By Charles Matthews

Saturday, November 19, 2011

22. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 628-657


Stunned and in pain, Brienne is being carried bound, "like a sack of oats," over the hindquarters of a horse. She hears Podrick calling out to her faintly, but then he falls silent. She drifts off into a dream in which she is being tormented by Biter, while others, such as Nimble Dick, Catelyn Stark, and Lord Renly, look on.

Finally the horse comes to a stop and she is taken from the horse. A girl gives her something to drink and tells her that her arm is broken, along with several ribs. The last thing she remembers from the fight is Biter attacking her, and she asks about him. The girl tells her, "He's dead. Gendry shoved a spearpoint through the back of his neck."

She gets a better look at the girl, who resembles Willow, back at the inn, and concludes that it's her sister, the innkeeper. The girl admits as much, and says her name is Jeyne Heddle. Brienne asks her to loosen the ropes tying her hands, but she says she can't. Then Gendry appears -- once again Brienne takes him at first for Renly -- and says, "M'lady means for you to answer for your crimes."

Brienne remembers the earlier mentions of a "Lady Stoneheart," and asks if she is the one he refers to. "Some call her that," he says. "Some call her other things. The Silent Sister. Mother Merciless. The Hangwoman." Brienne struggles to rise, but instead she faints into more dreams of struggle and capture.

When she wakes again, Jeyne is giving her a cup of onion broth. She asks for Gendry, but is told that he has returned to the inn to take care of Willow and the children. Then she gets a look at one of the men standing around her: "A yellow greatcloak was plastered to his shoulders, sodden and filthy. From his shoulders rose a steel dog's head, its teeth bared in a snarl." She protests that she had killed him, but the man now wearing the Hound's helmet says, "You got that backwards. It'll be me killing you. I'd do it now, but m'lady wants to see you hanged."

When Brienne protests that they shared bread and salt with Jeyne's sister, Jeyne replies, "Guest right don't mean so much as it used to.... Not since m'lady come back from the wedding. Some o' them swinging down by the river figured they was guests too."

They get back on the horses, and this time a leather hood covers Brienne's head. She passes out again and dreams of being back on Tarth, waiting for her betrothed. Blood pours from her mouth when she tries to speak: She has bitten off her tongue. Her betrothed mocks her, and when he turns away she sees that he is Jaime. She tries to call out for him, but her mouth is full of blood.

When she wakes again, she doesn't know where she is. Her clothes and armor are gone and she is wearing a thin woolen shift. Her arm is in a splint and her face is covered with bandages. When she stands and calls out, an old man in rags moves and says her name. He tells her they are being held in a cave, and asks if she is hungry. He tells her she has been suffering with a fever, but when he feels her forehead assures her that it has broken. Biter's savaging of her face had led to an infection. "We had to cut away some of the flesh. Your face will not be pretty, I fear.... My lady, that creature chewed off half your cheek."

She asks why bother to treat her wounds and splint her arm if she's just going to be hanged, and he admits to the irony of her situation. She had "fought bravely at the inn.... Whatever else you may have done, you won those wounds honorably, in the best of causes." She asks who they are, and he admits that they were once the king's men, and then they were a brotherhood, but now, "I do not know who we are, if truth be told, nor where we might be going."

She realizes then that he is the red wizard, Thoros of Myr, and that he was one of Dondarrion's band. But he tells her Lord Dondarrion is "gone out of the world" and "A grimmer shadow leads us in his place." He brings her food, and she asks about the others who were with her. Septon Merribald has been allowed to go on his way, he tells her, but "The others are here, awaiting judgment." She pleads for Podrick, who is "just a boy," but Thoros tells her that he has said he is a squire -- "The Imp's squire. He has fought in battles, by his own admission. He has even killed, to hear him tell it." She argues for pity and justice.
"Justice." Thoros smiled wanly. "I remember justice. It had a pleasant taste. Justice was what we were about when Beric led us, or so we told ourselves. We were king's men, knights, and heroes ... but some knights are dark and full of terror, my lady. War makes monsters of us all."
Then he hears others coming. "Our lady sends for you."

Four men appear, one of them wearing the Hound's helmet. She realizes now that it had been Rorge she killed, and that he had taken the helmet from him. Thoros is dismayed to hear this: "Is this true? A dead man's helm? Have we fallen that low?" Lem argues, "The sight of it will make my foes afraid." They escort her out of the cave and into a larger one centered on a firepit where outlaws are gathered. The only face Brienne recognizes is Jeyne Heddle's.

Behind a trestle table in a cleft in the rock sits "a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded. In her hands was a crown, a bronze circlet ringed by iron swords." The one-eyed man presents her as "The Kingslayer's whore," to which Brienne protests.  A younger outlaw is holding her sword, Oathkeeper, which he places on the table in front of the hooded woman. Its pommel is in the shape of a lion's head. Thoros then places on the table the letter with Tommen's seal, which Lady Stoneheart takes to read.

