By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

23. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 755-808


He has seen the deaths of Robb and Grey Wind in a dream when he was one with Summer, and he is trying not to think about it. He hasn't told Jojen or Meera either.

They have reached the Nightfort at the Wall, which Bran remembers as the scene of some of the scariest stories told by Old Nan. Maester Luwin had cautioned him not to put too much credence in her stories, but when he asked his uncle Benjen about them, he said only that the Nightfort had been abandoned by the Watch for two hundred years.

The place is full of noises that Bran doesn't like. "Even Summer was not at ease here. Bran slipped inside his skin, just for an instant, to get the smell of the place. He did not like that either." Still Jojen had had a green dream about the place, and was determined to check it out, even though there was no gate through the Wall there. It had been sealed when the Watch abandoned it.

Bran has argued that they should have followed Jon, whom he saw through Summer's eyes when the wolf attacked the wildlings and Jon escaped. "We should have found the kingsroad and gone to Castle Black." But Jojen insisted that that course was too dangerous. Summer had almost been killed during the attack on the wildlings: When an arrow struck the wolf, the pain had been so great that Bran was driven out of Summer's skin, and it had returned every time Bran tried to become the wolf again. He was afraid Summer was dying, but the wolf finally returned with an arrow in his leg that Meera drew and treated with some herbs. Summer still limped, but less each day.

Meera suggests that they should try another castle, but Bran points out that the only ones whose gates haven't been sealed are Castle Black and the two at the extreme ends of the Wall, Eastwatch and the Shadow Tower. So Meera proposes to climb to the top of the Wall and see if she can spot anything from there. The prospect of climbing the Wall only makes Bran regret his paralysis more.

Meera's climb is made easier by the steps that the Watch had carved into the Wall's side at the Nightfort, though the ice makes them treacherous and there are times when she has to get down on hands and knees to make the ascent. When she reaches the top and disappears from view, Jojen suggests that they explore the Nightfort.

It is full of rats, running through the cellars and tunnels. It was the oldest and largest of the castles at the Wall, and they spend half a day exploring the crumbling towers. "Sometimes Summer would hear sounds that Bran seemed deaf to, or bare his teeth at nothing, the fur on the back of his neck bristling," but none of the ghosts of Old Nan's stories made an appearance.

Meera returns as the sun is setting, and tells them that she saw the haunted forest and the hills beyond. "I even saw an eagle circling. I think he saw me too. I waved at him." But there is no way down the other side of the wall, and certainly no way for Bran to make it over. She asks Jojen again if he is certain this is the place he saw in his dream, and he assures her that there is a gate there. But the only one Bran knows of is blocked by rubble and ice.

As it gets dark, they decide to bed down in the ruins of the kitchens, an octagon with a broken dome and a weirwood growing up through the floor. "It was a queer kind of tree, skinnier than any other weirwood that Bran had ever seen and faceless as well, but it made him feel as if the old gods were with him here, at least." But he remembers Old Nan's stories about the Rat Cook who baked a prince in a pie.

Next to the weirwood there is a well, twelve feet in diameter, with steps going down the side into its depths. They can't see any water at the bottom. Hodor says his name into the well and is startled by the way the echo reverberates, then picks up a broken piece of slate from the floor and drops it in. Bran calls out for him not to do that, but too late. "You might have hurt something, or ... or woken something up."
Far, far, far below, they heard the sound as the stone found water. It wasn't a splash, not truly. It was more a gulp, as if whatever was below had opened a quivering gelid mouth to swallow Hodor's stone. Faint echoes traveled up the well, and for a moment Bran thought he heard something moving, thrashing about in the water. 

They cook and eat a fish that Meera had caught in the last stream they had crossed, then bed down for the night. Bran is unable to sleep, but makes himself close his eyes. Then he hears a noise that starts as a scuffling sound and then becomes footsteps. He doesn't want to wake Meera or Jojen because he thinks it might just be his imagination, stirred by memories of Old Nan's stories. But the sounds get louder and he realizes that they are coming from the well. And as they get louder he hears "a high thin whimpering sound, like someone in pain, and heavy muffled breathing."

