By Charles Matthews

Saturday, October 29, 2011

4. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 87-115


She is aboard the Titan's Daughter, heading for Braavos, which the captain's son tells her is home.
But that was stupid. Her home was gone, her parents dead, and all her brothers slain but Jon Snow on the Wall. That was where she had wanted to go. She told the captain as much, but even the iron coin did not sway him. Arya never seemed to find the places she set out to reach. Yoren had sworn to deliver her to Winterfell, only she had ended up in Harrenhal and Yoren in his grave. When she escaped Harrenhal for Riverrun, Lem and Anguy and Tom o' Sevens took her captive and dragged her to the hollow hill instead. Then the Hound had stolen her and dragged her to the Twins. Arya had left him dying by the river and gone ahead to Saltpans, hoping to take passage for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, only....
Only now she was going to Braavos, which might not be so bad, she guesses, since Syrio Forel and Jaqen H'ghar had been from Braavos.

She has a new name: Salty, because she had come aboard at Saltpans. And now they are approaching the colossus, the Titan of Braavos, which she had heard about in Old Nan's stories, except in them it was a living giant, and in fact it's only a statue. The thought of Old Nan reminds her of Winterfell, but she puts it out of mind: "All men must die," she tells herself, remembering the Braavosi phrase Valar morghulis, which had gained her passage on the ship. She has learned a few more Braavosi words and phrases on the ship, some of them from Denyo, the captain's youngest son.

She asks Denyo if the Titan is the god of Braavos, and he tells her, "All gods are honored in Braavos," where there are temples of various religions. But for Arya, none of the gods have any meaning, since they didn't protect her family from harm. In her mind she recites once again the list of people she wants dead, but there are only six left, now that Joffrey and Polliver and the Tickler are dead, and she had left the Hound dying without giving him the coup de grâce he had asked for.

As they get closer to Braavos, the gigantic statue bestriding the entrance to the harbor becomes visible. Suddenly it gives out "a mighty roar," startling Arya. The ship sails between its legs and she looks up to see faces peering out of the murder holes above it. They pass by what Denyo tells her is "The Arsenal of Braavos," which is "bristling with scorpions, spitfires, and trebuchets," and pass countless ships and docks and quays. She is surprised that the city has no walls, but Denyo tells her, "Our galleys are our walls. We need no other."

The captain, Ternesio Terys, appears and tells her that a boat will take her ashore. She had wanted to stay with the ship, but he has no need for her on the crew. So she finds herself in a boat gliding among the many islands that compose the city, along canals crossed by bridges. "They have no trees, she realized. Braavos is all stone, a grey city in a green sea." In the distance she sees "a massive  grey stone roadway of some kind, supported by three tiers of mighty arches marching away south into the haze." The boatman, Yorko Terys, explains that it is an aqueduct that "brings fresh water from the mainland."

They pass by a variety of temples, including one to R'hllor, with whom Arya is familiar from her encounter with Thoros of Myr.  Finally Yorko deposits at a dock with steps leading to a temple with a black tile roof. Bidding her "Valar dohaeris," he rows away. She tells herself, "I am a wolf, and will not be afraid," pats the hilt of Needle, and takes the steps two at a time to the doors at the top. The left-hand door is pale weirwood that reminds her of the heart tree at Winterfell. The right-hand door is ebony, and in the center of each is a carved moon face. She tries to open them, but they don't budge, then pounds on them. Finally she takes out the iron coin and says "Valar morghulis," and the doors open.

When the doors close behind her, it takes a while for her eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness. She hears whispering and weeping and other sounds, including water. Statues of all sorts of gods surround her. When she reaches the center of the temple she finds a pool of water ten feet across, and a young man weeping by it. He dips his fingers in the water and sucks them. She decides he must be thirsty, so she takes a stone cup, dips it in the pool, and gives it to him. He says, "Valar morghulis" and she replies, "Valar dohaeris." Then he drinks from the cup and stands up, revealing a blood stain below his belt. "You're stabbed," she says, but he doesn't answer. He goes to an alcove in the wall, and she realizes that there are people in other alcoves who are dead or dying.

She startles when someone touches her, then realizes it's a small girl with hollow cheeks, who speaks to her in a language she doesn't recognize. Arya asks if she knows the Common Tongue and a voice behind her says, "I do." It is a tall man in a hooded robe like the one the little girl is wearing: the right side is black and the left side is white. He tells her she is in the House of Black and White. She says she is looking for Jaqen H'ghar, but he doesn't know the name. Then he asks for hers. When she says "Salty," he says, "No.... Tell me your name." She tries Squab, and Nan, and Weasel, and Arry, but he knows they aren't her real name. Finally she says, "I am Arya, of House Stark."

He accepts that as her real name, and says, "the House of Black and White is no place for Arya, of House Stark." She has no place to go, she says. "Do you fear death?" he asks, and when she says no, he lowers his cowl. "Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket." He croaks, "Kiss me, child."

