[This post has heavy spoilers for the last half of A Storm of Swords and beyond!]
If you've been following my re-read of A Storm of Swords you might have notice the banner I always put up to indicate it's a re-read post. The one right above these words, with a number of different covers. I added a few pictures from the A Game of Thrones: Collectible Card Game - a brother of the Night's Watch, Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish, and the Red Viper of Dorne fighting Ser Gregor Clegane. I don't know why, but I began thinking about this banner when I was preparing this post, and wondered why I chose these three pictures. The Viper/Mountain fight is a pretty iconic and fantastic scene, so it might just be that. But why Littlefinger? Was it a conscious decision? Is the the one behind it all, the Great Other so to speak? The master manipulator, or just someone who really knows to play other people? The Night's Watch fellow (I hesitate to write 'black brother' for fear of being called racist) is probably the most iconic of the three considering the saga as a whole. So I began to ponder what are the most iconic, striking images that immediately tells you 'this is A Song of Ice and Fire' and nothing else? Tyrion Lannister perhaps? He's kind of unique in many ways compared to other fantasy saga heroes (yes, I consider him a hero, flaws and personality disorders and all). The various House banners perhaps? The Winter is Coming motto? I will probably ponder this more. Mainly because I'm tired of this banner and want to make a new one. That being said, it is time for another re-read, and we've come to Arya's seventh chapter, the fortieth in the novel. Which means I'm almost half-way! I know, I know, I am slow, oh oh. But then it's not my job writing blog posts all day. Not that I would mind.
This chapter kicks off in classic Martin-fashion, with a short catchy sentence with someone dying; in this case, an unnamed man who takes an arrow in the chest (courtesy of our friend and naturally talented archer, Anguy) and tumbles down the roof of a septry to fall in front of its door. Septry? I was sure Martin consistently called it sept? Is a septry a smaller version of a sept perhaps, a relationship akin to chapel and church?
So we're in a street fight so to speak, with the outlaws creeping in close to the...septry...where the Mummers have posted guards. Before the second paragraph concludes another man goes down in fire. He screams in pain and fear, and so the outlaw band can no longer sneak toward the guards, and Thoros of Myr gives a shout to commence a full attack.
Arya watches this going on, sitting on a horse on a wooded ridge, taking the time to notice that autumn is about to turn into [fanfare] winter ("The trees were mostly bare now, and the few withered brown leaves (...)". She is guarded by Beardless Dick (how lucky can you get with a name?) and Mudge - and Gendry is here, too, of course (kind of hard to forget when you've watched Game of Thrones season three a few times).
I was reading up on theories over at Westeros.org (say one thing about that place, there are a lot of interesting theories on their boards) and noticed that people were trying to link the Stark children to the elements. It is suggested that Arya is linked to the element of water (which can turn into ice, obviously). Whether there theories, ahem, hold water, remains to be seen, but I was reminded of these thoughts when I read this: "The wind blew cold, and Arya could hear the rush of water and the creak of the mill's great wooden waterwheel. There was a smell of rain in the dawn air, but no drops were falling yet." You see, once I read those theories I realized that they have one thing right, at least: Martin very often describes the weather in his chapters, if only a few lines, and the weather often follows the pattern of the chapter - if it builds up in tension (for the character in question), the weather intensifies - so it will be interesting to see if this chapter ends with the rain falling. Check it out for yourself in this thread, which has many really interesting thoughts about how the Starks are linked to winter, wind, and the elements. Man, I'm really starting to get my excitement and passion about this series back. Haven't read theories - or skulked in the shadows at Westeros.org for years. Yet now I find myself craving more Ice and Fire again. This is partially the "fault" of those nice chaps over at Tower of the Hand who have dragged me back into the sunlight. Figuratively speaking. I obviously don't enjoy sunlight.
There is some battle description, quick and brutal and efficient, a possible foreshadowing when Arya decides she must learn how to use a bow (will she fire an arrow into something later in the story? The old gods might know); the septry is burning, thick smoke pouring through a broken window; there are crossbowmen rewinding their weapons, fighting in the stables, and Arya thinks, rather chillingly, Kill them all. Kill every single one.