Brienne protests that the sword was given her by Jaime because he "swore an oath to Catelyn Stark," but she is interrupted by the man in the yellow cloak: "...before his friends cut her throat for her, that must have been." Brienne realizes that her cause is hopeless, but she continues to explain that Jaime had promised to return Catelyn's daughters, and that he sent her out to find them. But Lem mocks all of her arguments, and then produces her companions. "Hyle Hunt had been beaten so badly that his face was swollen almost beyond recognition." Podrick supports him, and apologizes to Brienne for what has happened. 

Brienne turns to Lady Stoneheart and pleads that her companions had nothing to do with "Whatever treachery you think I may have done." She asks her to let them go. But the woman in gray says nothing for a moment, then reaches for her throat and produces sounds, "part croak, part wheeze, part death rattle." Brienne doesn't understand, but one of the men interprets the sound as a question about the sword's name. Brienne says it is Oathkeeper, but the woman hisses something that is interpreted as "Call it Oathbreaker.... It was made for treachery and murder. She names it False Friend. Like you."

Brienne asks to whom she has been unfaithful, and the interpreter says, "To her.... Can it be that my lady has forgotten that you once swore her your service?" Suddenly realizing that he means that Lady Stoneheart is Catelyn Stark, Brienne protests, "That cannot be.... She's dead." Lady Stoneheart lowers her hood and reveals the decayed face of Lady Catelyn. Thoros explains that she had been dead three days when they found her in the river. It was Beric Dondarrion who gave her the "kiss of life."

Brienne swears by the Seven, by her sword, that she had never betrayed Catelyn, who then produces more sounds that Lemoncloak interprets: "She says that you must prove your faith.... All she asks from you is Jaime Lannister." Brienne argues once again for Jaime's good faith, but to no avail: "The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose."

Brienne refuses, and she understands the next thing Lady Stoneheart croaks: "Hang them."

They are taken outside and strung to the trees. Brienne makes a last plea for Podrick, and as the noose tightens around her own throat she sees him struggling. "She screamed a word."


Cersei is playing her part as she sits below the Iron Throne and in front of the assembled court protests the High Septon's decision. But Septa Moelle is insistent "that the young queen and her ladies cannot be released until and unless their innocence has been proved." The septa repeats the charges against Megga Tyrell and Elinor Tyrell -- "lewdness, fornication, and conspiracy to commit high treason" -- and the lesser one against Alla Tyrell -- "witnessing their shame and helping them conceal it" -- and finally against Queen Margaery -- all of the above "as well as adultery and high treason." Cersei feigns dismay at "such calumnies." But the septa's report of Ser Osney's confession causes a gasp and a buzz in the assemblage.

Once again, Cersei protests: "Margaery is a maiden!" But the septa says that she examined Margaery, Megga, and Elinor herself, as did other septas. The maidenheads of all of them were "not intact." Lord Merryweather asks, "Would you have us believe that all of these noble people lied to us?" But Septa Moelle says she can only attest to what she discovered in her examinations.  Cersei tries not to laugh, and says, "Grand Maester Pycelle, you shall accompany Septa Moelle back to Beloved Baelor's Sept, and return to us with the truth about our Margaery's maidenhead." Pycelle follows through: There's no need for him to do so. "Queen Margaery is no maiden. She has required me to make her moon tea, not once, but many times."

Cersei delights in the uproar that follows. But she rises with a stern face, has the gold cloaks clear the hall, and the Kingsguard exit with her. Secretly she rejoices in her triumph of the prophecy of Maggy the Frog: "No golden shrouds, no valonqar, I am free of your croaking malice at last." Her small council gathers around her in dismay, and Ser Harys Swyft predicts "blood in the streets" when Mace Tyrell hears the news. Cersei tells them that she will go to Baelor's Sept and see if there is anything she can do. 

Then she goes to Tommen with some blank arrest warrants for him to sign and seal. When he is gone, she fills in the names and gives them to Ser Osfryd Kettleblack to have the gold cloaks deliver them. He tells her that a crowd is gathering at Baelor's Sept. She hadn't expected this, though she knows the "smallfolk" love Margaery. She tells him to let the High Septon's own knights take care of the crowd, but to close the city gates. "No one is to enter or leave King's Landing without my leave, until all this is done and settled." The warrants are served, and by the end of the day all of the accused are in the dungeons except the Redwyne twins, who are supposed to be found falsely accused. They are "given comfortable chambers in a tower."