Arya decides not to be frightened, so she kisses him where his nose would be, then takes the worm and starts to eat it. It fades away before she can put it in her mouth. "The yellow skull was melting too, and the kindliest old man that she had ever seen was smiling down at her." He says no one has ever tried to eat the worm before and asks if she is hungry.

"Yes, she thought, but not for food."


She and Tommen are on their way to Tywin's funeral. She is fussing at him for wanting to ride his horse and throw pennies to people, for opening the curtains to the litter, for not sitting up straight, and then getting annoyed because he is so obedient: "A king had to be strong. Joffrey would have argued." He observes that there aren't many people in the street, and she blames it on the rain though she knows that there was no love for Tywin Lannister in the city.

There aren't many mourners at the Great Sept of Baelor, either. The morning service is for the aristocracy, and Cersei knows she will have to return for the evening service for the common people, "so that the smallfolk might see her mourn. The mob must have its show. It was a nuisance. She had offices to fill, a war to win, a realm to rule. Her father would have understood that."

The elderly High Septon meets them, wearing the crystal-and-gold crown that Tywin had given him to replace the one that was lost when the mob tore the previous High Septon to pieces on the day Myrcella sailed for Dorne. Cersei realizes to her annoyance that this High Septon had been appointed by Tyrion. She examines his expression to try to discover what Tyrion might have told him about her.
At least I will not be expected to don mourning for Tyrion. I shall dress in crimson silk and cloth-of-gold for that, and wear rubies in my hair. The man who brought her the dwarf's head would be raised to lordship, she had proclaimed, no matter how mean or low his birth or station. Ravens were carrying her promise to every part of the Seven Kingdoms, and soon enough word would cross the narrow sea to the Nine Free Cities and the lands beyond. Let the Imp run to the ends of the earth, he will not escape me. 
Jaime is standing vigil at the head of Lord Tywin's bier. She leads Tommen up to kneel by the body, telling him, "Weep quietly.... You are a king, not a squalling child. Your lords are watching you." The body is dressed in splendid armor, but Cersei is bothered by the expression on her father's face: "The corners of her father's lips curved upward ever so slightly, giving him a look of vague bemusement." She blames Pycelle for the preparation of the corpse. "He had been a great man," she thinks. "I shall be greater, though. A thousand years from now, when the maesters write about this time, you shall be remembered only as Queen Cersei's sire."

Tommen interrupts her thoughts by asking her, "What smells so bad?" She thinks, "My lord father," but she says, "Death." Tommen begins to fidget and her knees begin to ache as the service goes on. She sees her Uncle Kevan kneeling with his son Lancel beside him, and thinks Lancel looks worse than her father does. Lord Gyles is coughing and covering his nose with a red silk handkerchief, and she realizes that he can smell it, too. Pycelle's eyes are closed, and she vows to have him whipped if he has fallen asleep. She sees Margaery Tyrell, Tommen's future wife, and notices how much like her brother, the Knight of Flowers, she looks. She wonders "if they had other things in common," and reflects on how many ladies she has in attendance on her. This is yet another glance at Loras Tyrell's homosexuality, but also a segue into Cersei's wondering which of Margaery's attendants she can recruit to spy on her.

By the time the service ends the smell has grown stronger, and she thinks she hears someone say "privy," but can't locate the offender. Lady Falyse approaches her outside and says that her sister Lollys has gone into labor and that her mother wants to name the child, if it's a boy, Tywin. Cersei is furious at the idea: "Your lackwit sister gets herself raped by half of King's Landing, and Tanda thinks to honor the bastard with my lord father's name? I think not." Falyse looks like she has been slapped.

Then she encounters the aged-looking Lancel, and comments on his coming marriage to one of the Freys, but he is unhappy. "It is cruel, Cersei. Your Grace knows that I love--." She cuts him off and finishes the sentence, "--House Lannister." Lancel goes on about how the High Septon had helped him when he was ill, and how he said Lancel was spared "for some holy purpose, so I might atone for my sins." Cersei wonders, "What has this mewling fool told the High Septon? And what will he tell his little Frey when they lie together in the dark?" She regrets having slept with Lancel, but not so much that he will talk about it -- she could always denounce it as a lie, "the braggadocio of a callow boy smitten by her beauty" -- as that he'll talk about having gotten Robert Baratheon drunk on drugged wine before the hunt in which he was killed.

