By Charles Matthews

Thursday, September 15, 2011

3. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 75-104


The marriage of Joffrey to Margaery Tyrell has relieved Sansa of one anxiety: having to be married to him, but not, as both Cersei and Ser Dontos warned her, of his power over her. So an invitation to dine with Margaery is not exactly welcome: "She's to be queen now, she's beautiful and rich and everyone loves her, why would she want to sup with a traitor's daughter?" She has paranoid thoughts that it's a trick being played by Joffrey to further humiliate her.

But she has to accept, feeling alone and unprotected now that the Hound has disappeared. She wishes she had accepted his offer to help her escape, and she has kept his white cloak as a remembrance of him. He is disgraced now, wherever he is, because of his apparent cowardice during the battle, though she knows the story of how his brother, Gregor, burned his face, and fully understands why the fire terrified him so.

On the night of the dinner, she is escorted to it by Margaery's brother, Ser Loras Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers, now dressed in the white of the Kingsguard. He tells her that their grandmother, Lady Olenna, will be there too. "The Queen of Thorns, she's called," Sansa says. "Isn't that right?" He laughs and warns her not to use that name around her. She's embarrassed at having said it, but also charmed by the warmth of his laughter and by his beauty.

On the way, they see his brother, Garlan, practicing swordsmanship against three opponents. Loras tells her that Garlan is a better swordsman than he is, but that he's better with a lance, which gives her the opportunity to comment on the time she saw him unhorse Ser Robar Royce at a tourney. He had given her a rose after the victory. But he doesn't seem to remember, and instead he mentions that he killed Robar at Storm's End.

"That was when Lord Renly was killed, wasn't it? How terrible for your poor sister," she says, but his reaction is not what she expects: "'For Margaery?' His voice was tight. 'To be sure. She was at Bitterbridge, though. She did not see.'" She's puzzled by the reply, and although she apologizes for bringing up what is evidently a sad memory, he seems to cool to her. She admonishes herself and reminds her to keep her tongue from now on.

When they reach the hall, Margaery comes to greet her graciously, and sends her brother away. She takes Sansa in to the room where a dozen women are seated and makes the introductions. There is her mother, Lady Alerie, several cousins, and other members of the Tyrell entourage. And finally, at the head of the table, there is a "wizened white-haired doll of a woman." Margaery says, "I am honored to present my grandmother the Lady Olenna, widow to the late Luthor Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, whose memory is a comfort to us all. 

Sansa is deceived by the old lady's scent of rosewater and her diminutive stature into thinking that "There was nothing in the least bit thorny about her." Lady Olenna tells Sansa to kiss her, and says that she knew her grandfather, Lord Rickard. She comments that Sansa has "had your share of grief, I know. We are sorry for your losses." Sansa turns to Margaery and express her condolences on the death of Lord Renly. "He was very gallant."

Lady Olenna gives a snort.
"Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean. He knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be king. The Baratheons have always had some queer notions, to be sure. It comes from their Targaryen blood, I should think."
Margaery replies that "Renly was brave and gentle," and that her father and Loras liked him. She doesn't say anything about her own feelings for her late husband. And when Lady Olenna speaks somewhat scornfully of Loras and of his and Margaery's father, Mace Tyrell, it is Lady Alerie who protests, "Mother." Lady Olenna only reminds her that she is not her mother: "If I'd given birth to you I'm sure I'd remember. I'm only to blame for your husband, the lord oaf of Highgarden."

Margaery scolds her grandmother: "what will Sansa think of us?" Lady Olenna replies, "She might think we have some wits about us. One of us, at any rate." And she turns to Sansa to assert that the claim of Renly to his brother Robert's throne was "treasonous," as long as Robert had two sons and an older brother. After a long diatribe on the subject, she asks Sansa what she thinks, and Sansa can only come up with the observation that the Tyrells can trace their lineage to Garth Greenhand, which Lady Olenna dismisses with the assertion that any number of noble families could do so. "Garth liked to plant his seed in fertile ground, they say. I shouldn't wonder that more than his hands were green."

Lady Alerie tries to rescue Sansa by suggesting that they eat. Lady Olenna bids Sansa sit by her, and orders the fool Butterbumps in to entertain them. Her irreverent remarks about her son and her husband leave Sansa open-mouthed in astonishment, but not nearly so much as when Lady Olenna says, "I want you to tell me the truth about this royal boy.... This Joffrey." Sansa panics, knowing that she can't tell her the truth. But that is exactly what Lady Olenna expects of her, and she persists: "We have heard some troubling tales.... Is there any truth to them? Has this boy mistreated you?"

