By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

19. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 500-523

The Watcher

Ser Balon Swann has brought the chest containing Gregor Clegane's head to Sunspear, where Doran Martell, Arianne, Ellaria and three of the Sand Snakes are all gathered for the opening. Areo Hotah is watching, his longaxe at the ready for potential trouble. The enormous skull is removed and placed on top of a marble column.

The deed done, Doran lets his seneschal propose a toast to King Tommen, and a feast follows. Hotah keeps his eye on Balon Swann and those he had brought with him from King's Landing. He realizes that they know something is wrong, since neither Ser Arys Oakheart nor Princess Myrcella is present at the feast. They don't know yet that Ser Arys is dead and Myrcella seriously disfigured as a result of Arianne's plot to make her queen.

Cersei has sent a letter, suggesting that Myrcella return to King's Landing for a visit and that Doran take a seat on the small council as a representative of Dorne. Doran postpones discussion of these matters until tomorrow, when they will travel to the Water Gardens, where Myrcella is staying. Doran mentions, in talking of the Water Gardens, that they had been built by one of his ancestors "to please his Targaryen bride," whose name was Daenerys. Then he says he is tired and would like to go to bed, and asks Obara Sand to help him.

As Obara pushes his wheeled chair she asks if Doran really means to send Myrcella and her betrothed, Prince Trystane, to King's Landing. "Do that, and we will never see the girl again, and your son will spend his life a hostage to the Iron Throne." He assures her that he has no intention of doing that. Maester Caleotte has followed them, carrying Ser Gregor's skull, and when they reach Doran's solar, Obara takes it ansks, "What did the Mountain look like? How do we know this is him?" Her sister, Nym, points out that Clegane was eight feet tall, and Cersei would be a fool to have faked his death. Doran agrees that the skull is large enough and that Prince Oberyn is known to have wounded Clegane so badly that his slow, agonizing death is likely. Her other sister, Tyene, agrees, saying that she knows which poison Oberyn used, and that if he even broke the skin, Clegane is dead.

Ellaria points out that all of the people who were involved in the death of Elia and her children are now dead. Oberyn's quest for vengeance for their deaths is over, and she doesn't want further vengeance for Oberyn's death. Obara, however, speaks of the chaos in Westeros, and says, "Our enemies are in disarray. The time is ripe." But Ellaria wants it to end, and tells Doran, "I can hear no more of this." He tells her that no harm will come to her children, and sends her to them.

When Ellaria is gone, he tells the Sand Snakes, "there are things that Ellaria does not know and should not know. This war has already begun." Obara agrees, and says that Arianne began it with her failed attempt to crown Myrcella. When Ser Balon sees the girl, and finds that she's missing an ear, and that Hotah killed Arys Oakheart, things will get more violent.

But Arianne has a plan: Ser Balon will be told that Gerold Dayne, Darkstar, was the one who killed Ser Arys, and that he tried to kill Myrcella. And that Myrcella will back up the story herself. But Obara insists, "If Ser Balon is allowed to carry tales back to King's Landing, drums will sound and blood will flow." But Doran is prepared for this, and he tells them he is not as weak as they think. He makes the Sand Snakes swear to serve him, then explains what he knows:
"Dorne still has friends at court. Friends who tell us things we were not meant to know. This invitation Cersei sent us is a ruse. Trystane is never meant to reach King's Landing. On the road back, somewhere in the kingswood, Ser Balon's party will be attacked by outlaws, and my son will die. I am asked to court only so that I may witness this attack with my own eyes and thereby absolve the queen of any blame. Oh, and these outlaws? They will be shouting, 'Halfman, Halfman,' as they attack. Ser Balon may even catch a quick glimpse of the Imp, though no one else will." 
Then he outlines the plan: When Balon hears the story of Darkstar's attack from Myrcella, he'll send word of it to Cersei. Myrcella will ask him to hunt down Darkstar, and Obara will accompany Balon to High Hermitage to confront Darkstar. Nymeria will accompany Myrcella to King's Landing and serve as Dorne's representative on the council. Tyene, whose mother was a septa, will go to King's Landing and cozy up to the High Septon.

