycelle’s chambers, kicking in the door and catching him with a serving girl. They kick her out, and Tyrion informs Pycelle that he knows he has been spying on Tyrion for Cersei. Pycelle protests that it was Varys.
“Do all maesters lie so poorly? I told Varys that I was giving Prince Doran my nephew Tommen to foster. I told Littlefinger that I planned to wed Myrcella to Lord Robert of the Eyrie. I told no one that I had offered Myrcella to the Dornish . . . that truth was only in the letter I entrusted to you.”
Tyrion has Shagga terrorize Pycelle until he confesses. Pycelle squeals that everything he did was for House Lannister, and confesses that he also convinced Aerys to open the gates during the Sack of King’s Landing, which shocks Tyrion. He asks how many Pycelle has betrayed, and Pycelle admits that he would have helped Robert die if it had been necessary, to prevent him from setting Cersei aside. He also admits to having sent Lord Arryn’s maester away, though he insists he was not the one who poisoned Arryn; he thinks it was the squire, Hugh. Disgusted, Tyrion orders him thrown in the dungeons. Once alone, Tyrion reflects that he had hoped it was one of the other two to turn out to be the traitor, not Pycelle, though he suspects it is just that Littlefinger and Varys are more subtle than Pycelle, not more loyal.
Perhaps his father’s way would have been best: summon Ilyn Payne, mount three heads above the gates, and have done. And wouldn’t that be a pretty sight, he thought.
Well, well, well. Pycelle, you little scamp.
Okay, so the first thing that becomes very clear is that I had at least partially missed the significance of what Tyrion was doing earlier, which was laying a trap to see which of the Councilors Three was going to stab him in the back. I mean, I got that part, but I think I sort of misunderstood the part where the things he told each of them were mutually exclusive of each other. And also that the only proposal that was actually sent to anyone was the one about Myrcella marrying into the Martells. So all that makes much more sense now, whew.
And, so, clever Tyrion. Well-played indeed.
Though I definitely also agree with him that it’s not like he’s actually solved all his potential traitor problems as long as Littlefinger and Varys are around. But then, he would likely have the same problem with just about anyone he promoted, so I guess it’s a matter of picking the devil you know, right?
That said, I would like to believe that Varys, at least, may have gained enough respect for Tyrion by this point that he might actually decide to stay loyal. Littlefinger, though, is a weasel’s weasel and I wouldn’t trust him any further than I could throw that giant chain Tyrion’s having made.
But back to Pycelle: Wow. Dude’s got Olympic gold in backstabbing, doesn’t he? All the way back to Aerys, man. How do people like him sleep at night? I just can’t fathom it, man.
And still with the shroud of mystery over who exactly poisoned Jon Arryn! Jeez, does it even matter at this point? Is this going to be a “Who Killed Asmodean” thing, where we’re not going to find out whodunit until the glossary of the last book? [Note: Wheel of Time reference, don’t worry about it if you haven’t read ’em.]
Also, kudos to Tyrion over his little mini-coup over Cersei, getting rid of her protection in one swell foop! Very slick. Although wow, I really thought for a second that Tyrion was actually going to poison Cersei. Instead he just gave her the runs, ha ha.
And you know I really don’t care for Cersei, at ALL, but I’m glad Tyrion didn’t kill her. Partly because that would have been too easy an exit for such a formidable opponent, but mostly because I think it would have represented a bit of a Moral Event Horizon for Tyrion, and I’d really rather he not cross any of those. [Warning: link is also a Free Time Event Horizon. Click at your own risk.]
Of course, considering what series I’m reading, I’m probably shit out of luck on that wish, but hell, I’ll even take a delay of the MEHs, okay?
So, also kudos on the lack of sororicide. But NO kudos to Tyrion for ignoring Thorne. Bad, bad Tyrion! Now everyone continues to be completely unprepared for the Frozen Northern Menace that’s so a-coming their way! Grumble.
And what’s worse, really, is that Tyrion lets his own insecurities dictate his response there: not being laughed at was more important than knowing the truth, and that is a recipe for disaster, ultimately. Not that I can entirely blame him for feeling that way, but it is a weakness, and it is a weakness that is eventually going to cost him. This I Foretell.
And last but definitely not least: “a thief, a poisoner, a mummer, and a murderer,” eh?
At least that had better be what they’re for. Not that I want to see Jaime free, particularly, but if it turns out that Tyrion’s trying to assassinate Robb instead, he and I are going to have words, because that is NOT COOL. You are about my favorite character up in this thang, Tyrion, do not make me hate you, pretty please!
All right, that’s enough outta me. Have a weekend, iffn you please, and even iffn you don’t please, really, and I’ll see you next time!