By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 311-343


They have landed at Astapor, an ancient city of the old kingdom of Ghis whose symbol is a bronze harpy. Daenerys has gone to see Kraznys mo Nakloz, a slaver who deals in the warriors known as the Unsullied. Kraznys speaks High Valyrian to an interpreter, a slave girl, who translates what he has supposedly said into the Common Tongue. But thinking that Daenerys doesn't know his language, Kraznys freely insults her, calling her "the Westerosi whore" and "a sunset savage," trusting the interpreter to bowdlerize his words into something more diplomatic.

Daenerys wants an account of how the Unsullied are trained, at which Kraznys snorts, "Are all Westerosi pigs so ignorant?" but tells the interpreter to get on with it as fast as possible because the day is hot. A thousand Unsullied have been marched out for her inspection, wearing white loincloths and conical bronze helmets topped by a foot-long spike. Their training is so rigorous that when it is over, Daenerys is told, "no duty that will ever fall to them could be so hard as their training." And Kraznys says they have been standing there for a day and a night and will stand there as long as he commands them to, "and when nine hundred and ninety-nine have collapsed to die upon the bricks, the last will stand there still, and never move until his own death claims him."

Arstan Whitebeard, who is there with Daenerys says that is "madness, not courage." He has opposed the visit to Astapor and the buying of the slave army, and Daenerys has brought him along for that reason. She left Ser Jorah in charge of the dragons who have been hidden belowdecks to keep them away from the curious. Arstan understands Valyrian, too, but like Daenerys he feigns ignorance when Kraznys calls him a "smelly old man." She inspects the ranks of Unsullied, noting that they have been drawn from a variety of cultures, and are of various heights and ages from fourteen to twenty.

She asks why they have all been castrated, when this reduces their strength. Kraznys says they have discipline, which is better than strength. They are "absolutely obedient, absolutely loyal, and utterly without fear." He gives one of them a lash across the face with his whip, drawing blood, and asks if the man would like another a lash. The answer is, "If it please your worship." In the next row, he asks a man for his sword and proceeds to use it to cut off the man's nipple. He hands the sword back to the man, who is bleeding profusely, and the man says, "This one is pleased to have served you."

They feel no pain, Kraznys explains, because they drink something called "The wine of courage," which is a blend of "deadly nightshade, bloodfly larva, black lotus root, and many secret things." Because they don't feel pain, he says, they can't be tortured into revealing secrets. When they are castrated, the penis is removed as well as the testicles, so they are not just infertile but incapable of sexual pleasure. He says he has heard that in Westeros there are those who take vows of chastity, and Arstan confirms that it's true of "the maesters of the Citadel, the septons and septas who serve the Seven, the silent sisters of the dead, the Kingsguard and the Night's Watch." Kraznys says that they are nevertheless subject to temptation, which the Unsullied aren't: "No woman can ever tempt them, nor any man."

They are also untempted by plunder, he claims. "They own nothing but their weapons. We do not even permit them names." Every day, they pick a medallion from a cask, and that is their name for that day. At the end of the day they throw the medallions back in the cask, and pick a new one the next morning. If they can't remember a new name each day, they "are culled in training, along with those who cannot run all day in full pack, scale a mountain in the black of night, walk across a bed of coals, or slay an infant." This last gives Daenerys pause. Kraznys explains that the potential Unsullied goes to the slave market, finds a woman with an infant, kills it, and pays the slave's owner with a silver coin. When he does this, he earns the spike on his helmet. He adds that when a boy is castrated, he is given a puppy, and at the end of the first year of training must strangle it. The boys who can't bring themselves to do this "are killed, and fed to the surviving dogs."

Daenerys observes that even though they can't be tempted by sex or gold, what if an enemy offered them freedom. He tells her that they would kill the man who offered them that, and bring her his head. "They have no life outside their duty. They are soldiers, and that is all." She says she needs soldiers, so how many does he have?  He has eight thousand, and he sells them only by units of a thousand. "Once we sold by the ten, as household guards, but that proved unsound. Ten is too few. They mingle with other slaves, even freemen, and forget who and what they are." They have no officers, so she must provide them: "We train them to obey, not to think." They come with swords, shields, spears, sandals, quilted tunics and the spiked caps. Any other armor she wants would have to be provided.

She asks Arstan Whitebeard for his advice, and he says, emphatically, no. She knows his objection, but wants the slave girl and Kraznys to hear it:
"My queen,"said Arstan, "there have been no slaves in the Seven Kingdoms for thousands of years. The old gods and the new alike hold slavery to be an abomination. Evil. If you should land in Westeros at the head of a slave army, many good men will oppose you for no other reason than that. You will do great harm to your cause, and to the honor of your House."
She argues with him a bit about how she is to raise an army, and finally turns to Kraznys and tells him, "I must consider carefully."

