By Charles Matthews

Thursday, September 1, 2011

16. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 589-629


Riverrun is celebrating the thwarting of the attempt by the Lannister troops to cross the river, but Catelyn is in no mood to celebrate. She has received terrible news that she doesn't want to share.

Only Brienne is there to keep her company, and Catelyn urges her to join the others at the celebration. She hasn't told anyone of the news from Winterfell, but now she tells Brienne, "Bran and Rickon tried to escape, but were taken at a mill on the Acorn Water. Theon Greyjoy has mounted their heads on the walls of Winterfell. Theon Greyjoy, who ate at my table since he was a boy of ten."

Brienne is shocked, and tries to comfort Catelyn: "Your sons, they ... they're with the gods now." But Catelyn has lost her faith: "What god would let this happen? Rickon was only a baby." And she shows Brienne the scars on her hands that she received defending Bran from the assassin. She remembers how Summer saved Bran and wonders if Theon killed the direwolves. She talks to Brienne about Sansa and Arya, and then says, "I want them all dead, Brienne. Theon Greyjoy first, then Jaime Lannister and Cersei and the Imp, every one, every one."

Brienne says that the queen has children, and when she hears what happened to Bran and Rickon she may be moved to release Sansa and Arya. But Catelyn sadly dismisses the thought as naive, and then thinks about vengeance. "The Starks do not used headsmen. Ned always said that the man who passes the sentence should swing the blade, though he never took any joy in the duty. But I would, oh, yes." Then she says, "I've sent him wine."

Brienne is confused until Catelyn explains: She sent wine to Jaime Lannister, as she had sent wine to Cleos Frey to loosen his tongue. She asks Brienne to join her at midnight, then leaves to see her father. Maester Vyman is there and offers to give her something to help her sleep, but Cersei says, "I will not sleep away my grief." She tells him to join the celebration and sits by her father, who is asleep.

At midnight, Brienne comes to her and they go to Jaime's cell. Catelyn posts Brienne outside the cell as she goes in to confront Jaime. It's a sordid cell, with an overflowing bucket for a toilet. Jaime hasn't touched the wine she sent. He hasn't shaved or washed since he was confined there after the escape attempt, and he blinks in the unaccustomed torchlight. "He was fettered at wrist and ankle, each cuff chained to the others, so he could neither stand nor lie comfortably."

He is proud and defiant, however. And he mocks her by offering to have sex with her, and then by claiming that Robb is afraid to meet him in combat and is hiding behind her skirts. She says she has come to ask him questions, and he says he'll answer them if she'll answer his. Then he asks for the wine, takes a sip, and asks for her first question.

"Are you Joffrey's father?" she asks. And he admits that he is, and of "the rest of Cersei's brood." When she asks if he is his sister's lover, he admits that, too, and then says she owes him two answers. He asks first if all of his kin are still alive, and she tells him that his uncle Stafford Lannister was killed in battle, but that Cersei, Tyrion, and their father are still alive.

Then she asks about Bran's fall, and he tells her that he threw him from the window. She wants to kill him at that moment, but remembers that her daughters are still hostage. He says that Bran saw something he shouldn't have, and that he tried to kill him. So she accuses him of sending the assassin to finish the job.
"Did I now?" Jaime lifted his cup and took a long swallow. "I won't deny we talked of it, but you were with the boy day and night, your maester and Lord Eddard attended him frequently, and there were guards, even those damned direwolves ... it would have required cutting my way through half of Winterfell. And why bother, when the boy seemed like to die of his own accord?"
She has him swear that he didn't send the assassin, and he does so "On my honor as a Lannister." She shows him what she thinks of his honor as a Lannister by kicking over the waste bucket. As the brown filth flows across the floor toward him, he vows, "I have never yet hired anyone to do my killing. Believe what you will, Lady Stark, but if I had wanted your Bran dead I would have slain him myself.

