By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

27. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 927-959


She is on board the Merling King, and has "been sick for most of the voyage ... sick with terror, sick with fever, or seasick." She has dreamed of Joffrey clawing at his throat, and of Tyrion, who, she tells Littlefinger, didn't kill Joffrey. Littlefinger says that he may not have killed Joffrey, but Tyrion had been married before and "when he grew bored with her, he made a gift of her to his father's guardsmen."

They near the Fingers, and Littlefinger tells her they will be going ashore. The ship is going on to Braavos, and they will stay at Littlefinger's "ancestral home" before leaving for the Eyrie, where he is to marry Lysa Arryn. This is all news to Sansa, who had hoped that she was going to Winterfell. But he reminds her that Winterfell has been destroyed and that she has no family left.

Sansa barely knows her aunt Lysa, but she assumes that she will treat her kindly in memory of Catelyn. "And the Vale of Arryn was beautiful, all the songs said so. Perhaps it would not be so terrible to stay here for a while." But the tower and the bleak and rocky setting where they land for their stay is not pleasant, as Littlefinger acknowledges when one of the servants tells him about their dinner: "Ah, cold salt mutton. I must be home. When I break my fast on gulls' eggs and seaweed soup, I'll be certain of it."

They make their way across a strand that is slick with seaweed and covered with sheep droppings. When they are settled, he tells her that she must conceal her identity: "If Sansa Stark should be seen in the Vale, the eunuch will know within a moon's turn, and that would create unfortunate ... complications." So she must pretend to be his illegitimate daughter, Alayne Stone, whose "mother was a gentlewoman of Braavos, daughter of a merchant prince." Sansa is embarrassed at being thought a bastard, but agrees to go along with it as a kind of game.

Sansa had decided that Ser Dontos must have killed Joffrey, but Littlefinger is amused at the idea. "No, all Dontos had to do was lead you from the castle ... and make certain you wore your silver hair net." He also reveals that he has operatives at work in the castle, and calls over his servant, an old man named Oswell. He is the father of three sons, he says, and all of a sudden Sansa realizes that he's a Kettleblack. Tyrion had dismissed Cersei's guards and sent Bronn to hire sellswords. When Littlefinger got word of it, he introduced Bronn to the Kettleblack brothers.

Sansa remembers that Ser Osmund had been near Joffrey that night, and jumps to a conclusion: "So one of the Kettleblacks put the poison in Joff's cup?" But Littlefinger says they are too untrustworthy to enlist in a plot. Sansa is stymied in her attempts to identify the poisoner, until Littlefinger says, "I will wager that at some point during the evening someone told you that your hair net was crooked and straightened it for you." The Queen of Thorns, Sansa remembers in surprise. "You cannot mean ... she wanted to take me to Highgarden, to marry me to her grandson...."

Willas Tyrell would have bored Sansa, Littlefinger says. When he went to Highgarden to negotiate the marriage of Margaery and Joffrey, the Queen of Thorns kept asking questions about the king. Littlefinger praised Joffrey, but let his servants tell the Tyrells' servants the truth about him. He also planted the idea of Loras Tyrell's joining the Kingsguard, which appealed to Mace Tyrell. "Lady Olenna was not about to let Joff harm her precious darling granddaughter," but her son wanted Margaery to marry a king. The king didn't have to be Joffrey, however. "We shall have another wedding soon, wait and see. Margaery will marry Tommen."

The intricacy of the plot astonishes Sansa, but she's grateful to be away from King's Landing. Finally, after eight days, Lysa arrives with her retinue, which includes a septon "and a handsome singer with a wisp of a mustache and long sandy curls" -- Marillion, who had come to the Eyrie with Tyrion and stayed on. Sansa is surprised at how homely Lysa is, and how much older than Catelyn she looks. Sansa curtsies deeply when she is presented to her, but "Lysa Arryn did not seem greatly pleased to see her," and is put out to learn that she's Littlefinger's bastard. But uppermost in her mind is marrying him, so she arranges for the wedding to take place immediately.

Lysa is so eager to be bedded by Littlefinger that she warns him, "after all these years of silence and whisperings, I mean to scream when you love me. I am going to scream so loud they'll hear me in the Eyrie!" And so she does. Sansa goes outside to escape the noises from the bridal chamber, and when she returns everyone in the tower is drunk, including Marillion, who introduces himself and then makes a serious pass at her. She fends him off as well as she can, but to no avail. She is in serious difficulty when Ser Lothar Brune, who had come to the tower with Littlefinger, appears and draws a dagger, telling Marillion to go, and giving him a cut to make the point. He tells her, "Lord Petyr said watch out for you."

When she heard Lothar's voice, Sansa had at first thought it was Sandor Clegane's. That night, she sleeps badly and dreams of her wedding night, in which Tyrion and the Hound are merged into a single person. The next morning, she is summoned to speak with her aunt -- Littlefinger has told Lysa who Sansa really is. Lysa tells her she looks like Catelyn, but when Sansa thanks her she is informed that it wasn't a compliment. "If truth be told, you look too much like Catelyn. Something must be done. We shall darken your hair before we bring you back to the Eyrie, I think."

Then Lysa tells her that she loathed Jon Arryn and was always in love with Littlefinger, but her father forbade his marrying her. She asks about her marriage to Tyrion and is glad to hear that it was never consummated. She assures Sansa that Tyrion will soon be dead and asks, "How would you like to marry your cousin, the Lord Robert." Sansa knows that Robert is a sickly boy, but politely says, "I ... can scarcely wait to meet him, my lady. But he is still a child, is he not."