Frightened, Sansa looks around as Butterbumps is entertaining the other guests, but Lady Olenna is insistent: "I asked a question, I expect an answer. Have the Lannisters stolen your tongue, child?" Sansa tries to dissemble, but the old lady is having none of it. She asks if Sansa is frightened, and assures her, "Tell me the truth, no harm will come to you." When Sansa says, "My father always told the truth," Lady Olenna sees the point: Eddard Stark told the truth and got his head cut off for it. Sansa breaks down under the old woman's piercing gaze: "'Joffrey,' Sansa said. 'Joffrey did that. He promised me he would be merciful, and cut my father's head off.'" He took her up to the wall to force her to see her father's head, she says, and then stops, certain that she has already said too much.

But it is Margaery who intervenes and urges her, "Go on." This terrifies Sansa even more. "What if she tells him, what if she tells? He'll kill me for certain then, or give me to Ser Ilyn." When Margaery points out how frightened Sansa is, Lady Olenna orders Butterbumps to sing a song, and then says to Sansa: "Even when I was a girl, younger than you, it was well known that in the Red Keep the very walls have ears. Well, they will be the better for a song, and meanwhile we girls shall speak freely."

When Sansa mentions Varys, Lady Olenna tells Butterbumps to sing louder, and under cover of the song he bellows, Sansa answers her question, "What sort of man is this Joffrey, who calls himself Baratheon but looks so very Lannister?"
To her other side, Margaery was listening as well. A shiver went through her. "A monster," she whispered, so tremulously she could scarcely hear her own voice. "Joffrey is a monster. He lied about the butcher's boy and made Father kill my wolf. When I displease him, he has the Kingsguard beat me. He's evil and cruel, my lady, it's so. And the queen as well."
Lady Olenna and Margaery exchange glances, and then Sansa realizes that if they call off the wedding, Joffrey will know that she told them about him. But they assure her that she needn't worry about that, and thank her for the truth. Then Margaery suggests she visit Highgarden, and describes its delights. "Once you see it, you'll never want to leave. And perhaps you won't have to." Sansa says she would love to visit, but Cersei would never let her go. But Lady Olenna says that the Lannisters are depending on their alliance to keep Joffrey on the throne, so Cersei can't refuse any request that Lord Tyrell makes -- and intimates that she will see to it that he makes the request. "Of course, he has no hint of our true purpose."

Sansa is puzzled about their true purpose. And Lady Olenna reveals that is is to see Sansa "safely wed ... to my grandson." Sansa immediately thinks that she means Ser Loras, and is thrilled at the idea. Margaery chimes in, "Oh, please say yes, please say that you will consent to marry my brother." Sansa bursts out happily that she would be delighted to marry Ser Loras, but Lady Olenna quickly disabuses her of that notion: "We were speaking of my grandson Willas. He is a bit old for you, to be sure, but a dear boy for all that. Not the least bit oafish, and heir to Highgarden besides."

Sansa is bewildered, and abashed. She doesn't know Willas, she says, and asks, "Is he ... is he as great a knight as his brothers?" Margaery says, "He has never taken vows," and Lady Olenna bluntly explains, "The poor lad is crippled, and that's the way of it." His leg was shattered in his first tourney. But Margaery assures her that Willas "has a good heart" and "You will love him as much as we do, Sansa." So it's arranged that Sansa will go to Highgarden with Lady Olenna after the wedding.


He has followed through with the plan to infiltrate the wildlings in the guise of a turncloak, which necessitated his killing Qhorin Halfhand, and now he is riding with Rattleshirt and the others on the way to meet the legendary King-beyond-the-Wall, Mance Rayder. Rattleshirt is no friend of his, but Ygritte, whose life Jon spared, assures him, "When Mance hears how you did for Halfhand, he'll take you quick enough" as one of them.

Among Rayder's outriders who come to meet them is "a fleshy blond man with watery eyes who bore a great curved scythe of sharpened steel." Jon recognizes that this must be the Weeper, one of the famous wildling leaders about whom the brothers of the Night's Watch told tales. When he's told how Jon killed Halfhand with the help of his wolf, the Weeper says to bring him to Mance.

Jon reminds himself of his mission, "to play the part of turncloak, and find whatever it was that the wildlings had been seeking in the bleak cold wilderness of the Frostfangs." As they ride, he observes that people are fashioning weapons and practicing fighting, and that a group of women were "fletching arrows. Arrows for my brothers, Jon thought. Arrows for my father's folk, for the people of Winterfell and Deepwood Motte and the Last Hearth. Arrows for the north." But there are also peaceful domestic scenes along the way.

When they make camp, Rattleshirt tells Ygritte and Longspear to come with him as they take Jon to Mance Rayder. Jon observes how huge the camp is, and how it's only one of more than a hundred camps, all of them undefended. "They had numbers, but the Night's Watch had discipline, and in battle discipline beats numbers nine times of every ten, his father had once told him."

Rayder's tent is three times as large as any of the others, with two guards posted at the entrance, one of whom says that Ghost must stay outside. Jon orders Ghost to stay, and he does. Rattleshirt tells Longspear to watch the direwolf as well, and motions Jon and Ygritte inside. There are six people already in the tent, including a young man and woman drinking mead, a pregnant woman grilling fowl over a brazier, and a man with gray hair playing a lute and singing. "Beside the brazier, a short but immensely broad man sat on a stool, eating a hen off a skewer." Another man, tall and lean, is studying a map. He is bald and might have been handsome if he had not lost both of his ears, "whether to frostbite or some enemy's knife could not tell." Jon assumes that one of these men, both of them evidently warriors, is Mance Rayder.

