By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

8. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 199-225


Brienne begins to recognize places she had traversed with Jaime and Cleos Frey -- or at least to think she does, though all the places begin to look the same. Podrick notices her uneasiness, and when she tells him there may be outlaws about, he assures her he has a longsword and can fight them. Brienne questions how well, but she admires  the boy's spirit and has continued to train him.

They come upon a farmer and his wife pulling an oxcart -- their ox has been taken by soldiers. They are carrying eggs to the wedding of Lord Mooton's daughter to Dickon, the son of Lord Randyll Tarly, at Maidenpool. At the gates of Maidenpool the guards threaten to take not only the eggs but also the farmer's wife until Brienne intervenes. She is about to fight with the guards when Ser Hyle Hunt appears and brings the guards in line.

Brienne and Podrick enter the city behind the couple with the eggs, and Ser Hyle accompanies them. She is acquainted with Ser Hyle, and would just as soon get rid of him, but he knows the town and is able to give her directions to the Stinking Goose. She is surprised to see how much of Maidenpool has been rebuilt, and Ser Hyle gives the credit to Tarly, whom they find in the fishmarket, presiding over trials and hanging or otherwise punishing the convicted.

Tarly frowns when he sees Brienne, but otherwise shows no sign of recognition. When he finishes with the trials, he beckons to Ser Hyle and Brienne follows. He asks her if she killed Renly, and having already answered the question from Hyle and his guards, she stammers her response. But Tarly is more focused on chiding Brienne for her audacity in behaving in an unfeminine manner and threatens to send her back to Tarth. She has Podrick bring her the authorization from the king to search for Sansa.

She tells Tarly of her plans to go to the Eyrie, but he informs her that Lysa is dead -- "Some singer pushed her off a mountain" -- and that Littlefinger is in charge of the Eyrie, though he expects the lord of the Vale to get rid of him as an "upjumped jackanapes whose only skill is counting coppers." He gives her back the papers and tells her to go on her way, and for Ser Hyle to go back to guard the gate.

After Tarly leaves, Hyle offers to show her to the Stinking Goose, but she curtly orders him to go back to his gate. Before he does, he tells her of some of Renly's other men who had died at the Blackwater, and Brienne remembers what Catelyn had called them: "The knights of summer. And now it was autumn and they were falling like leaves...." She turns and strides off, with Podrick leading the horses behind her. She sends him to the stables and to find an inn where they can spend the night. Before he goes, he asks her what Ser Hyle did to her that makes her so cold to him. "At Highgarden, when King Renly called his banners, some men played a game with me. Ser Hyle was one of them. It was a cruel game, hurtful and unchivalrous." She points out where the east gate is and tells him to meet her there.

At the Stinking Goose, which fits its name, she asks the woman behind the bar for Nimble Dick, and learns that his name is Dick Crabb and that he comes there every night. While she waits for him, she recalls the game Ser Hyle and his friends had played when she came to Highgarden to fight on behalf of Renly. They started giving her gifts and flirting with her, but she is suspicious and spurns their attentions. Then Lord Randyll Tarly sends for her and tells her what his son Dickon had heard: Hyle and some of his other friends had started a game: "Each man was required to buy into the contest with a golden dragon, the whole sum to go to whoever claimed her maidenhead."

Tarly had put a stop to their game, but he blamed her:
"Your being here encouraged them. If a woman will behave like a camp follower, she cannot object to being treated like one. A war host is no place for a maiden. If you have any regard for your virtue or the honor of your House, you will take off that mail, return home, and beg your father to find a husband for you."

"I came to fight," she insisted. "To be a knight." 

"The gods made men to fight, and women to bear children," said Randyll Tarly. "A woman's war is in the birthing bed."
A man enters the Stinking Goose, and the woman at the bar signals to Brienne. She tells him she heard of his encounter with a fool, and asks if there was a girl with him. He says there were two girls, and she immediately wonders if the other one was Arya. But he says he never saw the women, but heard him say that he wanted passage for three on a ship. He tells her that he sent the fool to a smuggler's cove. He keeps asking for more money, and finally says that he sent the fool to a place called the Whispers on Crackclaw Point. Finally, she offers him six dragons if they find her "sister," two if they find only the fool, and none if they find no one. He agrees to take her there and arranges to meet her at the east gate at dawn.


Sam is seasick. "He did not want to be a maester, with a heavy chain wrapped around his neck, cold against his skin. He did not want to leave his brothers, the only friends he'd ever had. And he certainly did not want to face the father who had sent him to the Wall to die." But he reckons that the others will be better  off: Gilly will have a safe place to raise her baby, Maester Aemon will be in a more comfortable place, and the singer Dareon will get to travel around the Seven Kingdoms, singing songs to recruit men for the Watch, a replacement for Yoren. He tries to cheer up Gilly by talking about what an interesting place Braavos is, the place where they will change ships to sail for Oldtown, but she continues to be miserable, and the baby's loose bowels raise a stench in the cabin.

Maester Aemon spends most of his time on deck, swathed in furs. When Dareon wonders why the old blind man keeps staring out to sea, Aemon overhears him and says that when he last sailed this way, he had sight, and the sounds of the sea and the gulls recall what he saw. And so the days pass: "Dareon sang, Sam retched, Gilly cried and nursed her babe, Maester Aemon slept and shivered, and the winds grew colder and more blustery with every passing day."

When the seas grow rougher and it starts to rain, Sam suggests that Maester Aemon might be more comfortable below, but Aemon replies, "The rain feels good against my face, Sam. It feels like tears. Let me stay a while longer, I pray you. It has been a long time since last I wept." So Sam decides to stay with the old man, until a storm arises, and he has to carry Aemon, who is soaked, down to the cabin. He finds that Aemon is chilled through, and asks Gilly to get in bed with him.

The weather gets worse. "They never saw the sun. The days were grey and the nights black, except when lightning lit the sky above the peaks of Skagos. All of them were starved yet none could eat." Dareon begins to drink heavily. There is a respite of eight days and seven nights of better weather, and then the storms return, only worse. He hears the crew blaming the bad journey on having a wildling woman on board who had "Fucked her own father.... We'll all drown unless we get rid of her, and that abomination she whelped." Dareon turns against Gilly as well.

Gilly's weeping keeps Sam up at night, and finally he asks Maester Aemon if there is something he can give her to keep her from being afraid. Aemon tells him, "It is not fear you hear.... That is the sound of grief, and there is no potion for that." Sam doesn't understand what she's grieving for, and Aemon explains that the baby Gilly is nursing is no her own: It is Dalla's child. "Gilly did not leave the child willingly, I am certain. What threats the Lord Commander made, what promises, I can only guess ... but threats and promises there surely were."

Sam is astonished: Jon would never do that. Aemon agrees: "Jon would never. Lord Snow did."
He wanted to scream. He wanted to howl and sob and shake and curl up in a little ball and whimper. He switched the babes, he told himself. He switched the babes to protect the little prince, to keep him away from Lady Melisandre's fires, away from her red god. If she burns Gilly's boy, who will care? No one but Gilly. He was only Craster's whelp, an abomination born of incest, not the son of the King-beyond-the-Wall. He's no good for a hostage, no good for a sacrifice, no good for anything, he doesn't even have a name. 
Sam goes on deck, where Dareon observes that the stars are coming out and maybe the worst is over. But Sam replies, "The worst isn't done. The worst is just beginning, and there are no happy endings." 

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