The next day she goes with Taena Merryweather to Baelor's Sept. Taena worries that Margaery may demand trial by combat, but Cersei has anticipated even that: A member of the royal family must be defended by one of the Kingsguard, and Margaery's brother, Ser Loras, is gravely wounded, while others are away, and Osmund is the brother of the accuser. That leaves only the elderly Boros Blount and Meryn Trant, "and Ser Meryn has been feeling ill of late. Remind me to tell him that when we return to the castle." Taena says she hopes she never offends Cersei.

The crowd at the sept is not particularly menacing, it turns out, and she is ushered in to the presence of the High Septon, though she has to wait until he finishes his prayers. She asks to see Margaery, and he agrees, though he asks her to come to seem him afterward. "We must pray together, you and I." Margaery is barefoot and shivering,, dressed in a "roughspun shift." She complains that the septas come every hour to ask her to confess, so she is unable to sleep. And she is astonished when Cersei tells her that her cousins have been accused as well.

Cersei tells her there will have to be a trial, and that the knights of the Kingsguard will defend her if she chooses a trial by combat. And suddenly Margaery gets wise to what is going on. She runs through the members of the Kingsguard herself, and "her brown eyes narrowed in suspicion. 'Blount or Trant,' she said at last. 'It would have to be one of them. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Osney Kettleblack would cut either one to pieces.'" When Margaery orders her to leave, Cersei is provoked at at having been seen through so easily, and assures Margaery that she only wants to help her.
"To help me to my grave. I asked for you to leave. Will you make me call my gaolers and have you dragged away, you vile, scheming, evil bitch?"
Cersei makes a dignified retreat.

Four septas escort her to a subterranean audience chamber where the High Septon is waiting. She suggests that instead of being tried by the court, over which Tommen would have to preside, Margaery might be tried by the Faith. He agrees, saying he had had the same thought. "A sacred court of seven judges shall sit upon this case. Three shall be of your female sex. A maiden, a mother, and a crone. Who could be more suited to judge the wickedness of women?" He also agrees that if she chooses trial by combat, it should be one of the Kingsguard.

"Cersei covered her face with her hands, as if in grief. When she raised her head again, a tear glistened in one eye." Then she says she'll return to the castle and take Ser Osney Kettleblack with her to be questioned by the small council. And she is shocked when he says "No." He will take her to Ser Osney, he says, and she begins to worry. He conducts her to a chamber protected with an iron door, which he unlocks.
Within, Osney Kettleblack hung naked from the ceiling, swinging from a pair of heavy iron chains. He had been whipped. His back and shoulders [had] been laid almost bare, and cuts and welts crisscrossed his legs and arse as well.
The High Septon explains to her that he had seldom "heard a man so pleased to be so guilty." So he has had him whipped to find out the truth: "Osney Kettleblack is guilty of treason and murder, and the wages of treason are death." Ser Osney now says he never touched Margaery Tyrell, but that he had had sex with Cersei: "She's the queen I fucked, the one sent me to kill the old Septon. He never had no guards. I just come in when he was sleeping and pushed a pillow down across his face."

Cersei makes a run for it. The elderly High Septon is no match for her, nor are the old septas who had escorted her. As she is trying to escape she remembers that Taena Merryweather is there: "Taena knows it all. If they take her too, and whip her...." But finally she is caught, overpowered, stripped, and thrust naked into a cell. And like Margaery she is awakened every hour by a septa who says, "I am come to hear you tell of all your murders and fornications."

A night and a day passes with only the hourly visits of the septa demanding confession. Finally, on the morning of the second day, Qyburn appears. He tells her, "You are to be tried before a holy court of seven, for murder, treason, and fornication." Margaery is to be tried by the same court, he says, and he has handed over the Blue Bard to the High Septon. "My whisperers tell me that they are whipping him, but so far he is still singing the same sweet song we taught him."

But Qyburn has been removed from the king's council, which is being run by Harys Swyft and Pycell. They have removed Osfryd Kettleblack as head of the City Watch, and have sent a raven to Casterly Rock, asking Kevan Lannister to become regent. "Mace Tyrell has abandoned the siege of Storm's End and is marching back to the city with his army, and Randyll Tarly is reported on his way down from Maidenpool as well." Lord Merryweather and his wife have fled. (Cersei is glad to hear that they let Taena go.) And Aurane Waters has left with his fleet. "Ser Harys fears he means to join Lord Stannis. Pycelle believes that he is sailing to the Stepstones, to set himself up as a pirate."

Cersei says, "I am lost, Qyburn." And when he hears that only a member of the Kingsguard can defend her, he doesn't disagree. But she asks him to send word to Jaime of her plight, and to write three times, "I love you." Qyburn agrees, but reminds her that her brother has no sword hand anymore. "If he should champion you and lose...."
We will leave this world together, as we once came into it. "He will not lose. Not Jaime. Not with my life at stake."

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