By Charles Matthews

Thursday, February 2, 2012

35. A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 914-959

The Queen's Hand

It takes Quentyn three days to die, and in the meantime the dragons wreak fiery havoc on Meereen. Only the rain prevents the city from being completely destroyed. Barristan now ponders the best way of getting the prince's remains back to Dorne.

He still holds faith that Daenerys is alive somewhere. Meanwhile, he has reluctantly assumed the role of the queen's Hand. Skahaz tells him that they have expelled all the Yunkai'i and sellswords from the city, and that the Unsullied are manning the watch. Meanwhile, the city nobles are demanding that Hizdahr be reinstated, and the Sons of the Harpy have resumed their attacks, with a death toll of twenty-nine in just two days. Skahaz presses Barristan to kill the hostages in retaliation, but he refuses.

Barristan goes to meet with the queen's council, and is pleased that Strong Belwas -- not so strong as he was before the poisoning -- makes an appearance. Barristan reports the death of Quentyn Martell and the imprisonment of Archibald Yronwood and Gerris Drinkwater. Various council members call for their deaths. Barristan sets that aside to discuss the mission of the Green Grace to the Yunkishmen to arrange for the return of their hostages. The plan is to offer gold for the three -- Daario, Hero, and Jhogo -- with the thought that the Yunkai'i will refuse whereas the leaders of the sellswords will accept, thereby driving a wedge between them. The idea had been Missandei's, Barristan recalls: "Eleven years of age, yet Missandei is as clever as half the men at this table and wiser than all of them."

And what will happen if the Green Grace returns with a refusal? "Fire and blood," Barristan replies very softly. He has had a beacon fire prepared on top of the pyramid, and if it is lighted that is the signal to attack the besiegers. He has maps of the enemy camps brought in, and they spend much of the rest of the day arguing over the best plan of attack. Finally someone asks what the dragons will do. Barristan believes the noise of the battle will attract the dragons, but he doubts that they will take sides: "The dragons will do what the dragons will do. If they do come, it may be that just the shadow of their wings will be enough to dishearten the slavers and send them fleeing."

After the others leave, Grey Worm remains behind to point out that if they attack, the Yunkai'i will kill the hostages. Barristan says he has considered that, as well as a way to prevent it. But he tells Grey Worm that he needs to visit the Dornishmen to tell them of Quentyn's death. Yronwood, whose hands were badly burned trying to extinguish the fire, takes the news stoically. But Drinkwater angrily denounces Daenerys: "He offered her his heart, and she threw it back at him and went off to fuck her sellsword."

Barristan will not allow any slanders of Daenerys. Privately, he thinks that she should have accepted Quentyn, but he tells Drinkwater that what they did was "folly ... buying sellswords, loosing two dragons on the city ... that was madness and worse than madness. That was treason." Drinkwater claims that Quentyn did it to prove his worthiness for Daenerys's hand, but Barristan knows better:
"I have spent my life around kings and queens and princes. Sunspear means to take up arms against the Iron Throne. No, do not trouble to deny it. Doran Martell is not a man to call his spears without hope of victory. Duty brought Prince Quentyn here. Duty, honor, thirst for glory ... never love. Quentyn was here for dragons, not Daenerys." 
Yronwood speaks up and agrees with Barristan, telling Drinkwater to shut up. He asks what is going to happen to them. Barristan tells them that the Shavepate wants them executed, but he would prefer their support. If they serve him, he will send them back to Dorne with Quentyn's bones. He asks what arrangement Quentyn had made with the Tattered Prince for the support of the Windblown in capturing the dragons. Yronwood admits that Quentyn was going to give him Pentos. So Barristan tells them that he wants to send them back to the Tattered Prince, along with some Windblown who are in the dungeons, and to tell him that he'll pay the price if he delivers their hostages unharmed. They agree to the plan.

Barristan returns to the queen's rooms and from the terrace sees Viserion's pale wings in the distance. Galazza Galare returns from her mission to the Wise Masters of Yunkai to say that they demand the reinstatement of Hizdahr. Barristan replies, "He shall be, if it can be proved that he did not try to kill our queen." He offers the Green Grace a seat on the council that will rule the city in the meantime. She declines, insisting that only the restoration of Hizdahr can bring about the peace the city needs.

As for the hostages, the Yunkai'i refused: "No amount of gold will buy your people back, I was told. Only the blood of dragons may set them free again." Barristan is disappointed but not surprised. Galazza Galare continues. Daenerys is dead, she says. "Let her dragons die as well." Their conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Skahaz, who announces that the Yunkai'i are preparing the trebuchets. Barristan says he's not concerned about them throwing stones.

But the Green Grace tells him they won't be throwing stones. "Corpses."


Drogon has taken her to the hill where he has made a home. She has been there a while as her burns begin to heal, but from it she has sighted a small stream. If she follows it, she reasons, it will take her to the river Skahazdhan, which she could follow to Slaver's Bay. "She would sooner have returned to Meereen on dragon's wings, to be sure. But that was a desire Drogon did not seem to share." Her efforts to steer the dragon had ended in frustration.

So she climbs down the hill, determined to return to her husband and the people they rule. Her clothes are rags, and having lost a sandal in the pit, she is barefoot. She finds wild onions and a cabbage-like plant to eat. "As she walked, she tapped her thigh with the pitmaster's whip. That, and the rags on her back, were all she had taken from Meereen." Her hair had burned off, and she feels the need of a hat in the midday sun, but her attempts to craft one have failed.

