By Charles Matthews

Sunday, January 29, 2012

31. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 814-834

The Sacrifice

The storm has not abated, and Stannis's troops are snowbound on the edge of a pair of frozen lakes in which they have not even been able to catch fish through holes cut in the ice. Now the followers of R'hllor have determined that a sacrifice needs to be made to the red god and are erecting stakes for "An offering of blood and fire, the queen's men called it." The victims are to be four starving men who had turned to cannibalism.

As he is led to the stake, one of them men begins to hurl obscene insults at his captors, but is finally silenced by having his throat cut. Asha Greyjoy realizes that the man intentionally brought about his death to be spared the torment of burning.

Stannis arrives for the burning, accompanied by Arnolf Karstark, who had joined them with his own small army eight days earlier. He is expected to hold Winterfell once it is taken. Stannis gives the word for the sacrifice to proceed, and Asha forces herself to watch. When the screaming has stopped, Stannis withdraws. One of the queen's men, Clayton Suggs, approaches Asha and threatens that she'll be next to burn: She has "king's blood" that will please R'hllor. Justin Massey approaches as Asha is responding to Suggs, and laughs at her suggestion that the red god might prefer "one of his own. A faithful man who will sing his praises as the flames lick at his cock." Suggs smirks at the burned men chained to their stakes and leaves.

Massey invites Asha to share some horsemeat with him, noting that it may not be available much longer: "We had eight hundred horses when we marched from Deepwood Motte. Last night the count was sixty-four." She accompanies him to the longhall, where she takes a look at the men: The southerners are pale and sickly, obvious victims of the ordeal, while the northmen are healthier, better prepared for the cold. One of the men says they will resume the march in three days, but Massey replies, "If we march, we will die by the hundreds." And assuming they reach Winterfell, the men are too weak to mount an attack.

An argument arises, "the same argument as last night and the night before. Press on and die, stay here and die, fall back and die." Arnolf Karstark, at the high table, proclaims that they will take Winterfell and "be bathing in the blood of Freys and Boltons," which gets a noisy assent from the northmen, but only silence from the southerners. Massey is having none of it: "Gods be good, are all you Karstarks mad?" He stalks out.

Asha decides to follow him, as one of the few who would defend her if they took a mind to burn her at the stake, but when she gets outside she finds herself lost in the snowdrifts. She makes her way back by accident to where the men were burned, hearing only the sound of a frightened horse somewhere. There she is accosted by Clayton Suggs again. He threatens again to burn her, but as they are exchanging words she hears the sound of the horse. She asks him if he hears it, and he says, "Bloody hell. Riders," and draws his sword.

Suddenly the riders are on them. Suggs stands his ground and tells her to run and warn Stannis, but she notices that two of the riders are wearing the black of the Night's Watch. She calls out, "Who are you?" and a voice she recognizes answers, "Friends." It is Tristifer Botley, who says, "We looked for you at Winterfell, but found only Crowfood Umber beating drums and blowing horns." The Maid is with him, along with others from the dungeons at Deepwood. They had been ransomed by Tycho Nestoris, the representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos, who needed a guide to find Stannis.

The banker then tells Asha that he has "brought a gift" for her. "A girl and an old man, thought Asha, as the two were dumped rudely in the snow before her." She is disgusted at the sight and smell of the old man, until he speaks and she recognizes him as Theon.


Victarion's ships capture a Ghiscari galley whose captain has the latest news from Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen is dead, he says. But Moqorro assures Victarion that she is alive; he has seen her in his fires, so Victarion has the captain's tongue cut out. The galley is renamed Red God's Wroth and added to Victarion's fleet. Three ships go missing in a storm that comes up, but they capture another one a few days later and change its name from Dove to Shrike.

The crew fears and hates Moqorro, but Victarion has anyone who speaks against the wizard flogged, and increasingly relies on Moqorro's visions. Sure enough, his prediction that they will encounter and capture two more vessels comes true. They also learn that dysentery has been widespread among the troops besieging Meereen, but the story that Daenerys is dead persists. This time Victarion has the storytellers beheaded.

The hand Victarion healed feels stronger than ever, though it looks like "pork crackling from elbow to fingertips" and sometimes gives off smoke. Then the three ships that had gone missing are found, as Moqorro had predicted they would be, so Victarion's faith in him grows. "Two gods are with me now," he boasts to the dusky woman -- his own Drowned God and the red god R'hllor.

They capture more ships, and this time hear that Daenerys "flew away upon her dragon, beyond the Dothraki sea." Victarion demands to know where this sea is, and plans to sail it, but the fisherman who tells him about it makes the mistake of saying, "The Dothraki sea is made of grass, fool." Victarion throttles him with his burned hand.

They continue to encounter and seize ships, slaughtering their crews and freeing the slaves who rowed them. One ship carries "twenty perfumed boys and four score girls destined for the pleasure houses of Lys." Victarion has the boys bound in chains and thrown into the sea: "They were unnatural creatures, and the ship smelled better once cleansed of their presence." He picks the seven most beautiful girls, and puts them aboard a fishing boat they had captured, cutting it loose and then setting it on fire, saying, "With this gift of innocence and beauty, we honor both the gods."

That night he brings out the great horn inscribed with Valyrian glyphs, which had been sounded at the kingsmoot. He tells Moqorro,
"The sound it made ... it burned, somehow. As if my bones were on fire, searing my flesh from within. Those writings glowed red-hot, then white-hot and painful to look upon. It seemed as if the sound would never end. It was like some long scream. A thousand screams, all melted into one." 
Moqorro asks what happened to the man who blew it, and Victarion tells him that he seemed to have been burned to death from within. Moqorro says it is named Dragonbinder and reads one of the inscriptions: "No mortal man shall sound me and live." Another inscription reads, "Blood for fire, fire for blood."

Victarion mustn't sound the horn himself, Moqorro tells him, for it doesn't matter who blows it. "The dragons will come to the horn's master. You must claim the horn. With blood."

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