By Charles Matthews

Monday, December 26, 2011

18. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 473-499


Daenerys has come out to see the Astapori refugee camp, and is nauseated by the filth and disease. Ser Barristan urges her to turn back, but is, as usual, resolute. The refugees, many of them calling her "Mother," cry out for her help, but she has done all she can, sending out healers and even attempting a quarantine of the sick, but to no avail. Over the protests of Barristan and others in her retinue, she decides to nurse as many as she can, and they grudgingly join her. She also sends for the Unsullied, who have no fear of illness or death, to aid in the task.

Eventually, she returns, weary and depressed, to her pyramid, where Missandei helps her bathe before Reznak mo Reznak and the Green Grace arrive to discuss the wedding plans. She balks at some of the traditional rituals, including an inspection of her "female parts" by the women of Hizdahr's family, but agrees to be married in the Temple of the Graces instead of in a Westerosi ritual. At first she refuses to wash Hizdahr's feet, but agrees to do so if he will wash hers. But as it turns out, Hizdahr claims no more allegiance to tradition than she does.

However, he tells her that to establish peace, Yunkai will have to resume the slave trade. She observes that this is already a fait accompli: "The Yunkai'i resumed their slaving before I was two leagues from their city," and she didn't turn back. But he says the people of New Ghis don't trust her: "They would see us wed, and they would see me crowned as king, to rule beside you."

She is pondering how to reply when Barristan brings the news that the Stormcrows have returned and that the Yunkai'i are marching toward Meereen. Hizdahr protests that she is dining, but Daenerys tells him that she must speak with Daario and has Barristan show Hizdahr out. Then she changes into something more attractive to greet Daario.

He describes for her the strength of the forces moving toward Meereen by land and sea, but mentions that they have also gained some supporters: "Some Westerosi too, a score or more. Deserters from the Windblown, unhappy with the Yunkai'i." On the other hand, Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons have turned their cloaks and now support the Yunkai'i. Daenerys wonders if Plumm is one of the three treasons she was to experience, and if marrying Hizdahr will put an end to all of these attacks.

The news of Plumm's desertion causes an uproar, but Daenerys silences it. Then she orders the gates of the city closed, which means leaving the Astapori refugees to fend for themselves. She dismisses everyone but Daario, using the pretext that he has a wound that needs to be seen to.

Her handmaids tend to his wound, and then she sends them away, leaving her alone with Daario.

The Prince of Winterfell

Theon is helping Jeyne Poole prepare for her marriage to Ramsay Bolton. When she tells him that she "will be a better wife than the real Arya could have been," he recognizes the danger that she faces if she doesn't think of herself as Arya, just as he forces himself to think that he is Reek. He tells her that she is "Arya Underfoot. Your sister used to call you Arya Horseface." But Jeyne tells him that she is the one who made up that nickname. "Her face was long and horsey. Mine isn't. I was pretty."

She asks if Ramsay thinks she is pretty, and Theon lies, saying, "He's told me so." But she knows whom she's marrying: "They say he likes to hurt people," she says, and that he hurt Theon. But Theon claims he made him angry and that "Lord Ramsay is a ... a sweet man, and kindly." Then she begs him to help her: They could run away together, she says desperately, "I could be your wife, or your ... your whore ... whatever you wanted. You could be my man." But Theon begs her to try to please Ramsay and not to talk "about being someone else." He thinks, "Jeyne, her name is Jeyne, it rhymes with pain." He notices that her eyes are brown whereas Arya's were gray, and worries that someone will notice.

He has been chosen to give the bride away because, as Lady Dustin tells him, "You were her father's ward, the nearest thing she has to living kin." He realizes that if he is seen to accept her as Arya, the northmen gathered for the wedding "would have no grounds to question her legitimacy." And even those who suspected that she wasn't really Arya "would be wise enough to keep those misgivings to themselves." He is part of the deception, which is why he has been dressed as a lord instead of in his usual rags. When it's over, he will become Reek again, he realizes. "Unless the gods were good, and Stannis Baratheon descended on Winterfell and put all of them to the sword, himself included. That was the best he could hope for." 

The ceremony is taking place in the godswood, which Theon remembers from childhood. The hot springs make it a warm oasis in the midst of the snow, and it shrouds the faces of the guests in mist. The trees are full of ravens, and Theon thinks, "Maester Luwin's birds. Luwin was dead, and his maester's tower had been put to the torch, yet the ravens lingered." Ramsay Bolton is standing by the heart tree as he delivers Jeyne/Arya to him. She gives him a final look, pleading for him to do something, before she gives herself to Bolton.

