A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Dance With Dragons, Part 26

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 26 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 44 (“Jon”) and Chapter 45 (“The Blind Girl”).

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 44: Jon

What Happens

Jon greets Queen Selyse on her arrival at Castle Black respectfully, despite her initial disbelief that he is the Lord Commander. Selyse is accompanied by her daughter Shireen, the Queen’s Hand Ser Axell Florent, his fool Patchface, and fifty Queen’s Men, as well as Tycho Nestoris, a representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos. Jon is more interested in his arrival than the queen’s. As he escorts her to Melisandre’s chambers, Jon tries to convince Selyse that the Nightfort is not yet ready for her to go there, but Selyse is sick of Eastwatch and Cotter Pyke and shuts him down. They encounter the giant Wun Wun, to Selyse’s alarm, and though Wun Wun kneels to her, it almost comes to blows from her knights before Jon can diffuse the situation. Ser Patrek, one of Selyse’s knights, is disdainful of Jon keeping monsters from beyond the Wall as “pets,” and asks if he intends to do the same with the Others.

After Jon gets rid of Selyse and her entourage, he takes Tycho Nestoris back to his chambers. He learns that the Iron Bank, having found King Tommen’s court “obdurate” in repaying the Iron Throne’s debt to them, have decided to seek out Stannis instead and offer aid in return for more faithful recompense. Jon is amazed the Lannisters could be so foolish. He offers escort for Nestoris to find Stannis, in return for his three ships, and gold to keep the Watch supplied until spring. They haggle for an hour before coming to an agreement. Jon thinks of how the fleet he has assembled to go to Hardhome is still too small, but he cannot delay any longer. He wonders if Mother Mole and her people will be desperate enough to consent to rescue from the Night Watch. Jon asks whether Nestoris knows anything of Sam et al in Braavos, but Nestoris does not, and learns there are strange ships from the East in the narrow sea, with “queer talk of dragons.”

At dinner, Ser Axell Florent accosts Jon with demands to “have a look” at the wildling princess Val. Jon suspects he knows that Val is no longer at Castle Black, but evades admitting it outright, saying she is not available before quickly leaving. He is uneasy about the deal with Nestoris, but tells himself it is better to be in deep debt than dead. He reflects on the Iron Bank’s fearsome reputation when it comes to recalcitrant debtors, and thinks that the Lannisters’ refusal to pay Robert’s debts may have cost them the throne. He falls asleep debating whether to go with the fleet to Hardhome, and is woken by Mully, with the news that a highborn girl has arrived on a dying horse and is asking for him.

Excited, Jon hurries to see her, only to realize it is not his sister Arya, but Alys Karstark, who he has not seen since she was six years old. Alys tells him her uncle and/or cousin Cregan is chasing her, and entreats him not to let Cregan take her back to Karhold. Her brothers and father are dead, and Cregan’s father Arnolf intends Alys to wed Cregan, so as to take her birthright claim to Karhold from her. She asks for his help. Jon offers to write Stannis on her behalf, but Alys tells him her uncle will make sure Stannis is dead before he ever receives the message.

“Arnolf is rushing to Winterfell, ’tis true, but only so he might put his dagger in your king’s back. He cast his lot with Roose Bolton long ago… for gold, the promise of a pardon, and poor Harry’s head. Lord Stannis is marching to a slaughter. So he cannot help me, and would not even if he could.” Alys knelt before him, clutching the black cloak. “You are my only hope, Lord Snow. In your father’s name, I beg you. Protect me.”

Commentary

Well, bloody hell.

So does this mean the “grey girl” Melisandre saw wasn’t Arya or Jeyne Poole? I think it does.

STUFF AND BOTHER.

Okay, totally new character, then, yippee. I mean, I’m glad Alys Karstark is hopefully not having to marry her – cousin? Uncle? Cousin-uncle? I’m not sure, her kinship outline was confusing – but this rather dashes my hopes that Jeyne is going to stop being in a Bolton-induced hell anytime soon, and I DO NOT APPROVE of this turn of events!

Bleargh.

And now Jon knows about Roose’s ace in the hole re: defeating Stannis. Though honestly, given the state of Stannis’s troops when we last saw them, I’m not sure Arnolf Karstark’s treachery is even going to be necessary, but maybe I’m underestimating his army’s ability to push on through total bullshit adverse conditions.

