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 42 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 70 (“The Queen’s Hand”).
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 70: The Queen’s Hand
It takes the Dornish prince three painful days to die, but at least the rain has temporarily subdued the dragons he let escape. Missandei, the only one with the stomach to tend him, asks Selmy what will be done with his body; he promises the prince will go home to Dorne, and tries not to wonder if his queen’s body is in similar condition somewhere in the Dothraki sea. He tells himself she is alive, but reluctantly remembers that her hair had been on fire when she rode away.
Skahaz comes to report that the council awaits the Hand’s pleasure. Selmy thinks to himself that he did not want this, but with Dany gone and Hizdahr under arrest, there was no one else he trusted to rule in their stead. Skahaz reports that Galazza has not yet returned from her diplomatic mission to the Yunkai’i. The city is locked down, but many highborn are howling for the restoration of Hizdahr and the slaying of the dragons, and the Sons of the Harpy have resumed their campaign of murder, killing almost thirty people in the last day alone. Selmy knows Skahaz wants him to retaliate by killing their hostages, and flatly refuses. Skahaz obliquely calls him “wrinkled and feeble.”
They go down to the petitioners’ hall, where Selmy has set up a round table, “where men might sit and talk as peers.” The council is joined by Strong Belwas, who is much diminished by the poison that nearly killed him but determined to regain his strength. Selmy refuses requests to reopen the fighting pits, pointing out that that will only inflame the dragons. Skahaz is contemptuous of Selmy’s hopes that Galazza will negotiate the return of their hostages from the Yunkai’i, and Selmy privately admits it is unlikely. He tells them that if the Yunkai’i refuse, then he intends to rain fire and blood on them, to shatter Hizdahr’s peace. This pronouncement appears to stun the others, but they join in as Selmy outlines his plan, hammering out the details. Selmy lets every man have his say. At the end, Symon Stripeback asks Selmy whether the dragons will come to the fight. Privately Selmy is sure they will, but is doubtful as to whether they will differentiate between the two sides. After the others have left, Grey Worm lingers to point out that the Yunkai’i will kill the hostages as soon as they attack, but Selmy tells him he has a “notion” to prevent that.
He goes to see Yronwood and Drinkwater in the dungeons to tell them Quentyn was dead. Ser Gerris wants to blame Daenerys for his prince’s death, but Selmy tells him Quentyn brought it on himself, and that in truth the prince was here for dragons for Dorne, not the queen. Selmy tells them he knows Quentyn offered the Tattered Prince Pentos in return for helping him with the dragons, and offers them a deal: if they deliver a message to the mercenary captain, he will send them back to Dorne with Quentyn’s bones. The message is that Selmy will give him Pentos if the Tattered Prince liberates their hostage from the Yunkai’i and delivers them back safely. The Dornish knights are skeptical of their chances of succeeding, but agree.
Later, Galazza finally returns and attends him in his chambers. She tells him the Yunkish masters want Hizdahr restored; Selmy tells her he will be once he is cleared of treason, but until then the council will rule. The Green Grace points out how her city is falling apart without its king, and opines that Hizdahr would never stoop to poison. She says the Yunkai lords will only return the hostages if the dragons are slain. She is sure Daenerys is dead, and urges him to have the dragons die with her. They are interrupted when Skahaz barges in to tell him that the Yunkish trebuchets have gone to work.
Galazza Galare rose. “Thus does Yunkai make reply to your offers, ser. I warned you that you would not like their answer.”
They choose war, then. So be it. Ser Barristan felt oddly relieved. War he understood. “If they think they will break Meereen by throwing stones—”
“Not stones.” The old woman’s voice was full of grief, of fear. “Corpses.”
Well, how very Mongolian of them. Nothing like a spot of pre-industrial biological warfare to brighten your day!
Meereen is just not having a good time these days, y’all.
Of course, by all accounts just about nobody anywhere is having a good time these days, but I feel like a year that includes conquests, Reconstruction (in the not-awesome American Civil War sense), terrorist insurrections, sort-of coup d’etats, sieges, plague, AND dragons might merit a special spike on the Not Having A Fabulous Time Meter. I’m just saying.