The bald, earless man looks up from his map and listens as Rattleshirt explains who Jon is, and Ygritte tells him that he killed Qhorin Halfhand. This angers the man: "This boy? ... the Halfhand should have been mine." He asks Jon's name, and Jon tells him, adding, "Your Grace," having decided that this must be the King-beyond-the-Wall. This causes the shorter man to laugh "so hard he sprayed bits of chicken everywhere." He tells Jon to turn around, and when Jon does the gray-haired man who had been playing the lute and singing and introduces himself: "'I'm Mance Rayder,' he said as he put aside the lute. 'And you are Ned Stark's bastard, the Snow of Winterfell.'"

Jon is astonished, and asks how Rayder knew. Rayder puts off the answer and asks if it is true that he killed Qhorin Halfhand. Jon says yes, thinking, "Though it was his doing more than mine." Rayder asks if he should thank Jon for killing Halfhand or curse him, given that they had both been brothers of the Night's Watch. Jon finally says, "You ought to thank me for killing your enemy ... and curse me for killing your friend," which gets approval from the short, white-bearded man eating the chicken, and from Rayder as well.

Rayder identifies the earless man as Styr, Magnar of Thenn, and explains "Magnar means 'lord' in the Old Tongue." The "ferocious chicken-eater here is my loyal Tormund," who demands that Rayder enumerate his many titles: "Giantsbane, Tall-talker, Horn-blower, ... Breaker of Ice[,] Thunderfits, Husband to Bears, the Mead-king of Ruddy hall, Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts." Tormund tells Jon, "I am fond o' wargs, as it happens, though not o' Starks." The woman at the brazier is Dalla, who is pregnant with Rayder's child, and the man and woman drinking mead are Jarl and Dalla's sister, Val.

In response to Rayder's questions, Jon tells him that the Lord Commander had sent him with Halfhand to be trained as a ranger. When Styr asks why they were in the Skirling Pass, Jon says that they had found all the villages deserted and they wondered where the people had gone. Rayder asks who told him where they had gone to, but Tormund says it must have been Craster, which irritates Rayder, who says he knew the answer but wanted to see if Jon would tell him. So he sends the others away, except for Dalla, so he can talk with Jon alone.

When Jon calls him "Your Grace," Rayder says that the free folk just call him Mance or "the Mance." Then he tells Jon how he knew him: He had seen his face before, once when Jon was a boy and he was still with the Watch. They had come to see Jon's father at Winterfell and caught Jon and Robb after a snowfall, waiting to push a mountain of snow off the wall onto the guard known as Fat Tom. Jon remembers that Rayder had promised not to spoil the surprise.

The second time was more recent: When Robert Baratheon came to Winterfell to persuade Ned Stark to become the Hand. Rayder had heard of the king's visit because Jon's uncle Benjen had been sent for, and word had spread from the brothers of the Watch to the wildlings. Rayder wanted to see the king for himself, so he scaled the Wall, bought a horse on the other side, and managed to mix in with the freeriders who had attached themselves to the procession. "The night your father feasted Robert, I sat in the back of the hall on a bench with the other freeriders," getting a good look at Jaime and Tyrion as well as the Stark children and their wolf pups.

"So tell me truly, Jon Snow. Are you a craven who turned your cloak from fear, or is there another reason that brings you to my tent?" Jon knows he has to be careful answering the question, so he decides to take advantage of Rayder's obvious pleasure in "the sound of his own voice," and says, "Tell me why you turned your cloak, and I'll tell you why I turned mine." The trick works, and Rayder says that he did it for a cloak: They were out on a ranging and had killed and were skinning an elk when they were attacked by a shadow-cat. It tore his cloak to ribbons as well as wounding him seriously. The brothers were afraid he would die before they got him back to the maester so they took him to a woman in a wilding village who was skilled in healing. She dressed his wounds and nursed him, meanwhile sewing up his cloak "with some scarlet silk from Asshai." It was a gift to him, because the scarlet silk "was the greatest treasure she had." But when he returned to the Wall, he was given a new cloak of solid black and was told that he couldn't wear the red-and-black one. "I left the next morning ... for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose."

So, having told his story, he asks for Jon's. "There is only one tale that he might believe," Jon realizes. And he asks if Mance remembers that at the feast for King Robert, his brothers and sisters were all seated along with Prince Joffrey, Prince Tommen, and Princess Myrcella "at the table just below where the king and queen were seated." Mance says he remembers.

"'And did you see where I was seated, Mance?' He leaned forward. 'Did you see where they put the bastard?'" Rayder replies, "I think we had best find you a new cloak." 

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