By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

15. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 628-664


Cast into the dungeon and given only water, Ned loses track of time. Finally, a jailer appears, but with wine, not food. It is Varys in disguise, and unlike the real jailers, he is willing to talk with Ned, to tell him that Arya has escaped and can't be found, and that Sansa is under the control of the queen. He also says, "I trust you realize that you are a dead man, Lord Eddard?" When Varys tells him that Caetlyn no longer controls Tyrion, who could be held hostage to obtain his release, Ned says Varys might as well kill him now and be done with it. "Your blood is the last thing I desire," Varys says, so Ned asks why he stood back and watched as his guard was slaughtered. Varys replies, "I seem to recall that I was unarmed, unarmored, and surrounded by Lannister swords.... A eunuch has no honor, and a spider does not enjoy the luxury of scruples, my lord."

So Ned asks if he will take a message for him. Varys says he will, but whether he will deliver it depends on whether it serves his ends. What ends are those, Ned asks, and Varys replies, "Peace."
"If there was one soul in King's Landing who was truly desperate to keep Robert Baratheon alive, it was me." He sighed. "For fifteen years I protected him from his enemies, but I could not protect him from his friends. What strange fit of madness led you to tell the queen that you had learned the truth of Joffrey's birth?"
"'The madness of mercy,' Ned admitted." Varys observes that Ned is "honest and honorable," and now he knows why he has met so few men like him.

The king, Varys tells him, would have died on the hunt somehow even if the boar hadn't killed him: "a fall from a horse, the bite of a wood adder, an arrow gone astray ... the forest is the abattoir of the gods." Cersei will visit him tomorrow, he says, and tells him that Robb is leading an army against the Lannisters. Ned is "aghast" that Robb, "only a boy," should be doing such a thing. Varys continues,
"So here is Cersei's nightmare: while her father and brother spend their power battling Starks and Tullys, Lord Stannis will land, proclaim himself king, and lop off her son's curly blond head ... and her own in the bargain, though I truly believe she cares more about the boy."
He urges Ned to confess to treason, tell Robb to call off his attack, accept Joffrey as king, denounce Stannis and Renly Baratheon, and vow to Cersei that he'll keep the secret of her children's parentage. "I believe she will allow you to take the black and live out the rest of your days on the Wall, with our brother and that baseborn son of yours."

Ned asks whom Varys truly serves. "I serve the realm, and the realm needs peace," he declares. And when Ned says, "My life is not so precious to me" that he could do the things Varys suggests. Then Varys reminds him that Sansa is still under the control of the queen, and that the Lannisters were not above killing the Targaryen children. "The next visitor who calls on you could bring you bread and cheese and the milk of the poppy for your pain ... or he could bring you Sansa's head."


An obstacle stands in the way of Robb's army: Walder Frey, who controls the bridge they must cross. Catelyn feels the urgency of moving forward more intensely when word reaches her of the capture of her brother and the sieWge of her father's castle. The problem, as Catelyn tells Robb, is that "The Freys have held the crossing for six hundred years, and for six hundred years they have never failed to exact their toll." They must find out what that toll is, she tells him.
David Bradley as Walder Frey

Lord Walder sends word that Robb must meet with him to discuss terms, but others fear that he would be walking into a trap: "he can sell you to the Lannisters, throw you in an dungeon, or slit your throat, as he likes." So Catelyn volunteers to meet with him. She has known him since she was a girl, she says. "He would never off me any harm," though she silently says to herself, "Unless he saw some profit in it."

Sir Walder is ninety, and he receives her with suspicion. She asks to speak with him privately, and he agrees. She reminds him that he is a sworn bannerman to her father, but this carries no weight with him. On the other hand, he has no love for Tywin Lannister, and when Catelyn hears this from him she presses this advantage. He continues to resist, saying, "The Tullys and the Starks have never been friends of mine," but he is willing to haggle.

Finally, Catelyn rides back with the terms: Lord Walder will grant the crossing and lend his troops. In return, she has agreed to take two of his grandsons -- "It would seem they are both named Walder" -- as wards at Winterfell. They are Bran's age.  Lord Frey's son Olyvar is to be Robb's squire, and "if your sister Arya is returned to us safely, it is agreed that she will marry Lord Walder's youngest son, Elmar, when the two of them come of age." Robb comments, "Arya won't like that one bit." And then, she says, Robb is to marry one of his daughters when the fighting is over. Robb can choose which one. Robb agrees.


