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 24 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 41 (“The Turncloak”) and Chapter 42 (“The King’s Prize”).
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 41: The Turncloak
It is snowing, to the glee of Roose Bolton, but not of Theon’s or several other of his followers. Theon, his purpose fulfilled and now ignored by Roose, has considered trying to run, but doesn’t know where he would go if he did. He thinks on how “Lady Arya” has not left her chambers since the wedding night, and he sees her bruises when he is obliged to bathe her for Ramsay, but he tells himself it is her fault. He urges her at one point to “just be Arya,” and Ramsay will not hurt her unless she forgets. He thinks that Theon Greyjoy might have tried to help her, but not Reek. He dreads the day Ramsay tires of his new toy and turns his attentions back to him.
He is waylaid at breakfast by one of the singer’s women, Rowan, who entreats him to dance, or smile, and ignores his request to be left alone. She wants him to tell the tale of how he took Winterfell so Abel can make a song of it, but other than to tell her it was “madness,” he refuses. He thinks her a trick sent by Ramsay, and runs from the hall. He wanders the snowy keep, wondering if Stannis intends to attempt an assault or a siege, and thinks Stannis is doomed to fail either way. He ends up in the godswood, and kneels before the heart tree, murmuring apologies and a plea for salvation, but only hears faint sobbing, and flees.
Back in the dining hall, Theon hears that the snow is greatly impeding Stannis’s progress. Lady Dustin summons him and orders him to show her the crypts below the keep; reluctantly he agrees. Her men have to dig through rubble to get to the entrance. As they go below, Lady Dustin comments that Roose is not pleased that Lady Arya does nothing but weep, as it is upsetting the Northmen formerly loyal to the Starks. She says if Ramsay wants to remain Lord of Winterfell, “he had best teach his wife to laugh.” Theon leads her to Ned’s tomb, and asks her why she hates the Starks. She replies, for the same reasons he loves them, and ignores his spluttered protests to ask why. He confesses, because he wanted to be one of them, and Lady Dustin, replies, so did she.
She tells him how she had given her maidenhead to Brandon Stark and wanted to marry him, but his father Rickard had southron ambitions, and arranged for Brandon to marry Catelyn Tully instead. Lady Dustin had set her sights on the younger brother Eddard then, but “Catelyn Tully got that one as well.” Then she had married Lord Dustin, who was slain in Robert’s uprising, for which she blames Ned Stark. She smiles that Ned’s bones will never rest in his own tomb, though, as she means to feed them to her dogs. She explains that Catelyn sent Ned’s bones north before the Red Wedding, but that they have never emerged from the swamps near Moat Cailin, and if they do, they will not get past her. They go back up to the surface.
“You would do well not to repeat anything I might have said down there. Is that understood?”
It was. “Hold my tongue or lose it.”
“Roose has trained you well.” She left him there.
Wow, when I said Lady Dustin was bitter, I knew not how truly I spake.
I use the word “bitter” advisedly, too. I wouldn’t use that word to describe someone I thought had genuine grievances, because to me it carries a distinctly belittling connotation. But from what I can tell, that’s exactly what Lady Dustin deserves.
I mean, okay, clearly she was crazy in love with Brandon Stark, skeevy-yet-unsurprising phallic obsession and all (oh yah, your dick is a sword, sure, you betcha), and okay, it sucks that she didn’t get to marry him, or even Ned, but it seems to me that her thwarting in that regard was owed to standard stupid politics. Which, yes, are stupid, but they constrained Brandon (and Ned) as much as they did her, didn’t they? So yeah, it sucked, but it doesn’t seem like either Brandon or Ned cheated her out of a marriage on purpose. If Lord Rickard had told Brandon (or Ned) to marry Lady Dustin they would have, I bet, but he didn’t, and, well, what are you going to do with that much patriarchy at once?
Maybe there’s more to the story than she’s told Theon (which is certainly possible), but on the surface of it, the gist I get is that she wanted something she couldn’t get, and has let her ensuing decades-long sulk over it turn into a startlingly mis-aimed and vindictive vendetta. Seriously, you’re going to hijack Ned’s bones? Let it go, girl, jeez. Haven’t you ever heard about how the best revenge is to outlive the bastards? Well, you did that. Move on already.
[Lady Dustin:] “Why do you love the Starks?”
