By Charles Matthews

Thursday, September 29, 2011

17. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 556-589


Jon and the wildlings are moving through the Gift, and they come upon a somewhat familiar location: a tower in the middle of a lake near a deserted village. Ygritte is amazed at the size of the tower, and when Jon tells her there are towers three times its height at Winterfell, and one taller than the Wall in Oldtown, she doesn't believe him. He wishes he could take her to Winterfell, but she says she would be content to come back here and live in this tower: "Would you want that, Jon Snow? After?"

The word "after" haunts him, because to Ygritte it means "After the war. After the conquest. After the wildlings break the Wall...." -- things that he is sworn to prevent. But her entire world view is antithetical to his:
"The gods made the earth for all men t' share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can't eat them apples. My stream, you can't fish here. My wood, you're not t' hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I'll chop 'em off, but maybe if you kneel t' me I'll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t' be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t' kneel." 
When Jon tries to argue with her, she answers with her usual line: "You know nothing, Jon Snow." It is her response to his attempt to persuade her that Mance Rayder can't win his war against the people on this side of the Wall: "I don't doubt that you're all very brave, but when it comes to battle, discipline beats valor every time. In the end Mance will fail as all the Kings-beyond-the-Wall have failed before him. And when he does, you'll die. All of you."

She refuses to hear him, and he knows from that point that his duty is going to prevail over their love. He is also aware that if he is forced to kill one of his own, a brother of the Night's Watch, he is doomed to remain with the wildlings. And he knows that Castle Black is defenseless except for the Wall, and as far as he can guess is sadly undermanned, with only the weakest and least-trained men left to guard it. "If the Magnar takes Castle Black unawares, it will be red slaughter, boys butchered in their beds before they know they are under attack." He has to find a way to warn them, and he worries what will happen to Ygritte when his betrayal is discovered.

He has also lost Ghost, and wonders if he really went to Castle Black or if he has joined a pack on the other side of the Wall. "He had no sense of the direwolf, not even in his dreams. It made him feel as if part of himself had been cut off."

It is dark and a storm is raging when they reach the village by the lake. He can see the tower when the lightning flashes. They have also spotted a fire in the ruins of the inn. A scout goes ahead and reports that it is "An old man with a horse." Jon knows that Styr will kill the old man and that he mustn't do anything to prevent it, so he finds shelter in the ruins of a cottage. Ygritte joins him there, and he tells her that he recognizes the tower. She says some of the Thenns say they have heard noises coming from it, like shouting. He says that they should go out to investigate the noise -- having recognized the tower, he knows about the causeway, too. When the lightning comes again, he points out the gilding on the top of the tower, and tells her the story of Queen Alysanne.

Jon is summoned by the Magnar, and Ygritte comes with him. Styr commands Jon to kill the old man, and he reluctantly draws Longclaw as the man begs for mercy. He hesitates, and Ygritte urges him, "You must. T' prove you are no crow, but one o' the free folk." But Jon picks up on the last phrase and refuses to follow through: "'You command Thenns,' Jon told [Styr], 'not free folk.'" Styr replies, "I see no free folk. I see a crow and a crow wife."

"I'm no crow wife!" Ygritte says, and takes her own knife and slits the man's throat. Then she shouts, "You know nothing, Jon Snow!" and throws the knife at his feet. Jon expects to be attacked by the Thenns, but at that moment there is a blinding flash of lightning and a wolf attacks. Jon thinks it's Ghost at first, but another flash reveals to him that the wolf is gray. He lashes out with Longclaw and manages at the same time to grab the mane of the old man's frightened horse and leap onto its back. Desperately clinging to the horse, he rides off through the storm. A spear flies past him, but the sounds of pursuit behind him grow more faint.

He rides as long as he can, not knowing what direction he's headed, and when the storm is ended and he finally stops he feels "a deep throbbing ache in his right thigh." He realizes that his leg has been pierced by an arrow, and when he tries to pull it out, the pain is too great. Then he thinks about the wolf attack: "Like a grey wind.... Could Robb have returned to the north?" But the pain makes it hard to concentrate on "the wolf, the old man, Ygritte, any of it...." He dismounts, and the wounded leg gives under him. He is bleeding profusely, and knows that the arrow has to come out. "Jon pushed back his bloody breeches to get a better grip, grimaced, and slowly drew the shaft through his leg. How he got through that without fainting he never knew."

He washes the wound in the stream the horse is drinking from, and binds his leg. He studies the arrow, but can't tell whether its fletching was gray or white. "Ygritte fletched her arrows with pale grey goose feathers. Did she loose a shaft at me as I fled?  Jon could not blame her for that." He rests for a while as the horse grazes, wondering how he had been able to leap on her back while carrying a sword in one hand. The sky has cleared, and he finds his way north by looking at the stars. He heads for the Wall and Castle Black. "I am going home, he told himself. But if that was true, why did he feel so hollow?"


She has ridden out with Ser Jorah to see the forces arrayed against hers to defend the city of Yunkai. They number about five thousand, she estimates, and Jorah confirms the number, pointing out that the flanks of the army are made up of mercenaries. The center is composed of Yunkai soldiers. He says they can be defeated easily, but at the risk of bloodshed on their side: "Astapor was complacent and vulnerable. Yunkai is forewarned." Daenerys decides to parley not only with the Yunkai slavers, but also with the two groups of sellswords, each separately: "The Stormcrows at midday, the Second Sons two hours later."

She returns to the camp to talk to Grey Worm, who had been designated the leader of the Unsullied after she set them free and told them to select officers. She had abolished the practice of having the Unsullied select new names each day, and Grey Worm had elected to keep the name he had drawn on the day he was set free, thinking it a lucky one. She tells him that they are to spare the life of any slave soldier who surrenders. "The fewer slain, the more remain to join us after."

