By Charles Matthews

Thursday, December 15, 2011

8. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 203-231


Daenerys is entertaining Xaro Xhoan Daxos of Qarth, who has brought with him a company whose dancers, male and female, perform naked, the men with full erections. The dance ends with copulation set to music. Daenerys is somewhat distracted by the performance: She is hoping to initiate a trade agreement with Xaro, but her mind is really on the imminent return to Meereen of Daario Naharis and his Stormcrows.

Xaro is full of compliments for Daenerys, but he also knows her predicament: "It is said that your enemies have promised wealth and glory and a hundred virgin slave girls to any man who slays you." He also notices the absence of Jorah Mormont. Once again, he presents her with the idea of marrying him, but she's wise to him: "I saw which dancers you were watching," she tells him.

He is open to the prospect of resuming trade with Meereen, but on his own terms: gold for slaves. Daenerys is insistent that the city remain free, but she recognizes the truth in Xaro's characterization of the city she rules: "A poor city that once was rich. A hungry city that once was fat. A bloody city that once was peaceful." He also informs her that her enemies are buying up sellswords: "The Company of the Cat, the Long Lances, the Windblown. Some say that the Wise Masters have bough the Golden Company as well." She counters that she has her dragons, but he notes that he hasn't seen them since he has been there.

But he offers her ships: "There are thirteen galleys in the bay. Yours, if you will have them. I have brought you a fleet, to carry you home to Westeros." In short, he wants to get rid of her. He tells her to inspect the ships, and "When you are satisfied, swear to me that you shall return to Westeros forthwith, and the ships are yours. Swear by your dragons and your seven-faced god and the ashes of your fathers, and go." She will not live long, he tells her, if she stays in Meereen.

When Xaro is gone, she asks Barristan what he thinks of the offer, and he admits that with the ships, "we might be home before year's end." He offers to take Admiral Groleo and inspect "every inch of those ships." She agrees, but worries about what will happen to Meereen when she leaves.

The next morning she hears Lord Ghael of Astapor plead with her to supply some of her Unsullied to defend his city, and when she declines he spits in her face. Strong Belwas seizes him and knocks him to the marble floor, breaking out some of his teeth. She tells Belwas to take him away, but spares his life. That afternoon, Barristan and Groleo return from the inspection of the ships to tell her that they are old but well-maintained. Reznak complains that her followers will be killed if she leaves, so she offers to take anyone with her who wishes to go. Barristan chides them for cowardice: "Her Grace freed you from your chains. It is for you to sharpen your swords and defend your own freedom when she leaves."

The argument grows heated, and finally Daenerys has had enough: "I will not abandon Meereen to the fate of Astapor. It grieves me to say so, but Westeros must wait." Groleo and Barristan are aghast at the decision, but she sticks to it. She calls for Xaro and tells him that she intends to stay. He is angry, and warns, "When your dragons were small they were a wonder. Grown, they are death and devastation, a flaming sword above the world." And he adds, "I should have slain you in Qarth." She tells him to leave the city immediately.

The next morning, Xaro has gone, but his ships remain. And a messenger from the ships brings her "a black satin pillow, upon which rested a single bloodstained glove." It is a token of war.


Jon is touring the "wormways," the tunnels beneath the wall, and the vaults where food supplies are stored. He is impressed with how much food is there, but Bowen Marsh, the Lord Steward, who is with him, cautions that these supplies were sufficient to sustain the watch for three or for years of winter, but now that the wildlings and the queen's and king's men are there, "We'll be down to turnips and pease porridge before the year is out. After that we'll be drinking the blood of our own horses." Marsh also warns about sickness and malnutrition and advises that they go on winter rations now.

Jon reflects on the difficulty of obtaining supplies, and considers asking for aid from the Eyrie. He "wondered how Lady Catelyn's sister would feel about feeding Ned Stark's bastard. As a boy, he often felt as if the lady grudge him every bite."

When they return to the surface he finds Devan Seaworth, Stannis's squire, waiting for him, stiff with fright at the presence of Ghost. Jon sends the direwolf away, and Devan tells him that the king wants to see him. In Stannis's solar he finds Ser Richard Horpe and Ser Justin Massey, who had been sent south on a mission whose nature Jon hadn't been told. Also present are Sigorn, the new Magnar of Thenn, and Rattleshirt, who gloatingly shows him a ruby that he says was a present from Melisandre, who is also there.

Stannis surprises Jon by saying that he is presenting Rattleshirt to him as a gift: "You did say you wanted men, Lord Snow." Jon protests that he can't trust Rattleshirt, but Melisandre says a few words in a language Jon doesn't understand, and both the ruby at her throat and the one on Rattleshirt's wrist begin to pulse with light. She tells Jon that as long as he wears the ruby he is bound in her service. And Rattleshirt says he will obey, as long as he doesn't have to wear the black.

Stannis then asks Jon to tell him about Mors Umber, who has offered his allegiance to Stannis for a price: "He wants Mance Rayder's skull for a drinking cup, and he wants a pardon for his brother, who has ridden south to join Bolton." Jon advises him to accept the terms, telling him that if the brother, Hother Umber, has joined the Boltons, it is because the Lannisters hold Greatjon Umber captive.

There is some blustering from the queen's men about the value of Jon's advice, but Stannis silences it. He then tells Jon that he plans to march on the Dreadfort, the seat of the Boltons. Ramsay, he says, has gone south, apparently to strike at Moat Cailin, and to clear the way for Roose Bolton to return north. He plans to take the Dreadfort unaware, but Jon says he can't. This causes outrage among the queen's men, but Stannis silences it. Jon explains that they must cross Umber lands to reach the Dreadfort, and their movements will be reported. And even if they reach the Dreadfort, Ramsay Bolton will cut off their retreat. "Moat Cailin will fall before you ever reach the Dreadfort. Once Lord Roose has joined his strength to Ramsay's, they will have you outnumbered five to one."

Others join in arguing against Jon's position, and Stannis says he will also have the support of the wildlings, under the command of the Magnar. "He means to plunder our armory, Jon realized. Food and clothing, land and castles, now weapons. He draws me in deeper every day." Jon also informs Stannis of the hatred of northerners for the wildlings. "Taking them will only serve to turn my lord father's bannermen against you."

Stannis grinds his teeth, then dismisses everyone except Jon. And Melisandre. Stannis tells Jon that both Horpe and Massey want to be Lord of Winterfell, and that Massey "wants the wildling princess," meaning Val. Jon replies that Winterfell belongs to Sansa, but Stannis doesn't want to hear  of that, because of Sansa's marriage to Tyrion Lannister. He offers Jon another chance to "amend your folly, Snow. Take a knee and swear that bastard sword to me, and rise as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North." Jon refuses again.

Stannis then informs Jon that he intends to proceed with the attack on the Dreadfort, "Despite the counsel of the great Lord Snow." Jon observes that the attack might not be necessary to gain the allegiance of the north if he could persuade Wyman Manderly, who controls White Harbor. But Stannis hasn't heard from Davos, and is persuaded that White Harbor isn't going to be his. The only way he can persuade the north to his side is by a successful battle against the Boltons.

Jon then presents a bargain: If Stannis will give him the wildlings, he will show the king where he can find the men he needs. He indicates on the map where the mountain clans live. "Your Grace will need to go to them yourself. Eat their bread and salt, listen to their pipers, praise the beauty of their daughters and the courage of their sons, and you'll have their swords." Once he gains their support, Stannis should attack Deepwood Motte. Stannis realizes what Jon is proposing: "If I can smash the ironmen ... the north will know it has a king again."
And I will have a thousand wildlings, thought Jon, and no way to feed even half that number

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