By Charles Matthews

Saturday, December 24, 2011

16. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 420-447


Bolton is returning with his fellow hunters, and the hounds almost knock Theon off his feet as he hurries, as fast as his fetters will allow him, to greet his master. Bolton comments on how bad Reek smells, and he apologizes. But then Bolton says he has brought him a gift and throws him a rotting, maggot-covered head.

He is left to take care of Ramsay Bolton's horse, and Little Walder commands him to do the same for his and his cousin's horses. But Big Walder (actually the smaller of the two) says he can take care of his own: "Little Walder had become Lord Ramsay's best boy and grew more like him every day, but the smaller Frey was made of different stuff and seldom took part in his cousin's games and cruelties."

In the stables, Theon asks Big Walder whose head it was. He is told it had belonged to an old man driving some goats on the road, and Bolton had killed him because he called him "Lord Snow," a reminder of his bastard name.

A feast is being held after the sixteen-day hunt, and Reek is kept chained outside the hall because his smell would spoil the feasters' appetites. He is able to watch Ramsay through the doors. The dogs have the run of the hall, however. He has been told that the dogs are "all named after peasant girls Ramsay had hunted, raped, and killed back when he'd still been a bastard, running with the first Reek."

In the middle of the feast, Roose Bolton arrives and orders everyone out. Ramsay orders Reek unchained and taken out, but Roose says for him to stay. He is left alone in the hall with Bolton father and son, and listens as they discuss the coming wedding, and Wyman Manderly's slow progress toward it. Ramsay complains that the feast he had been holding "should have been in Barrow Hall, not this pisspot of a castle," which belongs to a petty lord named Harwood Stout. But his father reminds him that Barrow Hall belongs to Lady Dustin, who "cannot abide" Ramsay. He has to stay on the good side of Barbrey Dustin, and he is concerned about what might happen if Bran or Rickon Stark is discovered.

Hearing of this last possibility, Theon struggles to think like Reek:
Ned Stark's sons are all dead, Reek thought. Robb was murdered at the Twins, and Bran and Rickon ... we dipped the heads in tar.... His own head was pounding. He did not want to think about anything that had happened before he knew his name.
But Ramsay and Roose Bolton know the truth, and are determined to conceal it and to make sure that Theon continues to be blamed for the murder of the Stark boys. Roose also warns his son to try to act like a Bolton: "Tales are told of you, Ramsay. I hear them everywhere. People fear you." Ramsays says, of course, "Good," but Roose insists that he conceal his cruelties better: "A peaceful land, a quiet people. That has always been my rule. Make it yours."

Then he delivers his news: Stannis has taken Deepwood Motte and restored it to the Glovers, and the mountain clans have joined in supporting him. Ramsay is delighted to hear of this opportunity to crush their foe, and urges his father to let him attack Deepwood. Roose says he must marry first, and Ramsay wants to proceed with it: "We have a girl, we have a tree, and we have lords enough to witness. I'll wed her on the morrow, plant a son between her legs, and march before her maiden's blood has dried."

But Roose wants the wedding to take place at Winterfell. That will get Stannis's attention, and that of the clansmen who are following him, who "will not abandon the daughter of their precious Ned to such as you." They will march on Winterfell, and the Boltons will conquer them there. And Roose wants to take Reek from him: "if you have not ruined him beyond redemption, he may yet be of some use to us."

Ramsay reluctantly unchains Theon and rides with Roose to Barrow Hall, which is less than a mile away. As they ride, Roose Bolton comments on Reek's stench, and tells him, "I knew the first Reek. He stank, though not for want of washing. I have never known a cleaner creature, truth be told.... The smell was something he was born with." Ramsay's mother had asked for a servant for her son, and he had given him Reek as a joke, "but he and Ramsay became inseparable. I do wonder, though ... was it Ramsay who corrupted Reek, or Reek Ramsay?"

He tells Theon the story of Ramsay's conception: Roose had been hunting a fox and come upon the beautiful young wife of an old miller. He hanged the miller for getting married without his permission, and raped the wife "beneath the tree where he was swaying." A year later she appears at the Dreadfort with the baby, saying that her husband's brother had turned them out of the mill. So he cut the brother's tongue out and gave her the mill. Roose also tells Theon that he had a legitimate son, Domeric, but that Ramsay poisoned him. Theon observes that Roose has a new wife, Walda Frey, who could give him sons, but Roose predicts that Ramsay will kill them, too.

Theon asks why Roose wanted him. "I'm not even a man, I'm broken and ... the smell." Roose says he'll smell better after a bath and change of clothes, but this terrifies Theon: "I have ... wounds, I ... and these clothes, Lord Ramsay gave them to me, he ... he said that I was never to take them off, save at his command." Roose says, "I mean you no harm, you know. I owe you much and more." Theon thinks, "This is a trap, he is playing with you, the son is just a shadow of the father," but he can't help asking what Roose owes him, and gets a reply: "The north. The Starks were done and doomed the night that you took Winterfell."

When they reach Barrow Hall, Roose takes him inside and introduces him to its mistress, Lady Barbrey Dustin, who is appalled at the smell. Roose tells her, "He has been with Ramsay. Lady Barbrey, allow me to present the rightful Lord of the Iron Islands, Theon of House Greyjoy." Terrified that Ramsay will hear this, Theon falls to his knees:
"I'm not him, I'm not the turncloak, he died at Winterfell. My name is Reek." He had to remember his name. "It rhymes with freak." 


He and Ser Jorah have booked passage on the Salaesori Qhoran, and so has the dwarf Penny, along with her dog and her pig. Jorah has removed his chains as long as they are on the ship, whose passengers include a red priest, Moqorro, who holds sway over most of the crew.

