By Charles Matthews

Sunday, December 25, 2011

17. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 448-472


Bran is sitting on a weirwood throne in the warm depths of the cavern, with ravens walking up and down his arms. He hears the children sing, and the whispers of the old man, "The last greenseer, the singers called him, but in Bran's dreams he was still a three-eyed crow." The name his mother had given him, he told Bran, was Brynden.

One of the singers, whom Meera calls Leaf because the real name is impossible to pronounce, says that most of the last greenseer "has gone into the tree." Jojen, who has recovered from the journey but still displays its effects on him, tell Bran that the trees remember "The secrets of the old gods.... Truths the First Men knew." And Meera tells Bran that he will remain after they are gone. Bran doesn't like that, and says that Meera and Jojen could also become greenseers.
"It is given to a few to drink of that green fountain whilst still in mortal flesh, to hear the whisperings of the leaves and see as the trees see, as the gods see," said Jojen. "Most are not so blessed. The gods gave me only greendreams. My task was to get you here. My part in this is done."
And Bran learns to fly, to enter a raven and take wing. The first time he tries it, however, he is clumsy and flies into a wall, but the raven is unhurt. When he succeeds he realizes that there is someone else in the raven with him, a girl. He tells Lord Brynden this, and the greenseer says that the earliest singers taught the First Men how to send messages by raven, but did so by inhabiting the birds and speaking the message. A shadow of these singers often remains in the birds. Lord Brynden also tells him, "Only one man in a thousand is born a skinchanger, ... and only one skinchanger in a thousand can be a greenseer."

Bran learns more about the children of the forest from Leaf, including the fact that they are more like "Little wise men of the forest." They are smaller than men, but they are older than they appear. They have "nut-brown skin, dappled like a deer's with paler spots, and large ears that could hear things that no man could hear." In addition to cat's eyes, they have only three fingers and a thumb, and instead of nails have sharp black claws.

Jojen and Meera decide to explore the underground river, which is six hundred feet below the part of the cavern where they dwell, but the climb is too steep for Hodor to carry Bran on his back. So without telling the others, Bran slips into Hodor's body and makes the journey with them. (Hodor now acquiesces, though a little reluctantly, when Bran enters him.) Meera catches a blind white fish with her frog spear, but Jojen grows so weak on the return journey that Hodor has to haul him up with a rope tied around his waist.

Bran sometimes goes out with Summer and the wolf pack, or flies around as a raven, inspecting the icy world outside the cave, or explores the cave in Hodor's body. He finds a cavern full of singers entwined with weirwood roots like Lord Brynden. Bran is still frightened of Lord Brynden, a ghastly sight with the roots sprouting from his body, and it bothers him that one day he will be like the greenseer, remembering that he used to want to be a knight and that he "used to run and climb and fight. It seemed a thousand years ago."

Jojen is declining, growing "more sullen and solitary, to his sister's distress," and Meera says her brother wants to go home. The greendreams have shown him his fate, and he is distressed by the fact that he can't do anything about it. She begins to cry, regretting that they had made the journey that his greendreams had compelled him to make.

The weeks pass and finally Lord Brynden tells Bran that it is time for him "to go beyond skinchanging and learn what it means to be a greenseer." Leaf brings him a weirwood bowl with a paste in it made of weirwood seeds. Lord Brynden tells him it "will help awaken your gifts and wed you to the trees." Bran isn't so sure about this, but he eats the paste. Then Lord Brynden tells him to enter the weirwood roots the way he enters Summer. He does so, and suddenly he is back at Winterfell, watching his father cleaning the greatsword Ice. Bran whispers, "Winterfell," and his father hears him and asks who's there. It startles Bran so much that he quickly returns to the cavern.

He tells Leaf and Lord Brynden what he saw, but Leaf says, "You saw what you wished to see. Your heart yearns for your father and your home, so that is what you saw." Lord Brynden says that he was "looking through the eyes of the heart tree in your godswood," and that time is different for a tree. When Bran insists that his father heard him, Lord Brynden says that he may have heard something but that Bran can't speak to him. "The past remains the past. We can learn from it, but we cannot change it." Once his skills have developed, Bran can see what the trees have seen at any time in the past, and "in time you will see well beyond the trees themselves."

