By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

1. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 3-30


Varamyr, the wildling warg, hunts with his wolf pack and feasts on human flesh, though his father, Haggon, had denounced such a thing as "abomination." Varamyr justifies it, however, because he does so as a wolf, never as a human being. He is alone and wounded, after fleeing the battle at the Wall with thousands of others.

His wound had been tended by the spearwife, Thistle, who hadn't recognized Varamyr without his entourage of animals into whose bodies he can enter. He had been Varamyr Sixskins, a trusted follower of Mance Rayder, but the King-Beyond-the-Wall had been captured in the battle, and was thought to be dead.

The wood witch known as Mother Mole had led off many of the survivors eastward, where she claimed to have had a vision of a fleet of ships coming to their rescue. He was too weak to follow, however. He had been wounded by a boy who attacked him when Varamyr was taking a squirrel-skin cloak from the body of the boy's mother. Now he knows that he is dying, but he has experienced death many times before, most recently when, in the body of an eagle, he had been killed by a flaming arrow shot by a man on the Wall. He can still remember the pain of burning.

His real father had given him to Haggon to raise, and Varamyr -- who had been named "Lump" but chose a more heroic-sounding name -- now remembers how Haggon "taught me the way of the warg and the secrets of the skinchanger, though my gift was stronger than his own."
Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to pieces

He leaves his hut to call for Thistle, though he knows she has gone on without him. He hears a wolf howl and recognizes it as One Eye, the biggest and fiercest of his three wolves. When the eagle died, he had lost control of his animals.

His only chance to survive now is to enter the body of Thistle and let Varamyr Sixskins die. He would no longer be a warg, however, and "would lose his wolves, and live out the rest of his days as some scrawny, warty woman ... but he would live." He goes out into the snowy landscape to find her, but he is weak and feverish. He finds a weirwood branch to use as a crutch and heads toward another hut in the deserted village, but the crutch snaps and leaves him bleeding in the snow.

As he lies there, letting the snow cover him, he hears the wolves and thinks of entering one of them. Haggon has told him that eventually the warg who becomes an animal forgets his human life. Varamyr knows that when he entered the eagle that had once been Orell's, after Jon Snow killed Orell, he could feel Orell's anger: "his hate for his killer had been so strong that Varamyr fund himself hating the beastling boy as well." He had recognized Jon as a warg when he saw him with his direwolf. "The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it."

When he was a boy known as Lump, which is what his sister had called him when his mother was pregnant, he had been weak and sickly. He was born prematurely, but when he was four his mother had another boy, whom his sister called Bump. He had been a robust boy, but he was killed by a dog when he was two. His father couldn't tell which of the dogs had done it, so he killed all three. Lump had slipped into the oldest, Loptail, to try to save him, but he was too late. When his father killed Loptail with his axe, Lump had screamed, revealing that he was a warg. That was when his father took him to Haggon.

Thistle returns and finds Varamyr, who seizes the opportunity to enter her skin, though she fights him furiously. In the struggle, she bites off her tongue: "When he tried to scream, she spat their tongue out." Then he is completely free of both bodies and finds himself inhabiting everything around: "I am the wood, and everything that's in it, he thought, exulting." He finds his wolf pack: "His wolves would save him, he told himself. That was his last thought as a man." His human body dies, and he finds himself racing withe pack: "Half the world was dark," and he knows he has become the wolf known as One Eye.

They reach the crest of a hill and look back at the village, which is no longer empty: "Blue-eyed shadows walked amongst the mounds of snow. Some wore brown and some wore black and some were naked, their flesh grown white as snow." The wights look at the wolves on the hill, and the last of them to look up "was the thing that had been Thistle."


He is on a ship crossing the narrow sea that separates Westeros from the Free Cities, but doesn't know where he's going. Varys had led him out of the castle through the tunnels to the Blackwater and he had made his way to the ship, on which he has spent time drinking. When they reach port, he is loaded into an empty wine barrel and hauled -- and sometimes rolled -- ashore. Finally, the cask is opened and he finds himself in a cellar, confronting a very fat man who, he soon learns, is Illyrio Mopatis. He has come to Pentos.

He is taken to a hot bath where he falls asleep, and waked in a soft feather bed. His room looks out onto a garden surrounded by a high wall. Illyrio Mopatis arrives to welcome him and to say, "Explore the manse and grounds as you like, but on no account stray beyond the walls. it is best that no man knows you were here." The word "were" alerts Tyrion to the fact that he is not going to stay there, but Illyrio postpones the planning session to the evening.

He wanders the house, but as he doesn't speak the language is unable to make conversation with any of the servants he encounters, so he contents himself with drinking. In the garden he finds some poisonous mushrooms growing from a paving tile. There were seven of them -- "Perhaps the Seven were trying to tell hims something" -- so he picks them, wraps them in a glove that he finds hanging on a washline, and puts them in his pocket. Then he passes out drunk on a bench.

He wakes in his bed again, where a blond girl tells him that his bath is ready and that Magister Illyrio expects him at dinner. She washes him, and offers to return after dinner, but he refuses: "I am done with women." She offers to send him a boy if he prefers, but he declines. Then he tells her he has changed his mind and to wait for him in his bed, naked. "He gave her a leer, hoping for a taste of fear, but all she gave him is was revulsion." So he tells her that he strangled his last whore. "This time, when he grinned, he got the fear he wanted."

At dinner, Illyrio tells him the news: "There are troubles in the east. Astapor has fallen, and Meereen. Ghiscari slave cities that were old when the world was young." When he offers Tryion a dish of mushrooms, Tyrion declines, insisting that Illyrio take some first. Illyrio says he is "too suspicious," and observes that the pain from mushroom poisoning is not great: "Better a mushroom than a sword through your neck, is it not so? Why die with the taste of blood in your mouth when it could be butter and garlic?" Then Illyrio eats one of the mushrooms and pronounces it "Delicious." Tyrion is "irritated" when he learns that the mushrooms aren't poisoned.

Dinner proceeds with more delicacies, most of which Tyrion declines, though he drinks glass after glass of wine. Illyrio tells him, "There are those in Westeros who would say that killing Lord Lannister was merely a good beginning." When Tyrion indicates that he would like to kill Jaime and Cersei as well, Illyrio says, "The queen has offered a lordship to the man who brings her your head, no matter how humble his birth."

Knowing that Tyrion stands to inherit Casterly Rock because Jaime is a member of the kingsguard, Illyrio asks if Stannis would grant it to him if he became king. Tyrion also learns from Illyrio that Stannis is at the Wall, which puzzles him. Tyrion says he had thought of going to Dorne to support Myrcella's claim to the throne, but Illyrio tells him, "The road to Casterly Rock does not go through Dorne, my little friend. Nor does it run beneath the Wall. Yet there is such a road, I tell you." He tells Tyrion there is another claimant to the throne of Westeros: "Stronger than Tommen, gentler than Stannis, with a better claim than the girl Myrcella. A savior come from across the sea to bind up the wounds of bleeding Westeros."

Tyrion is skeptical and asks who this "savior" is. Illyrio replies, "A dragon with three heads."

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