It’s even less fabulous when you consider that the Mongolian siege Martin is referencing here is generally considered to be what led to the Black Death spreading to Europe, and subsequently killing up to a third of its population. Dysentery may not be up to quite the level of biological disaster as bubonic plague, but I bet it’s plenty enough to kill a city. Good times!
[Skahaz, to Barristan:] “They want Hizdahr free and me dead, and they want you to slay these dragons. Someone told them knights were good at that.”
Yeah, I’ve heard that rumor too. I’m gonna go ahead and doubt its veracity in this particular reality, though.
And speaking of stereotypical knighthood-type things: OMG, you guys, Ser Barristan has set up a round table. Because he doesn’t consider himself above anyone else there! YES, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, MARTIN. Clever.
So apparently we are going to be deconstructing Arthurian legend next. Not that ASOIAF hasn’t already done that in bits and pieces—unavoidable, really, considering how deeply the influences of Arthuriana are threaded through the entire genre of epic fantasy—but now we are evidently going to stick a big fat Post-It note on it, smelling faintly of hamsters and elderberries. In Barristan’s defense, at least he hasn’t had a watery tart throw a sword at him, not as far as I can recall, anyway, but given his general demeanor and provenance, the association was basically too blunt to miss at this point.
That said, I’ve always thought that Arthurian legend has generally always done a pretty good job of deconstructing itself. I mean, it’s not like the traditional story has a happy ending for Arthur or anything. So having this all end badly for Barristan wouldn’t actually subvert that particular set of tropes at all.
So… AH-HAH! I perceive the nefarious plan now! Obviously, the only thing for Martin to do here, therefore, is to have Barristan win everything, vanquish all his enemies, restore peace to the kingdom, and live happily ever after!
Yes. This is totally what’s going to happen. TOTALLY.
Oh, shut up, I know it’s bullshit. I’m just being fruitlessly logical here, leave me alone.
Although, Barristan does appear to be doing a pretty good job of getting people to follow him thus far. Skahaz, for example, has been groaning and complaining about Selmy this whole time, but you’ll note he never once has actually failed to do what Barristan has told him to do. Same with the other council members. At least not yet. Or that we know of.
But, you know, it says something, I think. Barristan thinks to himself that Dany is the only reason all these contentious dudes are willing to work together, but she is probably not the only reason. Given enough time (assuming Barristan’s basic competence at leading them continues), their loyalties could in fact shift to him completely. I might be a little upset at that on Dany’s behalf, if I didn’t know that Barristan will instantly revert all power to Dany the second she shows up, and insist everyone else do the same, so ultimately it all works to Dany’s benefit regardless. At least I hope so.
In other news: Jesus, they let Quentyn live like that for three days? That is horrible. I can’t even imagine what kind of pain that must have been. Poor fucker didn’t even have morphine, God. You couldn’t have just smothered the poor kid and put him out of his misery, Selmy? Damn. (Although, shoutout to Missandei for having the guts to tend to such horrificness when everyone else Noped out. Girl’s got ovaries of steel, y’all, and she’s not even twelve yet. The world should take note.)
And speaking of burn victims, the little detail that Daenerys’ hair had been on fire as she flew off is a new one, I think, but it doesn’t necessarily worry me re: her survival as much as it does Barristan. Because, of course, I am privy to information he is not, which is that Dany has already literally walked through dragon-related fire and lived to tell about it. At least if I’m remembering that scene at the end of AGOT correctly, which I’m pretty sure I am. So, I am still (probably stupidly) optimistic about her survival, though I’m also pretty sure I’m not going to get to find out about it one way or the other before the end of this book.
And… well. Since this chapter was not nearly as traumatic as the last one (though you have to love that a chapter which includes extreme burn victims and the hurling of plague-riddled corpses qualifies as “not that traumatic,” comparatively), I considered going on, but then there’s no guarantee that the next chapter won’t be a million times worse, so I think we’ll err on the side of caution and stop here. It’s not like I’m in a hurry here, after all.
So this is our temporary stop on the ASOIAF Express of All Things Awful! Have a happy Halloween for those who celebrate such things, and I’ll see you back next Thursday for more!