Jon's right hand was badly burned when he flung the flaming curtains over the attacker, but the maester has said that it will recover though it will be scarred. Lord Commander Mormont tells him that news has arrived of Ser Barristan Selmy's dismissal from the Kingsguard, and that Selmy is now wanted for treason. He killed two men who were sent for him, and has escaped. There was no mention in the message, however, of Jon's father and sisters. Jon knows that Robb has called on the bannermen and has taken the army south, but only because Samwell, who reads letters to Maester Aemon, told him.

Then Mormont asks if Aemon told him how soon he will be able to use his hand again. When Jon says, "Soon," the commander placed on the table between them "a large sword in a black metal scabbard banded with silver. 'Here. You'll be ready for this, then.'" The fire had burned the pommel and crossguard and grip of the sword, and Mormont has had them replaced. "The pommel was a hunk of pale stone weighted with lead to balance the long blade. It had been carved into the likeness of a snarling wolf's head, with chips of garnet set into the eyes." Jon recognizes the blade as Valyrian steel.

It was his father's sword, Mormont tells him, and his grandfather's, and he had given it to his son, Ser Jorah. "My son brought dishonor to House Mormont, but at least he had the grace to leave the sword behind when he fled." Jon tries to refuse it, but Mormont insists: "I would not be sitting here were it not for you and that beast of yours. You fought bravely ... and more to the point, you thought quickly." When Jon accepts, he asks the sword's name and is told it was once called Longclaw. He decides to keep the name.

Mormont tells him that Ser Alliser Thorne has been replaced as master-at-arms and sent to King's Landing with the hand that Ghost tore from Jafer Flowers's wrist. "I have commanded him to ... lay it before this boy king. That should get young Joffrey's attention, I'd think." It also "puts a thousand leagues twixt him and you without it seeming a rebuke," though Mormont still chides Jon for what he calls "that nonsense in the common hall." Then he sends Jon off to deliver instructions for his dinner. Outside, his friends have gathered, eager to see the sword, which they already knew about. Halder had helped carve the pommel and Sam had bought the garnets in Mole's Town.

Jon learns that the other undead ranger had killed Ser Jaremy Rykker and four others before it, too, was burned. This puts him in no mood for his friends, remembering the fight with the eerie Othor, and the fact that fighting was taking place in the riverlands. So he says he needs to see to Mormont's supper and walks off. He goes to his quarters, where Ghost awaits him and shows the carved wolf on the sword to him. He recalls how he found Ghost: "He was all alone, he thought, apart from the others in the litter. He was different, so they drove him out."

Sam appears at the door. He had not been with the other boys, so Jon asks if he wants to see the sword. Sam says no. He was heir to his father's sword, Heartsbane, but he was afraid he'd hurt someone with it, and now his brother will have it. He has come to say that Maester Aemon wants to see Jon. The maester asks him to help feed the ravens, but doesn't say anything about what Jon assumes he wants to talk about: the army that Robb is leading.

Finally, the maester asks, "Jon, did you ever wonder why the men of the Night's Watch take no wives and father no children?" Jon says no, and the old man says, "So they will not love, ... for love is the bane of honor, the death of duty." And he asks Jon what his father would do if he had to "choose between honor on the one hand and those he loves on the other." Jon hesitates, thinking, "He fathered a bastard, where was the honor in that? And your mother, what of his duty to her, he will not even say her name." But he says that his father "would do whatever was right.... No matter what."

"Most of us are not so strong," Aemon says. "We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy." The men of the Night's Watch, he tells Jon, not only vow to give up love of family, but they also pledge not to take part in the internal battles of the country they guard. The price of honor and duty is renunciation. That seems easy enough in the abstract, he says, "Yet soon or late in every man's life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose." 

Jon realizes that Aemon is telling him that the time has come when he will be forced to choose between the sworn duty to the Night's Watch and the love for the family that raised him. And Aemon tells him he knows that it hurts. "'You don't know,' Jon said bitterly. 'No one knows. Even if I am his bastard, he's still my father...." So Aemon tells him that he has faced the choice three times in his life, and the last time was as cruel as the first:
"My ravens would bring the news from the south, words darker than their wings, the ruin of my House, the death of my kin, disgrace and desolation. What could I have done, old, blind, frail? I was helpless as a suckling babe, yet still it grieved me to sit forgotten as they cut down my brother's poor grandson, and his son, and even the little children...."
And he reveals to Jon that he is a Targaryen, the son of King Maekar and the brother of King Aegon, and that it was members of his own family who were slain by Jaime Lannister.

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