By Charles Matthews

Saturday, January 21, 2012

23. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 605-631

Let's see, where were we...?

A Ghost in Winterfell

The body of one of Ramsay Bolton's men is found, buried in the snow at the base of the inner wall, with a broken neck. Though the consensus is that the death was accidental, it stirs talk that Stannis may have already found a way to get his men inside Winterfell. The snowstorm has raged for days, making it impossible to see what is happening outside the walls. Ramsay is merciless in prosecuting dissent, including suggestions that Stannis is anything but starving and frozen out there in the wilderness beyond Winterfell. But as supplies dwindle, morale worsens.

One evening, as Theon is finishing his meager ration of porridge, a woman named Holly, one of the "washerwomen" accompanying the singer Abel, accosts him and asks to see the crypts. Theon suspects that Abel is looking for a way to get out of the castle, and since Theon is known to have found his way in to conquer Winterfell, he surely must know the escape route. He tells Holly to leave him alone.

He goes outside, and decides to take a look from the walls where Bolton had punished one of the dissenters by having him thrown off into a snowbank. The man broke a leg and was shot by a bowman, left to freeze to death. Theon thinks briefly of jumping, of taking his chances, but knows that Ramsay would hunt him down and inflict worse torments.

The next day, another man is found naked and frozen to death, and then a crossbowman is found with his head bashed in. The former death is attributed to drink, the latter to a kick from a horse, but Theon has his doubts. And the deaths begin to unnerve Bolton's lords, who argue that they should stop waiting for Stannis and go out to meet him, while others argue the opposite, pointing out that the scouts they have sent to reconnoiter have all disappeared. Lord Wyman Manderly even seems to go out of his way to pick a fight with Ser Aenys Frey, and when Roose Bolton is forced to make peace between them, Theon thinks he sees a glint of something like fear in Bolton's eyes.

That night, the roof of the stable collapses under the weight of snow, killing twenty-six horses and two men. Lord Bolton orders the remaining horses brought inside the Great Hall, compounding the stench and filth. And when the men have finished digging out the dead horses and butchering them for food, another body is found.
This one could not be waved away as some drunken tumble or the kick of a horse. The dead man was one of Ramsay's favorites, the squat, scrofulous, ill-favored man-at-arms called Yellow Dick. Whether his dick had actually been yellow was hard to determine, as someone had sliced it off and stuffed it in his mouth so forcefully they had broken three of his teeth.
Roose Bolton tries to hush this death up, but the story spreads, and Ramsay Bolton vows to flay the murderer and have him eat his own skin.

Escaping from the stench of the hall and the taunts of Ramsay's men, Theon goes outside into the snow, walking the pathways cut through snowbanks that now loom chest high. There he encounters a man in a hooded cloak who addresses him as "Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer." Theon denies the epithets: "I'm not. I never ... I was ironborn." The man persists in his denunciation, and all that Theon, who wonders if this might be the murderer stalking Winterfell, can offer in his defense is that he is at Ramsay Bolton's mercy now: He shows the man his maimed hand and says, "Lord Ramsay is not done with me." The man laughs and says he will leave Theon to him.

Theon climbs to the battlements and looks out on the nothingness, thinking,
The world is gone. King's Landing, Riverrun, Pyke, and the Iron Islands, all the Seven Kingdoms, every place that he had ever known, every place that he had ever read about or dreamed of, all gone. Only Winterfell remained. He was trapped here, with the ghosts. The old ghosts from the crypts and the younger ones that he had made himself, Mikken and Farlen, Gynir Rednose Aggar, Gelmarr the Grim, the miller's wife from Acorn Water and her two young sons, and all the rest. My work. My ghosts. They are all here, and they are angry. He thought of the crypts and those missing swords.
When he returns to his chambers, he is summoned by Lord Bolton, whom he finds with Lady Dustin, Roger Ryswell, and Aenys Frey. Roose Bolton comes to the point: Theon has been seen wandering the castle. Theon explains that he can't sleep, and that he is familiar with Winterfell from childhood. When Bolton points out that someone has been killing his men, Theon says he wouldn't do such a thing. Then Lady Dustin asks him to remove his gloves. He hesitates, but shows them that his left hand is missing two fingers and his right one. Aenys Frey observes that Theon could still hold a dagger with his right hand, but Lady Dustin scoffs, "He hardly has the strength to hold a spoon." Ryswell agrees that Theon isn't the killer, and Roose Bolton is inclined to agree.

They proceed to discuss who might be behind the murders, including Lord Wyman Manderly. Lady Dustin and Ryswell point out that almost everyone in the north, their own houses included, has a grudge against the Freys for the Red Wedding. Finally, Roose dismisses Theon, who goes out to walk the walls some more, trying to get tired enough to sleep.