Eventually the Mummers spill out of the burning septry when things, ahem, get too hot in there, and the battle continues, Martin describing it efficiently, with Lord Beric Dondarrion and his companions riding into the fray, and a quick reminder that the party now has someone named Ned along, fighting at the lightning lord's side.
Soon enough the battle's over, with Lord Beric and his companions as the clear winners. Two Dothraki manage to flee, but Beric lets them go so they can bring word back to Harrenhal. He sends a few men into the septry to search for captives, and they find (and again I am wary of the expression) eight brown brothers and a septon named Utt, "a man of god" as he calls himself. A weird phrasing for a man worshipping seven aspects but I guess he gets away with it because, as I just said, the Father, the Mother et al are seven aspects. Still, you don't often hear them being referred as "god". Utt isn't a nice man; Arya remembers him from Harrenhal and he always weeps and prays forgiveness after killing boys. No thumbs up for Utt! Violence against children is among my top things to hate, so this Utt guy they can just send back into the burning septry for all I care. Bah. The character seems to be inspired by a number of 'holy' men - so many of them turn out to be molesters, it has become a stereotype; say "Catholic priest" and I think of child abuse. Anyway.
Ah, it's almost good to see that Lord Beric has no mercy for Septon Utt, no matter how he pleads for mercy - soon enough he dangles, as do the rest of the band of Brave Companions. Tom Sevenstrings plays them a dirge, and Thoros implores the Lord of Light to "roast their souls until the end of time" (an obvious illusion to medieval Christianity's concept of Hell). Interestingly, the crows come to feast on the hanged men rather quickly, and Arya wonders "what they are saying", which reminds me of another theory I delved into last night, about the language of the crows of Westeros and their importance in the story (here you are). Will Arya eventually learn their language? I mean, since she wonders what they are saying? Is Martin really this brilliant, that almost every sentence has more than one meaning? Time will hopefully tell (I feel I've written time will hopefully tell a gazillion times. And now a gazillion and one times). We're told, almost as an afterthought to the executions, that Beric has let Sandor Clegane go with his sword and horse and armor (but not his gold - but you'd think that a horse like Sandor's would be quite useful too).
The septry eventually collapses, the remaining eight brown brothers watching. They tell Beric that they once were more prosperous, before the war. There is a hint that the Mountain has been visiting as well ("There was one monster...we gave him all our silver, but he was certain we were hiding gold, so his men killed us one by one (...)"
That night they stay with the eight remaining brothers, sharing food. Lem is about to launch into a "my god is better than yours" - tirade (the Lord of Light versus the Seven) but Beric stops him, reminding him that they are guests, so they will honor the brothers' rules - another setup / hint / foreshadowing of Lord Walder Frey's betrayal and the Red Wedding. Beautiful.
Arya notices how Lord Beric never eats, and doesn't seem to sleep. It must be tiring being undead. "Even brave men blind themselves sometimes, when they are afraid to see." Another foreshadowing of Arya's blindness in A Feast for Crows. But what does she fear to see when she is in Braavos? Arya learns that Beric has been resurrected six times, and a "seventh death might mean the end" - which will come to pass in the end of this novel, of course. Seven being the key number again; could it mean that the ability to resurrect actually comes from the Seven? Note how fervently devote Catelyn Stark has always been to the Seven. Curious...but Lord Beric Dondarrion seems to follow the Lord of Light. I'm reading too much into it again, I know. Still, Beric does show the Seven respect in this very scene. We get more information on Beric's wounds (how he received them, and by whom, leading to his deaths); we learn how his memory is fading - I suspect this is essential information to keep in mind should we meet other characters resurrected in this fashion.
