By Charles Matthews

Monday, December 19, 2011

11. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 276-305


Griff fished Tyrion out of the river, and Septa Lemore revived him. He awakes under a blanket smelling of vinegar, which Lemore claims helps prevent greyscale. Haldon gives him a knife and tells him to prick his toes and fingers; if he doesn't feel pain, he may have greyscale. He should also look for patches of grey skin: "If you see such signs," Haldon tells him, "do not hesitate. Better to lose a toe than a foot."

Tyrion passes the test, but Haldon tells him because he swallowed so much water he may be "turning to stone from inside out, starting with your heart and lungs." When they sit down to eat some broth, Tyrion notices that Haldon the table between them. But when Septa Lemore appears, she hugs him.

They have docked at the town of Selhorys, and Yandry and Ysilla have gone ashore for provisions. Young Griff, or rather Prince Aegon, has been told he has to remain on the Shy Maid for his own safety: Dothraki horsemen have been spotted as they sailed downriver from the Sorrows. They have also seen warships. Selhorys is on the eastern bank of the river, and therefore more vulnerable to Dothraki raiders.

Lemore is no longer dressed as a septa, and Tyrion wonders what she really is. She explains that the septa's robes identify her as from Westeros, and she doesn't want to attract too much attention. Tyrion invites the prince to play cyvasse, and gives him pointers on the game, telling him, "Your father knew the dangers of being overbold." Aegon asks if Tyrion knew Rhaegar, and Tyrion says he glimpsed him one or twice, but was only ten when he was killed. He comments that Lord Connington must have been a truly good friend of Rhaegar's to risk his life protecting his son, after Rhaegar's father confiscated Connington's lands and sent him into exile. If he hadn't done so, Connington "might have been on hand when my father sacked King's Landing, to save Prince Rhaegar's precious little son from getting his royal brains dashed out against a wall."

Aegon explains that he had been substituted for "some tanner's son from Pisswater Bend whose mother died birthing him." Varys had bought the baby from the tanner "for a jug of Arbor gold. He had other sons but had never tasted Arbor gold. Varys gave the Pisswater boy to my lady mother and carried me away." Tyrion knows the rest: that Varys smuggled the infant Aegon to Pentos and put him in custody of Illyrio, who then gave him to Connington to raise. He says the singers will love making songs about it if Daenerys agrees to take Aegon as her consort.

Aegon says, "She will. She must." But Tyrion cautions him that "must" isn't "a word queens like to hear." Daenerys, he says, "is the widow of a Dothraki khal, a mother dragons and sacker of cities, Aegon the Conqueror with teats. She may not prove as willing as you wish." Daenerys is strong and fierce, he says.
"Now, how do you suppose this queen will react when you turn up with your begging bowl in hand and say, 'Good morrow to you, Auntie. I am your nephew, Aegon, returned from the dead. I've been hiding on a poleboat all my life, but now I've washed the blue dye from my hair and I'd like a dragon, please ... and oh, did I mention, my claim to the Iron Throne is stronger than your own?'"
Aegon gets angry at Tyrion's words. "I have a gift for angering princes," Tyrion thinks, remembering Joffrey. Aegon says he trusts Lord Connington to help him claim Daenerys as his bride, but Tyrion warns him, "Trust no one, my prince." He suggests a different approach from the one Connington and his other advisers had been planning: "I would go west instead of east. Land in Dorne and raise my banners. The Seven Kingdoms will never be more ripe for conquest than they are right now." Tommen is a boy, the north is full of rival factions, the riverlands are in ruins, and winter is about to bring famine. "Westeros is torn and bleeding, and I do not doubt that even now my sweet sister is binding up the wounds ... with salt." Cersei is busily undoing all the alliances that Tywin had created.

