By Charles Matthews

Saturday, December 17, 2011

10. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 253-275


Still clinging for dear life to the persona of Reek, Theon sets off for Moat Cailin. He no longer reeks and is dressed warmly for the first time in many months, but he still suspects that he is going to be the butt of some horrible trick played by Ramsay Bolton. Lord Ramsay had reminded him, even as Theon was being bathed, "You'll always be Reek, no matter how sweet you smell."

Moat Cailin had been taken by the ironmen, but it is in ruins. Its strategic value remains: "The only dry road through the Neck was the causeway, and the towers of Moat Cailin plugged its northern end like a cork in a bottle." As Theon draws nearer to it, the number of rotting corpses he encounters increases.

"The garrison will never know me," he thinks. Even if some of them knew him as a boy before he went to Winterfell as Lord Eddard's ward and hostage, he is unrecognizable: His hair has turned white and he has lost much of it. He is feeble and thin from his ordeal in the dungeons. And although he is wearing gloves, a close observer can see that he has lost three of his fingers.

A voice calls out from the castle, challenging him. Theon raises the peace banner and signals that he is unarmed. Even if the men in the castle fill him with arrows, he thinks, it would be a swift death compared to what Ramsay would deal out to him if he returned a failure. And an arrow does fly, but it pierces the banner, which he drops as he falls from the saddle. The voice tells him to get inside, quickly. Another arrow flies as he scrambles through the gate.

The man grabs him and puts a knife to his throat. Tyrion quickly says he is ironborn, and Lord Balon's son, which the man doubts. He continues, "Lord Ramsay took me captive after Winterfell. He's sent me here to treat with you. Do you command here?" The man tells him he only guards the door, and that Ralf Kenning is in charge.

On the floor next to the guard is a corpse, and Theon learns that he died of drinking the water. So many have died that they no longer take the trouble to cart them off but just leave them where they are. When Theon asks how many of the garrison are left, the man doesn't know. He says that in one tower there were only two men left alive, and they were eating the dead. The man sent to find out about them killed them, too.

"Moat Cailin has fallen, Reek realized then, only no on has seen fit to tell them." He asks to see Kenning, but the man says he hasn't seen him in a while. He was dying, and may be dead. But he agrees to take Theon to him. Kenning is feverish and covered with oozing sores and his own vomit. The guard tells him that Kenning was shot with a poisoned arrow by one of the people who live in the swamps. Theon decides that the only thing to do is put Kenning out of his misery, so he takes the captain's sword and cuts his throat. Then Theon and the guard fleet the awful stench that issues from the body.

He asks where the rest of the men are and is taken to the great hall. He remembers being there once with Robb and the Greatjon and Roose Bolton. There are about two dozen men in the hall. He tells them that Kenning is dead, and asks who was second in command. They just stare at him, so he tells them that he is there on Ramsay Bolton's orders, and that they are caught between his forces and that of his father. "Lord Ramsay is prepared to be merciful if you yield Moat Cailin to him before the sun goes down." He has letters to that effect that he shows them, but no one seems interested.

One  of the men stands up and says, "Dagon Codd yields to no man." And the guard says, "Victarion commanded us to hold, he did. I heard him with my own ears." Theon tells them that his uncle isn't returning to Moat Cailin. "The kingsmoot crowned his brother Euron, and the Crow's Eye has other wars to fight." They have been "left behind to die." He can see that they have already realized this fact, and he tells them Ramsay Bolton will treat them honorably, though he thinks: "He has only taken toes and fingers and that other thing, when he might have had my tongue, or peeled the skin off my legs from heel to thigh."

Dagon Codd remains defiant, and draws his longsword. But he is felled by a throwing axe from one of the other men, and Theon has won. In the end there are fifty-eight men who are strong enough to march and to carry five others as they accompany Theon back to Bolton. When they reach the castle Lord Ramsay appears, and he orders them fed and the wounded among them taken to the maesters.

Bolton praises his "old friend Reek," and asks what he wants as a reward. Theon knows enough to be very careful. "Give him the answer that he wants," he tells himself, so he fawningly says, "my place is here, with you. I'm your Reek. I only want to serve you." But he asks for "red wine, the strongest that you have, all the wine a man can drink." Bolton laughs and says, "You're not a man, Reek. You're just my creature. You'll have your wine, though." And he tells him he can sleep with the dogs instead of returning to the dungeon.