So, assuming that, the question becomes whether Jon is willing and/or able to warn Stannis about the mole in his company. As usual, I am not clear on the synchronicity of the timelines here, but if I assume that Jon’s arc is roughly congruent with Asha’s, then I’m not sure there would be time to get a messenger to Stannis from the Wall even if Jon wanted to warn him. Which he may not, depending on how far he feels like bending his Night Watch neutrality oaths on any given day.

Well, in any case, I hope he decides to try to warn Stannis, for pretty much the sole reason that anything that increases the chances of Roose and his hellspawn progeny dying horribly, and also Jeyne Poole getting rescued, is something I am probably in favor of.

And also, it would be cool if Asha survived too. And fine, Stannis too. Whatever.

Jon’s thoughts on the stupidity of the Lannisters (read: Cersei) ignoring their debt to Braavos were spot on, and I’m pretty sure they match the thoughts I myself had at the time when I read about Cersei’s decision to blow the Iron Bank off. But then, she was engaged in an entire smorgasbord of terrible decision-making by that time, so what’s one more, really? We’ll have to see whether Stannis has slightly more sense in this regard, but I have a feeling he will. Assuming he lives to have that sense, of course, which is not exactly a guarantee at the moment.

In other news, oh, haha, duh: Jon intends that it be him who sends a prophetic fleet of ships to rescue Tormund’s people from Hardhome. Clever, that. It’s an interesting chicken-or-egg conundrum to ponder, whether Jon would have come up with the idea to find ships to send to Hardhome if he hadn’t first heard the prophecy that the wildlings would be saved by just such a fleet. Either way, I hope it works.

Re: Axell Florent, I was initially confused by his appearance here, since I seemed to recall that Davos had shared a cell with Stannis’s ex-Hand back in Dragonstone, who was named Florent, and subsequently heard of his death by zealotry burning, but it appears that that was actually Axell’s brother, so… okay, then. I’m clearly not remembering that bit very well, which is probably not surprising given how long ago I read it.

So mostly I am left with the overwhelming desire to make jokes about how Axell wants to show Val his, his, his serpentine… which I am abruptly realizing is a nearly thirty-year-old reference, so at this time I would like to invite you all to get off my still-awesomely-metal lawn. Sigh.

ANYWAY, not that I know what that Val thing was about, other than Florent being a giant creepy creeper. Why is he so intent on clapping his greasy eyes on her? Is he just that desperate for a wife? I don’t get it.

Jon’s rooms behind the armory were quiet enough, if not especially warm. His fire had gone out some time ago; Satin was not as diligent in feeding it as Dolorous Edd had been.

Dolorous Edd is already gone? Woe! Where will I get my Eeyore quote fix now?

 

Chapter 45: The Blind Girl

What Happens

The blind girl wakes from a dream of being the night wolf and feasting on both animal and human flesh. She thinks that her list of names is the wolf’s prayer, not hers, for she is no one. Using her senses other than sight, she dresses and goes to breakfast. She smells the kindly priest enter. He asks who she is; she replies “no one,” and he calls her a liar. She is Blind Beth. He asks if she wants her eyes back, and she replies, not today. She reports on the things she’s learned, and he sends her to her duties. She thinks of the bitter-tasting potion she drinks each evening to keep her blind; the waif has told her that she will be blind until “darkness is as sweet to you as light”, or until she asks for her sight back, but the blind girl knows they will send her away if she does that, and is determined not to yield.

She reflects on the lessons she has learned since becoming blind, and how she has learned to hear and feel lies instead of seeing them, and gradually learned, through often dangerous trial and error, how to navigate the vast temple and her duties without being able to see. She knows all of the vaults below the temple now, and tends to the dead there. This day she is attacked by an assailant she cannot identify. She duels with him with her walking stick, but he defeats her, laughs, and disappears. She thinks that if she had her eyes she would beat him bloody.

The kindly priest has told her she would have been blinded as part of her training anyway, but her killing of the singer Dareon had accelerated that phase for her. She had told him she was not sorry for killing him, and the priest asked if she was a god, to decide who should live and who should die.

“All men must die. We are but death’s instruments, not death himself. When you slew the singer, you took god’s powers on yourself. We kill men, but we do not presume to judge them. Do you understand?”

No, she thought. “Yes,” she said.

