By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

8. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 341-371


Being a servant in the Wailing Tower at Harrenhal has the advantages of a dry place to sleep, soap and water, and bread and barley stew every day. Hot Pie, in the kitchens, has better food. Gendry has been sent to work in the forge. Arya's job is primarily to clean, but occasionally Weese has her run messages, bring water and food, and serve at table in the Barracks Hall. As for the ghosts of Harrenhal, she doesn't fear them, and figures that it is the sound of the wind through the cracks in the stone walls that make people believe in them. She is more afraid of the living: Weese, and Gregor Clegane, and Tywin Lannister. Weese has been added to her list of enemies that she mentions in her nightly prayers.

Harrenhal has "turned her into a mouse, scurrying about trying to avoid notice. "And as lords and ladies never notice the little grey mice under their feet, Arya heard all sorts of secrets just by keeping her ears open as she went about her duties." She hears that Stannis and Renly have declared themselves king in opposition to Joffrey, and "Even Lannister men questioned how long Joffrey would hold the Iron Throne," given that he is "ruled by a eunuch, a dwarf, and a woman."

One day a sinister group known as "the Bloody Mummers" arrives, though Weese warns her not to have anything to do with them, and explains that "They're sellswords, Weasel girl. Call themselves the Brave Companions," and "they'll hurt you bad" if you call them the Bloody Mummers.  Arya overhears one of them saying that "a northern army under Roose Bolton had occupied the ruby ford of the Trident" but won't cross until "the Young Wolf marches from Riverrun with his wild northmen and all them wolves." This is the first time Arya has heard that her brother is at Riverrun, which is nearer to Harrenhal than Winterfell is. She begins to think about escaping, perhaps with the help of some of the captives now housed in the Tower of Dread. They are being held for ransom.

One day Ser Amory Lorch arrives at the castle, and Arya is surprised to find among the men with him the three chained prisoners whom she saved by tossing them the axe when Lorch burned the holdfast. They seem to have joined up with Lorch's raiders. Rorge has a helmet that conceals his missing nose, and Biter has been further disfigured by the burns he suffered. The only one who looks her way is Jaqen H'ghar, and she isn't sure if he recognizes her. But that night she is awakened by him when he puts his hand over her mouth and whispers that he wants to talk.

"A man pays his debts," he says. "A man owes three." And she realizes that he is offering to repay her for saving him and the others. "Three lives you shall have of me. No more, no less. Three and we are done." He is offering to kill three people on his list, and she has to choose. She thinks of Joffrey and Cersei, of course, but they are too far away, and Gregor Clegane is out foraging with Raff and Chiswyck and the Tickler. But Amory Lorch and Weese are there.

Then Gregor and his men return, and Arya is sent by Weese to see if they have clothes that need mending. She enters without being noticed, and overhears Chiswyck telling a story about a woman Clegane raped and how the others followed his example. Horrified, she forgets to ask the men about the clothes, and Weese canes her until she bleeds. Two nights later, she sees Jaqen H'ghar when she is serving at table in the Barracks Hall and whispers "Chiswyck" in his ear. Three days later, she hears a woman in the kitchen say, "One of the Mountain's men fell off a wallwalk last night and broke his fool neck.... Some are saying it was Harren's ghost flung him down."

"She had killed Chiswyck with a whisper, and she would kill two more before she was through. I'm the ghost in Harrenhal, she thought."


She and Ser Wendel Manderly have gone with Renly and the troops to Storm's End, where she will try to fulfill her mission of bringing about a truce between Renly and Stannis, and to persuade them to join forces with Robb. Stannis rides out for the parlay accompanied by Melisandre. Catelyn meets with Stannis before Renly joins them, and he expresses his determination to win over the lords who now support Renly. "This one will never bend, she thought, yet she must try nonetheless."

Renly arrives accompanied by Brienne, though her armor gives no indication of her sex. Catelyn continues her plea: "Let us hope there will be no battle. We three share a common foe who would destroy us all." But Stannis insists, "The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who deny that are my foes." And Renly says, "The whole of the realm denies it, brother." She persists in trying to make them see that while they are feuding, Tywin is at Harrenhal with a force of twenty thousand, Jaime's followers are regrouping, and another Lannister army is forming at Casterly Rock, while Cersei and her son are defending King's Landing. "You each name yourself king, yet the kingdom bleeds, and no one lifts a sword to defend it but my son."

