By Charles Matthews

Saturday, September 24, 2011

13. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 441-473


They have taken refuge at Craster's, where Sam is trying to feed some broth to Bannen, who is dying. There are other wounded men, and no supplies to treat them. Craster is feeding them, but stingily, and some of the survivors have begun to complain that Craster is holding out what he has stored away. In the loft above, Gilly is giving birth, angering Craster with her screams.

Sam goes outside to escape the sounds of death and birth. Some of the brothers are practicing archery, and when they see him they call him over to demonstrate how he had killed the Other. They do so mockingly, however, calling him by his new nickname, Slayer, which embarrasses him. When he turns around to avoid them, his boot gets stuck in the thick mud of Craster's yard and he extricates himself awkwardly, provoking more mocking laughter.

Grenn is splitting logs when Sam walks over to him, and he, too, addresses Sam as Slayer. Having witnessed what Sam did, Grenn is puzzled at his protest at the nickname. Sam explains, "It's just a different way of calling me a coward." But Grenn, who is a little slow, asks, "Wouldn't you rather be Sam the Slayer than Ser Piggy?" Sam replies, "Why can't I just be Samwell Tarly?"

Anyway, he says, it was the dragonglass that killed the Other, but some of the brothers don't even believe that, and think that he made up the tale. Dywen and Dolorous Edd believe it, however, and have Sam and Grenn tell the story to Lord Commander Mormont, who asks Sam for all the dragonglass he has. There isn't much of it. The cache Jon had found was full of dagger blades and spearheads and arrowheads, but he had taken only enough to make daggers for himself, Sam, and Mormont, plus a handful of arrowheads. Sam's dagger and Mormont's remain, along with nineteen arrows and a spear with a dragonglass head. The sentries passed around the spear, and the arrows have been divided among the best archers.

Sam wonders why the wights haven't attacked Craster's, and Grenn says that they only come when it's cold. Sam asks, "is it the cold that brings the wights, or the wights that bring the cold?" He also knows only that dragonglass works on the Others. It hasn't been shown that it can do the same thing to the wights. As he is reflecting on the miserable situation in which he finds himself, Mormont approaches and calls for him.

Sam is terrified of the Old Bear, but he comes anyway, even though Mormont gruffly chides him for his fear. He asks about the dragonglass and wonders why they haven't known of its power before. He says the Watch must have known at some time of its efficacy against the Others. "The Wall was made to guard the realms of men ... and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are, when you come right down to it." They have "lost sight of the true enemy. And now he's here, but we don't know how to fight him."

Sam stammers that the maesters call it obsidian, and Mormont replies, "They can call it lemon pie for all I care. If it kills as you claim, I want more of it." They are interrupted by the appearance of Craser, who says that Gilly has had a boy, which is what Sam feared, knowing that Craster's male offspring are given to the Others as a means of appeasing them. When Craster calls the baby "another squalling mouth to feed," Sam says the Watch could take him. Mormont turns on him angrily and tells him to go look after Bannen.

But Bannen is dead. Dirk claims that he would have survived if Craster had given him enough food, and an argument breaks out about Craster's stinginess. Bannen's body is burned at sunset, and Sam is surprised that the smell of burning flesh stirs his hunger. Reflecting on this, he grows nauseated and throws up. Dolorous Edd finds him vomiting and jokes about serving up Bannen with applesauce, and then about how if Sam ever died, "There's bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I could never resist a bit of crackling." He adds that Mormont has commanded them to move out at dawn.

The news that they are leaving pleases Craster, who prepares a feast from the horses the Watch has had to slaughter, adding some beer and bread. But the smell of the roasting horsemeat reminds Sam of Bannen, and he can eat only an onion that Craster's wives serve. There are only two loaves of bread, and when one of the men asks for more, the wife who is serving it shakes her head. This draws a loud protest from another man who, when Mormont tells him to be thankful for what he's been given, replies, "I'd sooner eat what Craster's hiding, my lord." Craster says, "I gave you crows enough. I got me women to feed."

The hungry men take this as an admission that Craster has "a secret larder," and others begin speculating that it contains ham and bacon and mutton, and other food they have been deprived of for a long time. Mormont rises to command silence, but Clubfoot Karl, who has become the leader of the dissidents defies him. Mormont stands his ground, and it appears to Sam that Karl is about to back down, but Craster makes the mistake of ordering the protesters out, wielding his axe.

