By Charles Matthews

Saturday, August 20, 2011

5. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 197-243


Manipulating such master-manipulators as Pycelle, Littlefinger, and Varys isn't easy, but if Tyrion is going to survive he needs to make an effort. Grand Maester Pycelle is doing his part to manipulate Tyrion by setting the time of their meeting at dawn and serving him a breakfast of boiled eggs, stewed plums, and porridge. "In these sad times, when so many hunger, I think it only fitting to keep my table spare." So it's no wonder that the egg Tyrion is cracking reminds "him unduly of the Grand Maester's bald spotted head."

But Tyrion needs the ravens that the maester commands to deliver letters to Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne. While Pycelle goes to dispatch the ravens, Tyrion has time to inspect the potions on the maester's shelves and to slip one of them into his sleeve. When Pycelle returns, Tyrion can tell he is consumed with curiosity about the letters, but he deftly sidesteps any questions about them. As he leaves, he reminds Pycelle to inform him -- and only him -- when a reply comes from Dorne.

"Pycelle's spotted hand was clutching at his beard the way a drowning man clutches for a rope. It made Tyrion's heart glad. One, he thought."

Outside, he meets Bronn, who is watching the training of men-at-arms in the courtyard. Bronn asks about "the boy in the checkered blue surcoat with the three eyes on his shield," and Tyrion tells him the boy is named Tallad. Bronn comments that the boy is the best of the trainees, but he has spotted the weakness in his defense that "will be the death of him, the day he faces me." Tyrion observes that it's unlikely he'll face Bronn, since he's sworn to defend Joffrey.

Then he asks about the list of the day's supplicants asking favors of the king. One of them, Bronn says, is "A black brother down from the Wall. The steward says he brought some rotted hand in a jar." When he learns that the man is Ser Alliser Thorne, he recalls that he was the black brother he liked the least among those on the Wall, so he tells Bronn, "Find him a snug cell where no one has changed the rushes in a year, and let his hand rot a little more."

In the courtyard he meets Cersei on horseback with her retinue. She informs him that Renly Baratheon is on the move on the roseroad, which he already knows, and tells him, "I want you to make Father bring his army to King's Landing." When he parries her request with "When have I ever been able to make Father do anything?" she persists, nagging him about not freeing Jaime, then calls him "worse than useless" and rides off.

But Tyrion is worried more about Stannis than about Renly, or about the combination of the two self-proclaimed kings. "If Stannis attacks by sea while his brother Renly storms the gates, they'll soon be mounting Joffrey's head on a spike. Worse, mine will be beside him."

Littlefinger is waiting for him, and shows him from the window how Joffrey is shooting at hares with a crossbow -- and mostly missing. Tyrion compliments him on the "handsome knife" he wears on his belt -- the one used to implicate Tyrion in the attack on Bran. Littlefinger says it's his if he wants it. Tyrion realizes "He knows, the insolent wretch. He knows and he knows that I know, and he thinks that I cannot touch him." He's aware of Littlefinger's cleverness and deceit.
Littlefinger was no threat to anyone. A clever, smiling, genial man, everyone's friend, always able to find whatever gold the king or his Hand required, and yet of such undistinguished birth, one step up from a hedge knight, he was not a man to fear. He had no banners to call, no army of retainers, no great stronghold, no holdings to speak of, no prospects of a great marriage.
Tyrion comments that Littlefinger was "fostered at Riverrun. I've heard it said that you grew close to the Tullys." Littlefinger admits as much, claiming that he took the virginity of both Catelyn and Lysa, which Tyrion believes to be a lie, at least where Catelyn is concerned. He suggests that Littlefinger might be able to negotiate with them better than he. Littlefinger doubts that Catelyn would accept an exchange of Sansa for Jaime, but Tyrion says he has a negotiation with Lysa in mind.

"If I gave her Jon Arryn's true killer, she might think more kindly of me," he says. This gets Littlefinger's attention: Does Tyrion want her friendship, he asks, "or her swords?" He wants both, Tyrion claims. Littlefinger mentions that Lysa's lands are plagued by marauding clansmen,who are out "in greater numbers than ever before ... and better armed." "'Distressing,' said Tyrion Lannister, who had armed them." If Lysa and her son would accept Joffrey as their king and reject the claims of Renly and Stannis, Tyrion says, he would call off the marauders. And, he adds, he would give her his niece, Myrcella, as a bride for "little Lord Robert" -- "that appalling child of hers," he calls him, remembering the boy's "I want to see him fly."