But Stannis and Renly continue to quarrel until Catelyn interrupts again to assert that neither of them has a claim to the throne as long as Robert's son is alive. "Prince Joffrey is his rightful heir, and Tommen after him ... and we are all traitors, however good our reasons." But Stannis plays his trump card: Joffrey isn't Robert's son, or Tommen, and Myrcella isn't his daughter. "All three of them are abominations born of incest." Catelyn, who hasn't received Stannis's letter, is astonished: "Would even Cersei be so mad?" she thinks.

But Renly doesn't believe the story, and challenges Stannis to prove it true. Stannis says that he had voiced his suspicions to Jon Arryn and not to Robert because he didn't want to be accused of plotting to change the succession: "I believed Robert would be more disposed to listen if the charges came from Lord Arryn, whom he loved." And he asserts that Cersei had Jon Arryn poisoned when he confronted her with the accusation. Catelyn remembers Lysa Arryn's letter to her accusing the queen of killing her husband, and her later accusation that Tyrion did it.

Renly then says that Stannis can have Storm's End if he wants it, but he's not giving up his challenge to the throne. Stannis retorts that it isn't Renly's to give, and Renly says to Catelyn, "he refuses my castle, he even shunned my wedding...." Stannis retorts that Renly's wedding was a "farce," and that a year ago Renly was trying to make Margaery "one of Robert's whores" -- a plot to supplant Cersei as queen. Renly replies that it doesn't matter now. "The boar got Robert and I got Margaery. You'll be pleased to know she came to me a maid." Stannis says, "In your bed she's like to die that way." (The homosexuality of Renly has only been hinted at in the novels; it was made explicit in the HBO adaptation.) Renly says he expects to father a son within the year, and mocks Stannis not only for having no sons but also throws back at him the scurrilous rumor concocted by Littlefinger that the fool Patchface is the father of Stannis's daughter by his ugly wife.

Stannis is naturally enraged, and he draws his sword, which "gleamed strangely bright in the wan sunlight, now red, now yellow, now blazing white. The air around it seemed to shimmer, as if from heat. Catelyn's horse whinnied and backed away a step, but Brienne moved between the brothers, her own blade in hand." Catelyn thinks, "Cersei Lannister is laughing herself breathless." (As indeed she had, when Tyrion brought her the news that the Baratheon brothers had turned against each other.)

Stannis back off a little and says he doesn't "wish to sully Lightbringer with a brother's blood," but he will give Renly until dawn to acknowledge his claim, and if he does he'll give him Storm's End and name him his heir until he fathers a son of his own. "Otherwise, I shall destroy you." Renly mocks him, and points to the banners of his troops and names the houses that are following him, which even include House Florent, Stannis's wife's family. Stannis replies, "'We shall see, brother.' Some of the light seemed to go out of the world when Stannis slid his sword back into its scabbard. 'Come the dawn, we shall see.'" He rides off with the red priestess behind him.

Catelyn felt very tired. It had all been for nothing. The Baratheon brothers would drown each other in blood while her son faced the Lannisters alone, and nothing she could say or do would stop it. It is past time I went back to Riverrun to close my father's eyes, she thought. That much at least I can do. I may be a poor envoy, but I am a good mourner, gods save me.
But when she asks Renly's permission for her to return to Riverrun he denies it. He wants her to witness the battle so she can tell Robb about it.


Sandor Clegane has come to take Sansa to see the king, who has ordered her presence because he is angry about something, so she takes special care to dress to please him. She asks the Hound what she's done to offend Joffrey, but he says, "Not you. Your kingly brother." She replies, "Robb's a traitor," but Clegane only snorts at the words, which he knows to be insincere.

They find Joffrey at the archery range, where he has just killed a cat with his crossbow. Ser Dontos is there, too, riding on his broomstick horse in his enforced guise of a fool. Sansa kneels before Joffrey, who tells her, "Stand up. You're here to answer for your brother's latest treasons." He orders Lancel to "tell her of this outrage." Lancel proclaims that, "Using vile sorcery," Robb led "an army of wargs" in an attack on Ser Stafford Lannister, butchering thousands of men while they slept, and "After the slaughter, the northmen feasted on the flesh of the slain."

