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 2 of “The Sworn Sword: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms,” which originally appeared in the anthology Legends II: New Short Novels By The Masters of Modern Fantasy, edited by Robert Silverberg.
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 lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. 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!
The Sworn Sword: Part 2
The recruits fail miserably at defending against a mounted charge, which Egg finds hilarious, but Dunk does not, still haunted by his dream of the night before. He tells Ser Eustace that they will not do, and they must find another way. Eustace recalls that in olden days it was possible to pay “a blood price” in reparation for harm done. He tells of how the Osgreys had once owned Coldmoat, but the Webbers laughed at him when he proposed a marriage between his son and Lord Wyman’s daughter, and he’d vowed never to go there again unless to take possession of it. Dunk volunteers to go offer the blood price in his stead, and Eustace praises him extravagantly in return. Dunk is uneasy at this, but promises to go the next day.
Dunk debates with himself over how to approach the Red Widow, and confesses to Egg that he does not know how to talk with highborn ladies. Egg is not much help beyond advising him to be “gallant.” He does advise Dunk not to drink or eat anything at Coldmoat, considering the Widow had poisoned all her husbands. He casually tells of how one of his sisters had tried to spike his drink with a love potion, but that Egg wants to be a knight of the Kingsguard, not marry. Dunk mentions how Eustace said he would have liked to offer his daughter to Dunk had she lived, and Egg says he’d rather have a clout on the ear than a wife. Egg wants to come with him to Coldmoat, but Dunk dislikes the idea of bringing him into danger, and tells him he will stay behind.
The next morning, however, Dunk finds that Egg has manipulated Eustace into agreeing that he should go. Eustace gives Dunk a cloak of green satin and gold to wear, and Dunk promises not to shame it. Eustace rides with them for part of the way, and comments to Dunk that Egg reminds him of his son Addam, who died protecting his brother Harrold in the Blackfyre Rebellion. Eustace asks whether Dunk’s master fought for the red dragon or the black; Dunk replies he fought for Lord Hayford, who was a loyalist to the crown. Dunk remembers that Ser Arlan’s first squire, Roger of Pennytree, had died in that campaign, and uneasily thinks he stole Roger’s place. Eustace tells how Lord Bloodraven had been instrumental in killing Daemon the Pretender, the black dragon, and opines it is Bloodraven who truly rules now, with Aerys as his creature, and “small wonder we are cursed.” Dunk doesn’t know how much of this Egg has overheard.
After Ser Eustace leaves them, Egg again advises Dunk to flatter Lady Webber with compliments, but Dunk is glumly unsure of his ability to pull that off, especially if the lady is ugly. Dunk stops to change into his good tunic before they come in sight of the castle, which Dunk sees has the diverted waters streaming into its moat. The guards say he must see Ser Lucas “Longinch” Inchfield before he can see the lady, and Dunk agrees.
In the courtyard, Longinch proves to be nearly but not quite as tall as Dunk, and opines that hedge knights are “beggars with blades,” and bids Dunk begone. Dunk insists that he is here to treat with Lady Webber on the Osgrey’s behalf, and Longinch divines he was with Bennis at the ford, and threatens to hang him, and demands Bennis’s head. Dunk insists on seeing the lady about the stealing of their water, and the drunken septon with Longinch influences him to let him speak. Longinch brings him to a woman in her forties, but she seems strangely vague and confused by Dunk’s reports of the dam, until they are interrupted by another woman whom Dunk had seen shooting arrows in the courtyard. He blurts that she is too young and “pretty” to be the real Lady Webber.
Lady Rohanne tells him her first husband died when she was ten, and the last died “in the spring,” meaning in the Great Spring Sickness of two years past. Dunk clumsily tries to compliment her, and Longinch opines he should be called “Ser Duncan the Dim.” The others laugh, but the lady rebukes them, and inquires after Dunk’s sigil. Dunk is enthralled by her. She has him shown to her audience chamber, and agrees when Dunk asks to have his squire join them there as well.
