By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

6. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 148-178


Daenerys has been dreaming of Daario Naharis when she is awakened by Irri. Grey Worm, Reznak and Skahaz have brought word of more murders conducted by the Sons of the Harpy. Nine of her followers have been killed, including Missandei's brother. Daenerys demands a strengthening of the guard and hostages from the noble family of Meereen. Then she comforts Missandei.

Filled with anger and longing for Daario, she is unable to go back to sleep. She goes out to the pool on the terrace to bathe, but she hears a sound and sees a woman wearing a lacquered wooden mask: Quaithe. Daenerys pinches herself, but she isn't dreaming.
"Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun's son and the mummer's dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal." 
The last-named is Reznak, Daenerys knows, but she asks Quaithe to "speak plainly" if she has something to tell her. She remembers Quaithe's other advice, to "go north to go south, east to go west, back to go forward. And to touch the light I have to pass beneath the shadow." But she's tired of riddles, she tells Quaithe. Then Missandei appears to ask whom Daenerys is talking to, and Quaithe vanishes. Daenerys wonders if she is going mad, like her father.

After breakfast, for which Daenerys finds she has no appetite, Reznak and Skahaz appear, stirring her memory of Quaithe's warning. She takes her seat in the council hall, where Ser Barristan has thoughtfully provided cushions for her, and tries to fight off sleep as she hears about the city's problems. Hizdahr zo Loraq returns, once again to plead for the reinstatement of the fighting pits. He brings with him prominent fighters, all of them freed slaves -- "it had been the fighting slaves, freed from their shackles by her sewer rats, who led the uprising that won the city for her." She feels obliged to listen to their arguments for reopening the pits. She tells them she will consider their arguments, and the meeting is adjourned.

Ser Barristan accompanies her back to her chambers, and she asks him to tell her about how Joffrey dismissed him from the kingsguard and how he fled the country. He says he watched the beheading of Eddard Stark, which convinced him to leave. When Daenerys objects that Stark was a traitor, Barristan objects:
"Your Grace," said Selmy, "Eddard Stark played a part in your father's fall, but he bore you no ill will. When the eunuch Varys told us that you were with child, Robert wanted you killed, but Lord Stark spoke against it. Rather than countenance the murder of children, he told Robert to find himself another Hand." 
Daenerys reminds him of the murder of Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon, but Barristan says that was done by the Lannisters, not the Starks. Daenerys sees no difference between the two houses, and then asks Barristan to take her to see her dragons. She senses his disapproval, but he obliges.

Rhaegal and Viserion are chained there, and she notes how they have grown. "What sort of mother lets her children rot in darkness?" she asks herself. But she knows that she must keep them there after meeting with the man whose child was eaten. It was a four-year-old girl called Hazzea, he told her. She had questioned his story, thinking that the child's death might have been faked by the Sons of the Harpy to discredit her, but she observed that the man had come forward after the hall had emptied. "If his purpose had been to inflame the Meereenese against her, he would have told his tale when the hall was full of ears to hear." She had paid him handsomely not to spread the story.

Drogon had presumably been the dragon responsible, and he is still at large. Daenerys is conscience-stricken, but feels responsible for the dragons, too. "Without dragons, how could she hope to hold Meereen, much less win back Westeros? I am the blood of the dragon, she thought. If they are monsters, so am I."


Ramsay Bolton has imprisoned him after torturing and mutilating him, and now he is reduced to capturing rats and eating them raw. But now two boys have come to his cell, and he is terrified that he is about to be taken back to Bolton for more abuse. The boys "were squires, both were eight, and both were Walder Frey. Big Walder and Little Walder, yes. Only the big one was Little and the little one was Big, which amused the boys and confused the rest of the world."

He thinks of overpowering them and taking the keys, but knows that he'll be caught and that Bolton "will take another finger from me, he will take more of my teeth." He had escaped from Ramsay Bolton before, but discovered that it was only a trap: "Lord Ramsay loved the chase and preferred to hunt two-legged prey."

Little Walder asks if they should bathe him before taking him wherever he was going, but Big Walder says that Ramsay "likes him stinky.... That's why he named him Reek." We remember now that when Ramsay Bolton was still a bastard named Snow, he had disguised himself as the filthy creature known as Reek. The new Reek has to remind himself of his name constantly with mnemonics: "My name is Reek, it rhymes with bleak," he tells himself now. So he submits to the Freys, who guide the ragged Reek out of the dungeon.

As he goes with them, he wonders how long he has been imprisoned. "The boys were still boys. If it had been ten years, they would have grown into men," he reasons. They take him to the great hall, where the garrison is dining. Bolton is sitting at the high table, and he tells the men sitting beside him that "Reek has been with me since I was a boy. My lord father gave him to me as a token of his love." One of the men says he thought Reek was dead, that he had been killed by the Starks, but Bolton says, "The ironmen will tell you that what is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger."

But the other man sitting there tells the first one to take a good look at Reek: "His hair's gone white and he is three stone thinner, aye, but this is no serving man." And the first man recognizes Reek as Theon Greyjoy, though he doesn't speak his name: "Stark's ward. Smiling, always smiling." Bolton says he doesn't smile much anymore since he broke Theon's teeth, and he notices blood on his mouth and asks if he has been "chewing on your fingers again, Reek?" (Bolton's late wife had starved to death, eating her own fingers to try to stay alive.) Reek/Theon swears that he hasn't been doing that, though he had tried to bite his ring finger off after Bolton had flayed the skin from it.

