By Charles Matthews

Friday, September 2, 2011

17. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 630-655


Tyrion watches the conflagration on the river and hears Joffrey cry out "My ships" in dismay as the wildfire consumes most of his fleet along with Stannis's. Tyrion thinks, "There was no other way. If we had not gone forth to meet them, Stannis would have sensed the trap." But though his plan had worked, the chain trapping the fleets into the conflagration, some of Stannis's ships had escaped because the wildfire didn't spread as evenly as Tyrion had hoped. "Stannis would be left with thirty or forty galleys, at a guess; more than enough to bring his whole host across, once they had regained their courage."

Already some of the enemy was coming ashore, so Tyrion sends word to Ser Jacelyn Bywater that they need to attack them. He also orders "the Whores," the three trebuchets, to be shifted to another angle that would fling their content farther. Joffrey pipes up, "Mother promised I could have the Whores," and Tyrion agrees. It will gratify the boy's sadism and keep him out of danger: The Antler Men, the street preachers who had been denouncing Joffrey as a child of incest, have been convicted of treason and are "trussed up naked in the square below, antlers nailed to their heads." Tyrion tells Joffrey to hurry up with his plan to load them into the trebuchets and fling them onto the enemy, "We'll want the trebuchets throwing stones again soon enough."

Word comes that hundreds of men have landed at the King's Gate and they're preparing to ram it, so Tyrion hurries there and shouts, "Who commands here? You're going out." But Sandor Clegane steps forth and says, "No." One of the mercenaries says they've been out three times and half of their men are dead or wounded, "Wildfire bursting all around us, horses screaming like men and men like horses--" Tyrion orders him out anyway, mocking his timidity, but when he orders the Hound out, Tyrion discovers that he is terrified of the fire.

Ser Mandon Moore moves in to second Tyrion's order, but Clegane refuses again. Tyrion can see now that the Hound is not only frightened, but also wounded and exhausted: "The wound, the fire ... he's done. I need to find someone else, but who?" The men won't fight without a leader. There is another great crash at the gate.
This is madness, he thought, but sooner madness than defeat. Defeat is death and shame. "Very well, I'll lead the sortie." 
The Hound laughs at the idea, and the others look at him in disbelief, but Tyrion tells Ser Mandon Moore to carry the banner of the king, and asks his squire, Podrick Payne, to give him his helmet. Ser Mandon helps Tyrion onto his horse. Tyrion looks at Clegane's men and says, "They say I'm half a man.... What does that make the lot of you?" Slowly the men begin to mount up.

He shouts, "This is your city Stannis means to sack, and that's your gate he's bringing down. So come with me and kill the son of a bitch!" He rides toward the sally port, hoping that they're following.


Osney Kettleblack arrives to tell Cersei about the course of the fighting, and Sansa overhears. She observes that the queen is drinking heavily. Musicians, jugglers, and Moon Boy and Ser Dontos are doing their best to keep the guests entertained. Cersei tells Sansa that she is doing what is "expected of a queen" and what she will have to do "should you ever wed Joffrey." She is setting an example for bravery that will stand her in good stead "If my wretched dwarf of a brother should somehow manage to prevail."

And if he doesn't, Sansa asks. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Cersei replies. She'll go to the walls and yield to Stannis. "But if Maegor's Holdfast should fall before Stannis can come up, when then, most of my guests are in for a bit of rape, I'd say. And you should never rule out mutilation, torture, and murder at times like these."

Sansa is shocked, not only that highborn women should be subject to such horrors, but also at Cersei's cold matter-of-factness. When Cersei sees this, she leans toward Sansa and says, "You little fool. Tears are not a woman's only weapon. You've got another one between your legs; and you'd best learn to use it."

The Kettleblacks return with more news of the conflagration on the Blackwater and the capture of a groom and two maids trying to escape from the city. Cersei orders their heads posted outside the stables as a warning to other potential escapees, and notifies Sansa that this is another duty of a queen. Sansa vows that if she's ever queen she will win her people over with love, not fear.

