By Charles Matthews

Saturday, October 1, 2011

20. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 659-692


In acute pain and feverish from the leg wound, Jon rides on toward Castle Black. He reaches the kingsroad and follows it to Mole's Town, where he gets a fresh mount and some bread and wine, and warns the villagers that there are wildlings south of the Wall and that they should gather their things and retreat to the castle.

Dawn is breaking as he arrives, but there are no sentries to challenge him and few signs of life. In the armory he finds Donal Noye at the forge. Noye tells him that Jarman Blackwell had returned from a scouting trip and had spotted Jon among the wildlings, riding with them. He admits that it was true, but tells him that he was acting on orders from Qhorin Halfhand.

The garrison, Noye tells him, is scattered because wildlings have been sighted everywhere along the Wall. Jon tells him that Mance Rayder wants to spread them thin, but the attack will be there at the center. Bowen Marsh has done what Rayder wanted by scattering the forces. The aged Ser Wynton Stout was left as castellan, and there are only about forty men, the old, the infirm, and some trainees, left to defend against the attack from the south.

Noye takes him to Maester Aemon to be treated for his wound. Aemon tells him of Mormont's death at the hands of his own men, and that only a dozen men have returned, including Dolorous Edd and Grenn. As Maester Aemon and Clydas work on his wounded leg, he tells them and Noye about Styr the Magnar and his men, the Thenns. Mance, he tells them, was looking for the Horn of Winter, the legendary horn that can destroy the Wall. And he lets slip Ygritte's name, then finds it hard to explain about her.

Finally, when the wound is being cauterized, he faints. When he wakes he finds Pyp and Grenn there. Grenn tells about Sam killing the Other with the dragonglass knife, and Jon is amazed to hear his friend called Sam the Slayer. But they know only that Sam was left behind with Mormont. Aemon returns to tell Jon that he must rest and let the wound heal: They have rinsed it "with boiling wine, and close you up with a poultice of nettle, mustard seed and moldy bread." (Penicillin was around long before Fleming.) But Jon, of course, is unwilling to rest, and asks, "has word been sent to Winterfell? To the king?"

Maester Aemon breaks the news of the fall of Winterfell and Theon's treachery and the supposed death of Bran and Rickon. But Jon remembers the gray direwolf at Queenscrown. "If Bran was dead, could some part of him live on in his wolf, as Orell lived within his eagle?" When Grenn gives him something to drink, Jon falls asleep with his head full of questions, and dreams of naked Ygritte saying, "You know nothing, Jon Snow." They are in the hot pools at Winterfell, but suddenly he sees "her skin dissolving in the hot water, the flesh beneath sloughing off her bones until only skull and skeleton remained, and the pool bubbled thick and red."


They are nearing the Twins, where the rains have swollen the river and turned the moats into lakes. Catelyn cautions Robb again about offending Lord Frey, and advises him to ask for food and wine as soon as they arrive: "Once you have eaten of his bread and salt, you have the guest right, and the laws of hospitality protect you beneath his roof." Robb scoffs that he has an army to protect him, but he'll do as she says.

They are met by a contingent headed by Ser Ryman Frey, Lord Walder's grandson, and three of Ryman's sons: Edwyn, Black Walder ("a nasty bit of business," Edmure observes), and Petyr, known as Petyr Pimple, for reasons that are obvious. Grey Wind leaps forward with a snarl and Petyr's horse throws him. Catelyn moves her horse between the Freys and the direwolf, and Robb calls Grey Wind to his side. Black Walder asks, "Is this how a Stark makes amends?" Robb dismounts and offers Petyr his own horse, since Petyr's has run away.

Ser Ryman says, "I do not see the woman," by which he means, insultingly, Jeyne Westerling. Catelyn offers her apologies, but Black Walder says that Lord Walder will be displeased. They have rooms prepared for Robb, Catelyn, and Edmure, and for the lords bannermen, but they say they can't feed or shelter the troops, who will be housed in three large tents on the far bank.

Edmure tells Catelyn that he is offended that Lord Walder himself didn't come to greet his future son-in-law, but she reminds him that Walder is ninety-one, which is old to go riding in the rain. Though she thinks to herself that Lord Walder usually travels in a covered litter, and wonders, "A deliberate slight? If so, it might be the first of many yet to come."

When they reach the gatehouse, Grey Wind stops and howls and bares his teeth. Catelyn thinks, "He does not like this place." But Robb persuades the wolf to enter, and Walder Rivers says, "It's the sound of the water her fears.... Beasts know to avoid the river in flood." Lothar suggests summoning the master of hounds to find a kennel for him, but Robb points out that he's not a dog, and tells Ser Raynald to stay with Grey Wind. "I won't take him into Lord Walder's hall like this." Catelyn thinks this is a good idea, because it "keeps the Westerling out of Lord Walder's sight as well."

The aged and toothless Lord Walder, who has "something of the vulture about" him, "and rather more of the weasel," is seated in the hall with his eighth wife. At their feet is a man of fifty with "large, amiable, and vacant eyes," and Catelyn remembers "that one of Lord Walder's brood had fathered a halfwit long years ago." He is Aegon Frey, known as Jinglebell, and Catelyn wonders if he is there to mock Robb.