“I…” Theon put a gloved hand against a pillar. “…I wanted to be one of them…”
“And never could. We have more in common than you know, my lord.”
Though, granted, feeding your wannabe husband’s already-deceased bones to your dogs pales in comparison to what Theon did out of jealousy for the Starks, so there’s that. Yay?
All that said, I’m still not sure what her angle is in all this. I’m sure she’s not confiding in Theon just because they are both card-carrying members of the We HateLoveNoHateNoLoveYouShutUp the Starks Club, but as far as why she’s actually confiding in him, I profess myself puzzled.
Lady Dustin did, however, justify her existence in this chapter by giving me hope that, if Jeyne must continue to suffer Ramsay’s obscene attentions (*throws a chair or two*), that at least it might lead to his downfall. Because I am soooooooo all about Ramsay Bolton’s downfall, y’all. If that sick fuck ends up getting taken down by his own allies I will throw a goddamn tickertape parade, no lie.
Actually, I will throw a parade no matter who does it, or how implausibly. At this point, Pippi Longstocking could randomly show up in Westeros and strangle the asshole with her disturbingly prehensile braids and I would still be like SEEMS LEGIT, I’LL TAKE IT.
Theon Stark, the Hungry Wolf. My namesake.
I don’t think I knew before that Theon was actually named after a Stark. That’s… odd. Why would Balon Greyjoy name his son after a Stark?
Lord Beron Stark, who made common cause with Casterly Rock to war against Dagon Greyjoy, Lord of Pyke, in the days when the Seven Kingdoms were ruled in all but name by the bastard sorcerer men called Bloodraven.
Yeah, see, no love between Greyjoy and Stark back in the day or recently, clearly. So, I don’t get it.
Also, re: “Bloodraven”, my Bat-memory sense is tingling… This was the dude from the Dunk and Egg stories, yeah? I seem to recall making fun of his name. But I unfortunately remember very little else about him at this juncture, so, um.
The interlude with Abel’s companion Rowan trying to interrogate Theon was… suspicious. There’s a sneakier reason for wanting to know how someone infiltrated a supposedly impregnable fortress than for snappy song lyrics, is all I’m saying. Like, so maybe you could try to do it again, for instance. Abel: a mole for Stannis? Maaaaybe.
Born and bred in the riverlands, the Freys had never seen a snow like this. The north has already claimed three of their blood, Theon thought, recalling the men that Ramsay had searched for fruitlessly, lost between White Harbor and Barrowton.
Well, at least Manderly did some good.
Gods do not weep. Or do they?
Aw, Bran. No, I imagine you’re not seeing much to be happy about via TreeVision™ these days. Or ever. Sorry, kiddo.
Chapter 42: The King’s Prize
Asha Greyjoy rides in chains with the baggage of Stannis’s army as they leave Deepwood Motte for Winterfell, one hundred leagues away. The knights assure each other they will make the march in fifteen days, though one asserts Robert would have done it in ten, and Asha observes that Stannis still lives in his brother’s shadow. Just as her father had, she’d chosen submission and life over defiance and certain death, and bent the knee to Stannis. He had allowed her and her remaining men to live, but Asha senses no true mercy in him. She thinks him a fool for considering her a hostage of any worth either to his allies or to the ironborn, but she does not bother to try to explain that to him, for she knows he would not listen to a woman anyway.
She is guarded by Lady Alysane Mormont, whom she thinks of as “the She-Bear,” and by Ser Justin Massey, one of Stannis’s “Queen’s Men.” Asha knows Massey and many of the southron lords opposed this march, suggesting they winter at Deepwood, but the northern lords will not hear of leaving Winterfell and Lady Arya in the hands of the Boltons one moment longer than necessary, and Stannis eventually ruled in their favor. Massey is exceedingly solicitous to Asha, and Alysane observes that he wants her. Asha replies that he wants the Iron Islands through her, but judges that her uncle Euron would eat Justin Massey for breakfast. And the Islands would never be hers anyway now that she has been defeated twice.
They make good time at first, and Asha campaigns to be let out of the chains and given a horse, but to no avail. She talks with Alysane, trying to make common cause with a fellow woman warrior, but Alysane has not forgotten the depredations of the ironborn on her House, and Asha gives up. She observes the worship of R’hllor, and knows that religion considers her god a demon, and that they would be glad to burn her as an infidel had Stannis not forbade it. She tries appealing directly to Stannis, offering her loyalty, but she makes the mistake of mentioning Robert, and Stannis dismisses her.