Osfryd Kettleblack brings more news of townsfolk, "rich merchants and the like," wanting to take refuge in the castle. Cersei says send them home and if they refuse to go, kill a few.  Sansa notices that she is beginning to slur her words. Cersei recalls how when they were children, she and Jaime used to switch clothes and fool their father because they looked so much alike. But things changed when they got older, she says with some bitterness.
"Jaime learned to fight with a sword and lance and mace, while I was taught to smile and sing and please. He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a new filly. Jaime's lot was to be glory and power, while mine was birth and moonblood." 
Osney Kettleblack reports that the King's Gate is now being attacked and tells the queen that Joffrey has gone to supervise the trebuchets. Cersei says she wants him out of there and back to the castle. Some of the guests ask leave to go to the sept, and Cersei grants it. Some of the women are crying, and when Sansa begins to tear up as well, Cersei tells her to save her tears for King Stannis. "Matters must have reached a desperate strait out there if they need a dwarf to lead them, so you might as well take off your mask. I know all about your little treasons in the godswood."

Sansa is startled and tells herself not to look in Ser Dontos's direction. And in fact the "treasons" Cersei has in mind are not her visits to Ser Dontos but her going there to pray -- "For Stannis. Or your brother, it's all the same. Why else seek your father's gods. You're praying for our defeat." Sansa claims she is praying for Joffrey, and Cersei asks, sarcastically, "Why, because he treats you so sweetly?" She takes a cup of wine from a servant and orders Sansa to drink it. Sansa drains the cup until her head swims.

Then Cersei asks if she would like to know why Ser Ilyn is really there. She beckons for the executioner to approach, and Sansa sees that he is carrying her father's sword, Ice. She tells Sansa, "Stannis may take the city and he may take the throne, but I will not suffer him to judge me. I do not mean for him to have us alive." And she reaches out and brushes Sansa's hair away from her neck.


Outside the gate, Tyrion orders the troops into a wedge formation. He is at the point, with Ser Mandon Moor to his right and Podrick Payne to his left. They ride around the base of the tower to where Stannis's soldiers are battering at the gate. He orders the lances to be lowered, and they charge. Tyrion, who has told the soldiers he is not going to cry out Joffrey's name, shouts "King's Landing!" and the cry is taken up by the men.

Tyrion wields his axe and takes off half of the head of a man wearing the emblem of the Florents, but feels the shock in his shoulder.  The men at the battering ram drop it and take flight, but there is fighting going on all along the riverfront. He orders his men to go back to defend the Mud Gate, and as they ride he hears cries of "Halfman! Halfman!" They ride through fire and Tyrion knows why the Hound was so frightened.

His men have scattered, each one fighting his own battle. "Tyrion felt drunk. The battle fever. He had never thought to experience it himself, though Jaime had told him of it often enough." He hacks his way through the battle. "Knights twice his size fled from him, or stood and died." A man yields to him, holding up his gauntlet in submission. Tyrion takes it from him and realizes that the man's hand is still in it and he's lying in a pool of blood, not water.

Ser Balon Swann rides up beside him and gets his attention, pointing downriver. "Steel-clad men-at-arms were clambering off a broken galley that has smashed into a pier." There are so many of them that Tyrion wonders where they are coming from, and then he realizes that so many ships have piled up across the river that it's possible to jump from one to another and to cross the river that way. "We made them a bloody bridge, he thought in dismay."

As they ride out onto the quay, a spearman kills Balon Swann's horse. Tyrion swings at him with his axe, but it is too late to rein in his horse, which leaps from the quay and lands in shallow water. Tyrion falls from the horse and loses his axe, and when he discovers that his horse has broken his leg, he draws his dagger and puts the animal out of its misery. He finds himself fighting on the bridge made of ships fighting first with his knife and then with a broken spear he finds somehow. Balon Swann and Mandon Moore are nearby.

Arrows are whizzing past, and one hits him between his shoulder and the breastplate, though he doesn't feel it. A naked man, flung by the trebuchet, drops on the deck near him and splatters him with blood. Then stones begin to land on the ship-bridge and the deck heaves, spilling him into the water. He clambers back onto the deck and suddenly realizes that as the bridge breaks up the current is driving it downstream into the firestorm.

Desperate to get off the ship, he hears Ser Mandon Moore calling him and reaching out from the deck of the next ship. As he reaches for Moore's hand he realizes that Ser Mandon is holding out his left hand. "Was that why he reeled backward, or did he see the sword after all? He would never know." He feels the pain as the point of the sword cuts into his face just below his eyes, and then the shock of falling into the water. He grabs for a broken oar and pulls himself up with it. "His eyes were full of water, his mouth was full of blood, and his head throbbed horribly."