After greeting them, none too courteously, Walder sends for Edmure's bride and asks about Queen Jeyne. Robb delivers his apology for the marriage, but Walder doesn't exactly accept it. Instead, he summons his daughters and granddaughters to parade before him as evidence of what Robb could have chosen from. Then Robb is expected to apologize to them, saying, "I come before you to ask forgiveness, that the Freys of the Crossing and the Starks of Winterfell may once again be friends." But the phrase in the apology that Lord Walder picks up on is, "No words can set it right."

Then Ser Benfrey enters with Roslin, who is small, pretty and shy. Catelyn notices, "Her brother's face had lit up at the sight of her." Edmure asks why Roslin is crying, and she assures him, "I weep for joy, my lord." Lord Walder puts an end to any sentiment, and tells Lame Lothar Frey to show his guests to their quarters. Robb says he needs to see to his men, and Catelyn suddenly remembers the bread and salt, so she says, "Some food would be most welcome. We have ridden many leagues in the rain."

Lord Walder orders some food and drink. "Catelyn tasted the wine and nibbled at some bread, and felt much the better for it. Now we should be safe, she thought." Their rooms are comfortable, too, and Edmure is pleased with his bride-to-bed. Catelyn worries that she is "Too small and delicate. Childbirth will go hard on her," but she reassures her brother. After changing her clothes, she goes back downstairs "in search of some Freys."

She finds them in the hall, drinking. Lame Lothar introduces her to his "Brothers, half-brothers, good brothers, and nephews." Then she asks to see the maester, explaining, "A woman's complaint." She is shown to Maester Brenett, whom she consults about Roslin's fitness for childbearing, which he assures her is all quite in order. Next she goes to see Robb, who is there with Roose Bolton, among others. She "could feel gloom in the room," and Bolton tells her more about the fall of Winterfell.

"Some of your people were taken back to the Dreadfort by my son, Ramsay," Bolton tells her. She points out, "Your bastard was accused of grievous crimes.... Of murder, rape, and worse." But he assured her that Ramsay is determined to atone for his past and "swears that he shall not sheathe his sword so long as a single Greyjoy remains in the north." Robb asks about Theon Greyjoy, and Bolton produces "a ragged strip of leather" that he claims is "The skin from the little finger of Theon Greyjoy's left hand." He presents it as a "small token of revenge." As for the rest of Theon, he is "now rightful King of the Iron Islands. A captive king has great value as a hostage."

Catelyn is outraged at the idea that they might "free the man who killed my sons," but Bolton continues to defend the notion of holding Theon as a bargaining ploy. Robb reluctantly agrees: "Keep him alive, then. For the present. Hold him secure at the Dreadfort till we've retaken the north." And after talk about the movements of the Lannisters and of Gregor Clegane south of the Trident, Robb announces his intentions "to start for the Neck as soon as my uncle has been wedded and bedded. We're going home."


The Hound has commandeered a wagon and some salt pork and pickled pigs' feet, pretending to be a farmer on the way to the wedding at the Twins. When they are stopped on the road, he claims that he is delivering them on the order of Lady Whent, who is also sending Stranger, Clegane's stallion, as a wedding gift for Lord Tully. They send him on his way.

Arya goes along with the ruse because she is getting closer to a reunion with her mother and her brother. "There was nothing between her and her mother but a castle gate, a river, and an army ... but it was Robb's army, so there was no real danger there. Was there?" On the other hand, Roose Bolton, whom she had fled at Harrenhal, killing one of his guards to escape, would be there.
What would he do if he saw her? He probably won't even know me. She looked more like a drowned rat than a lord's cupbearer these days. A drowned boy rat. The Hound had hacked handfuls of her hair off only two days past. He was an even worse barber than Yoren, and he'd left her half bald on one side. Robb won't know me either, I bet. Or even Mother. She had been a little girl the last time she saw them, the day Lord Eddard Stark left Winterfell.
They begin to hear the music as they draw near the castle, and Clegane says they've missed the wedding but the feast is still going on. "There were hundreds of horses and thousands of men, most of them milling about the three huge feast tents." The musicians in the two castles are playing different tunes, "so it sounded more like a battle than a song."

It is dark, so Arya is unable to single out the banners for the various houses. When they reach a checkpoint, the guards stop them, and tell them the castle's closed, but they can unload the goods by the feast tents. The drinking has been going on for hours, and Arya hears all sorts of noises, mixed with the music from the castles as they grow nearer. She keeps hoping to see someone she knows from Winterfell.

When they reach the feast tents, she hears someone shout, "Here's to Lord Edmure and Lady Roslin" and then, "Here's to the Young Wolf and Queen Jeyne." Arya wonders who Queen Jeyne is, but the mention of the Young Wolf makes her realize that these are northmen, so she suggests that they stop.

Clegane reminds her, "Your brother will be in the castle.... Your mother too. You want them or not." She agrees that she does, and he whips the horses to speed up, saying, "It's your bloody brother I want."

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