By Charles Matthews

Sunday, January 22, 2012

24. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 632-660


Jaime is making his way to Raventree, the besieged castle that is one of the last holdouts of Robb Stark's short-lived kingdom. If he can end this siege he can make his way back to King's Landing and deal with Cersei, whose call for help he has ignored. He goes to meet with Lord Jonos Bracken, who has been attempting to starve the castle into submission, but walks in on him in flagrante with a camp follower.

Once she is sent on her way and Bracken has dressed himself, Jaime talks with him about proposing terms of surrender to Lord Blackwood. Bracken wants to make sure that he takes a share of the lands now belonging to Blackwood. Bracken had been loyal to Robb Stark until the Red Wedding, when he switched allegiance to Tommen, so Jaime is not inclined to be terribly generous. Still he promises Bracken some of the lands he wants.

Under a flag of truce, Jaime goes to meet Lord Tytos Blackwood and arranges the terms of surrender. Blackwood agrees to all of them, but when it comes to naming a hostage he resists parting with his daughter, Bethany. Jaime finally agrees to take his "bookish" son Hoster, "a gangling, gawky boy" about sixteen. When he returns to Bracken with Hoster, the lord calls the boy a "weakling" and says "any one of my girls could snap him like a rotten twig." So Jaime takes the opportunity to order Bracken to send one of his daughters to King's Landing to serve the queen.

He summons Hoster to ride alongside him, and hears a good deal of the local history from the boy, whose interest in books reminds him of Tyrion until he remembers what his brother had done. The Brackens and Blackwoods have been fighting and intermarrying for centuries, and Jaime tells Hoster of his father's advice: "Never wound a foe when you can kill him. Dead men don't claim vengeance." But when Hoster asks if that's why the Lannisters killed all the Starks, Jaime has to admit that not all of the Starks are dead, including the one, Sansa, whom he had sent Brienne to find.

They camp at Pennytree, where the villagers have all taken refuge in the holdfast. Rather than force them out, Jaime tells his men to take shelter in the houses but not to steal anything. He is contemplating the tree that gives the town its name -- an ancient oak with hundreds of copper pennies nailed to it -- when  a scout arrives with none other than Brienne, who had asked to see him.

Jaime is startled by her face, and the fact that she looks ten years older. She tells him that she has found Sansa and that she's a day's ride away. "I can take you to her, ser ... but you will need to come alone. Elsewise, the Hound will kill her."


Melisandre is praying to R'hllor, with Queen Selyse and the queen's men in attendance, though Jon notices that many of the men are obviously not devout followers of the Lord of Light. He suspects that Stannis had a hand in selecting them. Alys Karstark is being married to Sigorn, the Magnar of Thenn. Alys's uncle, Cregan, had pursued her with four men, one of whom died in the fight they started. The living ones are now imprisoned in ice cells in the Wall.

Jon offers to have Satin show the queen the way to the wedding feast, but Ser Malegorn, one of the queen's men, steps up to say he will escort Selyse, intimating his contempt for the former male prostitute. As the royal party makes its way, the fool Patchface chants nonsense. Melisandre tells Jon that she has seen Patchface in her flames and considers him dangerous. Jon asks if she has seen Stannis, but she says whenever she tries, all she sees is snow. But she also tells Jon, "I see your face every time I look into the flames. The danger that I warned you of grows very close now."

Jon continues to doubt Melisandre's visions, and he reminds her that she was mistaken about the "grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from a marriage" -- she turned out to be Alys, not Arya. But Melisandre insists, "The vision was a true one. It was my reading that was false. I am as mortal as you, Jon Snow. All mortals err." She urges him to keep Ghost close beside him.

Jon goes to the ice cell where Cregan Karstark is imprisoned and tells him that Alys is married. Cregan protests that she was promised to him by his father, Arnolf, but Jon insists that Arnolf is not the rightful Lord of Karhold. If Alys's brother, Harrion, is dead, then she is the heir, and she has married Sigorn. "A wildling. A filthy, murdering wildling," Cregan protests. Nevertheless, Jon says, Sigorn commands two hundred Thenns, and two of Cregan's men have admitted that Arnolf Karstark had conspired with Ramsay Bolton. "Yield the castle. Lady Alys will pardon the women who betrayed her and allow the men to take the black." Cregan says he will never do that.

Jon goes to the wedding feast, but it only reminds him of how low the supplies at Castle Black are becoming. He talks with Alys about the situation at Karhold, where supplies are also running low, and suggests that she send the old men and the boys to the Wall rather than have them die alone in the snow. Clydas arrives with a letter brought by a raven from Eastwatch to say that the rescue mission has set off for Hardhome and that Ser Glendon Hewett is in charge at Eastwatch. Jon worries about this: Hewett was friends with Alliser Thorne and had been "a crony of sorts with Janos Slynt."

When Alys gets up to dance with Sigorn, Ser Axell Florent sits down beside Jon to press once again the idea of marrying Val. His coarseness angers Jon and they exchange words. But then the sound of a horn is heard. It is followed by a second, and Jon realizes that Val has completed her mission to Tormund Giantsbane.

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