She realizes to her surprise that he is telling the truth. He adds that he would have known if Cersei had hired the assassin, and as for Tyrion, he's "as innocent as your Bran. He wasn't climbing around outside of anyone's window, spying." So, she asks, what about the dagger Tyrion won from Littlefinger? Jaime he remembers the dagger because Robert showed it to him at the feast after the Knight of Flowers unhorsed Jaime. Whoever won the dagger had been betting on the Knight, and not on Jaime. Catelyn remembers that Tyrion had said the same thing, and that he never bet against his brother. She wants to believe Littlefinger's version of the story, but her doubts increase, especially when Jaime says, "I've admitted to shoving your precious urchin out a window, what would it gain me to lie about this knife?"

He then asks her about Renly and Stannis, and she tells him that Stannis is marching on King's Landing and Renly is dead, murdered by Stannis with "some black art I do not understand." Jaime is drinking as they talk about Robb's campaign against the Lannisters, and when he finishes the wine she realizes that he is drunk. He asks if Ned ever told her how his father and his brother Brandon, to whom Catelyn was betrothed, were killed by Aerys Targaryen, whom Jaime slew. She says she assumes they were strangled or beheaded, but he tells her the full story.

After Rhaegar Targaryen killed Brandon and Ned's sister, Lyanna, Brandon went to the Red Keep and issued a challenge to Rhaegar. He wasn't there, and Aerys took Brandon and his men hostage, ordering Rickard Stark and the fathers of the other men to court to answer the charge of treason against Brandon and the others. "Lord Rickard demanded a trial by combat, and the king granted the request," Jaime tells her. Rickard went in armor prepared to fight, but instead Aerys had him suspended over a fire. "The king told him that fire was the champion of House Targaryen. So all Lord Rickard needed to do to prove himself innocent of treason was ... well, not burn."

While Rickard was hanging over the fire, Aerys had Brandon brought in, his hands chained behind him, "and around his neck was a leathern cord attached to a device the king had brought from Tyrosh." Brandon's sword was placed just out of reach, and Aerys challenged Brandon to free his father. But as Brandon struggled to reach the sword, the cord grew tighter and strangled him. Lord Rickard's armor grew red hot as he died. So when Jaime killed Aerys, he brought about the revenge that the Starks wanted. "As for your Ned, he should have kissed the hand that slew Aerys, but he preferred to scorn the arse he found sitting on Robert's throne." 

When he asks if she doesn't find these ironies amusing, she says, "I find nothing about you amusing, Kingslayer."
"That name again. I don't think I'll fuck you after all, Littlefinger had you first, didn't he? I never eat off another man's trencher. Besides, you're not half so lovely as my sister." His smile cut. "I've never lain with any woman but Cersei. In my own way, I have been truer than your Ned ever was. Poor old dead Ned. So who has shit for honor now, I ask you? What was the name of that bastard he fathered?" 
Catelyn calls for Brienne, and when she enters, tells her, "Give me your sword."


Theon is dreaming that he is pursued by "great wolves the size of horses with the heads of small children." "They're dead, dead, I saw them killed, he tried to shout, I saw their heads dipped in tar." And then he is awakened by Wex and by Reek, who tells him that his sister has come to Winterfell with the reinforcements he wanted.

As he dresses, he remembers his other dreams, of being in the mill, dressing the dead boys, and of fucking the miller's wife and then having her killed. He goes to the Great Hall with his guards, which he needs because three of his men have been killed. In retribution he killed Farlen, the kennelmaster, who reminded him, "M'lord Eddard always did his own killings." Not wanting to "look like a weakling," Theo had to behead Farlen himself, but it took four attempts to sever the head, and Theon was sick afterward.

He finds Asha in the hall with only fifty men, most of them his, and Reek tells him that she only brought twenty. She says, "I saw the heads above your gates. Tell me true, which one gave you the fiercest fight, the cripple or the babe?" He recalls the hostility when he mounted the heads on the castle. Maester Luwin had asked to sew the heads back on the bodies and put them in the crypts with the other Starks, but Theon refused the request. He had burned the bodies, and kept only the "slag of melted silver and cracked jet, all that remained of the wolf's-head brooch that had once been Bran's."

He asks Asha how she expects him to hold Winterfell with the twenty men she brought, and she replies that only ten are his. She needs to keep ten to protect her through the woods where direwolves are prowling. She asks to speak with him privately, so they go to Ned Stark's old meeting room. He tells her that Dagmer Cleftjaw was unable to keep Torrhen's Square, and she says she knows. This means that Leobald Tallhart has been able to leave to join Ser Rodrik, and that there are other forces gathering to take Winterfell back.

