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 37 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 63 (“Victarion”) and Chapter 64 (“The Ugly Little 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 63: Victarion
Victarion’s ships capture a Ghiscari trading galley, whose captain gives them the news that the dragon queen of Meereen was dead and a man named Hizdak rules there now. Moqorro assures Victarion that Daenerys is alive, so Victarion has the captain’s tongue torn out for lying and then sacrifices him to the Drowned God. Victarion has clothed Moqorro in Greyjoy colors in hopes that it will help reconcile him to his crew, but in vain; the other ironborn shun him. Still, Victarion renames the captured ship Red God’s Wroth in his honor.
They lose three ships after that, but Moqorro assures Victarion that they will be found again. They capture a Myrish cog, and Moqorro accurately predicts where the fleet may find more prey. Their crews also claim that Daenerys is dead, and Victarion has them executed save for the slaves, telling them “the dragon queen frees slaves and so do I.” Victarion feels his conquests are bringing him closer to the Drowned God, but he feels the presence of Moqorro’s red god as well, especially when he contemplates his burned yet strong arm; he tells the dusky woman that “no foe can stand before two gods.”
The three missing ships are found as Moqorro predicted, and Victarion rewards him. After some debate, he decides to risk the straits rather than sail around the island of Yaros to get to Meereen. They capture more ships, from which Victarion hears of how the dragon queen flew away “beyond the Dothraki sea.” One of the sailors makes fun of him for not understanding that that is not an actual sea, and Victarion chokes him to death. Moqorro opines that his Drowned God is “a demon,” a thrall of R’hllor’s enemy “Other,” and Victarion warns him to be careful with such talk, but promises that his red god will get his due. Victarion fantasizes about returning the ironborn to the glory of the old days by wedding the dragon queen and having her bear him “many mighty sons.”
Once out of the straits, Victarion goes to deeper sea to avoid the heavy traffic between Yunkai and Meereen, but still captures a slaver galley full of pleasure slaves. He divides the female slaves between his captains, but drowns the males, deeming them “unnatural.” He takes seven of the prettiest slave girls for himself, but does not sleep with them; instead he puts them on a fishing ketch and burns them alive, declaring it a sacrifice to both gods. Soon after, a great wind comes and propels them toward Meereen.
That night he brings out “Euron’s hellhorn,” the dragon horn he’d had blown at the kingsmoot. Moqorro tells him the glyphs carved on it are Valyrian, and say “I am Dragonbinder.” Victarion tells him how the sound of the horn made him feel like he was burning, and how the man who sounded it died, burned up inside, and Moqorro shows him another gylph on it which declares that “no mortal man shall sound me and live.” Victarion reflects that his brother’s gifts are always poisoned.
“The Crow’s Eye swore this horn would bind dragons to my will. But how will that serve me if the price is death?”
“Your brother did not sound the horn himself. Nor must you.” Moqorro pointed to the band of steel. “Here. ‘Blood for fire, fire for blood.’ Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn’s master. You must claim the horn. With blood.”
My first thought on opening this chapter: dammit, Victarion gets his own name now in the chapter title instead of an epithet? BOO.
And my thought on completing the chapter is still, essentially: BOO.
Seriously, you guys, Victarion is a giant bowl of rotting dicks and I don’t like him even a little bit. Yeah, yeah, differing cultural mores blah blah whatever, he set seven innocent girls on fire and drowned twenty innocent boys at sea and not to mention all the other shit he did and no, I don’t care if he thought his victims would get rewarded in the afterlife or whatever and no, I don’t even care if his sacrifices worked, I still need him to die in some horribly justified and preferably slow and painful way for it because I hate him a really lot.
Ugh, he sucks. He sucks so hard I don’t even want to talk about him, but I suppose I have to so, FINE.
Right, here’s one: I still am skeptical of this scheme of his to just storm Meereen by sea, but given how completely and pathetically unprepared anyone’s been so far to stop Victarion from doing, basically, whatever the fuck he wants, it’s possible it’s not quite as cockamamie an idea as I originally decided it was.
