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 31 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 43 (“Cersei”).
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!
Chapter 43: Cersei
Cersei pretends great indignation to Septa Moelle, the High Septon representative to the council, at the arrest of Margaery Tyrell and her cousins, and feigns shock at the accusations of fornication, adultery, and high treason leveled against them. The room fills with gasps, and many of the Tyrell supporters in the crowd begin slipping away. Septa Moelle says that Margaery has been examined and found not a virgin. Cersei commands that Pycelle be allowed to examine her as well, but Pycelle, looking sick, says there is no need, as he has been bringing her moon tea. The uproar that follows is music to Cersei’s ears, as she reflects triumphantly that Maggy the Frog’s prophecy has at last been disproved.
The council consults, and Aurane Waters suggests that he launch the rest of the new dromonds, ostensibly in case Lord Tyrell tries to reinvade the city. Cersei agrees, and declares she will go see Margaery and the High Septon herself. Merryweather points out that the High Septon may want to try Margaery herself, as it was done of old, and Cersei thinks to herself that she hopes so. Cersei has Tommen unknowingly sign warrants for the accused “lovers,” and sends Ser Osfyrd Kettleblack to arrest them. She instructs Taena to speak with the cousins and try to win them, but to be careful what she says. Taena asks what will happen if Margaery demands her innocence be determined by trial of combat, and Cersei gleefully reminds her that as a queen, Margaery must choose her champion from among the Kingsguard, and with Loras wounded, Osmund being her accuser’s brother, and Arys, Balon, and Jaime away, that leaves only Boros Blount or Meryn Trant. Taena laughs, and says to remind her never to cross Cersei.
At the sept, she goes to Margaery’s spartan cell, to find her cold and shivering and indignant at her treatment at the hands of the septas. She angrily says they wake her every hour to ask for her confession. She is shocked to find that her cousins have been accused as well, and dismayed to hear there will be a trial. Cersei reminds her she has the right to call for a trial by battle, and Margaery realizes as well that her only options are Blount and Trant, either of whom stand no chance against Osney Kettleblack. Margaery says Cersei wants her son all to herself, and planned it this way. Cersei protests, but Margaery calls her a “vile, scheming, evil bitch” and tells her to get out. Cersei pretends wounded dignity, and tells Margaery she should pray for mercy, and leaves.
She goes to see the High Septon, and suggests that perhaps he should conduct the trial. The High Septon agrees that is the best way to judge a queen, unless she should choose trial by combat. Well pleased, Cersei proposes that she should take Ser Osney Kettleblack back with her, but the High Septon refuses, to her surprise. He takes her to see Osney, and Cersei is stunned to see he has been tortured. She protests they cannot do this, and the High Septon remarks that strangely, Osney’s confession seemed to change the longer they whipped him, and now says he never touched Margaery Tyrell. Cersei says they have driven him mad.
“Ser Osney,” said the High Septon, in a firm, clear voice, “did you have carnal knowledge of the queen?”
“Aye.” The chains rattled softly as Osney twisted in his shackles. “That one there. She’s the queen I fucked, the one sent me to kill the old High Septon. He never had no guards. I just come in when he was sleeping and pushed a pillow down across his face.”
Cersei whirled, and ran.
She makes headway at first, but the septas soon overwhelm her and drag her to a cell, ignoring her screams that she is the queen and a Lannister, and strip her down. She tears apart her cell, but soon regrets it when she is left freezing without clothing. A septa comes every hour for her confession, and no one comes to rescue her. A whole day passes in like fashion, and finally Qyburn comes to see her. She begs him to take her home, but he tells her that she is to be tried before a “holy court of seven” for murder, treason, and fornication.
He assures her that Tommen is well, and ignorant of her situation, and that Margaery is still to be tried as well. He says Osfyrd Kettleblack has been removed from command of the city watch at the command of Ser Harys Swyft and Grand Maester Pycelle, who have sent to Casterly Rock for Kevan Lannister to return and assume the regency. He says Mace Tyrell and Randyll Tarly are both on their way to the city as well. Lord Merryweather has resigned his seat on the council and fled with his wife to his estate, and Cersei is greatly relieved that Taena is no longer there to give her testimony. Aurane Waters, though, has sailed with her new dromonds, either to join Lord Stannis or to turn pirate. He urges her to choose “her champion” to prove her innocence in battle, as no man can stand against him, but she laughs and reminds him that as the queen, she can only be defended by the Kingsguard. She begs him to send a message to her brother Jaime and tell him she loves him and begs him to come save her.
“As you command. ‘I love you’ thrice?”
“Thrice.” She had to reach him. “He will come. I know he will. He must. Jaime is my only hope.”
“My queen,” said Qyburn, “have you… forgotten? Ser Jaime has no sword hand. If he should champion you and lose…”
We will leave this world together, as we once came into it. “He will not lose. Not Jaime. Not with my life at stake.”
….mmm. Sure of that, are you, honey?
