By Charles Matthews

Sunday, December 11, 2011

4. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 83-111

The Merchant's Man

Quentyn Martell is on a stinking ship, pretending to be the servant of Gerris Drinkwater, who is playing the role of a wineseller. Gerris fits the role of master better: He is tall and handsome, with an arrogant swagger. Prince Quentyn, on the other hand, is plain and stocky. Gerris is attempting to find passage from Volantis to Meereen, in support of Quentyn's plan to win the hand of Daenerys.

They have been in Volantis for twenty days, trying to persuade the captains of various ships to take them, but no one wants to brave the war being waged in Slaver's Bay. Finally, the captain of the ill-smelling Adventure agrees to take them for thrice his usual fee. Quentyn is suspicious of the captain, and they make no commitment. Their voyage started off badly: They lost three of their company aboard the Meadowlark when it was attacked by pirates.

As they walk through the market square in Volantis, they come upon a pair of dwarfs, putting on a show: They are dressed in wooden armor and jousting, one riding a pig, the other a large dog. Gerris wants to stop and watch this amusement, but Quentyn is in no mood. They go to the Merchant's House, where a quartet of sellswords are trying to recruit men for their army, the Windblown, which has been hired by Yunkai.

At their room, they are admitted by the third surviving member of the party, Ser Archibald Yronwood, an enormous man, who has been urging them to make the journey overland. Quentyn is still considering the possibility of the Adventure, but Gerris has turned against it after considering the prospect of having to "endure that stench for months on end." He says a new idea has just occurred to him.


Jon has summoned Gilly, to whom he says, "I have something hard to tell you." She asks if it's about Mance Rayder, who is threatened with execution, but he says that it's about Mance's son, whom Gilly is nursing. She pleads with Jon not to let Melisandre burn the child, as she has threatened to do in part of her dragon-summoning ritual. He says that the only way to do that is for her to leave with Mance's child, but she must leave her own behind: "Take both boys and the queen's men will ride after you and drag you back. The boy will still burn ... and you with him." He promises that he will find a wet nurse for her son and raise him at Castle Black.

She leaves, and Samwell Tarly appears a few minutes later, carrying a stack of books. Jon shows him a letter that Maester Aemon has drafted for him to King Tommen. He remembers Tommen, heavily padded, as a little boy fighting Bran with wooden swords: "Yet Bran's dead, and pudgy pink-faced Tommen is sitting on the Iron Throne, with a crown nestled among his golden curls." Sam observes that Jon hasn't signed the letter. Jon admits that he is worried about the implications: "No letter will make the Lannisters love us better. Not once they hear that we've been helping Stannis." But in the end he agrees to sign it.

Sam says that he saw Gilly almost in tears as he was arriving, and Jon says he is sending her and "the boy" away -- not indicating that the boy is Mance's son, not hers. He asks Sam about what he has learned from his reading about the Others. Much of it is what they already know: The Others are vulnerable to obsidian, or dragonglass, and their thralls must be burned. "Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don't know what those are." But he has also read an account that speak of Others being slain by "dragonsteel." Jon wonders if this means Valyrian steel, and Sam says that was his guess, too. He needs more time to research it.

Jon breaks the news that Sam doesn't have more time: He is going with Gilly, along with Maester Aemon. If Melisandre needs royal blood for her spells, Aemon Targaryen fits the profile. Sam is to take Aemon to Oldtown, and either send Gilly on to his family at Horn Hill or Aemon will find a position as servant at the Citadel, where Sam is to study to become Jon's new maester. Sam's various fears come rushing out, but Jon shuts him up, forcing himself to be stern with his friend and with himself: "Kill the boy, Jon thought. The boy in you, and the one in him. Kill the both of them, you bloody bastard."  Sam leaves in distress, and Jon reflects on how difficult it was to follow the advice Maester Aemon had given him: "Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born." He goes outside, where he hears that Stannis has sent a pair of men, Ser Richard Horpe and Ser Justin Massey, south on the kingsroad. He decides to let Stannis have his secrets.

In the morning he sees off Sam, Aemon, and Gilly before dawn. When they have left, he goes to meet with Bedwyck, a small man facetiously known as Giant, whom he has sent for. He tells Giant that he is garrisoning Icemark, one of the castles on the Wall, and putting him in charge of it, particularly to watch for climbers. When Giant asks if he is garrisoning all the castles he says yes, "but for the moment, it will just be Icemark and Greyguard." He intends to put Janos Slynt in charge of Greyguard.

Slynt, whom Jon had commanded to meet him at first light, doesn't show up until half the morning is gone. And when Jon tells him he is putting him at Greyguard, he is surprised, and then angry:
Slynt's face had turned the color of a prune. His meaty jowls began to quiver. "Do you think I cannot see what you are going? Janos Slynt is not a man to be gulled so easily. I was charged with the defense of King's Landing when you were soiling your swaddling clothes. Keep your ruin, bastard."
Jon tells him, "That was a command, not an offer," but Slynt continues to refuse.

Jon bides his time, and the next morning finds Slynt at breakfast with Ser Alliser Thorne. Jon enters accompanied by his supporters, and tells Slynt that he has had Slynt's horse made read for his ride to Greyguard. When Slynt defies him again, Jon asks if he is refusing the order, and Slynt replies, "You can stick your order up your bastard's arse." Jon orders Slynt taken to the Wall and hanged.

Slynt is dragged out, protesting, as the residents of Castle Black, including Stannis, come out to watch. Then Jon calls out, "Stop." He orders Dolorous Edd to fetch a block, and draws Longclaw. When he chops off Slynt's head, he looks at Stannis. "For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower."

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