“You lie. And that is why you must now walk in darkness until you see the way.”

That evening she puts on her blind beggar girl costume and heads to the city, to an inn called Pynto’s. One of the inn cats comes to sit on her lap in her corner, and it seems to her that she can almost see the inn’s patrons through its eyes. She notes three Lyseni sailors from a galley called Goodheart, which had been forced to put in at slaver-free Braavos and subsequently seized at the docks for trafficking. The next morning she tells the priest about the slaves the ship was carrying, wildling women and children from a place called Hardhome, and how the sailors think the other ship made it back to Lys, and will return to Hardhome to get more slaves. Then she tells him she knows who has been hitting her, and cracks him across the knuckles. He winces and asks how she knew, but she fails to tell him about the cat who followed her home whose eyes she is seeing through. That evening her potion burns her throat like fire.

And come the morning, when the night wolf left her and she opened her eyes, she saw a tallow candle burning where no candle had been the night before, its uncertain flame swaying back and forth like a whore at the Happy Port. She had never seen anything so beautiful.

Commentary

OMG, Arya!

Who is not permanently blind! Yay! I had hoped (or, er, demanded) that this was the case, but it is awful nice to have it confirmed.

That said, I feel like this is really not an educational curriculum Congress would approve of. Or any governmental body that has even the remotest concept of anti-child abuse laws. But, you know. From adversity comes blah blah blah, or so I hear.

And it is ultimately to Arya’s great advantage, obviously, to learn to rely on senses other than sight. Human beings are overwhelmingly visually-oriented creatures, so any training which allows someone to bypass that bias has an automatic advantage over an opponent without similar instruction. So hurray for stunningly unethical ninja assassin teaching methods! I guess!

Other than possibly taking another level in badass, though, Arya still seems to be stubbornly clinging to her own take on what she is and is not supposed to do with her leet ninja assassin skillz. I can’t honestly say I think this is a bad thing. Arya has proven herself to be worryingly amoral sometimes, true, but even so I would still prefer her to be amoral (or not) on her own terms, than for her to succumb to the… er, differently amoral doctrine of her ninja assassin cult leaders.

Seriously, that whole discussion on why she was wrong to kill Dareon struck me as just nonsensical. There are plenty of legit reasons why she may have been wrong to decide to summarily execute the guy, but Kindly Priest’s reasoning seems to be that… well, I don’t even know what the criteria here is. He calls her out for judging Dareon to be deserving to die, but if they don’t judge their targets themselves, who does? Who decides who has to die and who doesn’t?

The people who pay them, perhaps? But if so, I’m really not getting how foisting off the decision onto third (and presumably biased) parties is any more morally acceptable than killing for one’s own reasons. In fact, it seems less morally acceptable. At least Arya owns that she made the decision herself.

But then, I’m still not sure whether these people are actually assassins for hire or not. If they aren’t, though, then I really have no idea how this whole deal works at all. Hopefully it will get explained at some point. I intend to continue to side-eye the whole operation with extreme prejudice until then.

In other news, Arya is apparently also taking a level in warging, which is both exciting and unnerving, for reasons which should be obvious. I also approve of her decision to keep the warging from her cult masters. Basically what I’m hoping for is that Arya will milk these folks for every last bit of badass training she can get from them, and then be like, “Ok thanks, later” and walk the hell away afterward and go back to doing Arya Stark-oriented things. I’m not terribly optimistic on my chances of getting that outcome, mind you, but that’s the one I’m rooting for.

Re: the Lyseni thing, wow, okay, so (once again assuming a congruent timeline) Jon’s rush to get the Night Watch fleet out to Hardhome was not fast enough, it seems, at least for some of the wildlings. Presumably it is now a race to see whether Jon’s ships beat the returning Lyseni there, and whether the wildlings end up refugees or slaves. I should hope my vote on which should happen will go without saying. Go, Jon, go!

But they were all dead now, even Arya, everyone but her half-brother, Jon. Some nights she heard talk of him, in the taverns and brothels of the Ragman’s Harbor. The Black Bastard of the Wall, one man had called him. Even Jon would never know Blind Beth, I bet. That made her sad.

I bet you’re wrong, Arya. At least I hope so, for smushy sentimental sibling reasons.


And that’s that, in a hat, with a cat! Delight in your weekend, wouldja, and come on back next Thursday for Moar!

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