By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

34. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 887-913

The Dragontamer

While Barristan is attempting his overthrow of Hizdahr, Quentyn Martell is working on something even more risky. Unable to sleep, he pours himself a cup of wine and lights a candle. And then he holds his hand in the candle flame. When he withdraws it with a yelp, Gerris Drinkwater appears, astonished at what the prince is up to. He suggests finding a whore might be a more pleasant solution to Quentyn's restlessness.

But Quentyn's mind is on Daenerys and his determination to marry her even though, as Drinkwater reminds him, she is already married. Drinkwater tries to discourage him from further pursuit of the queen, but Quentyn has his mind made up: He believes that she is still alive, and thinks he knows the way to find her. He wants to take one of the remaining dragons and ride out on it in search of her.

Drinkwater protests this mad idea, but Quentyn is adamant: "You have my leave to go. Find a ship and run home, Gerris." But when the hour of the wolf arrives, the three Dornishmen are preparing to attempt this plan. Archibald Yronwood frets that the dragons won't like the rain, and Gerris is gloomy, but Quentyn will not be denied. They put on their disguises: The outfits of the Brazen Beasts, a bull, a lion, and an ape. Yronwood chooses the bull, Quentyn naturally picks the lion, and Gerris is stuck with the ape. The Tattered Prince has helped them obtain the costumes, as well as the Beasts' password: dog.

The main gates are guarded by Brazen Beasts with the masks of a rat and a fox, but they yield their posts at the password. Hurriedly, because the real relief to the guards will probably show at any moment, they open the doors and bring in a wagon that they have hidden in a nearby alley. They are joined by other members of the Windblown, all except Pretty Meris disguised as Brazen Beasts. She tells them that the Tattered Prince is nearby with fifty men, waiting for them to bring out the dragon.

They descend into the pyramid and finally reach the iron doors of the dragons' pit. Four Brazen Beasts guard it. One wears a basilisk mask, but the other three are locusts -- the masks of Barristan's conspirators. When Quentyn utters the password, "dog," the reaction makes him realize that something has gone wrong. "Take them," he orders, and Yronwood swiftly kills the basilisk and Gerris intervenes to keep one of the locusts from killing Quentyn. The other sellswords come running and finish off the rest of the locusts.

Quentyn is still wondering why the password doesn't work when Pretty Meris tells him to get a move on. Yronwood shatters the lock on the doors with his warhammer, and pulls them open. Quentyn orders the cart brought forward: It contains a quartered ox and two sheep to feed the dragons. Gerris hands him a torch and Quentyn steps into the darkness.
The green one is Rhaegal, the white Viserion, he reminded himself. Use their names, command them, speak to them calmly but sternly. Master them, as Daenerys mastered Drogon in the pit. The girl had been alone, clad in wisps of silk, but fearless. I must not be afraid. She did it, so can I. The main thing was to show no fear. Animals can smell fear, and dragons.... What did he know of dragons? What does any man know of dragons? They have been gone from the world for more than a century
The air grows warmer as he enters the pit. He sees two glowing eyes, then dark green scales. The dragon's long neck uncoils until it is looking down on him. Quentyn croaks out the dragon's name, "Rhaegal," and calls for the food to be brought forward. Yronwood flings one of the sheep into the pit and the dragon snaps it up in midair.

Yronwood asks where the other one is, and Quentyn remembers that Viserion had been hanging from the ceiling when he visited with Daenerys. He shines the torch around and discovers that the dragon has hollowed out a cave in the masonry of the walls. As Viserion wakes and stretches and extends his wings, Quentyn calls for more meat. The plan had been to feed the dragons and then, when they are torpid after their meal, to chain them. But Drinkwater grabs Quentyn and tells him the plan won't work: "They are too wild, they...."

The dragon lands between them and the door. It stares at Pretty Meris, and Quentyn realizes it recognizes her as female. "He is looking for Daenerys. He wants his mother and does not understand why she's not here." Quentyn calls out the dragon's name, Viserion, and reaches for the whip at his belt, remembering that Daenerys had controlled Drogon with a whip. The dragon looks at him for a moment, but then turns away and heads for the door.

One of the Windblown fires a crossbow, causing Quentyn to protest, but too late. Viserion seizes the man by the neck and breathes fire, burning him while biting off a chunk of the man's throat. The Windblown pull back. The dragon looks at them for a moment and then returns to the corpse, tearing off a leg.

Quentyn calls out "VISERION!" and cracks the whip. The dragon raises his head and looks at him. Then there is a blast of hot wind, the sound of wings, Drinkwater calling his name and Yronwood shouting, "Behind you, behind you, behind you!"
When he raised his whip, he saw that the lash was burning. His hand as well. All of him, all of him was burning. 

Oh, he thought. Then he began to scream.


Queen Selyse has announced her firm opposition to rescuing the wildlings at Hardhome, but Jon is determined to defy her, even if it means he has to lead a rescue mission himself. This is fine with her: "Afterward some bard will make a stirring song about you, no doubt, and we shall have a more prudent lord commander." And now she introduces Gerrick Kingsblood, whom she calls "Gerrick of House Redbeard, ... King of the Wildlings." Jon knows that this is a royal line of her own devising, that although she claims Gerrick is "descended in an unbroken male line from their great king Raymun Redbeard," among the wildlings "that counted about as much as being descended from Raymun Redbeard's horse." But Selyse has devised a royal lineage so she can marry Ser Axell Florent to Gerrick's eldest daughter, and his other two to her knights.

