By Charles Matthews

Saturday, November 5, 2011

11. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 280-311


Nimble Dick Crabb is leading Brienne and Podrick to what she hopes is Dontos Hollard, waiting for a ship with Sansa. He reveals his less-savory tendencies along the way by searching her saddlebags for money when she isn't looking. Podrick's outcry alerts her, but aside from warning him not to do it again, there isn't much she can do. "Brienne hoped he was a better guide than he was a thief."

The weather grows rainy and miserable as they proceed, and weariness and doubt begin to take a toll on Brienne. As they near a small castle overlooking the sea, Podrick notices that they are being followed by a man on horseback. They skirt the castle and travel on, riding through a gloomy forest, and make camp at the edge of a bog.

The next day the woods begin to thin out and Nimble Dick says they are nearing the narrow sea and their goal. The rider they thought was following them seems to have disappeared, but Brienne is prepared to fight him if need be. She has yet to kill a man in battle and feels "queasy" about doing so, but when they stop for the night she takes out her sword and sharpens it.

The next they come upon their goal: "an ancient, tumbledown castle, abandoned and overgrown on the edge of a cliff." It is called "the Whispers," Nimble Dick has told them, because it contains a collection of heads from men executed there, who speak to each other. He says if they listen they can hear them, and Podrick says he does. Brienne, too, hears a "faint, soft murmuring that seemed to be coming from the ground as much as from the castle." But as they grow closer to it, she realizes that it's the sound of the sea, which has eaten caves and tunnels in the cliffs below them.

They make their way around the castle to a rotted gate that collapses when Brienne tugs on it. Inside the castle, the forest has grown up, and there is a rusted iron portcullis that resists being opened. But farther along they find a postern gate behind a blackberry bush. "The berries had all been picked, and half the bush had been hacked down to cut a path to the door. The sight of the broken branches filled Brienne with disquiet. 'Someone's been through here, and recently.'" Crabb says it must have been "Your fool and those girls," but Brienne thinks even Dontos Hollard wouldn't bring them to a place like this.

The situation makes her so uneasy that she tells Podrick to bring her the sword Oathkeeper. With Crabb following, she slips through the postern into the ruined and overgrown castle and discovers the ashes from a recent fire. "Someone was trying to keep warm last night. Or else they were trying to send a signal to a passing ship." Before she can shush him, Nimble Dick calls out a "Hallooooo."

A man appears, and then another and another. She recognizes them, especially the third: Shagwell. The others are Pyg and Timeon, members of the Bloody Mummers who had tormented her. Shagwell is the fool Crabb had met, and he still wears faded and dirty motley. He also has "a triple morningstar, three spiked balls chained to a wooden haft," and he uses it to take out one of Nimble Dick's knees, and when he cries out in pain, to smash his face in. Shagwell begins to taunt Brienne with obscenities.

She realizes that these are the three for whom Shagwell was trying to book passage. Timeon tells her that Vargo Hoat's ear grew infected after she bit it off, and that Gregor Clegane "killed him piece by piece. A hand one day, a foot the next, lopped off neat and clean," until the Mountain was summoned to King's Landing and finished him off before he left. Brienne tries to keep them talking, and tells them she is looking for Sansa. "Then it's the Hound you want," Timeon tells her, explaining that Sandor Clegane was "the one that's got the Stark girl."

Pyg and Shagwell are edging closer, backing her toward the cliff. She makes a sudden move on Pyg, cutting him in the thigh and then, when he falls, stabbing him in the throat. Timeon's spear grazes her cheek, and she finds herself with him in front and Shagwell behind her. As she is trying to choose which one to attack, a stone comes through the air and hits Shagwell in the head. She concentrates on Timeon, who wounds her in the shoulder. But she slices off an ear and runs the sword into his belly. As he reaches for a dagger in his belt, she cuts off his hand, thinking, "That one was for Jaime." He begs her to finish him off, and she does.

Shagwell is recovering from being hit by the stone when another one fells him. It is Podrick, who shouts, "I told you I could fight!" Shagwell cries out, "I yield," and tries to crawl away, but Brienne tells him to dig a grave. He protests that he doesn't have a spade. "'You have two hands.' One more than you left Jaime." It takes the rest of the day for Shagwell to dig deep enough, and as Brienne is lowering Nimble Dick Crabb into the hole, Shagwell makes his move with a jagged chunk of rock. But Brienne has a dagger up her sleeve and she stabs him with it repeatedly, saying "Laugh," with each stab.

