By Charles Matthews

Thursday, December 22, 2011

14. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 372-394


Jon is sending out rangers beyond the Wall, and among them is his old enemy, Alliser Thorne, who says, "So the bastard boy sends me out to die." Jon keeps his cool, but Thorne threatens to come back as a wight and single him out. There are three groups of rangers, and Dywen is leading the one that includes Thorne. Jon thinks, "Thorne is in better hands than he deserves."

The commanders of the outlying posts have been seeing more activity from the wildings still to the north of the Wall, and have requested more men -- men that Jon doesn't have. He has sent some of the free folk who joined at Mole's Town, but this has only caused Cotter Pyke and Denys Mallister, the commanders of the castles, to complain. Pyke wrote, through Maester Harmune, "I wouldn't trust such to clean my chamber pot."

He sees Iron Emmett, the master-at-arms, training his men, and asks for his three best trainees. Then he spars with them, taking on all three at once. He demonstrates his skill, but when he's finished Rattleshirt is there, scoffing at Jon's taking on mere trainees and wondering if he has the skill to take on someone with experience. Jon accepts the challenge, telling Rattleshirt, "Stannis burned the wrong man," meaning Mance Rayder. But Rattleshirt replies, "He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings."

Jon orders real armor, not bones, for Rattleshirt, and observes that he seems taller and more muscular in mail and plate than in bones. The first blow Rattleshirt lands surprises him with its power and quickness, and he uses the two-handed greatsword he has chosen with more speed than Jon expected. Finally, both men lose their swords and wind up wrestling on the ground until two members of the Watch pull them apart. Rattleshirt snarls, "If I had me a dagger, you'd be less an eye by now."

When they have separated, Iron Emmett tells Jon, "he threatened your life, we all heard. He said that if he had a dagger--" Jon points out that Rattleshirt "does have a dagger. Right there on his belt." He recalls what Ser Rodrik, the master-at-arms at Winterfell, once told him and Robb: "There is always someone quicker and stronger.... He's the man you want to face in the yard before you need to face his like upon a battlefield."

They are interrupted by Clydas, who has a message from Ramsay Bolton. Jon reads it and learns that Moat Cailin has been taken, and that Roose Bolton is summoning the lords loyal to him to Barrowton to affirm their loyalty and to witness Ramsay's marriage to Arya. Jon is astonished at this news, having thought that Arya died in King's Landing. "By now she'd be eleven, Jon thought. Still a child." He tells Clydas that there will be no answer from him to the letter.

He is covered with bruises and that night "felt as stiff as a man of sixty years." His thoughts full of Arya, remembering when he had given her Needle, he goes out into the bitter cold. Ghost is there and follows him. Through Ghost he senses a thousand smells in the night, and then senses someone behind him: "Someone who smelled warm as a summer day." He turns and thinks he sees Ygritte, but when he speaks her name, Melisandre replies.

Then she tells him, "Do not despair, Lord Snow. Despair is a weapon of the enemy, whose name may not be spoken. Your sister is not lost to you." She says she has seen Arya in her fires, "fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse." Then she asks if she may touch Ghost. Jon warns her that he is not used to strangers, but the wolf comes to her, at first warily, but then shoves his nose into her warm hand. And when Jon calls to Ghost, the wolf looks at him as if he were the stranger.

Melisandre tells him, "Your Wall is a queer place, but there is power here, if you will use it. Power in you, and in this beast. You resist it, and that is your mistake. Embrace it. Use it." Jon is wary, and replies, "Dalla told me something once. Val's sister, Mance Rayder's wife. She said that sorcery was a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it." Melisandre says she was wise, but that even a sword without a hilt is a sword, "a fine thing to have when foes are all about." Then she tells him that of the nine raiders he sent out, three are dead. "They have not died yet, but their death is out there waiting for them, and they ride to meet it." Then she tells him to take her hand and let her save his sister.


He is in a cell in the Wolf's Den, waiting for Wyman Manderly to carry out his sentence. To his surprise, the cell is "large and queerly comfortable," and the food is excellent. His jailer/executioner, Garth, is disgusted at this: "The dead should not eat better than the living." He has warm, clean clothing, a fire, and when he asks for paper and ink and a book to read, they are supplied to him. He writes letters of farewell to his wife and his three sons, advising them to flee to Braavos if Stannis loses his war.