He advises Aegon to land and gather all the disaffected lords to him, but to be quick about it. "Be certain you reach Westeros before my sister falls and someone more competent takes her place." Aegon objects that they need Daenerys and her dragons to win, but Tyrion explains that all he need to do is build up support "until Daenerys arrives to join her strength to yours." And she'll do that, he says, when she hears that he's alive and fighting to "reclaim the Iron Throne for House Targaryen, hard-pressed on every side.... You are the last of her line, and this Mother of Dragons, this Breaker of Chains, is above all a rescuer" who frees slaves. When she arrives in Westeros she will recognize him as her equal.

At this point, Tyrion moves a piece and announces that he has won the game. Aegon says he advised him against making the move that just won for Tyrion. "I lied," Tyrion says. "Trust no one. And keep your dragon close." Angrily, Aegon knocks over the board and commands Tyrion to pick up the pieces. Tyrion complies, thinking, "He may well be a Targaryen after all."

Yandry and Ysilla return to the boat with supplies and news: Daenerys is under siege in Meereen, and Volantis is going to join the war against her. When Griff hears this, he dispatches Haldon to gather more information, and Haldon takes Tyrion with him. As they move through the streets, a man grabs Tyrion around the neck and quickly rubs his head. Haldon, who speaks the language, asks the man why and tells Tyrion it's because rubbing a dwarf's head is good luck.

In the busy market square, a red priest is preaching, and Haldon listens to him. He tells Tyrion that the priest is calling for war, but on the side of Daenerys. The high priest of R'hllor, Benerro, has proclaimed Daenerys "the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy.... She is Azor Ahai returned." Tyrion thinks of Thoros of Myr, the only red priest he has known, and tells Haldon, "Give me priests who are fat and corrupt and cynical, ... the sort who like to sit on soft satin cushions, nibble sweetmeats, and diddle little boys. It's the ones who believe in gods who make the trouble."

Haldon takes Tyrion into an inn, where two men are playing cyvasse. He boasts, "My dwarf plays better cyvasse than both of you combined." Tyrion plays along, pointing out a bad move by one of the players. He's right, and the other player quickly wins. The winner then challenges Tyrion to a game. Haldon knows him as the customs officer in Selhorys, Qavo Nogarys.

As they are setting up their pieces, Haldon asks if there will be a war, and Qavo says that the Yunkai'i who call themselves the Wise Masters are preparing for it. They have gained the support of one of the triarchs in Volantis, Nyessos. Qavo says the stories are that Daenerys is a bloodthirsty monster, a sorceress who feeds babies to her dragons, and that she is sexually insatiable who possesses the souls of her lovers. Of course, her real sin is her attempt to end the slave trade. "The Old Blood cannot suffer that. Poor men hate her too. Even the vilest beggar stands higher than a slave. This dragon queen would rob him of that consolation."

Qavo says that although the priests of R'hllor are preaching against the attack on Daenerys, she will be greatly outnumbered, even with three dragons. Then he wins the game and takes Tyrion's silver. Outside, Tyrion persuades Haldon to let him find a whore, and Haldon agrees to wait for him in a tavern by the gate to the town. In the brothel he finds a woman and gets drunk. As he's coming down the stairs afterward, he loses his balance and falls, but he manages to turn the fall into a cartwheel, attracting attention from the patrons in the bar.

"'Imp,' a deep voice said, behind him." Tyrion sees a burly, hairy man with a whore on his lap at a table in a dark corner. Tyrion introduces himself as Hugor Hill, but the man knows who he is, and says he intends to deliver him to the queen. 


The Green Grace, Galazza Galare, comes to dine with Daenerys, attended by a dozen of the young priestesses, the White Graces. Galazza remarks on how tired Daenerys looks, and she admits that the attacks on the city are weighing on her. They talk about the hostages Daenerys has taken from the wealthy citizens of Meereen, two of whom are waiting on their table. Skahaz has been urging her to kill some of the children to deter the attacks of the Sons of the Harpy, but Daenerys has refused. The priestess approves of her mercy, and says it has earned her gratitude in the city.