Finally he drags himself across the floor and wakes Meera, who hears the sound too. She grabs her frog spear and her net and moves toward the well. Jojen and Hodor are still asleep, and Bran doesn't want Meera to fight the thing alone, and Summer is far away. He slips his consciousness into Hodor and tries to stand and grab Hodor's longsword. But the thing in the well starts to scream, and Bran loses control of Hodor and finds himself back on the floor.

The thing is caught in Meera's net and she is stabbing at it with her frog spear. The thing falls and calls out, "No, no, don't, please, DON'T...." In response to Meera's question, "'I'm SAM,' the black thing sobbed. 'Sam, Sam, I'm Sam, let me out, you stabbed me...." Jojen has fed the fire and the flames illuminate the room, revealing Sam Tarly struggling in the net, and Gilly and the crying baby bundled up, emerging from the well.

It's Bran who recognizes that Sam is wearing the black of the Night's Watch. Sam confirms it: "I'm a crow, please. Let me out of this." Bran asks, "Are you the three-eyed crow?" although he can't quite believe it. Sam says he doesn't think so, and Meera tells him to stop struggling with the net and she'll untangle him. Jojen asks Gilly who she is and where she comes from. She says, "From Craster's," and asks Jojen, "Are you the one?"

Gilly explains that Coldhands had said Sam wasn't "The one he was sent to find," and Sam, now untangling from the net and trying to catch his breath, says that he said there would be people in the castle. "I didn't know you'd throw a net on me or stab me in the stomach." He asks if he is bleeding, and Meera checks and says he's wearing mail. "I never got near your skin."

Bran asks if Sam is "really a brother of the Night's Watch," and Sam says he's only a steward who took care of the ravens, but lost them. "I got us lost too. I couldn't even find the Wall. It's a hundred leagues long and seven hundred feet high, and I couldn't find it!" Jojen asks how he got through the wall, and Sam says there's a gate: "A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, he called it." The gate is at the bottom of the well, but it will open only for a member of the Night's Watch who has sworn his vow.

Jojen asks who "he" is, "This ... Coldhands?" Gilly explains that that wasn't really his name, just what she and Sam called him. "His hands were cold as ice, but he saved us from the dead men, him and his ravens, and he brought us here on his elk." Much confusion about the elk and the ravens ensues, but Sam finally clarifies that the man is waiting for them, and that he can't come through the Wall himself. And Jojen clarifies that it's Bran who is the one the man is waiting for.

Sam suddenly realizes that Bran is "Jon Snow's brother. The one who fell...." Jojen tries to deny it, but Bran just tells Sam to keep it secret. Sam tells him that Jon "was the best friend I ever had," but he has disappeared. Bran replies that Summer had seen Jon with some wildlings, but he escaped and probably went to Castle Black.

Summer appears then, frightening Gilly, but Bran reassures her. Sam is not afraid, because he knows that the Starks have wolves, and he has met Ghost. He pulls off a glove and lets Summer lick his fingers, which makes Bran decide that they should all go through the Black Gate with Sam.

Gilly stays behind with the baby as the others make the descent. As they get lower into the well, Bran can see the Black Gate, except it isn't black: "It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it." They reach the gate and Bran thinks of the face, "If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that."

When Sam stands before it, the face opens its eyes, which are white and blind. It asks, "Who are you?" and Sam replies with the words of the oath of the Watch. The mouth of the door opens and admits them. As Hodor goes through with Bran on his back, he fails to duck enough: "The door's upper lip brushed softly against the top of Bran's head, and a drop of water fell on him and ran slowly down his nose. It was strangely warm, and salty as a tear."


They have moved on to a third city, Meereen, which is "as large as Astapor and Yunkai combined. The city's hero rides out in front of it, daring them to attack, and Daenerys's bloodriders are ready to take him on. She forbids it, however, saying that their place is at her side. Ser Jorah agrees with her: "Let the fool ride back and forth and shout until his horse goes lame. He does us no harm."

But Arstan Whitebeard is of another mind: "This hero builds courage in the hearts of his own men and plants the seeds of doubt in ours." Daenerys tells Arstan and Jorah to stop squabbling. She's aware of some problems: Though she has more than eighty thousand followers after the fall of the first two cities, less than a fourth of them are soldiers. "The rest ... well, Ser Jorah called them mouths with feet, and soon they would be starving." The Meereen had burned the fields in expectation of their arrival, leaving them with nothing to forage upon.