Which is SAD, you guys, really. I’m hardly rooting for the clusterfuck of fartknockers currently semi-besieging Meereen, but really, y’all don’t even have scouts out? No security for your shipping lanes whatsoever? What, are the ironborn the only ones to have actually come up with the concept of piracy so you’ve never encountered it before? I hardly think so! Sheesh. Lame!
Maybe they’ll all just kill each other off the shore of Meereen and I’ll not have to deal with them evermore! Right, right?
Shut up it could totally happen, la la la I can’t hear you…
Blurg. What else.
Well, we can talk about Moqorro, I guess, and my wonderings over whether he is just desperately talking a mad game to keep his new batshit boss from murdering him, or if he really is as Zen and cool with this whole scene as he seems to be. I’m actually not sure which possibility would impress me more.
I would like to give him shit for supporting Captain Manpain in his campaign to asshole his way across the ocean blue, but that’s rather hampered by the fact that Moqorro no doubt knows as well as I do how very much drowned he would be by now if he hadn’t made himself so useful to Commodore Douchecanoe and then stayed that way, so. I’m just a bit leery of judging people’s actions when they are in a survival situation, and “being on an ironborn ship” sure as bloody hell counts as a survival situation if you ask me, given how very few people actually, you know, survive it.
So, fine, whatever. Though I would be very pleased to accept revelations of subtle sabotage on Moqorro’s part to undermine Señor Psychopath over here. Admittedly, this hope seems overly optimistic in light of the fact that Moqorro has gone so far as to give him a bionic volcano arm to be more scary with. Bad form, Moqorro! Stop giving assholes bionic volcano arms! I swear.
Completely randomly, I cracked myself up because I noticed (fortunately before I posted!) that I had typed “dusky woman” as “ducky woman.” This is funnier if you know that this is not, in fact, the first time I’ve made that typo. In related news, for some reason I am incapable of typing “Victarion” right the first time. Because he plagues me IN EVERY WAY. Bah. Bah, I say!
Bored now, moving on!
Chapter 64: The Ugly Little Girl
The girl serves a dinner where the attendees discuss who will or will not give someone “the gift,” and after, a priest with a face riddled with plague interrogates her. He accuses her of wanting to kill for her own purposes; she begins to deny it, and he slaps her and calls her a liar. He says she has “a taste for blood.” The girl thinks of her list, but keeps silent. He tells her that death has no sweetness in this house, and they never kill to please themselves, but only to serve the God of Many Faces. He asks if she can pay the price: to be no one, to have not even her face be her own. She says she can pay it, and asks for a face. He tells her faces must be earned, by giving a stranger “a gift.”
Disguised as Cat of the Canals, the girl observes the man. That night she declares that he must be an evil man, but the kindly priest says he is no more evil than any other man, and the Many-Faced God does not judge men’s souls. She watches him again and decides he is full of fear and that killing him will give him peace, but is told that she will have failed if he sees her kill him. She does not understand his business, and the kindly man explains that he is selling insurance to ship owners and captains. She wonders whether it was a customer of his who wants him dead, but the kindly man says that is none of her business.
She considers how to kill him, as he is accompanied at all times by two bodyguards, one of whom tastes all his food before he eats it. She says she will wait till one guard leaves to piss and then kill the man and the other guard, but the kindly man tells her that servants of the Many-Faced God only give gifts to those who have been chosen for it. Finally she determines a way, and announces she will kill the man the next day. The kindly man says she will need a new face, an ugly one.
The kindly man and the waif take her down, down into a part of the sanctum below that she has not been to before, and take her to a chamber filled with thousands of faces. She tries to tell herself they are masks, but knows they are actually skins. The kindly man asks if she wants to continue; the girl steels herself and tells them to do it. They cut her face so it bleeds and give her a potion to drink, and then affix one of the faces to her own. For a moment she feels the pain of the girl whose face she now wears, but then it goes, and the girl can no longer tell that her face is different. The kindly man warns her that she may have dreams of how the other girl’s father brutally beat her for a time, but that night she dreams instead of all the people she’s killed and the ones she’s lost, all their faces hanging on the wall.