Theon lingers as the wedding party leaves, and he hears a voice whisper, "Theon."
His head snapped up. "Who said that?" All he could see were the trees and the fog that covered them. The voice had been as faint as rustling leaves, as cold as hate. A god's voice, or a ghost's. How many died the day that he took Winterfell? How many more the day he lost it? The day that Theon Greyjoy died, to be reborn as Reek. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with shriek.
He hurries away from the godswood to the Great Hall.

In the yard, among the ruins of Winterfell, dead men were hanging from ropes. The castle had been full of squatters when Bolton and his company arrived, and those who resisted had been hanged. Those who agreed to help repair the gates and put a new roof on the Great Hall were told they would be spared. But after the work was finished, Bolton hanged them anyway. "True to his word, he showed them mercy and did not flay a one."

He makes his way into the warmth of the hall, where a bard named Abel is singing. As he passes through the crowd, he hears someone call him, "Theon Turncloak," and someone spits. "He was the traitor who had taken Winterfell by treachery, slain his foster brothers, delivered his own people to be flayed at Moat Cailin, and given his foster sister to Lord Ramsay's bed. Roose Bolton might make use of him, but true northmen must despise him."

Nevertheless, he has a seat on the dais at the high table, next to Lady Dustin. He looks at Jeyne and sees the fear in her eyes, and thinks, "I could beg her for the honor of a dance and cut her throat. That would be a kindness, wouldn't it?" And then, if the gods are kind, Ramsay would kill him. "Theon was not afraid to die. Underneath the Dreadfort, he had learned there were far worse things than death. Ramsay had taught him that lesson, finger by finger and toe by toe, and it was not one that he was ever like to forget."

Lady Dustin notices that Theon isn't eating, which is hard for him since Ramsay had broken so many of his teeth. She points out Wyman Manderly, who is wolfing down his food, "the very picture of the jolly fat man." She calls him "craven," and observes, "His son died at the Red Wedding, yet he's shared his bread and salt with Freys, welcomed them beneath his roof, promised one his granddaughter." But she knows Manderly would betray them all, and so does Roose Bolton, she says. She points out how Roose doesn't eat or drink anything until Manderly has taken some of it first. And she tells Theon, "Roose plays with men. You and me, these Freys, Lord Manderly, his plump new wife, even his bastard, we are but his playthings."

Some maesters enter the hall, and deliver news to Roose Bolton, who rises to tell the assembly that Stannis has left Deepwood Motte and could be at Winterfell in a fortnight, while Crowfood Umber is traveling down the kingsroad and the Karstarks are on the way from the east. He tells the lords to join him in his solar while Ramsay and his bride consummate the marriage.

When Lady Dustin leaves, Theon decides it is time to go, but one of Ramsay's attendants grabs him: "Ramsay says you're to bring his bride to his bed." Theon is terrified, but knows he has to obey. Jeyne is sitting alone, and Theon goes to her, realizing that she has drunk a good deal of wine. "Perhaps she hoped that if she drank enough, the ordeal would pass her by." Accompanied by some of Ramsay's men, he leads Jeyne up the stairs to the bedchamber.

Lord Ramsay is seated there when they enter, and he tells everyone but "Reek" to leave them. Then he tells Theon to undress "Ned Stark's little daughter." Theon starts to unlace her gown, but Ramsay tells him it will take too long: "Cut it off her." With the dagger in his hand, Theon thinks of killing Ramsay, but fears that he will fail and that Ramsay will flay the hand that held the dagger. Jeyne is trembling and he has to hold her still. When the gown falls, Ramsay tells him to take off her underclothes as well. When she is naked, he realizes how young she is. "Sansa's age. Arya would be even younger."

Ramsay asks what he thinks of her. She is pitiful, and there is "a spiderweb of faint thin lines across her back where someone had whipped her." But he says she is beautiful. Ramsay asks if he'd like to fuck her first: "The Prince of Winterfell should have that right, as all lords did in the days of old." He tells her to get on the bed and spread her legs, and then orders Theon, "Get her ready for me." Theon stammers, "I ... do you mean ... m'lord, I have no ... I...." (Although never stated outright, it is evident that Theon has been castrated.) Ramsay tells him to use his mouth. "And be quick about it. If she's not wet by the time I'm done disrobing, I will cut off that tongue of yours and nail it to the wall."

Theon does as he's told.

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