Lysa says that Robert "is eight. And not robust." But she adds, "The seed is strong, my lord husband said before he died. His last words.... I see no reason why you should not be wed as soon as we know that your Lannister husband is dead. A secret wedding, to be sure." He likes to be read to, and to play games, "but you must always let him win."


They have relocated to the top of the Wall, leaving Castle Black to Maester Aemon and a handful of old or ill men unfit for the work of defense. Jon catches a few hours rest when he can in the warming shed.  The wildlings are regrouping and rebuilding, in the meantime firing arrows when they can. The Watch has a telescope, and Jon can identify some of the people he had known, including Dalla, who is immensely pregnant.

The wildlings are building a turtle, a kind of upside-down ship covered with mammoth hide, so they can approach the Wall. The Watch has run out of oil and pitch, and their supply of arrows is running low as well. There are no fletchers to make any more, and when Jon sent to Mole Town for help, the news came back that the village had been deserted. Jon wonders if it is time for them to leave as well.

Word comes that the turtle is on the move, and Jon has the warhorn blown to alert everyone. If the turtle manages to breach the gate, it will come down to hand-to-hand combat in the narrow tunnel far below. Jon knows that the men are waiting for his orders, and he sends some to the catapults and the scorpions, and tells the rest to ready their bows with fire arrows, though he knows they won't be much use against the turtle. Sure enough, their fire gutters out in the wet mammoth hide. One of the trebuchets is still out of order, and the wildlings have devised a route out of reach of the working one.

The only thing they can do now is try to crush the turtle when it arrives at the Wall. They have prepared barrels full of rocks and water which has frozen solid overnight. They roll them to the edge of the Wall and line them up above the gate. Jon leans out so far over the edge that he almost tips over, but Pyp catches him in time. Finally, they roll the barrel over, hear it bounce off the side of the Wall and then crash into the turtle. The men inside the turtle begin to scatter. They roll the next one over. "By the time they were done, the front of Mance's turtle was a crushed and splintered ruin, and wildlings were spilling out the other end and scrambling for their camp." They were safe for another day.

Jon goes down to Castle Black to get some sleep, and when he wakes four men are standing over him with a lantern. They order him to get up and go with them. They are dressed in the black of the Night's Watch, so he obeys, and when they get to the Lord Commander's solar he finds Maester Aemon with Ser Alliser Thorne and some other brothers. Thorne says, "Here's the turncloak now, my lord. Ned Stark's bastard, of Winterfell."

Jon protests that he is no turncloak, but the man seated behind the Old Bear's table says, "We shall see." When Thorne says, "Lord Snow, he likes to call himself," Jon protests that it was Thorne who started calling him that. He remembers that Mormont had sent Thorne to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, so he assumes that the others are from that castle and asks how many men they have brought to defend the Wall.
"It's me who'll ask the questions," the jowly man replied. "You've been charged with oathbreaking, cowardice, and desertion, Jon Snow. Do you deny that you abandoned your brothers to die on the Fist of the First Men and joined the wildling Mance Rayder, this self-styled King-beyond-the-Wall?"
Maester Aemon speaks up to say that he and Donal Noye had heard Jon's story and were satisfied that his explanations were true, but the man behind the table insists on hearing them for himself. So Jon begins his story of the mission with Qhorin Halfhand again, only to be interrupted by mockery from Ser Alliser Thorne. When Jon talks back to Thorne's insults, the man behind the desk tells him he is to address Thorne as ser, and himself as "m'lord." He is Janos Slynt, he tells Jon, and he is commander at Castle Black until Bowen  Marsh returns. He adds, "I will not suffer to hear an anointed knight like the good Ser Alliser mocked by a traitor's bastard." And then he asks Jon if he denies having slept with a wildling woman.

Jon will not dishonor the memory of Ygritte by denying it, and protests when Ser Alliser calls her an "unwashed whore." When Slynt says, "You admit to being an oathbreaker, then," Jon can only admit that he had broken his vows with Ygritte, as half of the Watch had done with the whores of Mole's Town. And he continues to protest that he never turned his cloak and had escaped the wildlings at the first opportunity.

Slynt then orders "the other prisoner" to be brought in. Jon doesn't recognize him at first, but it's Rattleshirt, who says that Jon is the one who killed Qhorin Halfhand. Slynt asks Jon if he is going to claim that Halfhand ordered Jon to kill him, and Jon can only reply, "He told me to do whatever they asked of me." Slynt and Thorne express their contempt for his answer, and they reject his further account of the situation in which he and Halfhand had found themselves. To prove his loyalty, Jon removes the glove and displays the hand he burned saving Mormont from the wight.

Septon Cellador now adds to the case against Jon by mentioning that he "refused to say his vows properly in the sept" but instead took them "before a heart tree. His father's gods, he said, but they are wildling gods as well." But Maester Aemon steps up to defend Jon:
"My lords, when Donal Noye was slain, it was this young man Jon Snow who took the Wall and held it, against all the fury of the north. He has proved himself valiant, loyal, and resourceful. Were it not for him, you would have found Mance Rayder sitting here when you arrived, Lord Slynt." 
But Slynt will have none of it. Jon's father died a traitor, and Jon will be hanged. He orders him taken to an ice cell. But when Ser Alliser seizes him, Jon grabs him by the throat and almost throttles him before the others can intervene. Thorne says, "You see for yourselves, brothers. The boy is a wildling."

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