By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

16. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 530-555


The outlaws are attacking the Bloody Mummers, and Arya wishes she could handle a bow: "She loved swordfighting, but she could see how arrows were good too." The battle is quickly over, and all but two of the Mummers are killed. Dondarrion lets them escape and take the word to Harrenhal about their defeat.

One of the men they capture is Septon Utt from Harrenhal, whom Arya remembers: "Shagwell the Fool said he always wept and prayed for forgiveness after he'd killed his latest boy." He is put on trial and swiftly convicted and hanged. Arya wishes only that they had hanged the Hound, too, but his burns had been treated and he had been given his sword, horse, and armor. They had kept his gold, however.

As they eat that night, Arya reflects that she has never seen Beric Dondarrion eat, though he would occasionally take a cup of wine. Nor did he seem to sleep. He constantly wore his breastplate, which now concealed the wound the Hound had given  him. He notices Arya looking at him, and asks if he frightens her. She tells him no, but that she is surprised to see him alive. Dondarrion asks Thoros how often he has brought him back to life, but Thoros gives the credit to R'hllor for the six times Dondarrion has been revived. But he adds that "each time is harder."

Dondarrion recalls the fights that caused each of his wounds, and Arya asks Thoros if he could bring back to life a man who had lost his head.
"I have no magic, child. Only prayers. That first time, his lordship had a hole right through him and blood in his mouth. I knew there was no hope. So when his poor chest stopped moving, I gave him the good god's own kiss to send him on his way. I filled my mouth with fire and breathed the flames inside him, down his throat to lungs and heart and soul. The last kiss it is called, and many a time I saw the old priests bestow it on the Lord's servants as they died. I had given it a time or two myself, as all priests must. But never before had I felt a dead man shudder as the fire filled him, nor seen his eyes come open. It was not me who raised him, my lady. It was the Lord R'hllor is not done with him yet."
Beric knows why Arya asked the question about the beheaded man, and says, "Your father was a good man." Harwin has told him much about Ned Stark, he says, and he would forgo the ransom for returning her if the outlaws didn't need the money so much. Arya then asks, "What if my brother doesn't want to ransom me?" Dondarrion asks why she would ask that, and she says, "my hair's messy and my nails are dirty and my feet are all hard." She knows her mother would disapprove. He laughs and tells her not to worry.

That night, when one of the men complains about his horse throwing a shoe, Gendry volunteers his services to the outlaws as a blacksmith. Arya is distressed: "He means to leave me too." Lord Beric says he would be better compensated if he stayed at Riverrun to serve Lord Tully, but Gendry says all he wants is "a forge, and food to eat, some place to sleep." When Dondarrion asks why he would choose to stay with them, Gendry says he liked what he had said about being "King Robert's men, and brothers," and that he didn't just execute the Hound but gave him a trial. So after others grill him on whether he realizes that he could be executed as an outlaw and Gendry stands his ground, Dondarrion takes his sword, administers an oath "to defend those who cannot defend themselves," and proclaims him "Ser Gendry, knight of the hollow hill."

But when he finishes, Sandor Clegane appears at the door, laughing at the ceremony. He has returned, he says, for his gold. "Maybe this time they'll kill him," Arya thinks. But instead, after an exchange of words, the Hound "looked at all their faces, every one, as if he were trying to commit them all to memory," then turns and walks out into the darkness and the pouring rain. Thoros observes that the Hound has lost everything: "He cannot go back to the Lannisters, the Young Wolf would never have him, nor would his brother be like to welcome him. That gold was all he had left, it seems to me." When someone suggests that they should hunt him down and kill him, Lord Beric says, "Clegane won his life beneath the hollow hill. I will not rob him of it." And Thoros concurs: "The Lord of Light is not yet done with Joffrey's Hound, it would seem."

The threat that the Hound poses to them troubles everyone, but no one more than Arya, who takes out the coin Jaqen H'ghar had given her, and thinks how many people she has lost: Jaqen, Hot Pie, and now Gendry, and the ones who are dead, like Lommy, Yoren, Syrio Forel, and her father. She whispers the names of those on her list she would like to kill, but realizes how few of them she can now visualize. Except for the Hound and his brother, and Joffrey and Cersei, she can't summon up the faces of the others.