She points out that if he had razed the castle and taken Bran and Rickon back to Pyke with him as hostages, he might have won the war. But by mounting the heads on the walls he has turned all of the neighboring families against him. "How could you be such a bloody fool? Children...." He shouts, "They defied me!" at her, and claims that he has revenged the deaths of their brothers, Rodrik and Maron. But she urges him to torch Winterfell and go back to Deepwood Motte with her. He refuses, so she takes half of the men she brought with her and leaves.

Reek appears quietly. "Theon had not heard him approach, nor smelled him either." He wishes he had had Reek killed after he murdered the others. Reek can read and write, so he has to trust him not to spread the word of what they have done. But he offers to help Theon find some more men, perhaps two hundred, so he agrees to give him whatever he wants if he does. Reek says he wants Palla, the kennel girl, who was raped by Theon's men before he could put a stop to it. "Reek was gone before the sun went down, carrying a bag of Stark silver and the last of Theon's hopes."

That night he dreams of corpses: King Robert and Lord Eddard, men like Jory Cassel who had died at King's Landing, the men who had been killed at Winterfell, the miller's wife, Farlen, and the wildling Theon had killed while saving Bran's life. Then others he can't identify, and finally the doors open and Robb Stark enters with Grey Wolf, "and man and wolf alike bled from half a hundred savage wounds." He wakes screaming, and orders the guards to send for Maester Luwin. But by the time Luwin arrives, Theon has had a cup of wine, so he pours the sleeping potion the maester leaves him down the privy shaft. "He wants me to sleep, yes ... to sleep and never wake. He'd like that as much as Asha would." He sends for Kyra and fucks her brutally, but still can't sleep.

At dawn he goes outside and looks at the heads on the wall.
The miller's boys had been of an age with Bran and Rickon, alike in size and coloring, and once Reek had flayed the skin from their faces and dipped their heads in tar, it was easy to see familiar features in those misshapen lumps of rotting flesh. People were such fools. If we'd said they were rams' heads, they would have seen horns.


She sees Joffrey off to battle, dressed in crimson and gold armor. "Bright, shining, and empty, Sansa thinks." Tyrion is riding off with Ser Mandon Moore by his side, and when Tyrion sees her he calls out, "surely my sister has asked you to join the other highborn ladies in Maegor's?" She replies that Joffrey had wanted her to be there to see him depart, and that she would join the queen after visiting the sept to pray. "I won't ask for whom," Tyrion replies. He tells her that he should have sent her with Tommen, but that she should be safe at Maegor's.

Then Joffrey calls her over to kiss his new sword, which he has called Hearteater. "He'd owned a sword named Lion's Tooth once, Sansa remembered. Arya had taken it from him and thrown it in a river." He tells her proudly that he is going to "command the Three Whores" -- the catapults -- and smiles. "His plump pink lips always made him look pouty. Sansa had liked that once, but now it made her sick."

She goes to the sept and prays to each of the seven gods, and joins in the hymns. She sings the prayers for her family and the people she has known, living and dead, "and finally, toward the end,  she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him." But when the septon called on them to pray for the king, she leaves, pushing her way through the crowd. "Let his sword break and his shield shatter, ... let his courage fail him and every man desert him."

As she joins the highborn crowd in Maegor's Holdfast, she comes across Lady Tanda and her daughters. Lollys is crying and saying, "I don't want to, I don't want to, I don't want to." She is clinging to Shae, whom Sansa sees only as "a slender, pretty girl with short dark hair who looked as though she wanted nothing so much as to shove her mistress into the dry moat, onto those iron spikes."

As she is going to the dais to join the queen, Sansa sees Ser Ilyn Payne standing in the shadows and asks Osfryd Kettleblack what he's doing there. He replies, "Her Grace expects she'll have need of him before the night's done." She wonders whose head Cersei might want chopped off. When Cersei enters and sits by her, Sansa asks the queen the same thing, and she replies, "To deal with treason, and to defend us if need be." Won't the guards protect them, she asks, and Cersei asks, "And who will protect us from my guards?" If the city falls, they'll save themselves and rob their masters and mistresses in the process. She laughs at Sansa's naïveté.