He replies that she'd better hurry, and that he knew of someone who wants to buy them all. The slave girl says to him that the corsair only wanted a hundred, but he tells her to tell Daenerys that he wants them all. And he tells her to offer his services as a guide to Astapor, though the delights he describes are considerably grosser than the one the slave girl transmits to Daenerys, who hears the enraged Arstan tapping angrily with his sword. She excuses herself and says she needs to return to her ship. Kraznys tells the slave girl that "It is not the woman who decides, it is this man she runs to."

As she rides back through the red-brick city, Arstan says, "Bricks and blood built Astapor, ... and bricks and blood her people." It is something a maester told him, he says, and now he sees that it's true: "The bricks of Astapor are red with the blood of the slaves who make them." He urges her to leave the city, but she replies that Ser Jorah says she must leave with an army. "Ser Jorah was a slaver himself," he reminds her, and says that she can hire sellswords in other places. She replies that Viserys had failed in raising troops in those places, and she doesn't want to go begging for them. When he retorts, "Better to come a beggar than a slaver," she observes, "There speaks one who has been neither." She knows what it's like to be sold: Viserys sold her to Drogo. He apologizes.

She wonders why Jorah mistrusts Arstan, and thinks that he might be jealous that she has found another counselor. She recalls the kiss Jorah gave her, and vows that she will never give him the opportunity to do that again. But it has awakened something dormant in her, and she has begun having sexual dreams. The man in them is not Jorah Mormont, however, but someone "younger and more comely, though his face remained a shifting shadow." She was so aroused one night that she began to masturbate, but she woke Irri, who then helped bring her to climax. The next day she thought it might be a dream, and she told herself that it wasn't Ser Jorah or Irri she wanted, but Drogo.

At the ship Ser Jorah asks how many men are for sale, and she says, "None." She is angry and disturbed by what she has seen:
"They sell eunuchs, not men. Eunuchs made of brick, like the rest of Astapor. Shall I buy eight thousand brick eunuchs with dead eyes that never move, who kill suckling babes for the sake of a spiked hat and strangle their own dogs? They don't even have names. So don't call them men, ser." 
When he tries to respond to her objections, she slaps him. "If you were my true knight, you would never have brought me to this vile sty." But what she thinks is "If you were my true knight, you would never have kissed me, or looked at my breasts the way you did, or...." He says he will tell the captain to sail on the evening tide, but she says that she can't. "There are eight thousand brick eunuchs for sale, and I must find some way to buy them." She goes below. In the cabin, Irri tells her that the dragons have been restless, cooped up, and the horses and the people below as well. When she sees how upset Daenerys is, she offers to "pleasure" her, but Daenerys says she wants to be alone to think.

At dusk, she goes back on deck, where Ser Jorah asks if he can "speak frankly." She gives him leave, and he reminds her that when her ancestor Aegon the Dragon arrived in Westeros he had to win the throne "with steel and dragonfire. And that will mean blood on your hands before the thing is done." She replies that she has no problem shedding the blood of enemies. It is the blood of innocents -- the eight thousand babies murdered by the Unsullied -- that troubles her. He argues that if she buys the  Unsullied, the only people "they'll kill are those you want dead."

She asks why the Dothraki have never sacked Astapor, and he says that the Unsullied are a powerful deterrent who once defeated the Dothraki, and besides, the slavers "know that if they feast the horselords and give them gifts, they will soon ride on. It's cheaper than fighting, and a deal more certain." She wishes it could be as easy as that: "to sail to King's Landing with her dragons, and pay the boy Joffrey a chest of gold to make him go away." She tells Jorah, "Viserys would have bought as many Unsullied as he had the coin for. But you once said I was like Rhaegar...." He acknowledges that he did. "Prince Rhaegar led free men into battle, not slaves," she says.

He replies, "Prince Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died."


They are making their way north by way of the mountain valleys, guided by the stars. But the valleys seldom run north and south, so the route is long and they sometimes get lost. Meera is weary of going up and down the mountain passes, and Bran wishes they could take the kingsroad. He is impatient to find the three-eyed crow. They are hungry, though Meera is skilled at spearing fish in the streams, and Summer brings them squirrels and rabbits. But the farther north they go, the smaller and icier the streams are, and the game grows scarcer.