And they had done something that troubles her more: "they had nailed a slave child up on every milepost along the coast road from Yunkai, nailed them up still living with their entrails hanging out and one arm always outstretched to point the way to Meereen." The atrocity had made her the more determined to conquer the city.

Brown Ben Plumm, the new commander of the Second Sons, who had joined forces with her at Yunkai, says the champion of Meereen is Oznak zo Pahl, whose uncle is the richest man in the city. Daario Naharis now volunteers to take care of Oznak, but she holds him back. Instead, she sends for Strong Belwas, who had once been a slave in the fighting pits of Meereen. If he wins, it will embarrass Meereen, and if he loses it will not be such a great triumph. Besides, "Belwas was the man she could most easily spare."

Belwas dallies with Oznak, but in the end he is holding the champion's head aloft. Dario delights in the victory, but Ser Jorah calls it "without meaning.... We will not win Meereen by killing its defenders one at a time." Daenerys agrees, and turns her attention to ways to conquer the city. Ser Jorah says he hasn't seen any weaknesses in the landward walls, so she asks about attacking it by river or sea. They only have three ships, however.

Ser Jorah now offers a suggestion that he knows Daenerys will not like: "I say, let this city be. You cannot free every slave in the world, Khaleesi. Your war is in Westeros." They should simply pass the city by and march westward to Pentos, biding their time until the dragons are large enough to be useful in warfare. Even her bloodriders see the sense in the plan: Rakharo says, "when cowards hide and burn the food and fodder, great khals must seek for braver foes."

But Daenerys remembers the children mounted as signposts, and is unwilling to leave them unavenged. Finally, Brown Ben Plumm has an idea: They can attack the city through the sewers. He escaped from Meereen that way, though he has never forgotten the smell and is not about to volunteer to go back through them the other way.

She decides that she needs to think about it some more and sends them away. But what she really thinks about is Daario, who has captured her fancy by bringing her a flower every night when he made his report. "And Daario Naharis made her laugh, which Ser Jorah never did." The restlessness he stirs in her makes her have Missandei bring her her horse to go out riding. She is accompanied by Missandei and by Arstan, for whom she feels no sexual attraction.

They ride through the camps taking notice of the drilling of the Unsullied and of the freedmen, some of whom call her "Mother" and reach out to touch her. Then a tall man in ragged clothes grabs her wrist and pulls her from her saddle. He pulls out his sword and she recognizes Mero, the former captain of the Second Sons. She cries for help, but Mero cuts down the freedman who steps forward.

Then Arstan leaps from his horse, wielding his hardwood staff. He knocks Mero down and with moves too fast for her to follow, parries Mero's sword strikes until he breaks Mero's leg and then knocks him unconscious. Freedmen gather around the fallen man and attack him with knives and stones.

Arstan kneels and apologizes for being so slow to recognize Mero, who had shaved his beard and hair. They return to her tent, where Ser Jorah arrives with news of his reconnoiter along the river wall. But she scolds him for not letting her know that Mero had escaped, and tells him that Arstan killed him. She wants Arstan to be knighted, but to her surprise both men object. Arstan tells her that he "was a knight in Westeros." He hasn't lied to her, but he has withheld the truth. And then Ser Jorah recognizes him: "Mero shaved his beard, but you grew one, didn't you? No wonder you looked so bloody familiar." He tells Daenerys,
"I saw him perhaps a dozen times ... from afar most often, standing with his brothers or riding in some tourney. But every man in the Seven Kingdoms knew Barristan the Bold." He laid the point of his sword against the old man's neck. "Khaleesi, before you kneels Ser Barristan Selmy, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, who betrayed your House to serve the Usurper Robert Baratheon." 
Daenerys demands the full truth from Arstan, now Barristan, and he tells her that Jorah is correct. "I might be serving in King's Landing still if the vile boy upon the Iron Throne had not cast me aside, it shames me to admit." But Joffrey's conduct opened his eyes: "That was when I knew I must find my true king, and die in his service--" Jorah offers to provide that death now, but Barristan continues, saying that he had fought against Robert Baratheon at the Triden, at the time when Mormont was on Robert's side.

