By Charles Matthews

Friday, January 27, 2012

29. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 769-792


Jon has a nightmare in which he is fighting not only wildlings but also dead men of the Night's Watch such as Donal Noye and Qhorin Halfhand. He wakes to find Mormont's raven pecking at him and screeching "Snow," and is soon full of misgivings about the treaty he has made with Tormund. As he dresses, he notices something odd: The raven is muttering his full name, "Snow, Jon Snow, Jon Snow." He can't remember its ever doing that before.

At breakfast Bowen Marsh assures him they are ready to receive the wildlings, and Jon reiterates his concern that all go well: "If blood should be shed today, it had best not be one of us who strikes the first blow, or I swear by the old gods and the new that I will have the head of the man who strikes it." He prepares his men to receive Tormund's hordes and gives the order to open the gate.

He goes to meet Tormund, who tells Jon he wants his people to see him: "a long-faced lad in an old black cloak. They need to learn that the Night's Watch is naught t'be feared." In reply, Jon whistles for Ghost, who bounds out of the gate and causes Tormund's horse to shy. Calling Jon "a black-hearted bastard," Tormund sounds the horn for his people to begin their journey through the Wall.

It lasts all day, beginning with the hostages, a hundred boys aged eight to sixteen. Tormund identifies some of them, including the son of Varamyr Sixskins, the skinchanger, whom Tormund believes to be dead. Two of them turn out to be girls, and Jon asks for replacements. Tormund gives Jon his own son, Dryn, and Jon says he'll make him his page. Next come the warriors, including some spearwives who remind Jon of Ygritte. Some pause to pledge themselves to Jon, and they all discard their treasures into the carts that have been prepared for them.

About midday a cart becomes wedged in the tunnel through the Wall, and a fight nearly starts over the best way to move it. Tormund says he wishes he had the Horn of Joramun to take down the Wall, and Jon tells him Melisandre burned it. Tormund claims that it wasn't really Joramun's, but just a big horn they found in a giant's grave. Jon wonders if Mance had lied to him about the horn, or if Tormund is lying now: "If Mance's horn was just a feint, where is the true horn?"

The skies begin to cloud in the afternoon, threatening snow, and the crowd moving through the Wall begins to hurry. As they wait, Jon asks Tormund to tell him about the Others. Tormund is reluctant: "They're never far, you know." They had never attacked his people in force, but he lost many outriders to them. He had lost his own son, Torwynd, to them. John murmurs, "I know," but Tormund replies,
"You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred. A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up ... how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth ... air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest ... you do not know, you cannot know ... can your sword cut cold?"
Jon remembers what Sam had found in the books about dragonsteel, and tells Tormund, "I do not know. And if the gods are good, I never will."

As night comes on, the crowd grows more impatient to make it through the Wall, and Jon recognizes the fear driving them: "Warriors, spearwives, raiders, they are frightened of those woods, of shadows moving through the trees. They want to put the Wall between them before the night descends." Smoke begins to rise from where Tormund's son, Toregg, has been burning the corpses of the wildlings who were found dead in the camp.

Finally, Tormund's rear guard of a dozen warriors appears. In its midst is an enormous boar, twice as big as Ghost. With it is a man Tormund calls Borroq, then spits. Jon realizes instantly that Borroq is a skinchanger. Ghost takes the scent of the boar and bristles and bares his teeth. Jon tells the wolf to stay, but Tormund advises him to keep Ghost locked up that night, and he will tell Borroq to do the same with the boar.

Tormund goes ahead through the Wall, leaving Jon and his guard. Jon tells Borroq to go through because they are about to close the gate. Borroq replies, "You close it good and tight. They're coming, crow." And he and the boar enter the tunnel. When Jon reaches the other side of the wall, Bowen Marsh is waiting with a tally: "Three thousand one hundred and nineteen wildlings passed through the gate today."

Clydas brings Jon a message from Cotter Pyke, who has reached Hardhome with six ships, the others having been lost to storms. "Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods." Jon readies himself for the worst.