When someone calls Craster "Bloody bastard!" he attacks swiftly with the axe. But Dirk is faster, and he grabs Craster by the hair and slits his throat. There is a commotion as the wives scream, and the Lord Commander, standing over Craster's body, cries out, "The gods will curse us.... There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man's hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we--" But he has lost control, and Dirk grabs one of the wives and puts his dagger to her throat, saying, "There are no laws beyond the Wall, old man. Remember?
Mormont orders Dirk to release her and moves toward him, but his way is blocked by Garth of Greenaway, and Mormont is seized by Ollo Lophand. Mormont reaches for his dagger, but Ollo stabs him in the belly. "And then the world went mad."

When the revolt has ended, Sam is cradling Mormont's head in his lap. Some of the men lie dead, and one has broken his neck falling from the ladder to the loft, where he intended to rape one of Craster's wives. Grenn has tried to get Sam to come with him and Dolorous Edd and some others, but Sam was too frightened even to run. Now Mormont tells Sam to go, to head for the Wall and tell the Watch about what happened on the Fist, about the wildlings, and about the dragonglass. He adds, "Tell my son, Jorah. Tell him, take the black. My wish. Dying wish."

Sam tells him, "It's too far.... I'll never reach the Wall, my lord.... I'd sooner stay with you. See, I'm not frightened anymore. Of you, or ... of anything." But a woman behind him says, "You should be." Two of Craster's wives are standing there with Gilly, who is holding her baby. They tell him that the worst of his men are in the cellar, eating Craster's stores, or in the loft, raping the younger women. He should be gone when they finish, they say, and they have two horses waiting for him and Gilly, who reminds him of his promise to help her.
"I said Jon would help you. Jon's brave, and he's a good fighter, but I think he's dead now. I'm a craven. And fat. Look how fat I am. Besides, Lord Mormont's hurt. Can't you see? I couldn't leave the Lord Commander."
One of the women tells him that Mormont is dead, and Sam realizes she's telling the truth. She urges him to take Mormont's sword and cloak and leave. Gilly pleads with him, too. And one of the old woman says that Craster's sons will be there soon: "The white cold's rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don't lie. They'll be here soon, the sons." 


She has been blindfolded, and when the hood is lifted from her head, she finds herself in a big room that has been hollowed out inside a hill. It is fed by tunnels, from which people are appearing and gathering around a firepit. Gendry has been hooded too, and when his hood is removed he asks where they are. Lem says, "An old place, deep and secret. A refuge where neither wolves nor lions come prowling." Greenbeard points out Thoros of Myr, "a tall thin man with oddments of old armor buckled on over his ratty pink robes." When Arya saw him last, at the tourney honoring her father, he had was fat, with "a smooth face and a shiny bald head." Now his face is "droopy" and he has "shaggy grey hair."

Now the Mad Huntsman enters with his prisoner, whom he has reluctantly agreed to take to Lord Beric for judgment. The prisoner is hooded too, and when the hood is yanked off Arya recognizes Sandor Clegane. The Hound recognizes Thoros and says he used to shave his head. "I lost my razor in the woods," Thoros says. "A year in the wild will melt the flesh off a man. Would that I could find a tailor to take in my skin." He adds, "I am not the false priest you knew. The Lord of Light has woken in my heart."

On the other side of the firepit, at the top of some steps carved out of the wall, a man has been sitting. He speaks up now, descending the steps:
"When we left King's Landing we were men of Winterfell and men of Darry and men of Blackhaven, Mallery men and Wilde men. We were knights and squires and men-at-arms, lords and commoners bound together only by our purpose.... Six score of us set out to bring the king's justices to your brother.... More than eighty of our company are dead now, but others have taken up the swords that fell from their hands.... With their help, we fight on as best we can, for Robert and the realm."
Clegane points out that Robert is dead, but the man replies, "Robert is slain, but his realm remains. And we defend her." The Hound scoffs, "Is she your mother, Dondarrion? Or your whore?" Arya is startled to realize that the man is Beric Dondarrion, who "had been so handsome, Sansa's friend Jeyne had fallen in love with him." But now he's "A scarecrow of a man" with a thick red-gold beard, "a bald spot above his left ear where his head had been smashed in," a missing eye and "a dark black ring all around his neck."

The Hound continues to defy them. "You took my sword, my horse, and my gold, so take my life and be done with it ... but spare me this pious bleating." Thoros promises that he will die, "but it shan't be murder, only justice." When some of Gregor Clegane's atrocities are cited, he replies, "Do you take me for my brother? Is being born a Clegane a crime? ... Who did I murder?" From all around the room, voices call out names, until the Hound cries, "Enough.... You're making noise. These names mean nothing. Who were they?" Dondarrion replies that they were people "who died on the points of Lannister spears or saw their bellies opened by Lannister swords."