Joffrey says he hasn't "forgotten how your monster savaged me." She protests that it was Arya's wolf, and that her own wolf didn't harm him, though he killed her anyway. "'No, your father did,' Joff said, 'but I killed your father.'" He boasts that he killed a man the night before who was part of the crowd begging for food. "I'd shoot you too, but if I do Mother says they'd kill my uncle Jaime," so instead he's going to punish her.

Ser Dontos intervenes and offers to beat her. He has a weapon whose head is a melon, so he rides on his broomstick around her and whacks her on the head with the melon until it bursts, covering her with its juice. She recognizes what Dontos is doing, trying to spare her from real punishment, and hopes that it makes Joffrey laugh. But he doesn't. He summons Ser Boros and Ser Meryn Trant, and tells them, "Leave her face.... I like her pretty." Boros punches her in the stomach, and she doubles over. Then he takes his sword and begins to beat her on the back of the thighs. She hears the Hound say, "Enough," but Joffrey says it isn't. He orders, "Boros, make her naked." Boros sticks his hand down her bodice and rips it, baring her breasts, then orders, "Beat her bloody."

"What is the meaning of this?" shouts Tyrion angrily. He is followed by Bronn and Timett. He calls for someone to give Sansa something to cover herself with, and Sandor Clegane tosses her his cloak. "'This girl's to be your queen,' the Imp told Joffrey. 'Have you no regard for her honor.'" Joffrey says he's punishing her and that "She has the blood of a wolf." Tyrion responds, "And you have the wits of a goose." When Joffrey says, "The king can do as he likes," Tyrion replies, "Aerys Targaryen did as he liked. Has your mother ever told you what happened to him?" Ser Boros protests that this is a threat against the king. Tyrion says, "Bronn, Timett, the next time Ser Boros opens his mouth, kill him.... Now that was a threat, ser. See the difference."

When Ser Boros grumbles, "The queen shall hear of this," Tyrion asks Joffrey, "shall we send for your mother?" Which of course is the last thing Joffrey wants to do. "Wanton brutality is no way to win your people's love ... or your queen's," Tyrion advises him. "Fear is better than love, Mother says," Joffrey replies, pointing at Sansa. Tyrion comments, "A pity Stannis and Renly aren't twelve-year-old girls as well," and orders Bronn and Timett to escort Sansa as they leave.

In the Tower of the Hand, servants bathe and dress Sansa and Maester Frenken tends to her wounds, then gives her a sleeping potion. When she wakes, she realizes that she has been put in Arya's old room. Tyrion comes to see her there and explains why Joffrey was so angry. "Six nights gone, your brother fell upon my uncle Stafford, encamped with his host at a village called Oxcross not three days ride from Casterly Rock. Your northerners won a crushing victory. We received word onlhy this morning."

Sansa mouths the usual words, "My brother is a vile traitor," which only makes Tyrion smile. He tells her that the northmen crept into the camp and cut the horse lines, then Robb sent his wolf in to frighten the horses, who panicked and trampled men in their pavilions and frightened the recruited foot soldiers away. Ser Stafford was killed by Rickard Karstark with a lance, and four more knights were killed, and more taken prisoners. When Sansa says, "there was no sorcery?" Tyrion says, "Sorcery is the sauce fools spoon over failure to hide the flavor of their own incompetence."

He asks how she feels about Joffrey now, and she proclaims, "My love for His Grace is greater than it has ever been." Tyrion laughs. "Well, someone has taught you to lie well." Then he tells her that he has no intention of making her marry Joffrey. She hesitates to respond, fearing that it's a trick, and says, "I only want to be loyal." He asks why she visits the godswood every day, and she thinks, "I pray for Robb's victory and Joffrey's death ... and for home. For Winterfell." But she says, "I pray for an end to the fighting." Tyrion says that will happen soon, when there's a battle between Robb and Tyrion's father, which "will settle the issue." He knows what she's hoping for, and warns her, "A battle is not a war, and my lord father is assuredly not my uncle Stafford. The next time you visit the godswood, pray that your brother has the wisdom to bend the knee. Once the north returns to the king's peace, I mean to send you home."

He then suggests that she stay there, and he'll give her some of his men as guards, but she protests, "the wildlings frighten me." "Me as well," he admits. She says she would rather return to her own room, and he agrees and escorts her there.

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