A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows, Part 30

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 Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 41 (“Alayne”) and Chapter 42 (“Brienne”).

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 Gideon Smith amazon buy linkspoileriffic 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 41: Alayne

What Happens
Alayne goes to Lord Robert’s chambers to convince him to get ready for the trip down to the Vale. Robert complains that it is too cold to go, but Alayne knows that he is frightened of the trip down, which he has never made since he came here at six years old. She also knows that if they don’t get down off the mountain before the snows set in, they will be trapped in the Eyrie for the winter, so she skillfully cajoles him out of his sulk. He kisses her clumsily, and Alayne remembers another kiss from a much crueler mouth. She leaves him to be bathed and dressed. She wishes Petyr were there, but he is attending Lord Lyonel Corbray at his wedding.

She wants Maester Coleman to give Robert another cup of sweetmilk, to keep him from having a shaking fit on the way down. Coleman protests that it is dangerous to give him so much, but Alayne tells him it will be more dangerous if he shakes himself off the mountain. She tells herself that what is good for Robert the boy and what is good for Lord Robert Arryn are not always the same thing. She knows that in truth she is just as scared as Robert to leave the sanctuary of the Eyrie and go below, where Cersei has men looking for Sansa Stark everywhere.

Ser Lothor Brune tells Alayne that Mya Stone, their guide for the path down, came up with Lady Myranda Royce, Lord Nestor’s daughter. Alayne remembers that Petyr had warned her to watch her tongue around Myranda, who he says is far shrewder than her father, and Alayne wonders why she would have made the perilous trip up to Sky just to have to come back down again. Mya is impatient to be off, worried that nightfall will catch them on the path, but Robert finally appears and they get going. He and Alayne ride down in the bucket to Sky, six hundred feet below. Robert is terrified and clings to her, but does not start shaking.

Alayne meets Myranda there, who greets her with boisterous good cheer, and plies her with lively and often raunchy gossip as they make their precarious way down on muleback to the next waycastle, Snow. Alayne is surprised to learn Lady Waynwood attended Lord Corbray’s wedding, for it indicates she has thrown her support to Petyr, which they had not been certain of, but she is most shocked to hear that Jon Snow is the new commander of the Night’s Watch. Alayne wishes she could see him again, for he is the only brother he has left now. She is confused when Myranda refers to Lady Waynwood’s ward, Harrold Hardyng, as “Harry the Heir,” because she knows the lady has sons of her own.

Robert nearly balks at the last part of the journey, where they must cross an icy stone saddle only a yard wide, but Alayne coaxes him across, and Myranda comments afterward that she is brave as well as beautiful. Alayne blushes and denies it. They pass Stone, the third waycastle, just as it begins to snow, and arrive exhausted at the Gates of the Moon. Alayne wants to sleep, but is told that the Lord Protector has returned and wants to see her.

She finds Petyr with three new knights, whom he dismisses to talk with her alone. He tells her the times are growing increasingly “interesting,” and it’s always a good idea in such times to have more swords at hand. He kisses her on the lips for “a long time,” and tells her the news. He is mockingly derisive of Cersei, who he describes as “stumbling from one idiocy to the next,” and observes that he’d anticipated that she would self-destruct, but is irritated that she’s doing it so much faster than he’d planned for.

Then he tells her he has a gift for her: a marriage contract. Horrified at the idea of marrying again, Alayne points out that she is already married. Petyr counters that Sansa Stark is married, not Alayne Stone, but promises that this is just a betrothal, and they will wait until Cersei falls and Sansa is officially a widow before she will wed Lady Waynwood’s ward, Harrold Hardyng. Alayne is confused as to why him, and Petyr explains to her the history of the Arryn family, nearly all of whom have either died or married into other houses, except Jon Arryn’s niece’s son: Harrold Hardyng. Alayne realizes that “Harry the Heir” is Lord Robert’s heir, not Lady Waynwood’s, and stands to inherit the Vale if Robert dies. Petyr corrects her that it is when Robert dies, for so sickly a boy cannot expect to live much longer.

“Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon… and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back… why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa… Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?”