He disguised himself after leaving Westeros because Varys's spies were watching Viserys closely. And they are still watching her: "since the day you wed Khal Drogo, there has been an informer by your side selling your secrets, trading whispers to the Spider for gold and promises." When Daenerys turns to look at Mormont, Ser Jorah admits it, but he says, "it was only at the start, before I came to know you ... before I came to love...." She interrupts him furiously, and her dragons start emitting smoke and fire. "I should say the word and burn the two of them," she thinks. But instead she orders both Barristan and Ser Jorah out.

When she calms down a little, she thinks about how both of them had saved her life. And she decides what to do with them.


Tyrion has told Sansa about the deaths of Robb and Catelyn, and was surprised at the stoic way she received the news until he heard her sobbing by herself later: "Even her tears she hoards to herself." Now he sneaks down into the cellars where the dragon skulls are kept and Shae is waiting for hm. He has hired Shae to be one of Sansa's maids, but he still has to contrive to meet her in secret.


She wakes from a dream that she was back in Winterfell with Lady and her family was safe and sound. Now she faces the reality, "All of them are dead but me. She was alone in the world now." Shae and Brella prepare her bath. The wedding is at noon in the Great Sept of Baelor and the feast, with seventy-seven courses, in the evening. But first she has to breakfast with the queen.

Tyrion arrives with Podrick Payne as she is dressing, and goes in to change too. Sansa braces herself for the ordeal and they go down to breakfast, where presents are presented to the groom. Joffrey receives them all graciously until Tyrion presents their gift: "a huge old book called Lives of Four Kings, bound in leather and gorgeously illuminated." Joffrey leafs through it and then pushes it across the table: "My father had no time for books.... If you read less, Uncle Imp, perhaps lady Sansa would have a baby in her belly by now." The court laughs because Joffrey laughs. Sansa worries that Tyrion will say something to anger the king, but he simply drinks another cup of wine.

Mace Tyrell presents Joffrey with a three-foot-tall golden chalice with seven sides, each ornamented with a different gemstone representing the seven great houses, including a pearl direwolf for House Stark. Joffrey remarks that they'll need to chip the wolf off, and Sansa pretends not to hear. The last gift is from Lord Tywin: a longsword. Joffrey decides that he will name it Widow's Wail, and he takes the sword and hacks the book Tyrion had given him to pieces. Ser Garlan Tyrell observes that there were only four copies of the book in existence. "Now there are three," Joffrey replies, and says, "You and Lady Sansa owe me a better present, Uncle Imp. This one is all chopped to pieces."

Tyrion says, "Perhaps a knife, sire. To match your sword. A dagger of the same fine Valyrian steel ... with a dragonbone hilt, say?" He is describing the dagger used in the attempt on Bran Stark's life, and he gets a "sharp look" from Joffrey, who says he would prefer "a gold hit with rubies in it. Dragonbone is too plain."

As Tyrion and Sansa are walking to the wedding, they meet up with Prince Oberyn and his mistress, Ellaria. Shae has told Sansa that Ellaria "was almost a whore when he found her, m'lady ... and now she's near a princess." Oberyn and Tyrion talk about the book Joffrey has destroyed. Oberyn thinks that the book was too kind to King Viserys, who "poisoned his own nephew to gain the throne and then did nothing once he had it."

When they reach their litter, Tyrion asks Sansa to draw the curtains. She protests that the day is lovely, but he says that the citizens are likely to throw things at them if they see him. She says she is sorry for Joffrey's destruction of the book, but perhaps the dagger would please him better. Tyrion says, "Joff quarreled with your brother Robb at Winterfell. Tell me, was there ill feeling between Bran and His Grace as well?" She doesn't think so, but he presses on: "Sansa, do you know what happened to Bran at Winterfell?" She says only that he fell, and "He was always climbing things." He starts to talk about Catelyn's accusation that Tyrion had tried to have Bran killed. "She accused me falsely. I never harmed your brother Bran. And I mean no harm to you." But she can't figure out why he is talking to her about these things, and when he says, "You have never asked me how Robb died, or your lady mother," she says she "would sooner not know. It would give me bad dreams."

"I know about bad dreams," Tyrion replies.

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