She turns and looks back at the dragon's hill, which she has come to call Dragonstone, and briefly thinks of going back there. She could eat whatever the dragon kills and ride out on him every day. But she decides against it, feeling that her duty lies elsewhere. During the first day she sees Drogon flying overhead and thinks that he has come for her, but he flies on.

She finds the ruins of a village that provide shelter from the elements at night. The next day she continues following her stream. She comes across a bush filled with green berries, but an hour after eating them she vomits them up. Diarrhea follows, and when she falls asleep she wonders if she will be strong enough to wake up again. She dreams of her brother Viserys, his head smoking beneath the molten gold. When she wakes, there is blood on her thighs, and she is frightened until she realizes that she is menstruating.

Weak and feverish, she commands herself to walk. About midday she sees the grass moving as if the wind were blowing it, but there is no wind. She hears the tinkling of bells and recalls the ones Khal Drogo used to braid in his hair. She picks up a stone from the river to defend herself, but then thinks of her bloodriders. Perhaps they have come to rescue her.

Then she sees a lone rider, a scout riding ahead of the khalasar, and knows she must hide from him. But he doesn't see her, and suddenly the dragon appears in the sky. The horse is frightened, and the rider turns and races away. She calls for Drogon, and he comes to her. She climbs on his back, and though she has lost her whip she is able to make the dragon turn and fly in the direction the rider had taken.

They fly over a herd of horses, which begin to stampede in terror. One horse falls behind, and Drogon breathes flame on it, then seizes it in his claws. The kill is too large to take back to the lair, so Drogon eats it there, and Daenerys shares in the meal. Then, as the sun begins to set, riders approach. She goes and stands by the dragon as Khal Jhogo and his riders appear through the smoke.


Ronnet Connington has arrived in King's Landing with news of the return of his uncle Jon Connington with Aegon Targaryen. Mace Tyrell, as Hand, presides over the council assembled to discuss this development. He is inclined to dismiss the threat to Storm's End, which is currently held by Stannis. "Let the castle pass from one pretender to another, why should that trouble us? I shall recapture it after my daughter's innocence is proved."

Kevan Lannister is less sanguine, either about Jon Connington's strength or about Margaery's innocence. Tyrell wants Tommen to declare Margaery innocent "and put an end to the foolishness here and now," but Kevan cautions that if they overrule the High Septon "it will only drive the pious into the arms of one or the other of these would-be usurpers." As for Prince Aegon, Randyll Tarly calls him "A feigned boy," but Kevan recalls that the body of the infant said to be Aegon had been mutilated so badly that proper identification was impossible. Only Tywin Lannister's testimony asserted that the murdered child was Aegon. And then, Kevan says, "We have these tales coming from the east as well. A second Targaryen, and one whose blood no man can question. Daenerys Stormborn."

Grand Maester Pycelle notes that there have been too many stories about "A silver-haired queen with three dragons" to fully discount them. But Tyrell says she is "Queen of Slaver's Bay," which is "At the far end of the world." Still, Kevan insists that they should act now to quell Connington's attacks, before Daenerys decides to move on Westeros. Tyrell simply reiterates, "After the trial." Pycelle suggests trying to buy off the Golden Company from its support of Connington, but the treasurer, Harys Swyft, says "our vaults contain only rats and roaches."

Kevan changes the subject to Cersei's trial, with Ser Robert Strong as her champion. Tyrell wants to know exactly who this champion is: "He does not speak, he will not show his face, he is never seen without his armor. Do we know for a certainty that he is even a knight?" Kevan wonders if this Ser Robert is even living. Meryn Trant says he doesn't eat or drink and Boros Blount says he has never been seen to use the privy. He has his suspicions about the man, but he doesn't share them. All he can say is that Tommen named him to the Kingsguard "and Qyburn vouches for the man as well." The important thing is for him to win, so Cersei's innocence will be confirmed. If she is found guilty, this means that her children are illegitimate: "If Tommen ceases to be a king, Margaery will cease to be a queen." This is a potent argument to use on Mace Tyrell. Anyway, he tells the council, he will see to it that Cersei behaves, sending her back to Casterly Rock after the trial.

Kevan leaves the council with Pycelle and Harys Swyft, who complains about the cold: Snow has been falling on King's Landing. In his chambers, Kevan prepares himself to dine with Cersei and Tommen. Boros Blount is guarding them, but all of the attendants are novices chosen by the High Septon, who "had insisted that no girl spend more than seven days in the queen's service, lest Cersei corrupt her." His meal with them is interrupted by one of the novices who says that Grand Maester Pycell urgently requests to see Kevan.

The message was brought by a boy of eight or nine. Kevan gives him a penny and sends him to warm himself by a fire, saying that he knows the way to Pycelle's quarters. A girl shows him into Pycelle's chambers, where Kevan sees a giant white raven sitting in the open window. "The white ravens of the Citadel did not carry messages, as their dark cousins did. When they went forth from Oldtown, it was for one purpose only: to herald a change of seasons."

Kevan says, "Winter," but he has hardly spoken the word when something slams into his chest. He looks down and sees an arrow protruding from between his ribs. It is the way his brother died, he thinks. Then he sees Pycelle slumped over his desk, a bloody gash in his head. Kevan draws an obvious conclusion: "Tyrion." But a voice says that the dwarf is "Far away."

Varys is standing there, holding a crossbow.
"This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes ... but you were threatening to undo all the queen's good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen's rule.... Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm's End and the lords of the realm gather round him."
Kevan still believes that Aegon is dead, but Varys assures him that he is alive and that he has been educated to rule. "Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them."

Then Varys apologizes for going on with his speech, prolonging Kevan's suffering. He whistles, and half a dozen children enter, "white-faced children with dark eyes, boys and girls together." In their hands are daggers.

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