Jon goes along with this charade until she announces that she intends for Val to "wed my good and leal knight, Ser Patrek of King's Mountain." Jon points out that this is not the way it usually works among the free folk, where a man usually steals the woman of his choosing from her kinfolk, risking "a savage beating if he is caught by the woman's kin, and worse than that if she herself finds him unworthy." Ser Axell sniffs, "A savage custom," and Selyse orders Jon to send Val to her for instruction "in the duties of a noble lady toward her lord husband."

Jon knows that this will not end well, but his efforts to tell Selyse that are squelched, and he withdraws. As he is leaving the queen's tower, Melisandre calls out to him. She asks where Ghost is, and he tells her that the wolf is not allowed to accompany him to meetings with the queen and that since the arrival of Borroq with his boar, he has not been able to let Ghost roam freely. She tells him that the attempt to rescue the people at Hardhome is doomed: She has seen it in her fires, that all of the ships are lost. He tells her he has reasons to doubt her visions:
"A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mistakes, my lady. Where is Stannis? What of Rattleshirt and his spearwives? Where is my sister?"
But Melisandre insists that his questions will be answered, and in the meantime, "I am you only hope." 

He still intends to lead a rescue party despite Selyse's determination not to help, and speaks with Leathers about gathering the men in the Shieldhall before the evening watch. When he reaches the armory, he finds two of his men on guard outside. When he asks why they are standing in the cold, they tell him that Ghost doesn't want them inside, and Mully says the wolf tried to bite him. "I never seen him like this, m'lord. All wild-like, I mean.

Inside, Jon finds Ghost pacing restlessly, and when he tries to calm him, "the wolf bristled and bared his teeth." Jon blames it on the boar. But Mormont's raven is upset, too, and keeps calling out, "Snow, snow, snow." Jon has Satin light a fire and sends him for Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck. When they arrive, Yarwyck complains that he doesn't have enough builders to continue the work on the castles in the snowstorm that seems to be arriving. Jon suggests using wildlings, but Yarwyck grumbles about their unreliability. Jon is tired of the complaints of the steward and the builder about the free folk, and insists that it has to be done. Marsh of course sides with the queen on helping the people at Hardhome, and suggests sending all of the wildlings: "The more we lose, the fewer mouths we'll have to feed."

Jon thanks them and walks out with them, thinking,
My brothers. The Night's Watch needed leaders with the wisdom of Maester Aemon, the learning of Samwell Tarly, the courage of Qhorin Halfhand, the stubborn strength of the Old Bear, the compassion of Donal Noye. What it had instead was them.
The drifts have piled up against the Wall, covering the ice cells. Jon has them dug out, and sends Cregan Karstark to a new cell under the Lord Commander's Tower. There are two corpses in the cells, but he decides to leave them there, intending to study them before burning them. Tormund Giantsbane arrives with fifty men, not the eighty that had been promised. He mocks the new King of the Wildlings. Jon starts to talk to him about what to say to the men when they meet at the Shieldhall, but he is interrupted by Clydas, who has received a letter.

Clydas is trembling as he delivers the letter, which is from Ramsay Bolton. It is addressed simply to "Bastard." It claims that Stannis is dead and that Ramsay possesses "his magic sword." He says he has captured Mance Rayder and "made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell." Rayder came there, he says, "to steal my bride from me."
I want my bride back. I want the false king's queen. I want his daughter and the red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard's heart and eat it.
Jon reads it to Tormund, who is confused by the reference to Rayder, whom he thinks dead. Jon doesn't reveal the truth about Melisandre's trick of substituting Rattleshirt for Mance. Tormund thinks Ramsay is lying, but Jon recognizes that it reveals Ramsay's knowledge of the sword Lightbringer and the number of spearwives who accompanied Mance. He tells Tormund that they need to change their plans.

When the time comes for the meeting at the Shieldhall, he shuts Ghost inside because he is afraid that Borroq will be at that gathering. The crowd there is made up of five times as many wildlings as members  of the Watch. Marsh and Yarwyck are there, as is Borroq, though without his boar. Two of Selyse's knights, Ser Narbert and Ser Benethon are there too. Melisandre enters the hall as Jon tells the crowd that he needs to send the rescue mission by land, but that he will not be leading it, Tormund Giantsbane will. Borroq asks if Jon will be "Hiding here in Castle Black with your white dog," and Jon replies that he is riding south. When he reads them the letter from Ramsay, the hall goes wild. Tormund has to sound his horn to restore order.

"The Night's Watch takes no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms," he reminds them. But he intends to make Ramsay -- "This creature who makes cloaks from the skins of women" -- answer for what he has done. He won't ask any of his brothers to break their vows, but he will ride alone unless there are those who will come with him. A roar fills the hall. "I have my swords, thought Jon Snow, and we are coming for you, Bastard." He sees Marsh and Yarwyck and their men leave the hall, but is unconcerned: "No man can ever say I made my brothers break their vows. If this is oathbreaking, the crime is mine and mine alone."

He leaves the meeting with his guards, Horse and Rory, but they hear a terrifying scream from the direction of Hardin's Tower. There they find the giant, Wun Wun, holding a bloody corpse by one leg and swinging it against the walls of the tower. The giant has sword cuts on his belly and his arm. "The dead man was Ser Patrek of King's Mountain; his head was largely gone, but his heraldry was as distinctive as his face." Jon tells Leathers, who speaks the Old Tongue, to try to calm the giant, and tells the men who are gathering at the scene to put away their weapons for fear they'll agitate the giant even more.

Then he sees the flash of a blade in the hands of Wick Whittlestick, and realizes that it is aimed at him. He dodges the blow, which grazes his skin, and asks Wick why he is attacking him. "For the Watch," Wick says. Jon grabs his arm as he strikes again, and Wick drops the dagger. Jon reaches for Longclaw but is unable to get the sword free as Bowen Marsh appears, saying, "For the Watch," and stabs Jon in the belly. "When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold...."

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