The three Sand Snakes eagerly agree to their roles, and when they have left, Arianne refers to them as "Three Oberyns, with teats." She regrets that she doesn't have a role in the plot herself, but Doran tells her that she will, soon enough. He has heard from Lys that a great fleet of Volantene ships has set sail. He doesn't know who is aboard them, whether Daenerys or Quentyn, or both.


Val is setting off beyond the Wall on a mission to contact Tormund. Jon has misgivings -- six of the men he sent off on a similar mission are still missing, and three are dead -- but she thanks him for letting her try. When she has left, he returns to his chambers and is eating breakfast when Dolorous Edd tells him that Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and Septon Cellador want to see him.

"You're here about Val," he says. And Marsh says, "The men have concerns, my lord." Jon knows that already, and he turns to Othell, who is chief builder, asking him how work is progressing at the Nightfort, which is being made ready for Queen Selyse. He says it would go faster if he had more builders, so Jon offers him the giant, whose name is Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, but answers to Wun Wun. But Othell is afraid of giants and declines, which is okay with Jon, who is learning to communicate with the giant and learn stories about his people.

Marsh complains that Jon is sending Iron Emmett to Long Barrow and replacing him with "this savage Leathers as our master-at-arms," a position that he thinks should be filled by a knight or at least a ranger. But Jon speaks well of Leathers's fighting ability and points out that he has taken the vows and is now their brother. "The men don't trust him," Marsh insists, but Jon stifles a desire to find out which ones.

Septon Cellador's objection is to Jon's naming Satin as his steward, replacing Dolorous Edd, who is also going to Long Barrow. Satin is "a painted catamite from the brothels of Oldtown." Jon thinks, "And you are a drunk," but says that brothers who have taken their vows are not supposed to be judged by what they were before, and that Satin is a good fighter and that he has made friends. Marsh, however, insists that "the men do not like it," and asks, "Does my lord believe the men of the Night's Watch would ever follow a whore into battle?" Jon replies by enumerating the sins of other men who are now accepted as their brothers.

Marsh is obviously very angry, but he saves his chief concern for last: the corpses that are being kept in the ice cells under guard, which he cites as "a waste of two good men." But Jon informs him that he hopes they will turn into wights, which shocks the drunken septon. He explains, "My lord father used to tell me that a man must know his enemies. We understand little of the wights and less about the Others. We need to learn." This doesn't please them, especially the septon, who says he intents to "pray to the Crone to lift her shining lamp and lead you down the path of wisdom."

Finally, Jon himself brings up the topic of Val. Septon Cellador reminds him that she is "The king's prize," and that Stannis will be angry if he returns to find her gone. And Marsh asks why he thinks she will return, and is not satisfied with Jon's assurance that he believes her promise that she will. Jon explains that he sent her to offer the same terms to Tormund Giantsbane that he offered the other wildlings: "Food and shelter and peace, if he will join his strength to ours, fight our common enemy, help us hold the Wall."

Marsh is not surprised, but he protests that there may be hundreds, even thousands of them: "Some might call this treason. These are wildlings. Savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man." But Jon replies, "Tormund is none of those things." They are human beings, he insists. "Winter is coming, my lords, and when it does, we living men will need to stand together against the dead."

He also tells them that the wildlings they found in the grove say that a witch called Mother Mole has led thousands of those who fled from the battle at the Wall to Hardhome, where they "pray and await salvation from across the sea." Hardhome sits on a natural harbor, and there are supposedly plenty of building materials and fish and game there, but six hundred years, when it was becoming a town, its inhabitants had been attacked and the city burned. "Traders reported finding only nightmarish devastation where Hardhome had stood." But now Mother Mole has been preaching "that the free folk would find salvation where once they found damnation." But Cotter Pyke has told Jon that his ships have sailed past it and that Mother Mole and her followers will find only "cold and starvation" there.

Thousands will die there, he says, but Marsh sees them only as "Thousands of enemies." So he asks Marsh what "will happen when all these enemies are dead?" They will become wights, he says, "and they will come for us."

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