Commanding Black Betha, Davos is sailing into Blackwater Bay. Stannis has remained with the army and put the fleet under the command of Ser Imry Florent, his wife's brother, who is on Fury. The galleys are proceeding by being rowed, the sails being too good a target. Davos has suggested different tactics than Ser Imry, but because of his low birth he isn't being listened to.

They are heading for Blackwater Rush, which Stannis has already reached and is encamped on the shore across from King's Landing with twenty thousand troops, waiting for the naval forces. On the way they have taken some fishermen captive, and they have told them that Tyrion has had something constructed to seal the mouth of the river. Ser Imry and the other captains are outfitted in glittering armor, but Davos has only a leather jerkin and a helmet. "At sea, heavy steel was as like to cost a man his life as to save it, he figured."

As they near the mouth of the river, Davos can't see any sign of Tyrion's protective barrier except for two "squat towers of raw new stone that stood opposite one another at the mouth of the Blackwater." He knows that these won't mean anything to Ser Imry, but Davos was born in King's Landing and "to him it was as if two extra fingers had sprouted from his knuckles." And then he sees a flash of light off of steel at the base of the tower. "A chain boom ... and yet they have not closed the river against us. Why?"

But now they have spotted the enemy ships blocking the river. To reach them and the harbor and the city, they have to pass below the walls of the castle. Davos recognizes most of the ships but there are some  important ones not there. He senses a trap, but there's no sign that the biggest of the city's ships have come in behind them, and the chain boom has not been raised.

Some pots of burning pitch have been launched from the tower, and arrows are falling. Davos's son Matthos hands him his helmet. On the shore, Davos sees Stannis's troops flying the flag with the fiery heart of Melisandre's god. He wishes they had flown Robert Baratheon's crowned stag instead. It would have attracted more sympathizers from the city. But he's glad that Melisandre has been sent to Dragonstone along with the bastard Edric Storm. Stannis had been talked into it by the argument that "men will say it was her victory, not yours. They will say you owe your crown to her spells."

Ships begin to land, but the city's defenders are quick to attack. Davos recognizes the Hound among them. He can see the three giant trebuchets beyond the gate. He hears the crash of two galleys colliding, and he commands the bowmen on his ship to fire on an enemy ship. The catapults send hundred of stones through the air.

Davos and another ship find one of the Lannister ships to ram, and it begins to sink. But then he hears a cry: "Wildfire!" Flames erupt all around. "Through black smoke and swirling green fire, Davos glimpsed a swarm of small boats bearing downriver: a confusion of ferries and wherries, barges, skiffs, rowboats, and hulks that looked too rotten to float." The barrage of boats only adds to the confusion of the battle. Black Betha is almost rammed by the White Hart, but turns at the last minute and the two ships wind up alongside each other. The crews meet in hand-to-hand combat.

Davos fights through in search of the captain of the White Hart but finds him dead. As he is bending over the captain's body, he is struck a glancing blow to the head by an axe, but his helmet protects him and he kills the attacker with his sword. A crewman comes to tell him that the White Hart is theirs. The battle rages on around them, but Davos thinks, "Ser Imry will have his victory, ... and Stannis will bring his host across, but gods be good, the cost of this...."

But then Matthos points out Swordfish about to ram a Lannister ship, and Davos sees unignited wildfire leaking from the ship. He cries out as the Swordfish splits the ship. "From inside her Davos saw green gushing from a thousand broken jars, poison from the entrails of a dying beast, glistening, shining, spreading across the surface of the river...." He orders the oarsmen to reverse and push off from the White Hart. But there is "a short sharp woof," and then a roar and the ship vanishes beneath him. He plunges into the water and when he makes his way to the surface he sees green fire towering fifty feet above him. On all sides, ships are going up in flames.

He feels himself being swept out to the bay, and knows that he's strong enough a swimmer to make it to shore. But as he looks downstream he sees that the chain has been raised and the flaming ships are all being swept toward it. "A wall of red-hot steel, blazing wood, and swirling green flame stretched before him. The mouth of the Blackwater Rush had turned into the mouth of hell."

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