Commentary
Wow, that is a scheme so clever it almost makes up for the squicky pseudo-incest!

…“almost” being the operative word there. And here’s another word: Ew.

Mya was much younger than Ser Lothor, but when her father had been brokering the marriage between Lord Corbray and his merchant’s daughter, he’d told her that young girls were always happiest with older men. “Innocence and experience make for a perfect marriage,” he had said.

YEAH I JUST BET HE SAID THAT. Grossimus maximus, Petyr, seriously. And it just adds another whole level of Ick that Sansa/Alayne continually refers to him as “Father” in her head. I mean, this is some excessively Freudian shit going on up in here, and I can’t see it ultimately going anywhere good. (Nothing excessively Freudian ever goes anywhere good. Freud had Issues, y’all. Which he then proceeded to slop all over the 20th century and beyond, but that’s a rant for another venue.)

Not to mention, I have no idea how Petyr thinks this is all going to end. Presumably this plan (or some iteration of it) has been in the works for Petyr since the beginning, and also presumably this is the only reason Sansa’s virtue is still intact, because blah blah virginity social construct patriarchy blah, but does he, what? Think she’ll cheat on her husband with him? Let him be the power behind the throne? Or is he, being denied the buffet, settling for grazing the salad bar? So to speak?

Neither of those things sounds like Petyr, really. I really feel like his ambitions are higher than that. But then, undoubtedly having Sansa take both the Vale and Winterfell is just one step in his plan for him to TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD gain the Iron Throne. I can’t quite see how the one will get him the other, but I ain’t the megalomanical mad genius here. No doubt it will all come appallingly clear at some later point.

Anyway. Petyr is gross, but fucker is crazy smart. As we may have observed a few bazillion times by now. That said, even he can’t anticipate everything, and therefore I anticipate that this scheme may get quite spectacularly derailed by the reappearance of either Bran or Rickon Stark, or both. Since As You Know, Primogeniture Bob, their aliveness will effectively negate Sansa’s claim to Winterfell.

(Speaking of which, where are those two crazy kids? Have they appeared in AFFC even once? I think they have not! Or if they have, it was waaay at the beginning of the book, because it’s been so long since I “saw” them I can’t even remember what the hell they were doing. I think they split up, so Bran could go find Lothlorien the magical green people, and Rickon could… er, go do something else. Survive, presumably. Let’s hope so, anyway.)

I should probably take a minute to feel bad about Lord Robert, too. He is obnoxious as all hell, but given how he was raised and his terrible health I can’t even really blame him for that. What a miserable little existence, jeez. Not to mention the point that he’s apparently being slowly poisoned at Petyr’s behest. Needless to say, I rather doubt his “sweetmilk” doses will be stopping soon no matter what Maester Coleman advises.

[Lady Myranda:] “Riverrun has yielded, but Dragonstone and Storm’s End still hold for Lord Stannis.”

Um. I thought it was… the other way around? I mean, I know I’m forgetting things, but I’m pretty sure I remember that Cersei got news a few chapters ago that Dragonstone had fallen, and that things were still hanging fire with Riverrun when we last saw Jaime, which was after that Cersei chapter. So either news just travels way slower from Dragonstone than it does from Riverrun (perfectly possible, I guess), or the timeline of events I’ve basically stopped trying to keep track of is even more messed-up than I had vaguely supposed.

Well, whatever, it doesn’t really matter, except that the word “yielded” strongly suggests Edmure took Jaime’s deal. Yay?

Sansa Stark went up the mountain, but Alayne Stone is coming down. It was a strange thought.

UGH, NO, YOU ARE SANSA. Stop playing Petyr’s reindeer games, at least inside your own head! Maybe I should just start calling her Sybil and be done with it. (And I wonder how many people will get that reference without Googling it. Youths!)

[Petyr:] “…it is a good thing that I thrive on chaos. What little peace and order the five kings left us will not long survive the three queens, I fear.”

Three queens, eh? Well, Cersei is one, obviously. Daenerys is probably the second, and the third could either be Margaery or Myrcella, depending on how well-informed Petyr is (or isn’t) on events in Dorne. We’ll see, I guess.