On the fourth day it begins to snow, and does not stop. The northerners handle it easily at first, but the southron troops begin to flag and suffer. They begin losing wagons, horses and men, and Asha hears the queen’s men muttering about offering sacrifices to R’hllor, but Stannis again forbids it. Their supplies of food and firewood dwindle, and unrest and fighting begins breaking out among the common troops. They press on, and by the twentieth day Asha is obliged to leave the comfort of her prison wagon and walk herself. By the thirty-second day they are out of vegetables and grains, and the lords are turning on each other. Finally they find an abandoned village with a watchtower between two lakes, where they stop for the night to fish and rest. Stannis says they will march at first light, but there is no call to prepare to march the next morning.
The snow was still falling, even more heavily than when she’d crawled inside the tent. The lakes had vanished, and the woods as well. She could see the shapes of other tents and lean-tos and the fuzzy orange glow of the beacon fire burning atop the watchtower, but not the tower itself. The storm had swallowed the rest.
Somewhere ahead Roose Bolton awaited them behind the walls of Winterfell, but Stannis Baratheon’s host sat snowbound and unmoving, walled in by ice and snow, starving.
Jeez, I’m beginning to feel like there are more epithet chapter titles in this book than there are regular ones.
So, summer is in full humid icky mosquito-y swing where I am, but damn if I didn’t feel cold reading this chapter anyway. Let’s go ahead and add “forced march in a snowstorm” to the list of things I would like to never do ever, mmkay?
Look, I want Jeyne rescued and the Boltons slaughtered as bad as anyone (probably more than most, at that), but this is just cuckoo bananas. What’s the point of insisting on marching to battle when the cost is going to be “all your available troops, and probably also you”? Maybe Robert would have magically done it better, but I don’t see how.
Speaking of which, way to let your fraternal inadequacy issues get in the way of rational decision making, Stannis. I get that it must be annoying as all get-out to constantly be compared to your older brother and found wanting, but that’s no reason to lead mumble-thousand troops into the Ninth Circle of Hell (which as you know, Dante Bob, was frozen, rather than the more typically pictured fire and brimstone and etc.). I’m just saying, that is probably not actually going to improve your reputation vis-à-vis Elder Bro.
But on the upside, you might not live to care, so maybe it doesn’t matter! Hurray!
Also, Abel: Maaaaybe not Stannis’s mole? Because you’d think that if Stannis were actually going to try recreating Theon’s infiltration of Winterfell, he’d do that first, before getting all death-march-y with his entire force. Sheesh.
This southron king seemed to be one of those men to whom women are another race, as strange and unfathomable as giants and grumkins and the children of the forest.
Ah, yes, that good old “women are from Venus” essentialism. I am not a fan of that theory, let’s just say—mostly because it seems to promote exactly the mindset Asha is talking about here.
I’ve met guys like that, both online and in real life. Not all of them are galloping misogynists—some are just socially challenged in general (as in, all people are kind of alien to them, not just women), and others take it to a place of pseudo-scientific fascination with and/or idealization/idolization of women. The latter of which is problematic for its own reasons, obviously, but is overall preferable to the condescension, fear, or hatred it seems to generate in the rest.
In this particular case, Stannis definitely falls into the “condescension” category, and maybe a bit of the “fear” one as well. It would be surprising that Melisandre managed to get past this problem of his, but then I guess when someone comes up and tells you “OMG YOU ARE LIKE ACTUAL ASOIAF JESUS,” you can find it in you to generously look past the presence of Dreaded Lady Parts in them. JUST THIS ONCE.
It was Morgan who had almost slain Asha in the fight by Deepwood Motte. He had come to her later, on the march, to beg her pardon […] for calling her cunt in his battle lust, not for trying to split her head open with an axe.
Heh. Maybe it’s weird, but I find that totally gratifying and decent of him. You know, relatively speaking.
And… yeah, the rest is mainly cold, and death, and then some more cold and some more death (a theme I sense is going to be Big This Winter), so I’ll stop here and get me some highly unseasonal hot chocolate. And then I’ll see YOU next Thursday! Yay!