By Charles Matthews

Friday, September 30, 2011

19. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 620-658


Jeyne rides up to bid farewell to Robb as they set out for the wedding. Catelyn had insisted that she stay behind: On the one hand, Lord Walder Frey might be insulted by her absence from the festivities, but on the other, he might take it as a reminder of Robb's breach of faith. She tells Robb, "you have too much of your father in you to sit there while he insults Jeyne to your face." Of the Westerlings, only Jeyne's brother, Ser Raynald, is part of the wedding party, serving as Robb's banner-bearer. Brynden Blackfish has been left in charge of the defense of Riverrun.

The steady rain befits Catelyn's mood, in which she meditates on what is ahead for her: "two dead sons, an empty bed, and a castle full of ghosts." She wishes for news of Brienne and the mission to retrieve her daughters, but has to tell herself, "I must be strong for Robb. If I despair, my grief will consume me." Her brother, on the other hand, is fretting only about whether the daughter of Walder Frey will be pretty enough. Catelyn snaps at him, "You'd be wiser to pray that Roslin is strong and healthy, with a good head and a loyal heart."

And then she rides off, though she regrets losing patience when she remembers how disappointed she was at first sight of Ned Stark, who was shorter and plainer than his brother Brandon, to whom she had first been engaged. "Even when he took her maidenhood, their love had more of duty to it than of passion. We made Robb that night, though, we made a king together."

Their path takes them through the Whispering Wood, which had been the site of Robb's first great victory, and the signs of that battle still remain, including "a face peering out at her, the shape of the skull beginning to emerge from beneath the melting brown flesh." She wonders if Ned's bones had ever reached Winterfell before the war sealed off all roads leading there.

Five days along the route, word arrives that the continuing rain has washed out the bridge they had planned to cross, sweeping away two of the horses and one of the riders who had gone ahead to scout. This means an even longer and slower route, and Catelyn frets that Lord Walder "may take this delay as a deliberate insult." After eight more days they reach Oldstones, where the rain stops briefly. She recalls camping there once with her father when she was twelve. Petyr Baelish, Littlefinger, was with them too.

She finds Robb alone except for Grey Wind, and they talk about the history of the place. He tells her that he had hoped to leave Jeyne pregnant, but is uncertain if he did. She says he is still young.
"Young, and a king," he said. "A king must have an heir. If I should die in my next battle, the kingdom must not die with me. By law Sansa is next in line of succession, so Winterfell and the north would pass to her." His mouth tightened. "To her, and her lord husband, Tyrion Lannister. I cannot allow that. I will not allow that. That dwarf must never have the north." 
She agrees, and says that he must name another heir. She talks of some distant family connections, but he reminds her that his father had a son who is still alive. She returns to her old antipathy to Ned's bastard, but Robb persists, "Jon's more a Stark than some lordlings from the Vale who have never so much as set eyes on Winterfell." She reminds him that as a member of the Night's Watch Jon has sworn a lifelong vow neither to take a wife nor to own lands. And he replies that the Kingsguard take a similar oath, yet the Lannisters had no compunction about taking away the white cloaks from Barristan Selm and Boros Blount. "If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon's place, I'll wager they find some way to release him from his vows."

She persists, "A bastard cannot inherit." But he has an answer for her: He can be legitimized by a royal decree. She argues back, "I know you trust Jon. But can you trust his sons? Or their sons? ... If you make Jon legitimate, there is no way to turn him bastard again. Should he wed and breed, any sons you may have by Jeyne will never be safe." And she reminds him that Theon Greyjoy had been raised with him, and that he killed Bran and Rickon. Robb protests that Jon is no Theon, but she continues: What about Arya.

Arya, he says, is dead. "Why do you lie to yourself? Arya's gone, the same as Bran and Rickon, and they'll kill Sansa too once the dwarf gets a child from her. Jon is the only brother that remains to me. Should I die without issue, I want him to succeed me as King in the North." She tells him, "Do not ask it." And he cuts off the discussion: "I don't have to. I'm the king." And he walks off with Grey Wolf following.

The rain returns, doing nothing to lift Catelyn's gloom. But one day news arrives that lightens everyone's mood: Balon Greyjoy is dead. He had been crossing one of the bridges on the Pyke when a storm came up and blew it to pieces, carrying him with it. And shortly after his death, his pirate brother Euron had returned and taken the throne. Robb points out that Theon is the rightful heir, and that Balon's brother Victarion, who now holds Moat Cailin, commands the Iron Fleet. And someone else mentions Asha, who has taken and holds Deepwood Motte. "What's true for the brothers is even more true for her," Robb says. "She will need to sail home to oust Euron and press her own claim." He begins to plot a strategy that involves joining forces with Roose Bolton and the Freys.

