By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

27. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 717-740


Imprisoned and watched over by three stern and pious septas, Cersei has lost touch with the outside world. She spends her time longing for Jaime to come rescue her and brooding over the treachery of her onetime followers, who have either yielded to torture and testified against her, or fled. "She stood accused of adultery, fornication, high treason, even murder, for Osney Kettleblack had confessed to smothering the last High Septon at her command."

Whenever she dozes off, a septa wakes her to demand that she confess to her crimes. And finally, worried about what will happen to Tommen and the realm, she does. As she is being taken to see the High Septon, she asks about Tommen and is told he is "well protected, day and night. The queen is with him, always." This angers and surprises her -- "I am the queen!" she thinks, and then she wonders if Margaery has somehow been exonerated of the crimes she was accused of -- but when she asks for more information, another of the septas admonishes the one who had told her that much.

She kneels before the High Septon to confess, and he tells Septa Unella, the sternest of the three, to stay and record what Cersei says. She confesses to adultery, and when he insists on the names, she lists Lancel Lannister, Osney Kettleblack, and his brothers Osfryd and Osmund, but claims she had sex with the Kettleblacks only to ensure protection for Tommen. As for Lancel, she blames her female frailty in the aftermath of her husband's death. But she swears that she was never unfaithful to Robert Baratheon while he was alive.

The High Septon then says that Osney claims she ordered the death of his predecessor and that she told him to lie about Queen Margaery and her cousins. She denies having engineered the accusations against Margaery and the others, and says she only complained about the High Septon: "He was Tyrion's creature, weak and corrupt, a stain upon our Holy Faith." Osney, she says, must have taken her complaints more seriously than she intended. Then the High Septon says she has been accused of conspiracy to murder her husband, Robert. She realizes that the source of this must be Lancel, and insists that Robert was killed by a boar. "Do they say I am a skinchanger now? A warg?" She denies it.

Finally, he tells her, "there are some who say your children were not fathered by King Robert, that they are bastards born of incest and adultery." She blames Stannis for spreading this story, which she calls "a palpable lie." The High Septon seems to be ready to accept this accusation as the product of Stannis's ambition for the throne: "Lord Stannis has turned from the truth of the Seven to worship a red demon, and his false faith has no place in these Seven Kingdoms." Cersei now sees a glimmer of hope.

But, the High Septon tells her, she will still have to stand trial. And when she asks to see Tommen, he tells her it wouldn't be right to let her near the king until after the trial has demonstrated her innocence. He will allow her other visitors, one a day. As they accompany her back to her cell, one of the septas says Cersei "must feel so much lighter now, clean and innocent as a maid on the morning of her wedding." Cersei thinks, "I fucked Jaime on the morning of my wedding," but tells them she feels "reborn." She asks about visitors, and tells them she would like to see her uncle, Ser Kevan.

He arrives the next morning, but sternly resists her blandishments, reminding her that their last meeting didn't end well, and that she corrupted his son Lancel. He has "hard tidings" for her, he says. She asks immediately about Tommen, but is told he is well, and then about Jaime. He tells her that Jaime has gone off somewhere with a woman, who may be Brienne of Tarth. Cersei can't imagine the clumsy, homely Brienne as a rival, so she is puzzled and dismayed.

Kevan goes on to inform her that companies of sellswords have been landing in the south. He assumes that they have been hired by Stannis, but Mace Tyrell refuses to deal with them until the matter with Margaery has been settled. Cersei would be happy to settle the matter by chopping off Margaery's head, but she holds her tongue. She pleads with her uncle to get her out of the prison, but he says the High Septon refuses to release her until she has atoned for her sins.

She protests that she has confessed, but he replies, "Atoned, I said. Before the city. A walk--". Cersei knows what that involves and refuses, "I am a queen, not some dockside whore." She would "sooner die," she tells him. It may come to that, he tells her: "His High Holiness is resolved that you be tried for regicide, deicide, incest, and high treason." The only one of the charges that surprises her is "deicide":  "When did I kill a god?" He explains that the murder of the High Septon is a form of deicide.