Penny has stayed below for a week, and when Tyrion spots her peeking out at the deck where Moqorro is holding a service to R'hllor, she shies away. Though the crew thinks rubbing a dwarf's head is good luck, they also think having a woman on board is bad. Tyrion pities her because of the fate visited on her brother, being mistaken for him and having his head chopped off, but she keeps her distance from him.

When Moqorro finishes his services, Tyrion goes to talk to him. The high priest, Benerro, had specially chosen Moqorro as a kind of missionary to Daenerys. Tyrion asks him what he sees in the flames, and Moqorro tells him, "Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all." Tyrion is flattered by being important enough to be part of Moqorro's visions.

He asks Moqorro about the ship's name, and the priest tells him that "Qhoran" is the title of a counselor or steward, and that "selaesori" means "fragrant." So the ship's name means "fragrant steward." (Tyrion is unaware, of course, of Quaithe's warning to Daenerys, "Beware the perfumed seneschal.") 

When he goes below, he tells Jorah that he had caught sight of Penny, whose name Tyrion hates because she and her brother, Oppo, had taken as their stage names the two smallest coins, Penny and Groat. But Jorah reveals to us that it was Tyrion who insisted that they bring Penny with them, afraid of what might befall her if she stayed in Volantis. Otherwise, Jorah is indifferent to her fate, and tells Tyrion that she is his responsibility. Tyrion thinks, "The man is cold, brooding, sullen, deaf to humor. And those are his good points." But he has learned of Jorah's passion for Daenerys, and feels some sympathy for him.

Life on the open sea bores Tyrion, who hates to sleep because of his bad dreams. He thinks of ending it all by jumping overboard, "But what if there is a hell and my father's waiting for me?" There is nothing to do but read and reread the three books on board, and he's rereading one of them, "about the erotic adventures of a young slave girl in a Lysene pillow house," at his table in the galley where he dines, when Penny enters.

He asks her to sit down and eat with him, but she apologizes for interrupting and starts to leave. He asks, "Do you mean to spend your whole life running away?" This causes her to get angry, and to say that he is the reason she and her brother had to run away. If he had obeyed Joffrey's command and jousted with them at the wedding feast, she says, thinks might have turned out differently. When he says that people would have laughed at him, she retorts, "My brother says that is a good thing, making people laugh." But speaking of her brother makes her cry.

Tyrion's apology only makes her angrier. She says that they fled King's Landing because her brother had been afraid they would be blamed in Joffrey's death. They went to Tyrosh, where they knew a juggler, another dwarf, but he had been murdered and his head taken too. Tyrion apologizes again, but she insists, "His blood is on your hands."

It is Tyrion's turn to get angry, and he says, "His blood is on my sister's hands, and the hands of the brutes who killed him." He admits that he has "killed mothers, fathers, nephews, lovers, men and women, kings and whores. A singer once annoyed me, so I had the bastard stewed. But I have never killed a juggler, nor a dwarf, and I am not to blame for what happened to your bloody brother." Penny picks up a cup of wine and throws it in his face, then leaves.

Days pass without seeing her again, but then a storm comes up. Remembering the misery of being below in his cabin during the stormy crossing of the narrow sea, he determines to stay on deck. "If the gods wanted him, he would sooner die by drowning than choking on his own vomit." He winds up soaked but exhilarated, especially when he goes to the cabin and finds Jorah Mormont lying in a pool of vomit. After drinking a good deal of rum and playing several games of cyvasse with the ship's cook, he goes on deck where he finds Penny.

He turns to leave her alone, but she speaks to him and apologizes for throwing the wine in his face and for her accusations that he killed her brother and the man in Tyrosh. She says that she thought she wanted to die, but the storm made her realize that she wanted to live. He thinks, "I have been there too. Something else we have in common."

She asks if he really did stew a singer. He says he doesn't cook, but she asks why he wanted him dead. "He wrote a song about me," he says, remembering the words. He asks about her family, and she says that her mother was not a dwarf but her father was. They're dead now, and she has no family left. She worries about what will happen to her now. "I have no trade, just the jousting show, and that needs two."

Tyrion flinches from what he perceives to be a suggestion that he might team with her in the act. But she continues to reminisce, telling about how the Sealord of Braavos once "laughed so hard that he gave each of us a ... a grand gift." He asks if Cersei had found them in Braavos, but she says it was a man, "Osmund. No, Oswald. Something like that." He came to them in Pentos. He tells her that now they're going to Meereen. She corrects him, "Qarth, you mean. We're bound for Qarth, by way of New Ghis." No, he insists, she will be performing for the dragon queen in Meereen. He assures her that Daenerys is kind-hearted and will find a place for her at court. "And you will be there too," she says. He agrees, "I will."

They strike up a friendship, and she introduces him to her pig, Pretty. They start taking meals together. He tries, and fails, to teach her cyvasse. And finally she asks him "if he would like to tilt with her." He turns her down, and later wonders if she meant something else by "tilt." He would have turned her down for that, too, "but he might not have been so brusque."

That night he can't sleep and goes on deck. The sky is red in the northeast, and he asks Moqorro why. "The sky is always red above Valyria," Moqorro tells him. They are closer than the crew would like to the volcanic region where the ancient kingdom had been destroyed. Tyrion's uncle Gerion Lannister had sailed for Valyria when Tyrion was eighteen, and never returned.

There is supposedly a curse on the Valyrian coast that afflicts any ship that sights it. But Moqorro tells Tyrion that he has ordered the captain to sail the shortest course: "Others seek Daenerys too." Tyrion wonders if Griff has changed his plans about sailing west, and asks Moqorro if he has seen them in his fires.
"Only their shadows," Moqorro said. "One most of all. A tall and twisted thing with one black eye and ten long arms, sailing on a sea of blood." 
It sounds like the kraken, the sigil of Euron and House Greyjoy.

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