Egg reminds him not to drink the wine, but the septon overhears and makes light of it, drinking it himself copiously. The septon says Lady Rohanne likes Dunk, and knows him to be from King’s Landing from his speech. He tells of how the Spring Sickness ravaged the city, taking four of every ten people, including the king and his Hand. He talks of the enmity between the Blackwoods and the Brackens likely leading to war, and Dunk remembers that Lord Bloodraven had been born a bastard, Brynden Rivers, his mother a Blackwood and his father King Aegon the Fourth. Meanwhile King Aerys has no interest in fathering an heir, the septon says, and Bloodraven rules from behind the throne. Dunk sees Egg is struggling not to comment.
The septon moves on to Rohanne, and how she must marry before the next new moon or her lands pass to her father’s cousin Wendell, a stupid, flatulent man. Dunk asks why she has waited so long, and the septon says the stories of her dead husbands and children have scared off suitors, not to mention Longinch, who is determined that any suitor must best his sword first. The septon bets on Gerold Lannister, but the lady herself appears and opines that Gerold will never abandon his comforts in Lannisport. Egg is astonished that she is the Red Widow.
Rohanne apologizes to Dunk for teasing him in the courtyard, and says Ser Lucas is offended by him by being taller, hence the ruse with Lady Helicent. She asks after his history, which Dunk relates mostly honestly, and offers him a place with her house in lieu of Ser Eustace, but Dunk replies he is sworn to the lord of Osgrey. He tells her he is here to pay the blood price for Bennis’s transgression: one silver stag for the digger’s wound, and three for the lady. She declares it “a niggard’s price” and says only blood can pay for blood. Dunk suggests they ask the digger if he’d rather have a silver stag or Bennis’s head in a sack, but Rohanne says this is between “the lion and spider” now.
Dunk points out that her men rode onto Ser Eustace’s land and did harm before Bennis did on hers. Rohanne says she complained twice of “the sheep stealer” before taking matters into her own hands, and Bennis broke the king’s peace when he drew blood on her lands, and must answer for it. Dunk admits that Eustace will not give up Bennis, and ventures that the dam is the start of all the troubles, but Rohanne’s maester declares that Coldmoat supports twenty times the small fold as Standfast. Egg jumps in to point out that they are taking the water for the moat, not the fields, but Rohanne says she lived through the black dragon’s rebellion, and will not leave her moat dry. She shows Dunk a paper he cannot read, but Egg surreptitiously looks at it and confirms that it says the stream is hers, not Ser Eustace’s.
Dunk asks why the king would take the stream from the Osgreys, and the maester replies that Ser Eustace Osgrey is “a rebel and a traitor,” who swore to the black dragon in the hopes that he would restore the Osgreys to their former glory. Dunk is stunned, but says that if she will not grant the water for Ser Eustace, to do so for his son Addam, who served in Coldmoat. Rohanne slaps him in the face and orders him to leave immediately, and bring her Bennis by the next day lest she come for him with fire and sword. The septon pulls Dunk from the room, and tells him Rohanne loved Addam Osgrey, and blames Ser Eustace for his death, for sending him into battle when he was only twelve. Dunk asks the septon to tell Rohanne he did not mean to hurt her, but the septon advises him to bring Bennis or else.
After they leave the castle, Dunk asks Egg what had been written on the paper. Egg says it was a grant of rights from the king to Lord Wyman Webber for the Chequy Water and Wat’s Woods as well, but if Ser Eustace were to die without a male heir, Steadfast would revert to the crown. Dunk is amazed, but Egg points out that it left Eustace alive even though he was a traitor. Dunk asks if Egg would have executed him; thoughtfully, Egg observes that his uncle Baelor believed in clemency for defeated foes, but that Lord Bloodraven said pardoning rebels only planted seeds for the next rebellion. Egg wonders why Eustace would rise against Daeron in the first place.
Dunk thought he knew the answer , but it was not one the boy would want to hear. He wanted a castle with a lion on the gatehouse, but all he got were graves among the blackberries. When you swore a man your sword, you promised to serve and obey, to fight for him at need, not to pry into his affairs and question his allegiances… but Ser Eustace had played him for a fool. He said his sons died fighting for the king, and let me believe the stream was his.
So, Ser Eustace was a rebel. That’s… interesting, I guess.
