By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

26. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 687-716


Irri, Jhiqui, and Missandei help Daenerys get ready for the reopening of the fighting pits. Ser Barristan waits for them at the palanquin, which will be guarded by Brazen Beasts, the guards who wear bronze masks of various animals. Barristan voices his uneasiness about the guards, wishing that she were attended by Unsullied instead, who are more trustworthy. But Daenerys feels she needs to make an example by placing her trust in these men.

Barristan also tells her that the sellsword army known as the Windblown are willing to come over to her side, but their leader, the Tattered Prince, wants Pentos as his reward. Pentos is not hers to give, she replies, and in any case she owes an obligation to Magister Illyrio whose home is there. He arranged her marriage to Khal Drogo, presented her the dragon eggs, and even sent Barristan, Belwas, and her admiral, Groleo, to her. "I will not repay that debt by giving his city to some sellsword."

She takes her place on the palanquin beside Hizdahr and they are borne to Daznak's Pit as the crowds cheer their procession. Strong Belwas walks ahead of the palanquin and Barristan rides beside it. Behind them, farther back, are Quentyn Martell and his companions. Suddenly the procession halts: One of the bearers of a palanquin has collapsed and is blocking the way. Daenerys orders him revived and given food and water, but Barristan suspects a trap. Hizdahr assures him that their enemies, the Sons of the Harpy, have been quieted.

They reach the pit and descend to their ringside seats. Peddlers are everywhere, selling food, but Hizdahr has taken charge of their refreshments, which include a bowl of honeyed locusts. These are a particular favorite of Strong Belwas, who begins eating them by the handful. Hizdahr urges her to try some: "They are rolled in spice before the honey, so they are sweet and hot at once," but Daenerys decides to have some figs and dates instead.

Hizdahr rises and addresses the crowd, urging them to show their love for Daenerys. They respond with a chant of "Mhysa, Mhysa, Mhysa," the word for "Mother." She is embarrassed by the adulation, but acknowledges it, then takes her seat. They are in the shade, but the day is very hot, and she calls on Jhiqui to bring her some water.

The first fight ends with one man cutting out the heart of his victim and taking a bite out of it, reminding Daenerys of how she once ate a stallion's heart when she was pregnant. It had not prevented her losing the child to Mirri Maz Duur's treachery. She remembers the prophecy of three treasons: "She was the first, Jorah the second, Brown Ben Plumm the third. Was she done with betrayals?"

When the crowd screams its approval of another kill, Strong Belwas proclaims it "Bad fighting, good dying." He has finished off the honeyed locusts. Daenerys has forbidden contests between children, but she is upset when a sixteen-year-old boy is killed. She wishes she had forbidden contests of women, too, but the women fighters had insisted on showing that they could fight as well as men. She also wanted to ban the "comic combats where cripples, dwarfs, and crones had at one another with cleavers, torches, and hammers," but Hizdahr had persuaded her that people enjoy these too much and "that without such frolics, the cripples, dwarfs, and crones would starve." There are battles between animals as well, and Hizdahr assures her that the meat is used to make a stew for the poor.

The first comic battle of the day features a pair of dwarfs, one riding a dog, the other a pig. Daenerys tries to look amused at their combat, but then Hizdahr assures her it will get better when they loose the lions on the dwarfs. Startled, she asks how they are supposed to fight lions with wooden swords. Hizdahr replies, "Badly," and explains that the dwarfs aren't expecting it. "I forbid it," Daenerys says.
"You swore to me that the fighters would be grown men who had freely consented to risk their lives for gold and honor. These dwarfs did not consent to battle lions with wooden swords. You will stop it. Now."
Reluctantly, Hizdahr calls the pitmaster over and says, "No lions." The crowd is not pleased when the dwarfs are allowed to leave, so Hizdahr has Barsena Blackhair, a woman fighter, brought on, which brings cheers from the crowd. She fights a boar, but loses, and the smell as the boar rips into Barsena's entrails nauseates Daenerys. She asks Barristan to take her home. Hizdahr pleads with her to stay, and suddenly Strong Belwas is looking ill, too. He says he ate too many locusts, and calls for milk.

Then a shadow passes across the scene, and everyone looks at the sky. It is Drogon, who descends on the pit and roasts the boar with a blast of flame. Then he lands and begins to eat both the boar and Barsena. The crowd begins to panic and leave, climbing out of the arena, though many others remain seated. Then a man with a spear runs into the arena and jumps onto Drogon's back, driving the spear into the dragon's neck. "Dany and Drogon screamed as one." The dragon shakes off the man and tears his arm from the shoulder, as Hizdahr calls out for the other spearmen to attack.

