By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 306-331

The Lost Lord

Griff/Connington is pacing the deck of the Shy Maid, which has docked in the riverfront at Volantis. He is waiting for Haldon, whom he has sent into the city to buy horses, and worries that he made a mistake by doing so. Haldon had shown poor judgment when he lost Tyrion in Selhorys -- not that Tyrion's disappearance bothers him much: "If the gods were good, Lannister's severed head was halfway back to King's Landing by now, but more like the dwarf was hale and whole and somewhere close, stinking drunk and plotting some new infamy."

He is planning to make contact with the Golden Company and to introduce Prince Aegon to them, though Lemore is uneasy, arguing that sellswords can't be trusted. "If Hugor's head was worth a lord's honors," she says, "how much will Cersei Lannister pay for the rightful heir to the Iron Throne?" They have abandoned the plan to keep Aegon's identity secret until they meet Daenerys because it seems that she doesn't plan to move west, at least for a while.

Haldon returns with the horses, which don't please Connington, but he grudgingly accepts that they were the best to be had. In any case, the ride is only three miles. He gives the best one to Aegon and he and Haldon ride out to meet the Golden Company. They are met first by a captain, Franklyn Flowers, who already knows Connington and Haldon. Connington holds off in revealing Aegon's identity, introducing him as his squire. Flowers takes him to the captain-general, Harry Strickland.

As they ride, Connington wonders if any of the men they pass recognize him. "Even the men who'd ridden with him might not recognize the exile lord Jon Connington of the fiery red beard in the lined, clean-shaved face and dyed blue hair of the sellsword Griff." He had ridden with the company for five years, and if he had stayed with it he might be commanding it instead of Strickland.

Flowers introduces him to the other members of the group of officers meeting with Strickland, who doesn't rise to greet Connington: He is soaking his feet in salt water to soothe the toes he blistered on their march. He says of Aegon, "And this must be your son." Connington wonders if he knows the truth, but reveals the secret to the group: "My lords, I give you Aegon Targaryen, firstborn son of Rhaegar, Prince of Dragonstone, by Princess Elia of Dorne ... soon, with your help, to be Aegon, the Sixth of His Name, King of Andals, the Rhoyne, and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms."

There is silence, and Connington realizes that they all know the secret already. The Golden Company was restless, and there were other lucrative offers to be had, including one from the Yunkishmen to attack Daenerys at Meereen. Strickland had told them he would consider the proposal, especially since Daenerys had made no move westward.
"She is in Meereen and we are here, where the Volantenes grow daily more unhappy with our presence. We came to raise up a king and queen who would lead us home to Westeros, but this Targaryen girl seems more intent on planting olive trees than in reclaiming her brother's throne. Meanwhile, her foes gather."
One of the officers, Tristan Rivers, says, "If Daenerys will not come to us, we must go to Daenerys." They begin to argue about how -- by sea or land -- and whether they should make the move.

Finally Aegon speaks up, and comes out with the plan Tyrion had proposed to him: "Why should I go running to my aunt as if I were a beggar? My claim is better than her own. Let her come to me ... in Westeros?" Franklyn Flowers endorses the idea: "Sail west, not east. Leave the little queen to her olives and seat Prince Aegon upon the Iron Throne. The boy has stones, give him that." But Strickland objects that they need the marriage. Without Daenerys, "the lords will only mock his claim and brand him a fraud and a pretender."

Connington realizes that Strickland doesn't really want to fight. So he argues that the triarchs of Volantis would be happy to get rid of them, and perhaps might even help them find the ships to sail to Westeros: "No city wants an army on its doorstep." Another officer observes that "Cersei's attentions will be fixed upon Meereen and this other queen. She knows nothing of our prince. Once we land and raise our banners, many and more will flock to join us."

Strickland continues to argue against the idea, but Connington says, "Dorne will join us, must join us. Prince Aegon is Elia's son as well as Rhaegar's." Aegon speaks up again and carries the day: "One by one, the men of the Golden Company rose, knelt, and laid their swords at the feet of his young prince." Strickland is the last to do so.