He pulls himself up onto the deck and lies there exhausted as he sees Ser Mandon loom up over him and "put the point of his sword to the hollow of his throat." But then the deck lurches "and Ser Mandon Moore vanished with a shout and a splash." Someone else kneels over him and for a moment he thinks he has been rescued by his brother, Jaime. But it is a boy's voice, telling him he's badly hurt, and Tyrion thinks, "It sounded almost like Pod."


Ser Lancel Lannister has come to tell Cersei the battle has been lost, that Tyrion is "likely dead," as is Ser Mandon, and the Hound is missing. He also says that her ordering Joffrey back to the castle caused the troops to lose heart. "The gold cloaks are throwing down their spears and running, hundreds of them." Ser Osney Kettleblack announces that there is fighting on both sides of the river. "It may be that some of Stannis's lords are fighting each other, no one's sure, it's all confused over there." But Stannis's men have taken the riverside and are using the ram on the King's Gate again. And there are mobs trying to get out of the city at the Iron Gate and the Gate of the Gods.

Cersei tells Osfryd to raise the drawbridge and bar the doors to the holdfast, and to bring Joffrey to her. Lancel protests that this will only cause the same desertions that happened at the Mud Gate, but she ignores him and leaves the room. People start to panic, so Sansa gets to her feet and tries to reassure them that Maegor's is the safest place in the city, that Joffrey is unhurt, and that Cersei will return soon, though she knows the last is a lie. She asks Moon Boy to entertain them.

Ser Lancel is wounded and when he protested bringing Joffrey to the castle, she struck him on the wound and made it bleed again. He faints and she and a servant get him back on his feet. She tells the servant to take him to Maester Frenken, though he has a moment of remorse when she remembers he is a Lannister. "I should be killing him, not helping him." Ser Dontos comes over to her and whispers that she should go to her room and he'll come for her when the battle is over.

She leaves the room slowly, then runs up the stairs to her room, running into a guard who is already looting the place. She bars the door to her room and pulls back the draperies, looking out on the fires burning below. She decides to go to bed and try to sleep until everything is over and she knows for certain whether she is going to live or die. But a hand reaches out of the dark and grabs her wrist.

Sandor Clegane claps a hand over her mouth to keep her from crying out. She thinks, "He is drunker than I've ever seen him. He was sleeping in my bed. What does he want here?" He tells her he has lost, and that he wants Tyrion dead -- "No. Bugger that. I don't want him dead.... I want him burned. If the gods are good, they'll burn him, but I won't be here to see. I'm going." He means to leave the city if he has to fight his way out, but before that he wants her to sing the song she promised him.

She says she can't, and that he's scaring her. "Everything scares you," he says. "Look at me. Look at me." Then he tells her, "I could keep you safe.... They're all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I'd kill them." When he pulls her closer she thinks he's about to kiss her, and she closes her eyes, which only makes him say, "Still can't bear to look, can you?" He pushes her down on the bed and points his dagger at her throat. "Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life."

She sings the only song that comes to mind, one of the hymns to the Mother that had been sung earlier that day in the sept. When she can't remember more of the song there is silence, and he takes the knife away from her throat. "Some instinct made her lift her hand and cup his cheek with her fingers." He says, "Little bird" again, and leaves.

She finds herself alone, but his white cloak, stained with blood, is on the floor. She picks it up and wraps herself in it and sits there on the floor. Some time later, bells begin to ring all over the city. "They had rung the bells when King Robert died, she remembered, but this was different, no slow dolorous death knell but a joyful thunder." She could also hear cheering in the street.

She stays there until Ser Dontos appears to tell her, "The city is saved. Lord Stannis is dead, Lord Stannis is fled, no one knows, no one cares, his host is broken, the danger's done." Stannis had been cut off from the rear by men shouting for Lord Renly. Ser Balon has returned to confirm the news. Lord Tywin himself had arrived, along with Randall Tarly and Mace Tyrell. And Lord Renly himself, Dontos says, was in the vanguard. "Lord Renly in his green armor, with the fires shimmering off his golden antlers!"

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