Jojen reminds them why they can't follow the roads: They will encounter people who will remember encountering a crippled boy riding in a basket on the back of a seven-foot-tall man with a wolf accompanying them. But Bran knows that they have been seen by mountain folk, and is familiar with the families that live here. His great-great-grandmother "had been a Flint of the mountains," and Old Nan had said he inherited his love of climbing from her.

One day they are caught in a freezing rainstorm and Summer finds a cave for them to shelter in. But when Bran enters on Hodor's back he can see a fire in the back of the cave, and a man asks them to join him. He shares food with them, and Bran decides that he must be a Liddle because the clasp that fastens his cloak is shaped like a pinecone, the emblem of the Liddles. When Bran wishes they could travel the kingsroad, the man tells them that the Bastard of Bolton is patrolling it. "'And paying good silver for wolfskins, a man hears, and maybe gold for word of certain other walking dead.' He looked at Bran when he said that, and at Summer stretched out beside him." But he also warns them about going to the Wall: "The Old Bear took the Watch into the haunted woods, and all that come back was his ravens, with hardly a message between them."

They spend the night in the cave, and the man was gone when they awoke, though he left them a sausage and a dozen oatcakes with pinenuts and blackberries baked in them. Bran tells himself that when there is a Stark in Winterfell again he'll "send for the Liddles and pay them back a hundredfold for every nut and berry."

The trail they follow that day is easier, and Meera spots an eagle. Bran watches it, wondering what it would be like to fly so high. He tries to join with the eagle the way he joins with Summer, but fails. He asks Meera to tell a story as they walk, so she tells one about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. There was once a boy on the Neck who had "learned all the magics of my people," but he wanted to learn more, so he set out for the Isle of Faces to find the green men. It takes him many days, but he finally reaches the Gods Eye and paddles out to the Isle. He spends the winter there with the green men, but in the spring he decides to travel farther, so he paddles his boat to the castle by the lake. Bran says that must have been Harrenhal, but Meera says only, "Was it?"

A great tourney is taking place at the castle, and the boy wanted to be part of it. The daughter of the castle was a fair maid with four brothers and an uncle, a knight of the Kingsguard, as her champion. And there was the wife of the dragon prince with a dozen ladies in attendance, and the knights begged for their favors to tie on their lances. Bran warns Meera that Hodor doesn't like love stories: "He likes the stories where the knights fight monsters." But Meera reminds him, "Sometimes the knights are the monsters, Bran."

As the little crannogman was walking about admiring the pageantry, three squires, "none older than fifteen, yet even so they were bigger than him," challenged him and took away his spear. Bran asks if they were Walders, because "It sounded like something Little Walder Frey might have done," but Meera just says that they didn't give their names. But as they are bullying and kicking him, a she-wolf -- on two legs, Meera says, in response to Bran's question whether she was on four legs or two -- rescues him and takes him to "her pack brothers: the wild wolf who led them, the quiet wolf beside him, and the pup who was the youngest of the four."

They invite him to join them at the feast that opens the tourney. He joins in the merriment, but in the middle of it he sees the three squires: "One served a pitchfork knight, one a porcupin, while the last attended a knight with two towers on his surcoat, a sigil all crannogmen know well." Bran identifies it as the Freys' sigil.  The wolf pup offers to find the crannogmen some armor, but he is afraid he'll make a fool of himself. That night he goes to the lakeshore and prays to the old gods.

On the second day of the tourney, the porcupine knight, the pitchfork knight, and the knight of the two towers were all victorious. But late in the afternoon, a mystery knight appeared. Bran says, "It was the little crannogman, I bet." Meera says that no one knew who he was, but he was short and his armor was made up of "bits and pieces" patched together. "The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face." He issues a challenge to the porcupine knight, the pitchfork knight, and the knight of the two towers, and he defeats them all, one by one. And when each of the defeated knights comes to reclaim their horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree says he will return it when they teach their squires honor. "Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armor were returned. And so the little crannogman's prayer was answered ... by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?"

But that night the other knights and the king vow to unmask the mystery knight. The next day, however, the Knight of the Laughing Tree is not present, and when the dragon prince goes to search for him, he finds only his shield, hanging in a tree. So the dragon prince is declared the winner of the tourney.

Bran says it "was a good story." But he would have preferred it it had been the three knights, and not their squires, who hurt the crannogmen, and that he had killed them. "The part about the ransoms was stupid. And the mystery knight should win the tourney, defeating every challenger, and name the wolf maid the queen of love and beauty." Meera says, "She was ... but that's a sadder story."

Bran thinks that if he could visit the Isle of Faces, maybe the green men could use their magic to make him walk again and turn him into a knight, "even if it was only for a day.... A day would be enough."

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