Barristan grabs Daenerys and urges her to look away from what is happening. Instead, she twists away from him, leaps into the pit, and runs toward Drogon. The dragon is making short work of the spearmen as Daenerys calls out his name. He snaps at her, barely missing her, and she falls over the body of the pitmaster. Drogon roars at her and she feels the intense heat of his breath. She hears Ser Barristan nearby, calling out, trying to distract the dragon.

She grasps the pitmaster's whip, and telling herself not to show fear, lashes out at Drogon, screaming "No!" He hisses fire at her again, but she ducks. Then he folds his wings and stretches out on his belly. She jumps onto the dragon's back and wrenches out the spear that is still stuck in him. Then he unfolds his wings and starts to fly, as she urges him to go higher.


Tormund Giantsbane and Jon Snow negotiate, with a lot of cursing and bellowing on Tormund's part, and a lot of quiet persistence on Jon's. In the end, quiet persistence wins out and Tormund says, "Done then, and may the gods forgive me," then sticks out his hand for a bone-crushing handshake. In three days' time Tormund and his followers are to join the other wildlings on the south side of the Wall.

When they go outside, Jon whistles for Ghost, who appears with Val beside him. Jon tells her that he has prepared a room for her in Hardin's Tower, since Queen Selyse has taken over her old rooms in the King's Tower. She will have the giant Wun Wun as a protector, since he sleeps in the entry hall. As they pass among Tormund's people, he notices signs of illness and starvation, which only arouses his concern about what has happened to the people who went to Hardhome with Mother Mole.

He tells Val that he now has to sell the terms of his agreement with Tormund to his own people, starting with Selyse. She suggests that she come with him, and he agrees, warning her that she will have to kneel and show seriousness when they go before the queen. She says she will behave, and when they are shown into Selyse's chamber, she kneels alongside Jon. He informs the queen that they have come to terms with Tormund and that his people, about four thousand of them, plus two hundred giants and eighty mammoths, will be relocating south of the Wall.

Selyse says that they "must first acknowledge Stannis as their king and R'hllor as their god," but Jon tells her that those terms were not included in the agreement, which the queen responds to frostily. When she says they must be made to do so, Val informs her that not only do the free folk not kneel, but that they will rebel if forced to do so. Selyse replies, "You are insolent. I suppose that is only to be expected of a wildling. We must find you a husband who can teach you courtesy." Jon says he is sorry that his negotiations displease her, and asks her leave to go, which she grants.

Outside, Val observes that Princess Shireen, who had been in the room when they first arrived is afflicted with what the wildlings call the "grey death." Jon replies that greyscale is not fatal when contracted in childhood, but Val insists, "The grey death sleeps, only to wake again. The child is not clean!" She wants Dalla's child, whom she refers to as "the monster," removed from the tower. Jon says he'll try to arrange it and she persists, "Do. You owe me a debt, Jon Snow."

When she has gone, Jon rides in the winch cage to the top of the Wall. He is joined there by Flint, Norrey, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, and Septon Cellador, who is drunk as usual. He tells them of the agreement and gets the usual objections, many of them centering on the Weeper, the wildling who had killed many of the men of the Watch. Jon reminds them that if the Weeper takes the black, his crimes must be forgiven, and that he is well acquainted with their common enemy, the Others. He tells them that they will be housed in the Watch's abandoned castles along the Wall. He doesn't tell them about the arrangement he has made with the Iron Bank for funds, but says that the agreement includes the surrendering of all wealth possessed by the wildlings.

Still, they are unconvinced that the words of "godless savages," as Cellador puts it, can be trusted. Jon tells them that he has insisted on hostages, a hundred boys ages eight through sixteen, including the sons of chiefs and captains. And he reminds him that he is Eddard Stark's son, who knows the ways of northmen and wildlings. But Bowen Marsh speaks up:
"The lord commander must pardon my bluntness, but I have no softer way to say this. What you propose is nothing less than treason. For eight thousand years the men of the Night's Watch have stood upon the Wall and fought these wildlings. Now you mean to let them pass, to shelter them in our castles, to feed them and clothe them and teach them how to fight. Lord Snow, must I remind you?  You swore an oath." 
Jon needs no reminding, and he repeats the oath verbatim. The wildlings are men, he says, and they swore to guard "the realms of men." Marsh starts to reply, but remains silent as Jon turns away. Then Jon reminds them that winter is coming and with it the white walkers. They must be stopped at the Wall, and he has done what he can do to try to stop them. He gives them orders for handling the influx of wildlings and they agree, but he remembers Melisandre's words: "'Ice,' she said, 'and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel.'"

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