By Charles Matthews

Monday, January 23, 2012

25. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 661-686


The peace treaty between Meereen and the Yunkai'i is being signed, and the fighting pits have been reopened as part of the celebration. Daenerys is not happy: Though she married Hizdahr to bring about peace, she feels defeated. Hizdahr assures her that it's only temporary: When the Yunkai'i leave, they will "have all we desired. Peace, food, trade. Our port is open once again, and ships are being permitted to come and go."

But she objects that the Yunkai are trading in slaves outside her own walls, mocking her as powerless. She tries to console herself that by agreeing to the peace terms she has saved thousands of lives: "This is the price of peace, I pay it willingly. If I look back, I am lost."

At the feast, she notes how unimpressive the Yunkish commanders are, and how the sellswords they had hired are swaggering bravos. Brown Ben Plumm has appeared, but only after an exchange of hostages to keep Daenerys's men from killing him. Among the hostages sent to the Yunkish camp are her bloodrider Jhogo, her admiral Groleo, and Daario Naharis. The last was furious at the wedding and at the peace terms, so it was just as well he wasn't present at the feast.

When the party goes out to the terrace to look at the city, she encounters Brown Ben Plumm, who is insouciant about his deserting her, arguing that he didn't want to be on the losing side and advising her, "Never trust a sellsword." Ser Barristan, who has overheard their conversation, tells Daenerys, after Plumm has left, that it's good advice. She talks with him about ways of getting rid of Brown Ben, and wonders if there is a way to use the Dornishmen who include Prince Quentyn. "The three Dornishmen had been at the feast, as befit Prince Quentyn's rank, though Reznak had taken care to seat them as far as possible from her husband," who might see Quentyn as a rival suitor.

Barristan reminds her that House Martell had been a loyal ally to the Targaryens, and that Quentyn had been stubbornly insistent about his plans to marry her. So she tells him to bring Quentyn to her: "It is time he met my children." She and Quentyn descend to the place where the dragons are caged.
One of the elephants trumpeted at them from his stall. An answering roar from below made her flush with sudden heat. Prince Quentyn looked up in alarm. "The dragons know when she is near," Ser Barristan told him.
Viserion has broken and melted his chains and clings "to the roof of the pit like some huge white bat." Rhaegal is still chained, and is eating the carcass of a bull. When Quentyn asks about the third, she tells him just, "Drogon is hunting." Quentyn is terrified, but she assures him that they frighten her too. Still, she tells him, she intends to learn to ride one of them.

Then she advises him to return to Dorne. "My court is no safe place for you, I fear. You have more enemies than you know. You made Daario look a fool, and he is not a man to forget such a slight." He stubbornly insists that he is a prince of Dorne and "will not run from slaves and sellswords." She reflects that he is a fool.

That night, Hizdahr makes drunken love to her, after which he whispers, "Gods grant that we have made a son tonight." But she can only remember Mirri Maz Duur's prophecy of her barrenness. When he falls asleep, her thoughts turn to Daario. Then Missandei enters to say she thought she heard Daenerys crying. Daenerys denies it, but asks Missandei to stay and talk to her about happy things until she falls asleep, "to dream queer, half-formed dreams of smoke and fire."


The horns and drum of Stannis's troops are still heard, but the attack hasn't yet materialized. Theon waits for it in the Great Hall and keeps an eye on Abel, Rowan, and another of the washerwomen who is known as Squirrel.  Seeing Ramsay Bolton enter the hall, Theon is filled with fear and whispers to Abel that his escape plan won't work. But Abel insists that Stannis is just outside the walls of Winterfell, and that Theon needn't worry.

Just then the doors of the hall burst open and Ser Hosteen Frey enters, carrying the body of Little Walder Frey. Theon instantly assumes that the washerwomen are responsible for the murder, but Rowan assures him that they weren't. In any case, Ramsay Bolton is enraged at the loss of his favorite, and Hosteen accuses Wyman Manderly of ordering the killing. Wyman asks how old the boy was, and when he is told Little Walder was nine, says, "So young.... Though mayhaps this was  a blessing. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey."

Hosteen attacks Wyman with his longsword: "The blade slashed through three of his four chins in a spray of bright red blood." The room erupts in turmoil as Manderly slumps to the floor and his men come to his defense. By the time Roose Bolton is able to restore order, six of Manderly's men and two of the Freys are dead. A maester arrives with a raven, and Bolton reads the message it has brought: Stannis's company, "snowbound and starving," is three days' away. He orders Hosteen to gather his troops and leave by the main gate, and Manderly to dispatch his by the east gate. Hosteen vows that when he returns with Stannis's head, he will finish cutting off that of Manderly, who is being treated by a maester. Ramsay Bolton orders them all to prepare to fight Stannis, and Roose echoes his son: "There will be time enough to fight one another once we are done with Stannis."

Abel is called on for a song as the Freys begin to lead their horses out of the hall, and Rowan grasps Theon's arm to tell him it is time to put the plan they have discussed in effect: "Bolton is sending forth his swords. We have to reach King Stannis before they do." Theon thinks what they have planned is madness, but he gives in and goes with Rowan to the godswood. They are joined there by Squirrel, Holly, and three more of the washerwomen.

The plan is to engineer an escape for Jeyne Poole by disguising her as Squirrel, who is almost the same size. Squirrel will exit by a window and scale down the tower wall while Jeyne exits with the other maids. Theon's task is one he does regularly: to fetch the water for Jeyne's bath. The washerwomen, pretending to be Jeyne's maids, will carry it to her chambers.

Jeyne is huddled in terror in her room when they make it past the guards with the bathwater. Rowan addresses her as "Lady Arya" -- Theon hasn't revealed her true identity to his co-conspirators. They tell her that they are going to take her to her brother, which confuses Jeyne, who says she has no brothers. Theon realizes that the horribly abused girl isn't entirely sure who she is anymore, but Rowan explains that they are going to get her to Jon Snow at the Wall.

Jeyne resists, terrorized as she has been by Ramsay, and the women tell Theon to handle her. He gently persuades her to go along with the plan. They quickly dress her in Squirrel's clothing, and to Theon's surprise and relief they make it past the guards outside the door. His fear returns as they go down the stairs, but even the guards outside the doors barely look at them. Theon feels sorry for them: "Ramsay would flay them all when he learned his bride was gone, and what he would do to Grunt and Sour Alyn" -- the guards outside the bedchamber door -- "did not bear thinking about."

The snowstorm continues to conceal them as they make their way through the paths through the snow, which in places is higher than their heads. At an intersection, Rowan sends Theon and Jeyne on with Holly and Frenya, while she and the others go to fetch Abel. When they reach another pair of guards, Holly and Frenya kill them both, but Jeyne screams when she sees what is happening. Theon puts his hand over her mouth and pulls her along with him as they run.

They reach the steps to the battlements, and Theon slings Jeyne over his shoulder as he begins to climb. Halfway up, he slips on the ice and hurts his knee, but Holly helps him back to his feet and together they get Jeyne to the top of the battlements. Frenya remains behind to attack any pursuers. But when they reach the top, Holly realizes that Frenya has the rope they need to climb down. Then she is pierced by arrows and falls.

Realizing that they have been discovered, and that there are crossbowmen on the inner wall and men racing toward them with drawn swords, Theon does the only thing he can do: He grabs Jeyne and jumps.

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