The Discarded Knight

Hizdahr is holding court, and Barristan is present, still wearing his sword though he has been dismissed as one of the king's guards. He notes to himself how many of Daenerys's followers are missing: Missandei, Strong Belwas, Grey Worm, Aggo, Jhogo, Rakharo, Irri, Jhiqui, and Daario Naharis. Skahaz the Shavepate has been replaced as commander of the Brazen Beasts by the king's cousin, Marghaz, though Barristan wonders if Skahaz is there behind the mask of one of the Brazen Beasts.

The court begins in disorder, with people complaining loudly about the damage done to their person and property and kin by the dragon. There are cries demanding to know what has happened to Daenerys. Reznak mo Reznak struggles to keep order. Barristan tunes out of what is being said and scans the crowd, discovering Quentyn Martell and his companions at the back of the hall. He thinks, "They should not have come. Martell does not realize his danger. Daenerys was his only friend at this court, and she is gone." He feels sorry for the Dornish prince, who is certainly not the romantic figure of Daenerys's dreams: "She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud."

And then a thought occurs to Barristan: Quentyn Martell grew up in the courts of Dorne, well known for intrigue and poisonings, and is a relative of the Red Viper. Is it possible that the poisoned locusts were meant for Hizdahr, and not Daenerys? Could Quentyn had arranged for them to be delivered to eliminate his rival for Daenerys's hand? If Hizdahr had died, the peace would have ended, and Daenerys might have found it advisable to accept Quentyn as her consort and return to Westeros with him.

A delegation of Yunkishmen arrives, accompanied by the sellsword Bloodbeard, who carries a leather satchel. He pulls a severed head from it and tosses it at Reznak, who squeals and dodges. The head is that of Daenerys's admiral, Groleo. Barristan is dismayed: "Groleo was a good man. He did not deserve this end. All he ever wanted was to go home." One of the Yunkish delegation explains: There had been seven signatories to the peace treaty, and seven hostages tendered for their safety. Yurkhaz zo Yunzak had died, so Groleo's head had been taken in response.

Barristan speaks up to remind Hizdahr that Yurkhaz had been trampled to death by his own slaves fleeing from the dragon. Hizdahr seems to agree, calling Groleo's death a "breach of our peace." The Yunkish agree in turn to release three of the Meereenese hostages and to deliver Groleo's body for a proper sea burial. But the other three hostages, he says, will remain until the dragons are destroyed. "No peace is possible whilst they live." Reznak replies that the dragons are Daenerys's and cannot be destroyed without her authority, but Bloodbeard asserts that she is dead, which causes a roar of protest from the Meereenese crowd. Hizdahr says he needs to speak with his council, putting an end to the court and the uproar.

As the hall clears, Barristan approaches Quentyn and suggests that it would be wise if he didn't return to his chambers but left the city as quickly as possible. He had seen Hizdahr frown when he noticed the Dornishmen in the hall. Gerris Drinkwater laughs and asks why they should be frightened of Hizdahr, who had "quailed before the Yunkishmen." Quentyn is inclined to agree, admitting that Daenerys had also warned him, but insisting that the documented marriage pact still gives him some claim to her hand. Barristan mocks the pact as having been "made by two dead men." It envisioned Quentyn's sister marrying Daenerys's brother Viserys and has no relevance in this case. "I have no wish to salt your wounds," Barristan says to him, "but Her Grace has a new husband and an old paramour, and seems to prefer the both of them to you."

Quentyn shows his anger, but Barristan continues, telling him about the poisoned locusts. Quentyn is shocked by the news. Barristan then points out that if Hizdahr had planned the poison for Daenerys then "he will need a scapegoat" to explain it away: "Who better than a rival from a distant land who has no friends at this court? Who better than a suitor the queen spurned?" He points out that Quentyn's uncle was the Red Viper and that Quentyn has a reason to want Hizdahr dead.

Gerris Drinkwater suggests that Daario Naharis might also be considered a suspect, but Barristan points out that Daario wasn't there, having been sent as a hostage. Besides, Hizdahr needs Daario's Stormcrows, whom he would lose if he seized their captain as a poisoner. So he advises Quentyn to lie low, or even better to take the first ship to Volantis.

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