After freeing the slaves of Astapor, she had left the city in the charge of "a council of former slaves led by a healer, a scholar, and a priest." But tens of thousands of the newly freed had chosen to follow her. They are "more burden than benefit," but she can't bring herself to turn them away since she had been the one to set them free.

She confers with Missandei about the Yunkai, and learns that they speak a dialect of Valyrian and that the slavers who rule the city are called the Wise Masters. Ser Jorah arrives with three captains of the Stormcrows, whose spokesman seems to be a Ghiscari named Prendahl na Ghezn. She learns of his contempt for the other group of sellswords, the Second Sons, and tells him that if he leaves the Yunkai and joins her, "you shall keep the gold the Yunkai'i paid you and claim a share of the plunder besides, with greater rewards later when I come into my kingdom. Fight for the Wise Masters, and your wages will be death."

Prendahl rejects the offer and insults Daenerys in the bargain, but she tells him to go back and present the offer to his men and to report his decision the next day. As they leave, one of the captains, a flamboyant Tyroshi named Daario Naharis, glances back at her "and inclined his head in polite farewell."

The commander of the Second Sons arrives two hours later. He is a Braavosi named Mero, but calls himself the Titan's Bastard. He makes indecent proposals to her but she parries them and makes him an offer to join her side, too. She can tell that his sexual swagger angers Ser Jorah, but says that she will await his answer tomorrow. Mero likes the wine she has served him and she sends him away with a wagon full of it. When he is gone, Arstan Whitebeard advises her not to trust him: "That one has an evil reputation, even in Westeros.... He will drink three toasts to your health tonight and rape you on the morrow." Jorah agrees, saying that under Mero's leadership the Second Sons have become "near as bad as the Brave Companions." But Daenerys says she doesn't want him for his reputation but for his numbers.

The Yunkai delegation is led by a man named Grazdan mo Eraz, who blusters, "I am told you have freed your eunuchs. Freedom means as much to an Unsullied as a hat to a haddock." He says they will re-enslave the survivors of the battle and retake Astapor, and sell Daenerys into prostitution: "There are pleasure houses in Lys and Tyrosh where men would pay handsomely to bed the last Targaryen." She shouldn't waste her effort on conquering Yunkai when she "will need every man to regain your father's throne in far Westeros. Yunkai wishes you only well in that endeavor. And to prove the truth of that, I have brought you a gift."

She opens the chest that is placed before her, which is full of gold coins. "Very pretty," she says. "I wonder how many chests like this I shall find when I take your city?" She says she has a gift in return: She gives him three days, at the end of which he is to free all of the city's slaves and allow them to take whatever they want from their masters as payment for their years of enslavement. Each of them is to "be given a weapon, and as much food, clothing, coin, and goods as he or she can carry." Then the Unsullied will enter the city and make sure that everyone has been freed. And if they have been, Yunkai and its people will be unharmed.

When Grazdan says she is mad, she says, "Dracarys," and the three dragons reply, with Drogon spitting fire that sets his robe aflame. Whitebeard douses the fire with a flagon of water. When Grazdan protests that he was under safe conduct, she says she'll buy him a new robe if he meets her demands about freeing the slaves. "Elsewise, Drogon will give you a warmer kiss."

When he is gone, she tells Ser Jorah to call the bloodriders, and when they are all assembled tells them that they will attack at an hour past midnight. "The Stormcrows will be arguing about my offer. The Second Sons will be drunk on the wine I gave Mero. And the Yunkai'i believe they have three days." The Unsullied will attack from right and left and the horsemen will move in a wedge through the center. When she asks what they think of the plan, Ser Jorah says, "I think you are Rhaegar Targaryen's sister," and Arstan agrees, "and a queen as well."

At midnight, Ser Jorah comes to her with the news that the Unsullied had caught Daario Naharis trying to sneak into the camp. When he is brought to her the Tyroshi informs her that he and the Stormcrows are hers, and presents her with the heads of the other two captains. At her request, he swears his sword to her service. Then she sends him back to lead the Stormcrows in an attack on the rear of the Yunkish forces.

When he is gone, Ser Jorah protests her decision, saying she can't trust a man like Naharis. But she sees the sexual jealousy behind his opinion, remembering the prophecy: "And I shall be betrayed twice more, once for gold and once for love." She asks if he is "the only man I should ever trust?"
"You have been a better friend to me than any I have known, a better brother than Viserys ever was. You are the first of my Queensguard, the commander of my army, my most valued counselor, my good right hand. I honor and respect and cherish you -- but I do not desire you, Jorah Mormont, and I am weary of your trying to push every other man in the world away from me, so I must needs rely on you and you alone. It will not serve, and it will not make me love you any better."
When she sends him off to prepare for the battle, she is filled with doubt and uncertainty and remembers that "Mirri Maz Duur had promised that she would never bear a living child. House Targaryen will end with me." She turns to her dragons and calls them her children, "my three fierce children."

She calls for Whitebeard and asks him to tell her about her brother Rhaegar. He says that "He was born in grief, my queen, and that shadow hung over him all his days." As he is elaborating on her brother's melancholy, the dragons hear the sound of horses and begin to roar. Ser Jorah enters to report on the victory, which had gone as Daenerys had foreseen. They "have several thousand captives" and their own losses amount to "A dozen. If that many."

The next day they march to the city, and on the third the gates open and the freed slaves emerge. Missandei tells them "that they owed their freedom to Daenerys Stormborn, the Unburnt, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and Mother of Dragons." People begin to cry out the word "Mhysa!" When Daenerys asks what it means, Missandei tells her, "It is Ghiscari, the old pure tongue. It means 'Mother.'"

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