She gets some good news from Lady Merryweather, who is from Myr, and tells her that she has written to her friends in the Free Cities, telling them so seize Tyrion if he should appear there. Cersei is intrigued by the beautiful and voluptuous woman. "This one is ambitious, and her lord is proud but poor." She calls her by her first name, Taena, and says, "I know that we shall be great friends." But they are interrupted by Mace Tyrell, who says, "We shall never see his like again." Cersei thinks, "You are looking at his like, fool." And then he tells her that Tywin had promised the office of master of coin to his uncle Garth, and that he's on his way to take up the position. She puts a stop to this quickly, telling him, "I have asked Lord Gyles Rosby to serve as our new master of coin, and he has done me the honor of accepting." Tyrell is taken aback, and sputters that "your lord father assured me...." But his mother, Lady Olenna, the Queen of Thorns," intervenes:
"It would seem that Lord Tywin did not share his plans with our regent, I can't imagine why. Still, there 'tis, no use hectoring Her Grace. She is quite right, you must write Lord Leyton before Garth boards a ship. You know the sea will sicken him and make his farting worse." Lady Olenna gave Cersei a toothless smile. "Your council chambers will smell sweeter with Lord Gyles, though I daresay that coughing would drive me to distraction. We all adore dear old uncle Garth, but the man is flatulent, that cannot be gainsaid. I do abhor foul smells." Her wrinkled face wrinkled up even more. "I caught a whiff of something unpleasant in the holy sept, in truth. Maybe you smelled it too?" 
Cersei lies and says she didn't, and vows to get rid of Lady Olenna as soon as possible. She retrieves Tommen and asks Lord Gyles to share the litter with them. When she offers him the job of master of coin that he has supposedly already accepted, "he began coughing so violently that she feared he might die right then and there." After he accepts, she tells him, "should the question arise, you joined the council yesterday." He coughs "into a square of red silk, as if to hide the blood in his spittle. Cersei pretended not to notice." She can get someone else when he dies, and perhaps recall Littlefinger, who is already having trouble with the lords of the Vale.

Back in her rooms, she is visited by Qyburn, who tells her that when Tyrion and Varys disappeared, a jailer named Rugen also vanished. She knows this, but he adds that under Rugen's chamber pot there was a loose stone that covered a hiding place for valuables. The hole was empty, but Qyburn dug in it and finds an old gold coin bearing "the sigil of House Gardener," the precusor of Highgarden. Cersei wonders if this indicates that Mace Tyrell had been secretly plotting with Tyrion. She warns Qyburn not to tell anyone about it, and pockets the coin.

Qyburn has more news: "The poison on the Viper's spear was manticore venom from the east." Cersei says that Pycelle ruled that out because manticore venom kills instantly. But Qyburn says the poison had been "thickened somehow, so as to draw out the Mountain's dying." It may have been the result of a spell. Cersei scoffs at the idea of magic, but Qyburn proceeds, saying that Ser Gregor's "veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told." Cersei complains that his screaming frightens Tommen and wakens her sometimes. She thinks they should call in Ilen Payne to put an end to him. But Qyburn wants to move Ser Gregor to the dungeons, where his screaming won't be so troublesome, and he can "tend to him more freely." In short, he wants to know more about this poison.

Cersei gets the point, and asks why the Citadel took away his chain. Qyburn calls the archmaesters "craven" and cites Marwyn, the ones the novices referred to as the Mage, as calling them "The grey sheep." Qyburn wanted to do some unconventional experimentation:
"For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile ... but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown." 
Cersei is, to say the least, "intrigued." She lets Qyburn take charge of the Mountain, reminding him that she needs the head to send to Dorne. She tells him she will provide him with the finances he needs and that he should buy some new robes. "Need I say that it will go ill for you if any word of your ... labors ... should pass beyond these walls?" Her secrets are safe with him, he assures her.

Her mind goes back to the gold coin from Highgarden and what link it might have to her father's death. She wonders if Tyrion has anything to do with the swift decomposition of Tywin's body, and if there's a possibility that he influenced Pycelle or the High Septon to bring it about. But her suspicions are interrupted by the arrival of her uncle Kevan to dine with her. Before she can ask him to become the Hand, he anticipates the offer, noting that Jaime has refused the job. She needs someone older anyway, she says, and he points out that Mace Tyrell is older. "Never," she says, adding, "The Tyrells overreach themselves." He admits that Tyrell would be a bad choice as hand, but cautions her against making an enemy of him. He has heard about the encounter over the position of master of coin, and says she was "unwise to shame him in front of half the court."

But as for the matter of becoming the Hand, he will do it only "so long as you name me regent as well as Hand and take yourself back to Casterly Rock." Tywin had told him of his plans to send her "back to the Rock and find a new husband for you." Her anger grows, but she controls it. He persists: "Open your eyes and look about you, Cersei. The kingdom is in ruins. Tywin might have been able to set matters aright, but...." She says she will set it aright with his help, but he persists, and the argument rages until she shouts "The king is my son!" and he replies, "from what I saw of Joffrey, you are as unfit a mother as you are a ruler."

She flings a cup of wine in his face. He rises with "a ponderous dignity" and asks her leave to go, warning, "You would be wise not to take me lightly, Your Grace ... and wiser still not to make of me a foe." She asks if this is a threat, and he says he is counseling her. "If you will not yield the regency to me, name me your castellan for Casterly Rock and make either Mathis Rowan or Randyll Tarly the Hand of the King." Both of them are bannermen for the Tyrells, which only adds to Cersei's suspicions. But he makes the point that by making either of them hers, she strengthens herself and weakens Highgarden. At the same time he realizes that his advice is futile: "You may make Moon Boy your Hand for all I care. My brother is dead, woman. I am going to take him home."

She wonders how much Mace Tyrell had paid him. And as he leaves, he reveals that he knows that Jaime is Tommen's father.

No comments:

Post a Comment