He is rereading his letters when the cell door opens and a man enters, telling Davos to come with him. He is surprised when the man says "please," a courtesy not usually extended to condemned prisoners. He asks the man's name and learns that he is Robett Glover, who tells him that Stannis has retaken Deepwood Motte, that Moat Cailin has fallen and that Ramsay Bolton is to marry Arya Stark and lay claim to Winterfell.

Still confused, Davos asks that his letters be delivered when he dies, but Glover informs him that he's not about to die. Glover leads him through a long series of cellars and tunnels and finally into a room where Wyman Manderly is sitting. Manderly apologizes for his treatment of Davos, and asks him to drink to the safe return of his son Wylis. A feast is being given for him now, and Manderly has excused himself from it on the pretext of visiting the privy.

He informs Davos that he has been executed and his head and hands displayed. They had executed a criminal who looked enough like Davos that when his head was dipped in tar no one will question it, and had trimmed the fingers of his hand to match Davos's. "My lord," he says, "I bear you no ill will. The rancor I showed you in the Merman's Court was a mummer's farce put on the please our friends of Frey." He had to pretend that he supported the Lannister claim to the Iron Throne for the sake of his hostage son, Wylis. If he had refused, "Wylis would die a traitor's death, White Harbor should be stormed and sacked, and my people would suffer the same fate as the Reynes of Castamere." Even after Tywin was killed, the Freys still threatened him unless he proved his loyalty, which he did by his treatment of Davos.

Davos comments on the risk he had taken, but Manderly assures him that if any of the Freys had climbed up and taken a closer look at the head over the gate, he would have blamed the jailers and executed Davos after all. He can't trust anyone, even his maester, who is a distant kin of the Lannisters, so he can't write to Stannis about his real situation. But he hates the Freys for murdering his son Wendel.

Davos assures him that Stannis can provide the justice he wants, but Glover and Manderly say that "Stannis Baratheon remains your king, not our own." But Robb died at the Red Wedding, Davos protests. That's true, Manderly says, "but that brave boy was not Lord Eddard's only son." He tells Glover to "bring the lad." Davos is confused, and when the boy appears Davos knows that he isn't Bran or Rickon, whom he assumes to have been murdered by Theon Greyjoy. He's much older than they would be, and he doesn't look like a Stark at all. He asks the boy for his name.

Glover explains that the boy is mute, and since there is no parchment to write on in the room, he hands the boy a dagger. He carves his name in a beam on the wall: Wex, Theon Greyjoy's squire. Through Wex they have learned that Theon is still alive, and have heard much about the Boltons' destruction of Winterfell and the atrocities committed by Ramsay Bolton.

Davos hopes that all of this will turn Lord Wyman to Stannis's side, but Wyman says he is still forced to submit to the Boltons and the Freys, and to attend the wedding of Ramsay and "Arya." However, "I can deliver King Stannis the allegiance of all the lands east of the White Knife, from Widow's Watch and Ramsgate to the Sheepshead Hills and the headwaters of the Broken Branch. All this I pledge to do if you will meet my price." He needs a smuggler, he says.

Davos is still confused, and Glover takes over the story. Wex had been at Winterfell when Ramsay Bolton killed the men of Winterfell as well as Theon's ironmen. He climbed a tree in the Winterfell godswood, where he hid until he heard Bran and Rickon, Hodor, Osha, Meera, and Jojen. "Four went one way, two another. Wex stole after the two, a woman and a boy. He must have stayed downwind, so the wolf would not catch his scent."

Davos realizes what Lord Wyman wants: Rickon. "Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard's daughter," Wyman says. "To thwart him White Harbor must have Ned's son ... and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him." If Davos can bring Rickon and Shaggydog to him, he will swear allegiance to Stannis.

Glover tells Wex to show Davos where the boy is, and Wex throws the dagger at the map on Manderly's wall. The location makes Davos want to ask to be sent back to his prison cell. It is a place "where men were known to break their fast on human flesh."

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