Connington says that Aegon's true identity must be concealed until they reach Westeros, and sends Haldon back to the Shy Maid for Lemore and Duck and Illyrio's chests, gold and armor. When he is alone he removes the glove on his right hand. "The nail on his middle finger had turned as black as jet, he saw, and the grey had crept up almost to the first knuckle. The tip of his ring finger had begun to darken too, and when he touched it with the point of his dagger, he felt nothing." But he persuades himself that he still has time to see Aegon crowned.

The Windblown

Rumors are flying that Daenerys is moving to attack Yunkai, and they have reached the company of sellswords known as the Windblown. Among their numbers is Quentyn Martell. "In Dorne Quentyn Martell had been a prince, in Volantis a merchant's man, but on the shores of Slaver's Bay he was only Frog, squire to the big bald Dornish knight the sellswords called Greenguts." For thirty years, the Windblown had been led by a Pentoshi called the Tattered Prince because he wore a ragged cloak made up of many scraps of cloth. No one knew his real name or origins.

Quentyn had protested being cast as a squire, but Gerris Drinkwater insisted that the best way to do it was to keep Quentyn under the protection of Ser Archibald Yronwood, now known as Greenguts, who is the best fighter of the three. In truth, Quentyn is getting cold feet about the project to marry him off to Daenerys, because the more he hears about her the more it frightens him. There are stories about her sexual insatiability and her murderous character, and Quentyn is aware that her father, King Aerys, was mad. And he has just been through the hell that Astapor has become.

"It was a hundred leagues from Astapor to Yunkai by the old Ghiscari coast road, and another fifty from Yunkai to Meereen." But the journey is slowed by the presence of Yunkish lords hoping to return to their city, including one enormously fat man known as the Yellow Whale, who travels with a retinue of grotesque slaves. There is a Girl General with an army of muscular, near-naked soldiers, a very short man known as the Little Pigeon whose troops are all at least seven feet tall and who march on stilts that make them even taller, and a pair of brothers the sellswords have dubbed the Clanker Lords because their troops are chained together in groups of ten. "In the time it took the Windblown to ride three miles, the Yunkai'i had fallen two-and-a-half miles behind."

The plan is now for Quentyn, Drinkwater, and Yronwood to turn cloaks and join Daenerys's forces at the soonest opportunity, which Gerris expects to be after they take Yunkai. The lands they are passing through now belong to the Yunkai'i, but north of the city is "no-man's-land," he tells Quentyn, who worries that Yronwood has made too many friends among the Windblown to take deserting them lightly. And if they're caught, the Tattered Prince is likely to torture them to death to make an example.

Two days later, they are summoned to the Tattered Prince's tent where they find other Westerosi gathered. The Tattered Prince informs them that the surviving Astapori, "hundreds of them, maybe thousands, all starved and sick," have been fleeing the destroyed city. Their orders are to drive them back to the city or else north to Meereen. "If the dragon queen wants to take them in, she's welcome to them. Half of them have the bloody flux, and even the healthy ones are mouths to feed." But if they encounter the Second Sons or the Stormcrows they are to turn their cloaks and join them -- exactly what Quentyn and the others had been planning to do. The Tattered Prince has realized that the Yunkai'i "do not inspire confidence," and wants the Windblown to stay on the winning side and share the spoils.

They will be commanded by a warrior woman known ironically as Pretty Meris; the Tattered Prince thinks Daenerys "may be more accepting of another woman." The Westerosi have been chosen for this mission because they speak Daenerys's language and worship her gods. They are to say that their motive is the wrongs they have suffered under the Tattered Prince. The Dornish contingent is to say they think he lied to them. "Every one of you has ample reason for wanting to abandon me. And Daenerys Targaryen knows that sellswords are a fickle lot." They are to leave immediately. 

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