No, it is, and as usual Martin pulls his trick here of revealing things to be far more complicated (and less clear-cut) on the inside than they appear to be from the outside. Which is pretty cool, really, since that’s generally how things are, but also frustrating, because… that’s generally how things are.
Am I crazy for feeling kind of grumpy that Martin insists on doing that? Seriously, what is all this realism in my epic fantasy, get out. Okay, don’t really get out, but, like, man, do ya hafta…? Ugh, FINE.
Because obviously up to this point we have been presented with the notion, via Dunk’s perspective, that his sworn liege lord was the put-upon victim of the eeeevil Lady Webber’s dastardly plot to steal his smallfolk’s livelihood. Which would have been the simple and easy way to go with the truth of the situation. But once we actually got to Lady Webber, of course, we find that (a) she actually appears to have the more legit claim to the water, and (b) she’s actually not like the rumors of her at all, at least it doesn’t seem so. So it’s all Shades of Grey, minus the sadomasochism. (Er, I think, anyway.) Which is so much more how Martin rolls that I don’t even know why I was even slightly surprised by it.
But, hey, credit where it’s due: I totally said in the last installment that it was a distinct possibility that Lady Webber wasn’t evil, so at least I didn’t completely fall for it this time. Go me!
That said, there appears to be some very Rashomon-type shenanigans going on here, especially in regards to Eustace’s son Addam. Because, if Lady Rohanne had really loved him, why would Eustace’s proposal to marry her to Addam have been so unceremoniously rejected? Which one of the two sides’ story is more true, since it doesn’t seem that both of them can be? Something is definitely putrescent in Scandahoovia about this whole situation, is what I’m saying here.
Also, if her claim that Eustace sent his son off to war at twelve is true, well, that’s… completely shitty, y’all. Even with ASOIAF’s general cluelessness re: age-appropriate times for kids to be doing appallingly adult things, that’s a little beyond the pale. (Although, Arya is, what, ten, and has assassinated like five people as of ASOS, and Daenerys is I think maybe four years older than her, tops, and has (indirectly) slaughtered entire cities’ worth of people, so… yeah, it’s just all fucked up, never mind.)
All of which leaves Dunk in quite the pickle, doesn’t it. That can’t fail to be anything but shitty, to be stuck in an oath to a guy who you’ve suddenly realized is totally an oathbreaker himself. ‘Cause I definitely tend toward the view that finding out your oath-sworn-to person has no respect for his own oaths is an immediate get-out-of-oath-free card, but I’m betting that Dunk doesn’t feel that way about it at all. Hence, dilemma.
Also, Egg, let me clear this up for you: if one side of a debate is being held up by your awesome uncle Baelor, and the other is being held up by a dude named Lord frickin’ Bloodraven, pick the obviously non-psychotic side and move on. Sheesh.
It seems silly to say this, because duh, but whatever: Longinch’s trick on Dunk with Lady Helicent was really mean. And more to Helicent than Dunk. Seriously, what a tool. He’s even more of a tool if Rohanne’s claim that he did it because he hated that Dunk was taller than him is true, because seriously, get a grip, dude. Insecure much?
(Also, your nickname makes no sense and is stupid! Nyah!)
Other than that, this had a lot of recent history and/or current political state of affairs talk in it, which I’m just going to be honest and say I kind of let my eyes glaze over about. Partially for laziness reasons, but really mostly for the fact that I am having enough trouble keeping the politics and Dramatis Personae of the main storyline straight as it is, and trying to absorb more than the most superficial bits of this hundred-years-prior stuff is just going to confuse me more, so I ain’t gonna. If that makes me a terrible person so be it.
I am conspicuously failing, by the way, to make any kind of prediction on whether Lady Rohanne is going to end up asking Dunk to marry her. Mostly because I have a strong suspicion Eustace is going to be all WE FIIIIGHT! instead of handing Bennis over, and rampant bloodshed generally seems to be kind of a damper on marriage proposals for some reason. We Shall See.
And… honestly I really don’t have much else to say about this section, so I will leave it here. Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion, and answer to Who! Gets! Water! and Who! Gets! Dead! Spin that wheel! See you next Thursday!