Suddenly there is the sound of a horn, followed by the beat of a drum. But no one can see through the veil of falling snow. When one of the Freys suggests they ride out and meet the enemy -- everyone assumes the horn and drum have been sounded by Stannis -- Theon hopes they will: "Ride out into the snow and die. Leave Winterfell to me and the ghosts." Then he hopes that Roose Bolton will give him a sword and let him fight: "Then at least he might die a man's death, sword in hand."

Theon makes his way to the godswood, where the hot springs have continued to melt the snow. He can hear the drumming, but he also hears the leaves of the trees whispering his name. He kneels and begs to be allowed to "die as Theon, not Reek." A leaf falls and brushes his face: "It floated on the water, red, five-fingered, like a bloody hand. '...Bran,' the tree murmured." The face carved in the tree suddenly seems to be Bran's, and he begins to plead aloud that it hadn't been Bran and Rickon that he killed. "They were only miller's sons, from the mill by the Acorn Water."

Then someone speaks: "Who are you talking to?" He turns around and sees three of the washerwomen: Holly, Rowan, and an older woman whose name he doesn't know. They repeat the words he has spoken, his confession that he needed two heads to prove that he had captured Bran and Rickon, because otherwise he would have been laughed at. He sees that Holly has a knife, and he asks her to kill him. He realizes that they are the killers.

Rowan says, "You prayed, and the gods sent us. You want to die as Theon? We'll give you that. A nice quick death, 'twill hardly hurt at all.... But not till you've sung for Abel. He's waiting for you."


Tyrion and Penny are being sold at slave auction as "A pair of dwarfs, well trained for your amusement." The dog and the pig are being thrown in as part of the deal. When the bidding for them slows, they are ordered to put on a show for the bidders, and Tyrion takes a pratfall from the back of the pig that renews the competition. Finally, they are sold to an enormously fat man in yellow.

They are in the Yunkish camp within sight of the walls of Meereen. The overseer tells them that they are now "the property of the noble and valorous Yezzan zo Qaggaz, scholar and warrior, revered amongst the Wise Masters of Yunkai." The overseer himself, says that they should call him "Nurse," because he looks after the "special treasures" of Yezzan the way a nurse does the children under her charge.

Then Jorah Mormont is brought to the block, struggling against the handlers. He has been so badly beaten that he is almost unrecognizable, and the auctioneer suggests he should be bought as a contender in the fighting pits which were being reopened after Daenerys's marriage to Hizdahr. The bidding is not going well -- no one seems to want the obviously untamed Ser Jorah -- and he is about to be sold to an old woman who buys up fighters cheaply when Tyrion decides to intervene. He tells Nurse that Jorah is part of the act: He plays a bear in an act in which Tyrion is a knight who saves the fair maiden Penny. "I dance about and hit him in the balls. Very funny." So Nurse goes to tell Yezzan, who offers the winning bid.

Mormont is brought to the cart and thrown in with Tyrion and Penny, but he is no longer struggling. "All the fight went out of him when he heard that his queen had wed, Tyrion realized." They are taken to Yezzan's pavilion in the Yunkish camps, which form a crescent around the city of Meereen. Ships had brought the lumber for six giant trebuchets that tower over the camps. But Tyrion also sees evidence of the disease that has spread through the camps: "Disease could wipe out an army quicker than any battle, he had heard his father say once," and he resolves to try to escape as soon as possible.

Tyrion and Penny are housed inside Yezzan's vast pavilion, which is covered with lemon-colored silk. They are fitted with collars around their necks, and Penny cries because hers is so heavy. There are also bells attached to the collars. Mormont is chained to a stake outside the tent. Tyrion and Penny join "Yezzan's other treasures: a boy with twisted, hairy 'goat legs,' a two-headed girl out of Mantarys, a bearded woman, and a willowy creature called Sweets who dressed in moonstones and Myrish lace," and who demonstrates her private parts for them: "I'm both, and master loves me best." She warns them that Nurse "is the only true monster here." As for their master, Yezzan, he is slowly dying, and anyone who can make him forget that elicits his generosity.

That night they are called on to entertain Yezzan and his guests who include Yurkhaz zo Yunzak, the Yunkish supreme commander, and Brown Ben Plumm, whom Tyrion had seen at the auction. Plumm had in fact bid on the dwarfs against Yezzan, and although Tyrion knew that Plumm might be planning to take him back to Westeros and to Cersei, he figured he would rather take his chances with him than with Yezzan.

The act goes over well, and afterward the dwarfs are called on to serve the guests, Tyrion pouring wine and Penny water. Then someone mentions that Tyrion had boasted of his prowess at cyvasse, and he winds up playing against Brown Ben Plumm, who first wagers that if he wins, Yezzan should give Tyrion to him. But Yezzan says that if he can defeat Tyrion, he will pay Plumm the price he paid for him, in gold. Tyrion wins easily, but Yezzan has fallen asleep. Nevertheless, he was pleased by their performance, Nurse tells them. "To celebrate the signing of the peace, you shall have the honor of jousting in the Great Pit of Daznak. Thousands will come see you! Tens of thousands! And, oh, how we shall laugh!" 

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