 

Chapter 42: Brienne

What Happens
Amid fever dreams where she is haunted and accosted by the men she had killed or seen die, Brienne dimly perceives that she is bound and slung across a horse. Her wounds are agonizing. A young girl gives her something for the pain when they stop, and Brienne begs to know if Biter is dead. The girl, Jeyne Heddle, tells her Gendry killed him. Gendry tells her she is going to “m’lady” (meaning Lady Stoneheart, aka The Silent Sister, aka Mother Merciless, aka The Hangwoman) and answer for her crimes. She begs for her sword, and is ignored. She has more fever dreams, and sees that one of her captors is wearing the Hound’s helm, and assumes it is the Hound himself. The Hound laughs and tells her she’s soon to be hanged. Brienne gasps that they broke bread with them at the inn, but Jeyne tells her guest right doesn’t mean what it used to “since m’lady come back from the wedding.”

Eventually Brienne wakes in a cave, and finds that she has been stripped of armor and weapons, but her wounds have been treated. An old man is there, and kindly tells her that her face will be extensively scarred from Biter’s attack. Brienne asks why tend her wounds if she is only to be hanged, and the old man tells her she killed the Mad Dog of Saltpans and likely saved most of the folk at the inn, so she merited treatment, whatever else she’s done. Brienne asks what she has done, and then recognizes the man as Thoros, Beric Dondarrion’s companion. Thoros tells her he fears Lord Beric’s “fire has gone out of this world,” and a “grimmer shadow” leads them in his place. He tells her that Septon Meribald had been let free, but her other companions are here awaiting judgment as well. Brienne protests that Podrick Payne is an innocent boy, but Thoros counters that he was squire to the Imp himself, and tells her mercy and forgiveness are in short supply here. She asks, what about justice, and Thoros sadly says that war makes monsters of good men.

Other men come for her, and Thoros is dismayed to see Lem is wearing the Hound’s helm, but Lem doesn’t care about its legacy. They bring Brienne to a large and crowded cavern where a hooded and cloaked woman sits behind a table, toying with a bronze circlet ringed with iron swords. Lem calls her “the Kingslayer’s whore,” and tells how often she called Jaime’s name when she was delirious. They show Lady Stoneheart Brienne’s sword, with its pommel of a gold lion with ruby eyes, and Brienne’s letter with Tommen’s seal. Brienne realizes that no one will believe her, but insists anyway that the sword was given to her to help fulfill the oath Jaime Lannister swore to Catelyn Stark, for Brienne to find Sansa and Arya Stark, who were gone from King’s Landing by the time they arrived there. Her accusers laugh at the notion that the Kingslayer would have hidden the Stark girls from his own sister.

They bring out Podrick and Hyle Hunt, the latter being badly beaten, and Brienne tells Lady Stoneheart that they had nothing to do with whatever treachery she thinks Brienne is part of. The one-eyed man spits that they are lions and should be hanged anyway. Brienne begs for their release. Then Lady Stoneheart grasps her own throat and speaks in a voice so broken and tortured Brienne can’t understand her. One of the men translates that she asked the name of Brienne’s blade; Brienne says it is “Oathkeeper,” but Lady Stoneheart hisses and names it Oathbreaker, and False Friend, like Brienne.

“To whom have I been false?”

“To her,” the northman said. “Can it be that my lady has forgotten that you once swore her your service?”

There was only one woman that the Maid of Tarth had ever sworn to serve. “That cannot be,” she said. “She’s dead.”

“Death and guest right,” muttered Long Jeyne Heddle. “They don’t mean so much as they used to, neither one.”

Lady Stoneheart uncovers herself, and shows a face ravaged by wounds and decay, and Brienne cries to see Catelyn Stark in such a state. Thoros tells her Catelyn had been dead three days when they found her, but Lord Beric gave her “the kiss of life,” and she rose. Brienne swears on her sword that she never betrayed Catelyn, and Catelyn rasps that she must prove her faith, by using Oathkeeper to kill Jaime Lannister. Brienne says that Jaime is not the man he was, and saved Brienne from rape and death, and could not have had a part in the Red Wedding. Catelyn says she must choose: kill the Kingslayer or hang. Brienne says she will not make that choice. Catelyn says to hang them. They take Brienne, Podrick and Hyle Hunt up to the surface and prepare to hang them. Brienne pleads again for Podrick’s life, but no one listens.