The next day she goes to where the man has set up shop, and waits until she sees a prosperous shipowner she’d seen doing business with the man before. She slits his purse and sticks her hand inside, and he catches her at it. She knocks him down and runs and hides, and then goes back to the temple and shows the kindly man a coin she’d taken from him. He says they are no thieves, but she says this was in exchange for “one of ours,” and the kindly man understands that the target was paid with it, and his heart gave out after. He says she has much to learn, but perhaps is not hopeless. They give her Arya’s face back, and the robes of an acolyte, and the kindly man tells her she will begin her first apprenticeship with Izembaro the next day.
“The city watch is looking for a certain ugly girl, known to frequent the Purple Harbor, so best you have a new face as well.” He cupped her chin, turned her head this way and that, nodded. “A pretty one this time, I think. As pretty as your own. Who are you, child?”
“No one,” she replied.
Aw, Baby’s First Assassination!
Not exactly the kind of thing you put in a photo album, is it.
Well, that was… both disturbing and confusing. Disturbing for reasons which should hopefully be obvious, but also confusing because I’m still not sure what actually happened. I think what Arya did was slip the rich dude a coin which killed the insurer guy somehow, once rich dude paid him with it, but I’m really not clear on how that worked.
I mean, the obvious answer is that the coin was coated with poison, but if so, how could Arya be sure that rich dude wouldn’t also touch it and die? Given how much emphasis was placed on the need for Arya to kill the target and only the target, giving him poison by proxy like that seems unacceptably risky to me.
But, sure, okay. She killed the guy with a coin, in some fashion.
Ambivalence: it’s what’s for breakfast!
But that’s always been my response to this entire League of Creepy Assassins storyline, I think, so it’s not like that’s anything new.
What is new, though, is this whole Face/Off thing with the, er, faces. Because that was not freaky at all, no sir.
…Cool, true. But also freaky. And, of course, deeply creepy and macabre, because these guys are nothing if not loyal to a theme, and that theme is DEATH.
Deaaaaaaaaaaaath. Death death death death death (lunch) death death death death. Death everywhere. All death, all the time. They are so into death that even Goths be like, dudes, ease up on the death thing, damn.
It seems like a very depressing way of life. Also very Vitamin D deficient.
That said, other than the specific trappings where you magically glue dead people’s faces to you and have to experience their trauma (YEEEEEEEK), the training Arya’s getting in the (Bau)haus der Schwarzweiss is not functionally all that different from what I’m sure you get in just about any assassin training program – which is to disassociate yourself from what it is you’re actually doing, namely, killing people for no other reason than that you were told by your superiors to do it. It’s about learning how to be cold-blooded – possibly, in this case, literally so.
And they are totally right that this is not what Arya has ever been. Arya may not have always had the firmest grasp on the morality of murder (or lack thereof) before coming to Braavos, but the one thing you could definitely say about her is that she never killed anyone without having a (usually highly personal) reason to do so. Whether they were good reasons is, obviously, a matter of debate, but the point is that before this (as far as I remember, anyhow) Arya never killed at random, or without what she considered a compelling personal rationale for why that person had to die.
Until now, of course.
So I guess this a (depressing) watershed moment for Arya. The League of Creepy Assassins still don’t fully trust her, naturally, but it seems that she’s passed a major test here and is now getting further into their Creepy Death Sanctum, both literally and figuratively. Another ambivalent yayyyyy.
Basically what I’m hoping (and I’m sure I’ve said this before, but what can I say, it hasn’t changed) is that Arya learns all their creepy assassin ninjaing skills (and also, apparently, their creepy face-swapping magicking skills, YEEEK), and then is promptly like “fuck this amoral disassociation shit, I gots me some grudges to fulfill” and goes back to her at-least-killing-people-for-personal-reasons ways.
…Yeah, that doesn’t sound right at all when you put it that way. But you know what I mean. Plague-face dude said she had “a wolf’s eyes” like it was a bad thing, but I would far rather Arya be a vengeful wolf than a cold-blooded assassin, all things considered.
(Also, writing this chapter’s summary while listening to “Bela’s Lugosi’s Dead”, like you do, amped up the creepy factor by at least an order of magnitude. I need to stop freaking myself out right before I go to bed…)
And that’s the UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD story, y’all. See you next Thursday for more!