Hodor takes Bran back to his chamber, where he tries to stay awake so he can tell Meera and Jojen what happened, but suddenly he is back at Winterfell watching his father when he was much younger. He hears Ned say, "...let them grow up close as brothers, with only love between them, ... and let my lady wife find it in her heart to forgive...." Bran speaks to him again, and his father stops his prayer and looks at the weirwood for a moment before resuming his prayer. Then suddenly his father disappears and two children were dueling with broken branches. One is a girl, who is taller than the boy she is dueling with, so he assumes that it's Arya and himself, though he had never worn his hair as long as the boy.

Then other visions follow. One is of a naked woman, pregnant, who prays for a son to avenge her. Then a brown-haired girl who kisses a tall young knight, followed by a youth who trims branches from the tree to make arrows. The tree itself grows smaller, as do the other trees around it, and the men he sees have faces that he knows from the statues in the crypt. And finally he witnesses a man and woman with a captive. The woman cuts the captive's throat, and as the blood flows out of him, Bran can taste it.


Jon is looking down at the haunted forest from the top of the wall. It has snowed for several days, but now the sun has come out, and he tells Dolorous Edd to have Emmett prepare his recruits and an escort of rangers armed with dragonglass. He intends to command the party which will take the recruits to the weirwoods to say their vows.

When he reaches the ground to prepare for departure, Bowen Marsh comes to protest that the Weeper may be out there ready to attack, but Jon says the grove is only two hours away and that they will be back by midnight. Marsh continues to protest that it's unwise, but Jon insists that the vows are important. Besides, he tells Marsh, he has Ghost to protect them.

However, when they exit the tunnels under the Wall, Ghost bounds away, having sensed something. So they proceed without him. As they ride, Iron Emmett tells Jon there is talk of trouble at "Harlot's Tower." Jon corrects him: "Hardin's Tower," which he has designated as a residence for the spearwives and younger girls who had come from Mole's Town. He doesn't want the place getting a bad reputation. Emmett says he "should put guards around the women," but Jon replies, "And who will guard the guards?" He had broken his own vows with Ygritte, so he knows how easy it can be. But he tells Emmett he plans to open three more of the castles, and that the Long Barrow will be staffed by women except for the commander and the chief steward. When Emmett asks "what poor fool will get that choice command?" Jon says that Emmett will, and Dolorous Edd will be his steward.

Jon reflects on the trouble he has had integrating the wildlings with the Watch. "There were nights when Jon Snow wondered if he had not made a grievous mistake by preventing Stannis from  marching all the wildlings off to be slaughtered. I know nothing, Ygritte, he thought, and perhaps I never will."

As they approach the grove, Ghost appears, and then Tom Barleycorn, whom Jon had sent ahead to scout. Barleycorn tells him that there are wildlings in the grove. He counted nine, mostly women, but one child and a giant as well. Some may be dead or just sleeping. Jon decides to proceed on foot. It is coming on night. The wildlings are huddled around a small fire. The child is the first to see them, and his cry wakes the giant, who picks up a maul when he sees Iron Emmett's sword.

Ghost bares his teeth, but Jon pulls the wolf back, saying that they don't want a battle here. "This is a holy place," he says, and asks them to yield. The giant bellows and slams his maul against the ground, but the ranger known as Leathers speaks the Old Tongue and persuades the giant to yield. When Jon asks what he told the giant, Leathers says, "That they were our gods too. That we came to pray."

Of the nine wildlings, two are dead already. The rest are weak or wounded. They had come together after Stannis's attack and decided to die in the weirwood grove. Jon asks why they didn't yield, and they tell him that they had heard those who yielded were burned. "Melisandre, Jon thought, you and your red god have much and more to answer for." He assures them that if they return with him, they will be safe and fed and sheltered.

The recruits take their vows, and the group returns with the wildlings, carrying the corpses as well. It takes much longer returning than it did going out, and it is almost dawn when they reach the Wall. The Giant has to crawl through the tunnels on hands and knees.

Jon finds a letter from Stannis waiting for him, telling him that Deepwood Motte had been taken with the help of the mountain clans, and that Alysane Mormont had burned Greyjoy's longships and captured their crews. The victory has caused other northmen to join with him, and they now have five thousand men. Word has come that Bolton is going to marry Arya at Winterfell, so they are going to march against him.

Jon has mixed feelings about this news: "Battles had been fought at Winterfell before, but never one without a Stark on one side or the other." He has his doubts about whether Stannis should attack Winterfell, which even in ruins was a strong castle. And he wonders about the reference to Arya, given Melisandre's vision of the girl who had escaped. Perhaps the wedding is only a ruse, and Bolton doesn't really have Arya. "A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from her marriage. On the strength of those words he had loosed Mance Rayder and six spearwives on the north." He is full of doubts.

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