Before she covers Crabb with dirt, she tosses two dragons into the grave -- payment for finding the fool, she explains to Podrick. Then someone laughs behind them, and she draws Oathkeeper prepared for more Bloody Mummers. But it is Hyle Hunt, who says that Randyll Tarly had him follow her. He helps her finish burying Crabb.

The Queenmaker

Arianne Martel, with her attendants, arrives at the dry well at Shandystone, where her milk brother, Garin, and Ser Gerold Dayne, a knight known as Darkstar, are waiting. Darkstar is, she thinks, the handsomest man in Dorne, and she worries about what will happen when Arys is there and sees his effect on her. By the campfire they talk about the sailors' tales: "a slave revolt in Astapor, dragons in Qarth, grey plague in Yi Ti." They are there because of Arianne's plot to crown Myrcella queen, which Dayne doubts will succeed, calling it "a hollow gesture. She will never sit the Iron Throne. Nor will you get the war you want. The lion is not so easily provoked."

As the moon rises, Ser Arys Oakheart arrives with Myrcella, who proves unaware of the plot when Arianne's retinue kneel and address her as "Your Grace." She asks Arianne, "Why do they call me queen? Did something bad happen to Tommen?" Arianne says that Tommen has fallen in with "evil men" who "conspired with him to steal your throne." Myrcella is still confused, but Arianne tells her that because Myrcella is a year older than Tommen, "the Iron Throne by rights is yours." She presents her attendants, Ser Andrey Dalt, known as Drey; Lady Sylva Santagar; Garin and Darkstar Dayne.

Ser Arys takes Arianne aside and tells her that Myrcella doesn't know much about the plot, but he has her trust. And that Tywin Lannister has been murdered and Cersei "has assumed the regency." Arianne thinks that might make it easier for the Seven Kingdoms to accept Myrcella as queen, and likes it that "Lannisters are killing Lannisters, how sweet."

He was able to spirit Myrcella away by putting it out that she had "redspots," which deters Maester Caleotte from attending her because he has never had the disease, which can be fatal to adults but not to children under ten. One of Myrcella's maids is posing as her, and at a distance, with the prescribed salve on her face, can be mistake for her. Arys has had one of his men dress in his armor and will stay with the maid in Myrcella's chamber for the few days that it will take to get Myrcella out of reach of Arianne's father.

So they set out by night. "Arianne and Ser Arys took the lead, with Myrcella on a frisky mare between them. Garin followed close behind with Spotted Sylva, whilst her two Dornish knights took the rear." Arianne thinks that it's a good omen that there are seven in the company. "Once I crown Myrcella and free the Sand Snakes, all Dorne will rally to my banners," she thinks. She will assume the rule in Dorne, and send her father in retirement to the Water Gardens.

They are headed for the river, the Greenblood, which Arianne hoped to reach before dawn, but Myrcella grew tired and had to rest. Darkstar urges her to pick up the pace: "We have no tents, and by day the sands are cruel." The heat increases, but finally they sight the river. The plan is to follow the Greenblood to the fork with another river, the Vaith, and then to cross the sands to Hellholt, where Myrcella will be crowned.

They reach the waiting boat, but Arianne wonders why there is no crew on the deck. Then the door on the boat opens and Areo Hotah emerges with his longaxe. They come to a halt, and Arianne tells them to flee and for Arys to protect the princess. But Hotah thumps his axe on the deck and a dozen armed guardsmen join him. "'Yield, my princess,' the captain called, 'else we must slay all but the child and yourself, by your father's word.'"

Garin and Drey signal their surrender, but Arys Oakheart cries out "You will not take her whilst I still draw breath." Arianne thinks, "You reckless fool," when she sees his defiance, and Darkstar tells Arys to put up his sword. Arianne tries to speak, but it's too late: "Ser Arys Oakheart gave her one last longing look, then put his golden spurs into his horse and charged." Arrows from crossbows pierce his shield and a spear hits his horse's flank, but he keeps charging. Arianne can hear Myrcella screaming.
Hotah's longaxe took his right arm off at the shoulder, spun away spraying blood, and came flashing back again in a terrible two-handed slash that removed the head of Arys Oakheart and sent it spinning through the air.
Arianne hears Hotah shout, "After him. He must not escape. After him!" And she sees Myrcella on the ground, her face in her hands, wailing, with "blood streaming through her fingers." Arianne doesn't understand what is happening in the confusion of men scrambling onto horses, and thinks it's some kind of nightmare. Guardsmen tie her hands behind her back, and Arianne asks Hotah how her father could have known. He says, "Someone told.... Someone always tells."

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