Then he turns to Catelyn. She will go with Lord Mallister to Seagard until the war is over. She thinks, "Is this my punishment for opposing him about Jon Snow? Or for being a woman, and worse, a mother?" She realizes that she has been under suspicion since she released Jaime Lannister, and says she would rather return to Riverrun. But Robb has an answer for that: "I left my wife at Riverrun. I want my mother elsewhere. If you keep all your treasures in one purse, you only make it easier for those who would rob you. After the wedding, you shall go to Seagard, that is my royal command."

And then he picks up a sheet of parchment, saying that he doesn't want to leave matters as chaotic as Balon Greyjoy did at his death. He commands them "to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision."

"A king indeed, Catelyn thought, defeated." She hopes that the military campaign he has just mapped out is a trap that works "as well as the one in which he had just caught her."


Exhausted, Sam has reached an abandoned village that he desperately hopes is Whitetree, the one closest to the Wall and Castle Black. He and Gilly and the baby have been traveling for days, and one of their horses has died. Weak from childbirth, she needs the remaining horse more than he does. Leaving her and the baby in the village's longhall, he goes to search the houses. The weirwood in the village is not as large as the one at Whitetree, he decides, but he prays at it, hoping for guidance to the Wall.

When he returns, she has a fire going. He talks to her about the Wall and the castles beyond it, remembering the food and the warmth and the friends. When she asks him to sing a "southron song" for the baby, he remembers one that he and his mother used to sing about the Seven to his younger brother, until his father made them stop, fearing that the songs would make his brother as much of a sissy as Sam.

They have only a few sausages left, and after they eat he goes outside to relieve himself and take care
of the horse. He decides that it's too cold to leave the horse outside, so he brings it into the longhall and then beds down with Gilly and the baby. He dreams that he is back home at his father's castle, but that it's his own castle now, and his friends from the Watch are there: Jon, Lord Mormont, Grenn, Dolorous Edd, Pyp, and Toad. They are feasting, and after the feast he goes up to bed where Gilly is waiting, "wearing nothing but a big shaggy fur, milk leaking from her breasts."

He wakes suddenly to bitter cold. The horse is whinnying and the room is full of dark shadows. One of the shadows moves, and Gilly says, "He's come for the babe." Sam recognizes the shadow as Small Paul, though his "hands were coal, his face was milk, his eyes shone a bitter blue." On his shoulder sits a raven, who is pecking at Paul's cheek.

Sam tells Gilly to quiet the horse and take it out of the room. He assures her that he has the dragonglass dagger that he had taken from Lord Mormont's body before leaving Craster's Keep. He keeps talking to Paul, trying to distract him from what Gilly is doing, but the horse rears and Paul turns toward it.

Sam lunges at the wight and stabs at it again and again, but the blade shatters on the chain mail that Paul is wearing, and seems to have no effect on him. The wight grabs him by the throat, its hands "so cold that they seemed to burn." Sam finds his steel knife and stabs again, but loses his grip on the blade. He squirms and kicks in the wight's grasp but to no avail until he begins to fall forward. "Small Paul was big and powerful, but Sam still outweighed him, and the wights were clumsy, he had seen that on the Fist."

When they fall, the wight loses his grip with one hand, and Sam desperately grabs for a chunk of smoldering wood from the fireplace, which he thrusts into Paul's mouth, shattering his teeth. The wight's grip doesn't loosen, but as Sam is beginning to lose consciousness he sees smoke coming from the mouth and then Paul bursts into flames.

Sam heads for the door and calls out for Gilly. She stands there by the weirwood, holding the baby.
The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more ... some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides ... but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett's neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing.
They have killed the horse and are tearing out its entrails. Gilly screams, and the raven echoes her. And then the weirwood and the other trees suddenly come alive with ravens, "hundreds of them, thousands." Sam sees them spread their wings and suddenly attack the wights, pecking at their flesh. "All around him the wights flailed at the black wings and sharp beaks that assailed them, falling in an eerie silence with never a grunt or cry." They ignore Sam, however, and he runs to Gilly, pulling her after him.

