By Charles Matthews

Monday, November 14, 2011

18. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 504-528

Cat of the Canals

Arya has fully adapted to her new life selling fish, though she still dreams of being a wolf. "The wolf dreams belonged to Arya of House Stark. Try as she might, though, she could not rid herself of Arya." But in any case the wolf dreams were better the ones in which "she was always looking for her mother, stumbling through a wasted land of mud and blood and fire."

She still returns to the temple and to the kindly man, who instructs her, "Learn three new things before you come back to us." She reports to him on the doings of the city, and during the dark of the moon spends three days serving in the temple, washing the dead or helping the cook. She usually sells her shellfish at the Ragman's Harbor, where ships from all over the world dock. She gets to know sailors and thieves, whores and courtesans, and she sometimes hears news from home, such as the death of Lysa Arryn. Then she has to tell herself, "It's nought to me. Cat of the Canals never had an aunt."

In one of the brothels she find Dareon, playing and singing love songs. This makes her angry, because he has broken his vows to the Night's Watch. She has heard from the whores about the time Sam confronted Dareon and wound up being thrown into the canal. When she finishes selling her shellfish at the brothel, Dareon leaves with her, on his way to an inn where he has promised to sing. She asks about Sam and whether he ever found passage to Oldtown, but Dareon doesn't know.

She goes home and gives Brusco the money she has made, as well as a pair of boots that he says are too small for him. She reminds him that it's the dark of the moon, so he sends her off to the House of Black and White. There she bathes away the fish smell and ceases being Cat for a while. She helps the waif preparing the potions she uses, learning that sweetsleep is a gentle poison and that the tears of Lys is crueler. She chews on her lip while asking a question, and the waif slaps her: "It is Arya of House Stark who chews on her lip whenever she is thinking. Are you Arya of House Stark?" She replies, "I am no one." But then she asks, "Who are you?" and the waif replies with a story in which Arya detects some lies.

The kindly man appears and asks for the three new things she has learned. She tells him two of them about waterfront people she knows, and when he asks for the third replies without hesitation:
"Dareon is dead. The black singer who was sleeping at the Happy Port. He was really a deserter from the Night's Watch. Someone slit his throat and pushed him into a canal, but they kept his boots."
The kindly man asks, "Who could have done this thing, I wonder?" She replies, "Arya of House Stark." He observes that he thought she had left Braavos, then sends the waif for "a cup of wine for me and warm milk for our friend Arya, who has returned to us so unexpectedly."

She drinks the warm milk. "It smelled a little burnt and had a bitter aftertaste." Then she goes to bed and dreams that she is a wolf without a pack, prowling the canals. When she wakes in the morning, she is blind.


Maester Aemon is dead aboard the Cinnamon Wind, which is off the coast of Dorne. The ship is becalmed. Sam had hoped that he might make it to Oldtown where the archmaesters could save him, for Aemon's recovery when he heard Xhondo's talk of dragons had seemed remarkable. He longed to go see Daenerys for himself, but the stormy passage had taken its toll, and he began giving Sam instructions on what to tell the archmaesters at the Citadel.

Sam must tell them about "the wights and the white walkers, the creeping cold," and that Melisandre is mistaken: "Daenerys is our hope. Tell them that at the Citadel. Make them listen. They must send her a maester. Daenerys must be counseled, taught, protected." Otherwise, his talk was confused: "He spoke of dreams and never named the dreamer, of a glass candle that could not be lit and eggs that would not hatch. He said the sphinx was the riddle, not the riddler, whatever that meant."

Sam tells Gilly that Jon shouldn't have sent Aemon on the voyage. "If he had stayed at Castle Black, he might have lived another ten years." But Gilly says that Melisandre "might have burned him.... She wanted king's blood for her fires. Val knew she did. Lord Snow too. That was why they made me take Dalla's babe away and leave my own behind in his place." Sam thinks that Aemon will still have to be burned, according to the funeral traditions of the Targaryens, but that he will be the one to do it. But the captain won't allow it to be done on board, so the body has been preserved in a cask of rum until it reaches Oldtown.

Gilly suggests that Dalla's child should be named for Maester Aemon. "Dalla brought him forth during battle, as the swords sang all around her. That should be his name. Aemon Battleborn. Aemon Steelsong." Sam agrees, though Gilly reminds him that he can't be named officially until he's two. She has left the baby with the captain's daughter, Kojja Mo, and she and Sam have been drinking rum as part of a Summer Islander celebration of the dead. She leans close to Sam and kisses him, and he returns the kiss.

Suddenly, he finds himself making love to Gilly, though his mind keeps telling him that he's breaking his vows. They are in the women's cabin. "Others came in, men and women both, and his listened to them kissing and laughing and mating with one another. Summer Islanders. That's how they mourn. They answer life with death." When he wakes the next morning he is in his own hammock and has a splitting headache. But the wind has arisen, and the ship is under way.

Sam is helping pay for their passage by working, and he spends the day miserably going through his chores and trying to avoid encountering Gilly, telling himself he should have jumped overboard. "I have always been a craven, but I was never an oathbreaker till now." Finally, at the end of his watch, Xhondo grabs him and takes him to Kojja Mo. She points at the land visible in the distance:
"There is the coast of Dorne. Sand and rocks and scorpions, and no good anchorage for hundreds of leagues. You can swim there if you like, and walk to Oldtown. You will need to cross the deep desert and climb some mountains and swim the Torentine. Or else you could go to Gilly."
He protests, but she is unmoved. "All you Westerosi make a shame of loving. There is no shame in loving." He protests that he took a vow, but she says Gilly knows that. "She knows why you wear the black, why you go to Oldtown. She knows she cannot keep you. She wants you for a little while, is all." He has a choice: Go to her, or swim for it.

He goes to her.

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