She will be tried by the Faith, he tells her, unless she chooses trial by combat, with a champion drawn from the Kingsguard.
"Whatever the outcome, your rule is at an end. I will serve as Tommen's regent until he comes of age. Mace Tyrell has been named King's Hand. Grand Maester Pycelle and Ser Harys Swift will continue as before, but Paxter Redwyne is now lord admiral and Randall Tarly has assumed the duties of justiciar." 
Redwyne and Tarly are bannermen of the Tyrells, she realizes. She asks why Margaery and her cousins have been freed and she hasn't, and is told that Randall Tarly brought his army with him and persuaded the High Septon to put them in his custody and swore to deliver them for trial. But the case against them has grown weaker: "All of the men named as the queen's lovers have denied the accusation or recanted, save for your maimed singer, who appears to be quite mad." Qyburn is in charge of them in the dungeons at the Red Keep, which makes her feel better.

Then Kevan breaks the news about Myrcella's mutilation. Cersei immediately jumps to the conclusion that Tyrion is behind it, but Kevan assures her the culprit is "a Dornish knight named Gerold Dayne." Ser Arys Oakheart was killed defending her. She realizes that this means there is an opening on the Kingsguard, so she urges her uncle to consult with Qyburn: He'll be able to name someone for the Kingsguard who can defend her in a trial by combat.

The Queensguard

Daenerys's disappearance has thrown her court into turmoil. Already, Barristan has been informed that he has no place at court in her absence -- she is presumed to be dead, which he refuses to believe. Strong Belwas is being cared for by the Graces, after his collapse from eating the honeyed locusts. Skahaz has been relieved of his command, and the Unsullied remain in their barracks. The hostages remain in the hands of the Yunkai'i, including Jhogo, while the other members of Daenerys's khalasar have gone off to search for her. Hizdahr has also dismissed Missandei from service.

Reznak mo Reznak remains, acting as a liaison between Hizdahr and Daenerys's people, and he tells Barristan that Hizdahr has chosen pit fighters as his personal guard. Barristan knows that this is because Hizdahr doesn't trust either the Unsullied or Skahaz's Brazen Beasts. But Barristan is to be kept around to command forces against external enemies, Reznak says. Barristan knows this is nonsense, but he hides his real feelings: "I am His Grace's to command," he says, only to be corrected by Reznak: The proper address is "His Magnificence, His Radiance, His Worship." He takes his leave of the perfumed seneschal, hiding his contempt.

Hizdahr has not occupied Daenerys's chambers, however, preferring a more secure location. Barristan goes there and finds only Missandei -- Irri and Jhiqui have joined the other Dothraki in the search. He is full of regret: "I came to bring Daenerys home. Yet he had lost her, just as he had lost her father and her brother. Even Robert. I failed him too." He had seen Drogon fly off with Daenerys on his back, and had learned later that the dragon had turned his fire on the people who had shot arrows at him, killing more than two hundred and burning or wounding three times that number.

Missandei assures him that Daenerys has not flown to Westeros, that she would not abandon her followers. She also tells him that Skahaz mo Kandaq wants to speak with him. He doesn't trust the Shavepate but agrees to the meeting. Alone, he thinks about his failures:
Jaehaerys, Aerys, Robert. Three dead kings. Rhaegar, who would have been a finer king than any of them. Princess Elia and the children. Aegon just a babe. Rhaenys with her kitten. Dead, every one, yet he still lived, who had sworn to protect them. And now Daenerys, his bright shining child queen. She is not dead. I will not believe it.
That evening he goes out to the meeting Missandei has arranged with Skahaz, uncertain whether he shouldn't arrest him for conspiring against Hizdahr, his queen's consort. He finds the Shavepate wearing the mask of a Brazen Beast: a cat. He tells Barristan that he has discovered who poisoned the honeyed locusts: "The Sons of the Harpy tood his daughter and swore she would be returned once the queen was dead." Belwas's taste for the locust saved Daenerys, as did the dragon. But the poisoner's girl was returned to him "in nine pieces. One for every year she lived."

Moreover, he says, Volantis has launched its fleet and is sailing to Meereen. "The king will open the city gates to the Volantenes when they arrive. All those Daenerys freed will be enslaved again. Even some who were never slaves will be fitted for chains. You may end your days in a fighting pit, old man." He urges an attack on the Yunkai'i, who are fat and complacent, and says Barristan must contact the Unsullied.

Barristan is cautious about getting caught up in a treasonous plot, but Skahaz insists that Hizdahr is behind the attempt to poison Daenerys: He always wanted the crown, and once he gained it had no interest in sharing it. Barristan remembers Hizdahr urging Daenerys to try the locusts, "yet he never touched so much as one himself." He wants to talk to the man who prepared them. Skahaz agrees, and says he won't make a move against Hizdahr until they are certain of his guilt. And Barristan agrees to talk to Grey Worm, the leader of the Unsullied.

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