So, says Littlefinger, what's in it for him if he helps persuade Cersei to go along with this plot involving her daughter? Tyrion proposes to give him Harrenhal, "one of the richest plums in the Seven Kingdoms, its lands broad and rich and fertile, its great castle as formidable as any in the realm." When he mentions this, Tyrion sees "the flash of hunger in those sly cat's eyes." So Littlefinger asks for two weeks to conclude his current affairs and to hire a ship that would take him to Gulltown, the port nearest Lysa Arryn's Eyrie.

"Two, thought Tyrion."

And then there's Varys, who enters chortling over Tyrion's tantalizing Pycelle with the secret message to Doran Martell in Dorne. Tyrion tells Varys that he has promised to deliver to Martell the men who killed his sister and her child, as well as to offer him a seat on the small council as a replacement for Janos Slynt. "In Casterly Rock, it was common knowledge that Gregor Clegane had killed Elia and her babe. They said he had raped the princess with her son's blood and brains still on his hands." Varys wonders if Tywin Lannister would give up Clegane, his foremost hired killer. Tyrion replies, "My father would be the first to tell you that fifty thousand Dornishmen are worth one rabid dog."

Varys thinks that Martell would want something more, and he guesses, correctly, that Tyrion proposes to offer Cersei's son Tommen in the bargain: "You could scarcely offer Myrcella to Doran Martell and Lysa Arryn both." Tyrion admires Varys's intelligence-gathering abilities, and says that if he can get Tommen "away from Cersei and Joffrey while he's still young, he may even grow to be a good man." And, Varys adds, "a good king" if something should happen to Joffrey: "Tommen, whose nature is so sweet and notably ... tractable."

Tyrion tells Varys he has "a suspicious mind," which Varys takes as a compliment. But Varys says "the queen might be persuaded to send away Tommen or Myrcella. But both of them? Surely not." The queen doesn't need to know of this, Tyrion says. But what if she happens to find out Tyrion's intentions "before your plans are ripe?"

Then, Tyrion says, he would know that the man who informed the queen was his enemy. "And when Varys giggled, he thought, Three."


Sansa has found a piece of paper under her pillow that says, "Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home." She doesn't know who sent it or what to do about it, and thinks that she should take it to the queen to prove her loyalty. But she has been beaten for saying, when she heard that Janos Slynt was sent to the Wall, "I hope the Others get him." And she has dreamed and prayed to go home.

She knows she can't trust her servants with this secret. "The queen had her servants changed every fortnight, to make certain none of them befriended her." And she has no one to confide in or ask for advice. Septa Mordane was beheaded, and Jeyne Poole, her best friend, disappeared.

As she wonders what to do there is some kind of disturbance outside, and when she looks out the knight who guards the drawbridge over the dry moat has gone and the bridge is down. She dresses quickly and puts on a plain  gray cloak and tucks "the knife she used to cut her meat" under it. On the other side of the drawbridge, men are running about, and some of them are helping Joffrey into his armor. But he doesn't see her and she slips away.

She makes her way to the godswood, where a man comes out of the shadows. She recognizes him immediately as Ser Dontos Hollard, the drunken knight whom Joffrey had threatened to drown in a wine vat until she suggested he was only a fool. So Joffrey turned him into one, like Moon Boy. She draws her knife and, deeply disappointed, says, "I prayed to the gods for a knight to come save me.... Why would they send me a drunken old fool?" Dontos admits that he deserves the epithet, but he wanted to do something to thank her: "You saved me, not only from Joffrey, but from myself."

And then he does something more persuasive. He likens himself to a character in one of her beloved romances, Florian, a fool who redeemed himself for the love of Jonquil. She lowers the knife, realizing that this may be the only chance she gets to escape. He has knelt before her and she tells him to rise.
"Thank you, sweet lady." Ser Dontos lurched clumsily to his feet, and brushed earth and leaves from his knees. "Your lord father was as true a man as the  realm has ever known, but I stood by and let them slay him. I said nothing, did nothing ... and yet, when Joffrey would have slain me, you spoke up. Lady, I have never been a hero, no Ryam Redwyne or Barristan the Bold. I've won no tourneys, no renown in war ... but I was a knight once, and you have helped me remember what that meant. My life is a poor thing, but it is yours." 
He can't help her escape tonight, but if she will come to the godswood often, he'll help work out a plan for escape. "And if I should seem cruel or mocking or indifferent when men are watching, forgive me, child. I have a role to play, and you must do the same. One misstep and our heads will adorn the walls as did your father's." She promises to do so, kisses him on the cheek, and leaves.