In a sad moment, Arya asks whether Thoros could bring back a man without a head (alluding to her father, Lord Eddard Stark, of course). We are given an explanation of the last kiss but in the end it all means no. Beautifully written as Arya feels the tears well in her eyes. Interestingly we might have seen, in A Feast for Crows, another character resurrected with a decapitated head put on a different body (if I remember correctly, that is! Been a while since I read that one). More chewing of the lips, and Thoros telling her that they need the gold for her ransom, and Arya understands that (making us expect her not to try and run away anymore). Another hint at the link between weather and the Starks right here: "He (Robb) was a king now, not the boy she'd left at Winterfell with snow melting in his hair". Arya asks Thoros and Beric what they will do to her if Robb won't pay her ransom; they are confident he will, but Beric says that other options would be to send her back to Lady Smallwood, or send her to his own castle, Blackhaven. We haven't heard much about Blackhaven, have we? Sounds like another pretty cool place. Martin excels at coming up with evocative location names, that's for sure.
And there you go - it is raining. They are inside dicing and Tom Sevenstrings plays on his woodharp and sings songs like "The Mother's Tears" (subtle?), "When Willum's Wife Was Wet" (not very subtle), "Lord Harte Rode Out on a Rainy Day" (the rain again), and finally, ominously if you've read this stuff before, "The Rains of Castamere", now a world-wide hit thanks to Game of Thrones. With more rain mentioned in the lyrics.
Gendry offers himself up to become the outlaw band's very own smith; in the discussion that follows Gendry tells them he likes the way they do business, and Jack-be-Lucky says that "the crows await us all", which is of course another way of saying valar morghulis but could also be interpreted, by those who like the crow-theory I linked to above, that there's something more about the crows of Westeros. The messengers of the gods? Bringers of the dead? Who knows? Maybe time...will tell. And so, Lord Beric knights Gendry and welcomes him into the brotherhood. He is know a Knight of the Hollow Hill. You know, I like this, but I also didn't mind the way they changed Gendry's story in the TV show. Here, the character just decides that "hey, I'll stay with these fellows" and it kind of comes from nowhere (because we're never inside his head). Arya, obviously, isn't happy with this development. Maybe she too feels that Gendry's seemingly sudden decision comes a little out of the blue, as if Martin needed to stow him away because the story doesn't require him for a while. Or maybe I haven't caught clues and foreshadowings to this turnabout?
And then there comes rasping laughter from the door. The rasping alone is enough to tell us just who we're dealing with. "Making more knights, Dondarrion? I ought to kill you all over again for that." Such a great line. It is followed by a heated, entertaining exchange of threats before we learn why Sandor's come back: He needs his gold. Of interest is the hint that Sandor doesn't want anyone to kill his brother, Gregor the Mountain, because that is his business. So many great lines here, I could have quoted them all really. Entertaining scene! Sandor just leaves again (it's a bit of a weird scene too; with Sandor knocking on the door, saying please can I have my money back, and then just leaving without a word).
There is more banter, then some vivid insight into Sandor's psyche when Thoros explains that the Hound has no master; he doesn't really know what to do - he's a man without a mission (except for the brother-slaying thing). It helps us believe Sandor's character development, I suppose. Lord Beric also recognizes that Sandor does have honor: "Sandor Clegane would kill us all gladly, but not in our sleep." So they don't believe he'll come back to kill them, but they are wary enough to put up guards.
They sleep uneasily that night, knowing Sandor is skulking about like a stalker. Arya takes out her coin and curls her fingers around it - it makes her feel strong. She thinks of all those who have left her, the train of thoughts initiated by the coin, because she thinks of Jaqen first; and then Hot Pie, and Gendry, Lommy, Yoren, Syrio Forel, and her father. "Valar morghulis," she whispers softly, then recites her list.
Finally she falls asleep, but wakes up in the black of night; the rain has stopped, and she hears wolves howling. So close, she thinks - and I suppose I'm not the only thinking You know nothing, Arya Stark because I'm pretty sure her very own direwolf Nymeria is among them. The next morning they leave the small hamlet and its septry behind. Gendry rides up to Arya and tells her he is sorry. Instead of showing her true feelings she snaps, "Why should I care?".
There was no rain that day, thankfully, and for once they made good time.
Great chapter, efficient and with a lot of banter, many interesting characters (particularly Arya herself, Sandor, Beric and Thoros), a good view of the effect war has on the land and its people, some nice and subtle clues and hints and foreshadowings, some rain, and maybe a few times where I thought, this feels a little bit out of place.
Next up: Bran III, if the weather holds.