WELL, LOOKEE THAT, CERSEI FALL DOWN GO BOOM. I am sure we are all shocked and amazed by this turn of events!
Or, you know, we aren’t. We may want to bake a pie, but be shocked, not so much.
Although I was a little surprised at exactly how it all went down. It appears that possibly I gave Margaery Tyrell a little too much credit for deviousness, because it seems that it was the High Septon who brought Cersei down all on his own. Through judicious application of zealotry and Spanish Inquisitionity, of course. Yay?
No, really not yay. The precedent that Cersei has unwittingly set here, of giving the Church political power over the monarchy, frankly makes my blood curdle, regardless of how it has served to so deservingly topple Cersei herself. The problem is that a policy or course of action doesn’t always have to end in disaster for it not to be a disastrous policy in the aggregate. And if there’s one policy I hold to be unequivocally disastrous, it’s a lack of separation between church and state. Eeek.
But getting back to Margaery, she doesn’t seem to have had much to do with the scheme to bring Cersei down at all, except in the sense of being used as a decoy. Of course, I can’t be sure of that, but that’s how it looks at the moment.
Taena Merryweather, on the other hand, I firmly believe was in it up to her eyeballs. Her husband’s unhindered resignation and retirement to the country was just way too smooth for me to believe it happened without collusion aforehand. (“Aforehand” isn’t a word? Bah. It totally should be.)
It is a mark of Martin’s usual damnable ability to make me sympathize with characters I really shouldn’t that I actually felt a bit sorry for Cersei once it all went to shit for her. Not terribly sorry, mind you, but a little sorry. Even knowing all the terrible and deeply unethical things she did. She is just so fundamentally clueless about the depth of her own guilt that she comes off as an innocent victim even when she really, really isn’t one. It’s a pretty neat trick, actually.
As for the whole “Margaery definitely isn’t a virgin” thing, I am… skeptical. The problem is that I don’t know from what perspective on virginity Martin is personally coming from. The truth that virginity is a social construct and that the hymen doesn’t work at all like it’s historically been assumed to is one that even many people today don’t understand, and so I am simply not sure if Martin actually knows that the
violation examination of Margaery performed here to “ascertain” her virginity is complete bullshit or not. And without knowing that, I can’t know whether he intends this to read as a signal that Margaery could very well be a virgin even with the septas’ “evidence,” or not.
Again, though, it’s her request for the moon tea that provides the most compelling evidence that she is in fact not a virgin. But, I note, as far as I know we still only have Pycelle’s word that she requested the tea, and Pycelle is not exactly the most trustworthy source in the world – especially if, as I suspect, he was using it as part of an elaborate lure to give Cersei just enough rope to hang herself with.
Either way, I am a bit surprised that Margaery didn’t appear to be in on it. Or maybe she was and is just a spectacular actress. But given how precarious her own position still seems to be regardless of whether Cersei goes down or not, I tend to think not. If nothing else, it is hard for me to accept that she would be willing to endure such egregious humiliation and mistreatment and, frankly, mortal danger in the name of a ruse, even one so potentially beneficial to herself. The “danger” part being the most compelling, because the High Septon is the textbook example of a loose cannon, and I can’t see anyone with even a fraction of intelligence willingly putting themselves at his mercy no matter how much you want your opponent brought down. (I can’t think that the High Septon is a party to the conspiracy, just because zealots don’t work that way. Again, I could be wrong, but, well, yeah.)
Whoever the masterminds behind it all really are, though, it seems that at least they do not seem to want to bring Tommen down along with Cersei, for which I am thankful. That’s most likely because Tommen is an easily manipulated child, of course, but even so I am glad that he doesn’t seem to be in any imminent danger as a result of all this hoopla. That could change, naturally, but I will be happy about it for now.
And will Jaime come to save Cersei? I… am…. not sure? Seriously, I don’t have any idea on which way Jaime will jump re: Cersei at this point. Probably because he himself doesn’t seem to have a clue right now either. Not that I blame him. Not for that, anyway.
And… okay, but I am blanking on this “perfect champion” Qyburn was urging Cersei toward using, before she explained that she had to be defended by one of the Kingsguard. I have a vague memory of she and Qyburn talking about him before, but I’m pretty sure it was terribly opaque back then too, and so if I am supposed to know who this is referring to I am drawing a solid blank on it. The only thing I can think is that Qyburn’s been down in the dungeons doing something suspiciously Frankenstein-like with body parts?
Because normally I would dismiss that as being too far-fetched for ASOIAF, but given the Beric/Catelyn undead shenanigans going on recently, I am not so sure of that anymore. And I certainly wouldn’t put it past Mister Creepy-as-Fuck-Qyburn, because yeek. So, maybe…
…What did happen to Gregor Clegane after his poison wounding from the duel with Oberyn? Did he die, or…? I can’t remember.
And that’s what I got for this one, y’all. Today’s post is short owing to my grandfather’s passing, but I should be back next Thursday with more. Please give your thoughts to my family at this time if you would.