As she is returning to her room, thinking of Dontos as "my Florian," a man reaches out from a doorway and grabs her wrist. It is Sandor Clegane. He is drunk, but he says, "Back to your cage, little bird. I'll take you there. Keep you safe for the king." The push he gives her is "oddly gentle." The bridge is being guarded again, so the Hound's presence is helpful. He tells her not to be afraid of Ser Boros Blount, who is the guard. "Paint stripes on a toad, he does not become a tiger." She explains to Ser Boros that she had gone to the godswood "to pray for the safely of the king."

The disturbance, he says, was some people who heard there was a wedding feast and were protesting the lack of food. Joffrey "led a sortie and sent them scurrying." After they cross the bridge and are inside, Sansa asks Clegane, "Why do you let people call you a dog?  You won't let anyone call you a knight." He tells her, "I like dogs better than knights." His grandfather was a kennelmaster whose dogs helped rescue Lord Tytos Lannister from a lioness and was knighted for it.

He has called her a little bird and has taunted her about singing a song for him. She says she knows a song about Florian and Jonquil, but he dismisses them as "A fool and his cunt." Then he warns her, "They're all liars here ... and every one better than you."


After escaping through the tunnel, Arya and Gendry had returned to the ruins of the holdfast when the soldiers seemed to have gone. But they had found only bodies, including Yoren's. Then Gendry remembered the sentries in the towerhouse, and found Cutjack, Tarber, and Kurz still alive. Their party also includes Hot Pie and Lommy, plus a little girl they had rescued earlier from the ruins of a village. Lommy has named her Weasel. Since then they have been making their way northward along the shore, surviving mostly on water and acorns, though Gendry caught a frog and Arya has eaten bugs and worms. Along the way, Kurz, who had been wounded, died. After that, Cutjack and Tarber disappeared.

Arya has climbed a tree and has sighted a village with smoke coming from the chimneys, the only sign of habitation they have seen in the deserted landscape. They decide to explore it more closely. Lommy was wounded through the calf during the fight at the holdfast, so they have constructed a litter for him, but carrying him slows them down. He keeps advising them to yield if they encounter soldiers. "That's what Yoren should have done. He should have opened the gates like they said." Hot Pie agrees, "If he'd of yielded, they would have left us be."

Gendry asks Arya what else she saw, and she says it was a fishing village, and that there were a lot of crows down by the water. "Something's dead there." Hot Pie and Arya get into an argument and Gendry shushes them because he needs to think. "He always looked pained when he tried to think, like it hurt him something fierce." Finally, he decides that he and Arya will go scout the village when it gets dark. Hot Pie protests that he can't carry Lommy if they don't come back, and that he heard wolves the night before. Arya had been awakened by them, too.

Arya has to run to keep up with Gendry, who is five years older than she is and a foot taller with long legs. When they get some distance from the others, he says, "I think Lommy's going to die." She agrees; she has felt how warm he is and smelled the infection setting in to his leg. Gendry thinks they should leave the others. "You're the only one of the bunch who's good for anything. Even if you are a girl."

Arya protests, but Gendry has caught on to her slipping off to piss. He dares her to "pull out your cock and take a piss," and she says she doesn't need to. He says if she's not a girl she must be a eunuch, and she replies, "You're the eunuch." He says, "You know I'm not.... You want me to take out my cock and prove it? I don't have anything to hide." Arya seizes on the chance to change the subject, and says that he does: Why were the gold cloaks after him? He says he doesn't know. "I think Yoren knew, but he never told me." And why did she think they were after her.

She realizes that she's been found out and that she has to trust Gendry. She makes him promise not to tell Hot Pie and Lommy, and then reveals, "My name is Arya. Of House Stark." When he realizes that "The King's Hand was named Stark. The one they killed for a traitor," she tells him that he was her father and he wasn't a traitor. Yoren was helping her escape and get home to Winterfell. Suddenly he realizes she's "a lady." His manner changes, and he seems "uncertain, almost afraid." He apologizes for talking about cocks, "And I been pissing in front of you and everything." When he keeps calling her "m'lady," she knocks him down and kicks him. "'What kind of lord's daughter are you?' he said, laughing."