It wasn't his sword who killed them, the Hound replies. Thoros says, "You serve the Lannisters of Casterly Rock." Clegane admits that he once did so, "Me and thousands more. Is each of us guilty of the crimes of the others?" And then he denounces the pretensions of knighthood:
"A knight's a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady's favors, they're silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword's prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses. I'm the same as you. The only difference is, I don't lie about what I am. So kill me, but don't call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don't stink. You hear me?"
Then Arya charges forth: "'You are a murderer!' she screamed. 'You killed Mycah, don't say you never did. You murdered him!"

The Hound is puzzled for a moment, and asks, "And who was this Mycah, boy?" Arya protests that she's not a boy, and that Mycah was a butcher's boy. "Jory said you cut him near in half, and henever even had a sword." It dawns on Clegane suddenly: "The little sister. The brat who tossed Joff's pretty sword in the river.... Don't you know you're dead?" Dondarrion asks if he killed the butcher's boy, and Clegane admits it: "I was Joffrey's sworn shield. The butcher's boy attacked a prince of the blood." Arya protests that it was she who attacked Joffrey, and when Dondarrion asks if he saw the boy attack him, the Hound admits, "I heard it from the royal lips. It's not my place to question princes." Besides, he says, Arya's sister confirmed the story that Mycah had attacked Joffrey. Sansa lied, Arya insists, and as Thoros and Lord Beric confer, thinks, "They have to kill him. I prayed for him to die, hundreds and hundreds of times."

Finally, Dondarrion presents their decision. Since "no one here knows the truth or falsehood of the charge," it must be decided by trial by battle. Arya protests the decision, knowing the Hound's prowess with a sword. Harwin covers her mouth with his hand, but she thinks, "No, they can't, he'll go free." Clegane mocks the decision, by scoffing at the potential opponents. But Dondarrion steps forth and says that he will fight the Hound. "Arya remembered all the tales. He can't be killed, she thought, hoping against hope."

When Dondarrion is being prepared for the fight, his chest is bared, revealing the scars when a lance that should have killed him pierced his body. "Gendry sucked in his breath. 'Mother have mercy.'" Arya hopes that the Hound is frightened as well. As Dondarrion and Clegane step forth to oppose each other, Thoros offers a prayer to R'hllor: "Show us the truth or falseness of this man. Strike him down if he is guilty, and give strength to his sword if he is true. Lord of Light, give us wisdom." Then Lord Beric draws the edge of his sword across the palm of his left hand, and as the blood from the wound drips on the blade, the sword takes fire. Arya asks Gendry if it is wildfire, but Gendry says, "No. This is different.This is...." "...magic?" Arya finishes.

The battle is fierce, but it turns when the fire spreads to the Hound's shield, and then to his left arm. Cries of "Finish him!" and "Guilty!" begin, and Arya joins in eagerly. But suddenly, "The Hound gave a rasping scream, raised his sword in both hands and brought it crashing down with all his strength." And when Dondarrion blocks the cut, his flaming sword snaps in two and the Hound's blade "plowed into Lord Beric's flesh where his shoulder joined his neck and clove him clean down to the breastbone."

As Dondarrion falls face forward, with the Hound's sword still in him, Clegane rolls in the dirt to put out the flames on his arm. "Arya could only think of Mycah and all the stupid prayers she'd prayed for the Hound to die." Then the Hound, weeping, calls out for help, "Please." Arya is astonished to see his tears. Thoros sends someone to tend to his burns. Others carry Lord Beric into the darkness of one of the tunnels.

Arya is protesting the outcome of the fight, but Harwin tells her "R'hllor has judged him innocent." Furious, "She yanked Greenbeard's dagger from its sheath and spun away before he could catch her." Gendry also tries, but she is too fast. When she gets closer to the Hound, she is shocked at the burned flesh. He looks at her and says, "You want me dead that bad? Then do it, wolf girl. Shove it in. It's cleaner than fire." But then he collapses and Tom Sevenstrings saves him from falling. She hesitates, but once again says, "You killed Mycah.... Tell them. You did. You did."
"I did." His whole face twisted. "I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father's head off."
Lem grabs the dagger from her hand, and she screams, helplessly, "You just go to hell!"

Behind her a voice says, "He has." She turns to see Beric Dondarrion standing behind her with his bloody hand on Thoros's shoulder.

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