Then there is a shout: "Brother!" And a man dressed in the blacks of the Watch rides up on an elk, "ten feet tall at the shoulder, with a rack of antlers near as wide." The elk kneels, and the man reaches down to pull Gilly up and then Sam. "Only when he grasped the offered hand did he realize that the rider wore no glove. His hand was black and cold, with fingers hard as stone."


They have reached a broad, swollen river. Arya is seated on the horse in front of the Hound, and they have ridden so long in rain and darkness that she has no idea where they are. "It's a river we need to cross," he tells her, "that's all you need to know."

The first time they made camp she had waited until she thought he was asleep and tried to smash his head with a rock, but he had taken it away from her. After that, he tied her up at night. He had also caught her trying to leave signals for the outlaws by scratching her name on tree trunks, and put an end to that. Once she tried to steal his horse while Clegane was taking a piss, but the horse would respond only to its master and had tried to bite her.

The Hound recognizes the town, which is flooded so that only chimneys and upper stories appear above the waters. But there is a ferry that agrees to take them across. Arya wonders what he intends to pay with, since the outlaws have taken his gold, and the ferrymen say it will cost him three dragons to cross, payable in advance. But Clegane shows them his longsword and says, "Gold on the north bank, or steel on the south." After getting a good look at him and realizing that he could easily kill three or four of them before they overpowered him, the ferrymen agree.

"There's a brazier in the cabin if you and your son want to get warm," one of them says, which provokes Arya to protest, "I'm not his stupid son!" and Clegane to shake her so hard her teeth rattled. But the warmth from the heater is enough to make her stand by it and dry off, though once the boat gets under way she goes back outside again.

The current is so strong that they can't cross directly but go some ways downstream. And so much debris is being driven so fast that men with poles are kept busy keeping it away from the boat. Nevertheless, she persuades herself that swimming would be the best way to escape, and that even if she drowns, that fate would be better than what awaits her if Clegane is taking her to King's Landing. But just as she is about to jump overboard, a huge uprooted tree rushes toward the boat, and the attention of everyone on board is directed toward preventing the collision. One man is knocked overboard and swept away. Arya thinks better of trying to swim for it.

When they finally reach the other side, they are two miles downriver from the usual landing, and the ferryman demands six dragons -- "Three for the passage, and three for the man I lost." Clegane puts Arya on the horse, then thrusts a parchment into the man's hand, the note that Dondarrion had given him earlier for the confiscated gold: "A dead man's note, good for nine thousand dragons or nearabouts," he says, springing into the saddle and galloping off. Arya repeats her litany of the men she wants dead, concluding it with "And the Hound, the Hound, the Hound."

When the rain stops and they decide to call it a night, Arya is shivering with fever and sneezing. He catches her looking at his dagger as he cuts a piece of sausage for her, and says, "Don't even think about it." She lies and says she wasn't, but he knows better. "What good would it do you if you did get away? You'd just get caught by someone worse." She says, "There is no one worse," and he replies, "You never knew my brother."

She corrects him: She did know Gregor Clegane. "Him and Dunsen and Polliver, and Raff the Sweetling and the Tickler." He is surprised, and she tells him about the village by the lake where she and Gendry and Hot Pie were caught.
Clegane's mouth twitched. "Caught you? My brother caught you?" That made him laugh, a sour sound, part rumble and part snarl. "Gregor never knew what he had, did he? He couldn't have, or he would have dragged you back kicking and screaming to King's landing and dumped you in Cersei's lap. Oh, that's bloody sweet. I'll be sure and tell him that, before I cut his heart out." 
She has heard him talk about killing his brother before, but it still surprises her. "'Didn't you ever have a brother you wanted to kill?' He laughed again. 'Or maybe a sister?'" And then he senses the old tension between her and Sansa. He tells her that he saved Sansa's life and that she sang him a song, but she doesn't believe him.

Then he asks, "Where do you think we're going?" and when she says King's Landing, he mocks her: "Stupid blind little wolf bitch." He's done with the Lannisters, he says. The river was the Trident, and they're going to the Twins. "It's going to be me who hands you over to that mother of yours. Not the noble lightning lord or that flaming fraud of a priest, the monster." If her brother has any sense he'll hire him, he says. "Maybe I'll even kill Gregor for him, he'd like that."

She says Robb will never take him, "Not you." But he replies, "Then I'll take as much gold as I can carry, laugh in his face, and ride off." So he tells her to shut up "and maybe we'll even be in time for your uncle's bloody wedding."

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