Then the priestess gets to the point of her visit: She urges Daenerys to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq. He comes of distinguished ancestors, she says, which carries weight among the Meereenese. Their offspring will dispel her enemies. But Daenerys remembers the prophecy of Mirri Maz Duur, that she will remain barren until "the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, when the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves." Still, if a marriage could  stop the killing, it would be worth it.

The priestess has brought Hizdahr with her, so Daenerys summons him. He claims that their marriage would put an end to strife in the city, and when she asks why he would want to help her do that, says, "Is it so strange that I would want to protect my own people, as you protect your freedmen? Meereen cannot endure another war, Your Radiance." She observes that he has said nothing about loving her, and he asks, "What is love? Desire?" Who wouldn't desire a woman as beautiful as she? Besides, she has brought new life to Meereen, which was a crumbling city of desiccated old rulers before she arrived. "Custom and caution had an iron grip upon us till you awakened us with fire and blood. A new time has come, and new things are possible. Marry me."

She tells him to kiss her, but she feels nothing when he does. "I do not love you," she tells him. He says she may learn to do so, but she doubts it, especially when Daario is still around. Finally she proposes that if ninety days and nights pass without a murder, she will consider that he is "worthy of a throne." He accepts the challenge and tells her to have her seneschal prepare for a wedding on the ninety-first day. She remembers the warning: "Beware the perfumed seneschal," and wonders if Reznak is in cahoots with Hizdahr and has set a trap for her.

When he leaves, Barristan appears. She tries to get him to say whether he approves of the marriage, but he is distant and evasive on the subject. She tells him, "Marriage or carnage, those are my choices. A wedding or a war." But he proposes a third choice: Return to Westeros and take the Iron Throne. Marrying Hizdahr would be an obstacle to that.

"She wanted Westeros as much as he did, but first she must heal Meereen." Hizdahr may fail to bring about the peace, but when Barristan asks what she will do if he doesn't fail, she says she will do her duty. She asks if her brother Rhaegar married for love or duty, and he hesitates in his answer, finally saying that "the prince was very fond of" Elia. But he adds that there was no fondness in the marriage of her father and mother, "and the realm paid dearly for that." They married, he tells her, because of the prophecy of a woods witch that a prince "would be born of their line." This is news to Daenerys.

And now Barristan has more news: Daario Naharis has returned while she was meeting with the priestess. She tells him to send Daario to her "at once," dismisses him for the evening, and sends for Irri, Jhiqui, and Missandei to help her get ready for him. "She always felt a little foolish when she was with Daario. Gawky and girlish and slow-witted." They talk of his fighting and of the troubles in the city. He suggests bringing out her dragons, but she doesn't want to talk about them: "Farmers still came to her court with burned bones, complaining of missing sheep, though Drogon had not returned to the city." In their confinement, Viserion and Rhaegal are growing more restless, and one day they heated the iron doors to their pit red hot.

She tells him of the plan to marry Hizdahr, and of the ninety days she has given him to keep the peace. Daario says he'll take care of the problem in nine days by killing her enemies. She tells herself he is "Fickle, faithless, brutal. He will never be more than he is. He will never be the stuff of kings." She is shocked when he proposes staging a wedding and then murdering all the assembled guests from the Meereenese nobility. And when he says, "Most queens have no purpose but to warm some king's bed and pop out sons for him. If that's the sort of queen you mean to be, best marry Hizdahr."

She gets angry at his insolence and dismisses him, then calls for Barristan and says she wants the Stormcrows sent out into the field again. As for Daario, he is to report to Barristan. "Give him every honor that is due him and see that his men are well paid, but on no account admit him to my presence." But she is restless that night, filled with longing for Daario, but tormented by the idea of the "butcher queen" that he would like her to be.
But then she thought of Drogon far away, and the dragons in the pit. There is blood on my hands too, and on my heart. We are not so different, Daario and I. We are both monsters.

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