Theon drinks himself into a stupor, but when he wakes briefly, "Somewhere in the night, men were screaming." He goes back to sleep. The next morning, Ramsay sends word to his father that Moat Cailin is no threat. Along the road, "wooden stakes were driven deep into the boggy ground; there the corpses festered, red and dripping." Theon knows that there are sixty-three of them, the men he had promised honorable treatment.  

Three days later, Roose Bolton arrives with a huge contingent of Freys and other northmen. "Collared and chained and back in rags again, Reek followed with the other dogs at Lord Ramsay's heels when his lordship strode forth to greet his father." Theon remembers how he used to make fun of Roose Bolton to Robb Stark, mimicking his soft voice and making fun of his use of leeches. Now he looks at Bolton and realizes "that he had more cruelty in his pinky toe than all the Freys combined."

Then Bolton has two women descend from the coach in which they had been riding. One is very fat, Roose's new wife, Walda Frey. The other is Ramsay Bolton's intended bride, the fake Arya Stark. Theon knows immediately that this can't be Arya, and he thinks for a moment and realizes, "That's Sansa's little friend, the steward's girl. Jeyne, that was her name. Jeyne Poole."

She makes a deep obeisance to Ramsay, and Theon thinks, "The real Arya Stark would have spat in his face." But she promises to make him a good wife and give him strong sons. "'That you will,' promised Ramsay, 'and soon.'"


Stannis has  marched south, and Jon now leads a contingent southward to talk with the wildlings, though not before Bowen Marsh has registered his complaint about such dealings with the former enemy. On the way, Dolorous Edd points out that the wildlings have begun to carve faces into trees: "The wildlings brought their gods with them after all," he thinks, defying Melisandre's attempt to demonstrate the power of her red god.
The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it wee about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them. Its wounds are as fresh as the wounds of the men who carved it.
They reach Mole's Town, where the buildings above ground were torched by the Magnar of Thenn before his attack on Castle Black. But the underground dwellings and tunnels are more alive than ever, with a new population of free folk. They begin to emerge from the tunnels when Jon's contingent arrives, and he notes that there are three times as many women as men, but very few infants. "The babes in arms died during the march, he realized, and those who survived the battle died in the king's stockade."

There are many men with visible wounds, such as missing legs, arms, and eyes, but Jon recognizes some fighting men among them too. The black brothers in his contingent begin distributing food, but immediately there are scuffles and disputes and complains that it's not enough. He calls on one of his men to sound the horn, which quiets them. Then he addresses the crowd, telling them that they're giving them what they can, and pointing out that the Watch needs its share to defend the Wall. He talks about the wights, and says, "It's us that keeps you safe, the black crows you despise."

If they want more food, he says, they need to join in the defense of the Wall: "The food's for fighters. Help us hold the Wall, and you'll eat as well as any crow." But he thinks, "Or as poorly, when the food runs short." Sigorn, the new  Magnar of Thenn, says they should kill the Watch instead, but Jon reminds him that if they do, there will be no one to defend the Wall. "Winterfell's walls were strong as well, but Winterfell stands in ruins today, burned and broken. A wall is only as good as the men defending it."

A confusion of voices rises, but Jon speaks up again, telling them that they don't have to join the Watch and take the black, or worship any particular god or gods to help defend the Wall. "It's spears we need. Bows. Eyes along the Wall." He'll take any boy over twelve who can hold a spear or use a bow, and he needs help just maintaining the Wall and doing ordinary tasks. "I will take as many spearwives as will come," he adds. A girl who reminds him of Arya asks about girls, and he says he'll take them sixteen or older. When she protests that he's taking boys as young as twelve, he realizes that he's talking to wildlings: "As you will. Boys and girls as young as twelve. But only those who know how to obey an order." And he warns them that he'll have the head of anyone who disobeys an order and that his brothers have seen him do it.

The girl is the first to volunteer, and gradually others come forward, led by Halleck, the brother of Harma Dogshead: "'I don't like you, crow,' he growled, 'but I never liked the Mance neither, no more'n my sister did. Still, we fought for him. Why not fight for you?'" This breaks down the barrier, and a flood of others follows. But not the Thenns. Sigorn turns and leaves, and his contingent follows him.

In the end, there are sixty-three volunteers. Bowen Marsh still grumbles, worrying about feeding them, and whether they can be relied on if the Wall is attacked by Tormund Giantsbane and his followers instead of by the Others. Jon can only say he hopes that won't happen.

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