In the morning, as they get ready to ride off, she tells Gendry, "If you want to be some stupid outlaw knight and get hanged, why should I care? I'll be at Riverrun, ransomed, with my brother."


They have reached the grasslands of the Gift and come upon a tower in the middle of a lake. Nearby is a ruined village, the first one they have come across since leaving the foothills. Meera feels uneasy in the open land, and Jojen asks who owns it. Bran tells them that the Night's Watch owns it. This part is called the New Gift, and it was given to the Watch by Good Queen Alysanne to honor the bravery of the men of the Wall, which she visited on her dragon. Beyond it is Brandon's Gift, the original tract of land owned by Brandon the Builder, or perhaps some other Brandon.

Jojen observes that the soil is fertile, and wonders why no one lives there. Bran says it's because they're afraid of the raids of the wildlings, which have increased since the Night's Watch has grown weaker. They look for shelter in the ruins of the village, but there is no roof on any of the buildings. A storm is coming, Jojen says. Bran remembers one of Old Nan's stories, and recognizes the tower as one in which Queen Alysanne had stayed. There are traces of gold at its top, which were put there in her honor, and there is supposed to be a causeway leading out to the tower. They find it, "a stone pathway three feet wide," mostly submerged. Meera leads them out onto it, using her frog spear to test the stones in front of them. The causeway doesn't run straight to the tower, but zigzags, a defense measure: "anyone approaching would be exposed to arrow fire from the tower for a long time."

Hodor almost slips and falls into the water twice, which frightens Bran. The water comes up to Hodor's waist, and up to the chest on Meera and Jojen. When they reach the tower they find the door has warped and can't be closed, and they enter an anteroom where there are steps leading both up and down, with iron gates barring the way. Bran looks up and sees another grate overhead: "A murder hole. He was glad there was no one up there now to pour boiling oil down on them." The grates in front of the stairs are locked and rusted, and Hodor is unable to budge them. But Bran reaches up to the grate over the murder hole and easily dislodges it, though it lands on his head when it falls.

Hodor boosts Meera and Jojen up through the murder hole, and Bran tells Hodor to find some large rocks and pile them up so he can climb up too. They find a way to the stairs and begin to climb to the top. The view from the top is impressive, but Bran is disappointed because you can't see the Wall. Then he realizes that they "must still be fifty leagues away," which makes him feel tired. (A league is three miles.)

He asks Jojen how they are going to get through the Wall to find the three-eyed crow, and Jojen says maybe they can find a passageway at one of the abandoned castles along the Wall. Bran says that his Uncle Benjen said the gates at the abandoned castle had been sealed, and that perhaps they should just head for Castle Black and tell the Lord Commander to let them through. But Jojen fears that they would be recognized: "one man willing to forswear himself would be enough to sell our secret to the ironmen or the Bastard of Bolton." Bran continues to argue for going to Castle Black, hoping to see Jon again, but Jojen suddenly shushes him.

There is a rider approaching the village. Then the storm arrives and they have to leave the roof for the room below. Meera keeps her eye on the rider, and reports that he has taken refuge in the ruins of the inn and is building a fire. Bran says they should do the same, but Jojen says the smoke would attract the man's attention. They settle down to eat the remains of a duck Meera had snared and roasted the day before. Lightning and thunder begin, and Hodor grows frightened, crying out "HODOR!" whenever it flashes and rumbles. They try to quiet him, and then a lightning flash reveals to Jojen that other men have arrived at the village, "Too many to count," but not mounted.

Hodor grows more and more agitated as the storm increases, and they try to quiet him. Suddenly, he stops and sits down quietly. Bran had "reached for him, the way I reach for Summer. He had been Hodor for half a heartbeat. It scared him." Jojen says he saw one of the men pointing at the tower, but Bran reminds them that even if they tried, they couldn't get out to it unless they had a boat or knew about the causeway.

Bran then becomes Summer, crouching in the brush and watching the men. "He could hear them talking, and there beneath the scents of rain and leaves and horse came the sharp red stench of fear...."

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