Brienne felt the hemp constricting, digging into her skin, jerking her chin upward. Ser Hyle was cursing them eloquently, but not the boy. Podrick never lifted his eyes, not even when his feet were jerked up off the ground. If this is another dream, it is time for me to awaken. If this is real, it is time for me to die. All she could see was Podrick, the noose around his thin neck, his legs twitching. Her mouth opened. Pod was kicking, choking, dying. Brienne sucked the air in desperately, even as the rope was strangling her. Nothing had ever hurt so much.

She screamed a word.

Commentary
Well.

That went just about as badly as I’d thought it would. I am not pleased at my rightness on this score, let’s just say.

Soooo Brienne is not dead, la la la, look I can’t hear you because my fingers are in my ears, LA LA LA, total lack of deadness happening here, LA LA LAAAAAAAA

Although, if she is dead—she’s not—but if she was—even though she’s NOT—but in the strictly hypothetical and in-no-way-resembling-reality parallel universe where Brienne is dead, that may be cause for book-throwing. I’m just warning my wall right now, there could be violence. Or rather, there won’t be, because Brienne is NOT DEAD LA LA LA.

Ugh.

So, what was the word she screamed? I’m presuming it was something indicating that she’ll take the deal and kill Jaime (because this is the scenario which leads to Brienne being NOT DEAD, LA LA LA) and we’ll get to the pure unadulterated suckiness of that devil’s bargain in a minute, but right now I’m having trouble thinking of what one word that could be. “I’ll do it” is three words, after all. “Okay” is a little too American slang-y, and “Yes” seems dangerously unspecific. “Agreed,” maybe?

*shrug* Dunno. And given how close to the end of this book I’ve suddenly noticed I am, I bet I’m not going to find out until the next installment. Booo.

So, this deal. You know, back in the day I kinda sorta argued against the idea that Catelyn is a hateable character, because she really did have her own brand of awesome even amid the disastrous proliferation of blind spots and snap decisions. But the thing is, I can’t even truthfully blame her rage-fueled murderous version of LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU here on the whole “been dead for three days and might have slightly more maggots than brain matter in there” thing, because the fact of the matter is, I can’t see alive!Catelyn reacting much more reasonably to a perceived betrayal than undead!Catelyn did. Catelyn’s is a vengeful soul, y’all, and always has been. It’s just that now she’s got a literal smorgasbord of shit to avenge.

And admittedly, it’s kind of hard to look at someone with their throat slit and their face half-rotted off and seriously suggest they might be overreacting. Because, uh, no.

Still, this utterly sucks. Not least because Brienne is possibly one of the only still living characters in ASOIAF who, having agreed to such a bullshit ultimatum, would then feel honor-bound to uphold it.

Even though it is BULLSHIT. What have I told you fictional people about oaths made under duress being not fucking binding oaths, Jesus. Because, I would have no moral qualms whatsoever about being, “yeah, sure, I will totes kill Jaime Lannister for you, later,” and then getting the hell away and doing no such thing, but obviously Brienne and I are not very alike in a lot of ways, and this is one of them. I mean, between her honor thing and her guilt complex over Catelyn’s death and everything else, the chances of her doing the non-stupid thing don’t have a fart’s chance in a Febreeze factory.

So I guess I have one of two things to look forward to: Brienne being hanged (LA LA LA NO), or Brienne going off to murder the one guy who’s even been remotely non-heinous to her in pretty much ever. (Not including Podrick, of course. Who had better also survive, dammit.)

Greeeeeeeaaaaat.

Yeah, this chapter is definitely fired. LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA


And on that note to follow “so”, we out! Have a weekend and such, O My Peeps, and I will see you next Thursday!

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