She tells him to keep laughing; she's going to check out the village. He follows her, and as they get closer to the village they smell decaying flesh. She tells him to stick to the shore and she'll go see if there's a road. She looks back to see him watching her. "He's probably thinking that he shouldn't be letting m'lady go stealing food. Arya just knew he was going to be stupid now." As she gets closer to the village the stench grows stronger, and she discovers it's a gibbet with the remains of corpses in chains hanging from it. Crows are picking at what's left. She hears horses and a man's voice.

Beyond the gibbet she sees two men in armor standing in front of a building. Then she hears a shout behind her. Gendry has been captured by two spear-carrying men. They take him to the building and when they open the doors to put him inside a small boy escapes, but is captured and thrown back in. "Arya heard sobbing from inside the building, and then a shriek so loud and full of pain that it made her bite her lip."

She stays and watches as the guard changes, and men arrive with the carcass of a deer that they start to roast. She watches as men bring food to the guards. Finally, she slips from where she has been hiding and starts back to where they had left the others. "Far off, she heard the howling of wolves." She startles Lommy and Hot Pie when she returns, and Weasel runs up to her. She tells them of Gendry's capture, and says Hot Pie has to help her kill the two guards at the door. Lommy insists, as usual, that they should just yield. Finally, she persuades Hot Pie to go, and tells Lommy to keep Weasel with him. What should he do if the wolves come, Lommy asks. "'Yield,' Arya suggested."

She and Hot Pie make it back to the village, but as they are crawling past the gibbet, a crow lands on Hot Pie's back and he gasps, alerting a guard who challenges them. "Hot Pie leapt to his feet. 'I yield!" He throws down his sword and runs to the guards. Arya draws Needle as the guards surround her, but she is disarmed and when she tries to bite one of the guards he slugs her.

When she comes to she is on her knees next to Hot Pie in front of "the tallest man Arya had ever seen, a monster from one of Old Nan's stories." Then she recognizes him from the tourney at King's Landing as "the Hound's brother," Gregor Clegane. They are forced to lead the men to Lommy, who calls out "I yield" when he sees them coming. When they ask about the girl Hot Pie had told them was there, Lommy tells them she ran away.

One of the men looks at Lommy's leg and asks if he can walk. Lommy says no, "You got to carry me." The man says, "Think so?" and cuts Lommy's throat.


Tyrion is exploring the underground vaults where the alchemists keep their powerful weapon, wildfire. Hallyne the Pyromancer is explaining that it is stored in fragile clay jars, and that water won't extinguish it. "Once it takes fire, the substance will burn fiercely until it is no more. More, it will seep into cloth, wood, leather, even steel, so they take fire as well." And when Tyrion asks why it doesn't seep into the clay of the pots, he is told that it does. The older pots are stored in a vault beneath the one they are in, and should have been destroyed, but they don't have enough acolytes to handle the job.
Tyrion placed the jar he'd been holding back among its fellows. They covered the table, standing in orderly rows of four and marching away into the subterranean dimness. And there were other tables beyond, many other tables.
There are "seven thousand eight hundred and forty" jars, Tyrion is told, including the four thousand older ones that are more hazardous to handle. The queen has ordered ten thousand jars. The pyromancer assures Tyrion that there won't be any mishaps in handling the wildfire. "Above each work cell is a room filled entirely with sand.... Any fire in the cell below causes the floors to fall away, and the sand smothers the blaze at once." Tyrion adds, "Not to mention the careless acolyte." The pyromancer assures Tyrion that acolytes are never careless, but on the other hand, "the common soldier ... in the unthinking frenzy of battle ... any little mistake can bring catastrophe."

Tyrion is thinking that it would be a good idea to keep King Joffrey away from such toys, but the pyromancer proposes "A small demonstration of our powers, as it were, to distract His Grace from his many cares for an evening." Tyrion promises to take it up with the queen, "but Joff's fondness for making men fight to the death was trial enough; he had no intention of allowing the boy to taste the possibilities of burning them alive."

When he emerges from the caverns he finds Bronn waiting with messages that Ser Jacelyn wants to see him urgently, and that Cersei "commands you to return to the castle at once and attend her in her chambers." Tyrion decides to see Ser Jacelyn first. "The longer Cersei waits, the angrier she'll become, and anger makes her stupid. I much prefer angry and stupid to composed and cunning."