He confesses to having eaten a rat, which brings a reprimand: "All the rats in the Dreadfort belong to my lord father. How dare you make a meal of one without my leave." Reek doesn't know how to reply to avoid further mutilation: "Thus far he had lost two fingers off his left hand and the pinky off his right, but only the little toe off his right foot against three from his left." But Bolton is more interested in giving him some news: "I am to be wed. My lord father is bringing me a Stark girl. Lord Eddard's daughter, Arya. You remember little Arya, don't you?"

Theon remembers the real Arya -- we know this one is an imposter -- and recalls "a time when he had thought that Lord Eddard Stark might marry him to Sansa and claim him for a son, but that had only been a child's fancy." Now Bolton tells him that he is to serve him at the wedding, and that he will be cleaned up and fed to get his strength back. Though he fears a trap, Theon says he will be glad to serve him. Bolton tells him, "I ride to war, Reek. And you will be coming with me, to help me fetch home my virgin bride."


They are traveling again through deep snow and bitter cold, and they are afraid. "Even Summer was afraid." Coldhands tells them they have to climb, and it will be dark soon. The entrance to the cave they are headed for is halfway up the hill, and Bran sees ravens flying in and out of it. Meera estimates it's about a thousand yards away, but Bran recognizes that "all those yards are upward." Still, it's his destination, the place where he is to meet the three-eyed crow, the greenseer. 
It had been twelve days since the elk had collapsed for the third and final time, since Coldhands had knelt beside it in the snowbank and murmured a blessing in some strange tongue as he slit its throat.... As gaunt and starved as the elk had been, the steaks the ranger carved from him had sustained them for seven days, until they finished the last of them huddled over a fire in the ruins of an old hillfort.
Hodor begins the ascent with Bran on his back and Coldhands beside them. Summer follows, and then Meera, who has been carrying Jojen for quite a while.  Bran loses sight of Meera and Jojen as they fall behind. Only a dozen of the ravens that had been accompanying them remain, and Bran sees one of them fly into the cave. "Only eighty yards now, Bran thought, that's not far at all."

But Summer stops suddenly and snarls and backs away. Bran tells Hodor to stop, but Coldhands continues the climb, so Hodor follows. When they are sixty yards from the entrance, Bran sees the flicker of a fire in the cave's mouth. But suddenly Hodor screams and falls, and Bran realizes that something has hold of Hodor's leg. A wight bursts from under the snow. They are rolling down hill, and wights are bursting from beneath the snow.

A wight grabs Bran, but Summer attacks and tears off its arm and bites into its throat. Bran begins to drag himself uphill toward the cave, as Coldhands slashes out at the wights surrounding him and Summer continues his assault on the one that grabbed Bran. He hears Hodor call out, and Bran slips inside Hodor's body, drawing Hodor's sword. "Deep inside he could hear poor Hodor whimpering still, but outside he was seven feet of fury with old iron in his hand." Meera arrives and jabs at the wight attacking Hodor with her frog spear. Through Hodor's eyes, Bran sees Jojen lying helpless, and he guides Hodor to rescue the boy.

Up ahead, wights are burning, and Bran realizes that someone has set them on fire. He sees Summer snarling at a burning wight and realizes that he -- Bran -- is lying on the ground and Summer is protecting him. He wonders if Bran dies, will he remain Hodor forever. He feels Hodor stumble as ravens pour from the mouth of the cave and he sees "a little girl with a torch in hand, darting this way and that." For a moment he thinks the girl is Arya. Then the snow falls from a tree and buries him.

He wakes inside the cave and sees Hodor, Summer, Meera and Jojen with him, tended to by the girl. When she speaks he knows she isn't Arya, and he notices that her eyes are "large and liquid, gold and green, slitted like a cat's eyes." He realizes that she is "A child of the forest," as he tells Meera when she asks. The girl says that the First Men called them children, but they aren't. "Our name in the True Tongue means those who sing the song of earth. Before your Old Tongue was ever spoken, we had sung our songs ten thousand years."

She tells them that the ranger, Coldhands, can't enter the cave, and when Bran protests that the wights will kill him, says, "They killed him long ago." They must follow her now to meet the greenseer. As they descend into the cavern, Bran sees what seems to be giant white snakes in the walls of the cave, but he realizes that they are weirwood roots. There are passages off to the side, and in them Bran sees, by the light of the girl's torch, the shining eyes of other children of the forest. Hodor's feet begin to crunch on something and he stops suddenly. Bran realizes that they are walking on bones, and in niches there are skulls of animals, men, and giants, as well as of the children of the forest.

The last part of the journey is the steepest, and Hodor slides down in on his buttocks. He sees the girl waiting by a natural bridge across a chasm, and he hears running water. Bran is afraid that he will have to cross the bridge on Hodor's back, but the girl tells him no, and lifts her torch, telling him to look behind.
Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child. His body was so skeletal and his clothes so rotted that at first Bran took him for another corpse, a dead man propped up so long that the roots had grown over him, under him, and through him. 
His hair is white and so long that it reaches the floor, leaves sprout from his skull, and mushrooms from his forehead. Bone pokes through his desiccated skin.

Bran asks, "Are you the three-eyed crow?" The pale lord answers slowly, in a dry voice, and says that he was one once. "I have been many things, Bran," he says, but he has been this for a very long time. "I have watched you for a long time, watched you with a thousand eyes and one. I saw your birth, and that of your lord father." He had witnessed Bran's fall. "And now you are come to me at last, Brandon Stark, though the hour is late."

Bran asks for the thing he wants most: his legs.

"You will never walk again, Bran," the pale lips promised, "but you will fly."

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