By Charles Matthews

Friday, December 23, 2011

15. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 395-419


Daenerys is growing worried about the ships that are blockading Slaver's Bay, but all her admiral, Groleo, can offer her is advice to turn her dragons loose and burn them. Barristan assures her that the city is well-supplied for the time being.

Skahaz, attended by two of the guards known as Brazen Beasts because they wear animal masks of brass, tells her that Hizdahr has been visiting the wealthy of Meereen, and that it has been twenty-six days since the Sons of the Harpy have committed a murder. Skahaz believes that Hizdahr is himself the Harpy and wants to torture the truth out of him. To his displeasure, Daenerys forbids it.

He then presents her a list of all the Meereenese ships participating in the blockade, which represent all the ruling families of the city. He wants to send the Brazen Beasts to all the houses and imprison all the kin as hostages. Again, she forbids it to prevent "open war inside the city. I have to trust in Hizdahr. I have to hope for peace." Skahaz glowers as she burns the list.

Later, Barristan praises her restraint, saying her brother Rhaegar would approve. But she remembers what Jorah Mormont said: "Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died."

At her public hearing of grievances, there are very few attending, and Reznak mo Reznak tells her people are afraid to leave their houses. Then that evening, Galazza Galare arrives, along with Grey Worm. They tell her that a dying man arrived on a pale horse to say that Astapor is burning. He was emaciated and feverish, suffering from bloody dysentery. She realizes that if the Yunkai'i have taken Astapor, they will aim at Meereen next, and tells Barristan to recall her bloodriders and her sellswords.

Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons are the first to arrive, eight days later. They bring with them three Astapori with harrowing tales of the fall of the city. Two of them thank Daenerys for giving them refuge in Meereen, but she sees the truth in the eyes of the third: "She knows I cannot keep them safe. Astapor is burning, and Meereen is next." And Brown Ben says there are hundreds, even thousand of refugees still to come. "The Cats and the Windblown are swarming through the hills with lance and lash, driving them north and cutting down the laggards."

Daenerys is troubled by what to do about them: She is the one who disturbed the order in their city. Reznak mo Reznak has an answer for her: Marry Hizdahr. But Daenerys also remembers Quaithe's warning: "Beware the perfumed seneschal." Brown Ben's solution is to unleash the dragons, but she tells him she can't do that. Then they should leave Meereen, he advises, "and start west with wagons full o' gold and gems and such."

She determines, however, that they should stand and fight: "I defeated the Yunkai'i before. I will defeat them again." But her counselors disagree on the answers to her questions: "Where, though? How?" She commissions the Second Sons to scout the enemy, but she says the Astapori refugees must be welcomed. Barristan protests, "Your Grace, I have known the bloody flux to destroy whole armies when left to spread unchecked. The seneschal is right. We cannot have the Astapori in Meereen." So she tells them to set up a refugee camp outside the walls.

Privately, she consults with Barristan, whose assessment of the situation is gloomy. And she recognizes what she needs to do to at least stabilize the city: "I need Hizdahr zo Loraq."


In her chambers, Melisandre gazes into the fire, seeking to be sure of what she has seen there. She looks especially for "the grey girl on the dying horse," who she has told Jon is his sister Arya. She sees "A wooden face, corpse white," and it sees her. "Beside him, a boy with a wolf's face threw back his head and howled." She hears voices out of the past: "'Melony,' she heard a woman cry. A man's voice called, 'Lot Seven.'" She hears Jon Snow's name, and sees his face appear and disappear.
Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again. But the skulls were here as well, the skulls were all around him. Melisandre had seen his danger before, had tried to warn the boy of it. Enemies all around him, daggers in the dark. He would not listen.
She thinks, "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R'hllor shows me only Snow." She asks Devan, Stannis's squire, to bring her a drink of water. He was upset when Stannis left him behind to stay with Melisandre, but she had asked for him specifically, knowing that Davos had already lost four sons.

Devan suggests that she eat something, and when she sends him to fetch her breakfast she tells him to find Rattleshirt and send him to her. When he arrives, she notices that he isn't wearing his armor of bones. "He was cloaked in shadows too, in wisps of ragged grey mist, half-seen, sliding across his face and form with every step he took." When she comments on the missing bones, he tells her, "The clacking was like to drive me mad."

In the iron fetter he wears on his wrist, there is a ruby. He says he can feel its warmth, and sometimes it even burns and he's tempted to pry it out. She tells him, "The spell is made of shadow and suggestion. Men see what they expect to see. The bones are part of that," and wonders if she made a mistake by sparing him. She tells him that Lord Snow's rangers will return today, "with their blind and bloody eyes." That, he tells her, is the work of the Weeper -- one of the wildling chieftains who remained north of the Wall.

Then she tells him about the girl on the dying horse, whom she still assumes to be Arya Stark. She wants to send him out to rescue her. He scoffs at the idea: "No one ever trusted Rattleshirt but fools. Snow's not that. If his sister needs saving, he'll send his crows. I would." He asks where she saw the girl, and from her description he recognizes Long Lake. But their conversation is interrupted by the sound of a warhorn. It is the signal for returning rangers, and she tells him to stay there. When the Watch sees what has happened to the rangers, they will be angry at the wildlings.

She goes out and follows the tunnel through the Wall to where Jon and the black brothers are gathered around three spears, each with the head of a ranger impaled on the point, the eyes gouged out of each head. Bowen Marsh identifies the rangers for her, and comments that with the ground so frozen it must have taken half the night for the wildlings to drive the spears so deep. He worries that they are still close by, watching, but Jon says they have gone. "Ghost would have their scent if they were still out there." He orders the heads taken and burned until nothing but bone is left.

When he sees Melisandre, he asks her to walk with him, which pleases her. They walk slowly, according to her plan, because her warmth causes the ice in the tunnel beneath the Wall to melt and drip: "He will not fail to notice that." He asks if she has seen the other six rangers, and she tells him she hasn't. She does tell him that she had a vision of "towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide." He takes that to be Eastwatch, but although she isn't entirely sure that is what the vision signified, she agrees with him. She asks him to come to her chambers, and he agrees.

As they walk, she can sense his mistrust, and she recognizes it as the same mistrust Stannis once had in her. "In truth, the young lord commander and her king had more in common than either one would ever be willing to admit." She notes that he hasn't asked about Arya, and he tells her that his oath to the Watch means that he has no sister, and that there is no way he can help her. When they enter her chambers, he sees Rattleshirt and bristles. The wildling taunts him, but turns his attention to Melisandre, telling her that he'll need half a dozen good horses and some spearwives to accompany him. "The girl's more like to trust them, and they will help me carry off a certain ploy I have in mind."

Melisandre explains to Jon that she is sending Rattleshirt to rescue Arya. Jon objects, furiously, "If he tries to leave Castle Black without my leave, I'll take his head off myself." But Melisandre sends Devan away, then touches the ruby at her neck and speaks a word. "The wildling heard one word, the crow another. Neither was the word that left her lips." Suddenly, Rattleshirt is transformed into Mance Rayder. And Jon learns that it was Rattleshirt who was burned. He calls it "sorcery," but she replies, "Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion." But to her self she admits it was a difficult spell to bring off. "When the flames had licked at Rattleshirt, the ruby at her throat had grown so hot that she had feared her own flesh might start to smoke and blacken. Thankfully Lord Snow had delivered her from that agony with his arrows."

She points out that Mance won't betray him, because they hold his son and because Jon had pleaded against his execution. "There he stands, Lord Snow. Arya's deliverance. A gift from the Lord of Light ... and me."

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