Ser Jacelyn tells Tyrion that Cleos Frey has arrived "from Riverrun under a peace banner with a letter from Robb Stark." Ser Cleos tells him that "Even with a peace banner, we were attacked twice.... Lost three men, and twice as many wounded." The countryside is in anarchy. Tyrion reads the letter: "The boy does not want too much. Only half the realm, the release of our captives, hostages, his father's sword ... oh, yes, and his sisters." Cleos tells Tyrion that Robb's "strength grows less each day. The river lords have departed, each to defend his own lands." Tyrion says, "These terms will never do." He tells Cleos that he will consult with the queen and the council and send their terms back with him. Cleos says, "I do not believe Robb Stark will yield easily. It is Lady Catelyn who wants this peace, not the boy."

Outside, on the ramparts, he tells Ser Jacelyn to make Cleos comfortable, but not to let him into the city. "It would never do to have the truth of conditions in King's Landing reach Robb Stark in Riverrun." And he adds that the alchemists will be sending a large supply of empty clay pots. He is to use them to train men to handle wildfire. They should fill the pots with green paint and have them practice loading and firing, and any man who spills the paint should be replaced. Then have them practice with lamp oil, and if they don't burn themselves they might be able to handle wildfire.

Then he heads to see Cersei, knowing that she won't be happy that he intercepted the letter from Robb Stark. But Tyrion's strategy is to keep Robb idle, buying time with negotiations while the Lannisters are raising and training an army. "Once he was ready, he and Lord Tywin could smash the Tullys and Starks between them." But that still left the Baratheon brothers to contend with.

On the way to see the queen, he comes across a man haranguing the crowd in Cobbler's Square:
"We have become swollen, bloated, foul. Brother couples with sister in the bed of kings, and the fruit of their incest capers in his palace to the piping of a twisted little monkey demon. Highborn ladies fornicate with fools and give birth to monsters! Even the High Septon has forgotten the gods!"
When he reaches his chambers he finds Cersei there. She is in a foaming rage about offering Myrcella to the Prince of Dorne. He pours himself a cup of wine, and says, "Myrcella is a princess. Some would say this is what she was born for. Or did you plan to marry her to Tommen?" Cersei knocks the cup out of his hand.

He explains the strategy to her: "Renly has taken Dorne's allegiance for granted. Myrcella is nine, Trystane Martell eleven. I have proposed they wed when she reaches her fourteenth year." She will be a hostage, Cersei says. Tyrion replies, "I suspect Martell will treat Myrcella more kindly than Joffrey has treated Sansa Stark." He mentions that he has also offered Martell his sister's killer and a seat on the council. She says, "You've offered too much, and without my authority or consent." He loses his temper and replies, "What would you have offered him, that hole between your legs?"

She slaps him, but he vows "that was the last time you will ever strike me." She retorts that their father's letter isn't enough to keep Tyrion safe. "A piece of paper. Eddard Stark had a piece of paper too, for all the good it did him." Tyrion says nothing to this, but pours himself another cup of wine and asks, "How safe do you think Myrcella will be if King's Landing falls? Renly and Stannis will mount her head beside yours."

To Tyrion's astonishment, Cersei begins to cry. He reaches out to comfort her, but she pulls away from him. "It should not have hurt, yet it did, more than any slap." He tells her he didn't mean to frighten her and promises that nothing will happen to Myrcella. But she is frustrated by the failure to liberate Jaime, and by the lack of action. She says that Renly could be at the gates any day now, and he reassures her. "From Harrenhal it is a straight, swift march down the kingsroad. Renly will scarce have unlimbered his siege engines before Father takes him in the rear. His host will be the hammer, the city walls the anvil. It makes a lovely picture."

Cersei begins to feed on these reassurances, but she is still suspicious that Tyrion should know so much about strategy and tactics. "Did Father tell you his intentions when he sent you here?" "No," he says, "I glanced at a map." She grows suspicious again, so he gives her Robb's letter, and says, "if we weren't winning, would the Starks have sued for peace?" She is affronted that he should have the letter before her, but he says, "What else is a Hand for, if not to hand you things?"

He congratulates himself that he has won her over to the idea of marrying off Myrcella, and that now he knows who the informer is.

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