Thursday, February 26, 2015

[Reread] Prologue II - For the Night is Damp and the Cobbles will be Slippery

Right, so I am doing this reread thing where I read A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons as one volume, using Boiled Leather's suggested reading order of chapters. So I began with the prologue of the fifth book, and now it's time for the prologue of the fourth book. I'm confused already. But this should all be good, chronologically speaking. As I mentioned in the previous reread-post, I thought it worked better to go from A Storm of Swords to Varamyr's POV, because it gave a sense of continuity since Varamyr's a character we already knew a little about (though I had him confused with Orell for a while there, embarrassingly enough).
Right. So there I was, back in 2005, Lady Slynt was barely pregnant with our first child, and, well, my whole life was quite different but for my obsession with A Song of Ice and Fire (okay, and a lot of other nerdy stuff). For five years I had been looking forward to the next book in the saga, so anxious to read more of this story that so took hold of my imagination. To ease the pain of that first Long Wait, I spent a good deal of time playing the collectible card game - here's an article I wrote about it, published at Tower of the Hand back in August. It kept us sane while we waited, and there were hints on some of the cards, too, of what was to come. And then, finally, finally, and to my great joy a week early, came A Feast for Crows. I immediately delved into it, opening to the prologue. Martin had pulled that trick before, of course; the prologue of A Clash of Kings featured nothing but new characters at a new location. And that is what we got here, as well. With Feast, however, this became more dissonant or jarring because, I guess, we had been waiting so long for the continuation of the saga, and once it came we were thrown right into a new set of characters in a new location (of course I was aware of Oldtown, but this was the first time in town, so to speak). I got over this quickly, though; but what was more problematic was that it didn't feel like A Song of Ice and Fire. That's a long time ago now, though, so let's see how I feel about this prologue this time around, ten years after it was first published. Ten years. Can you believe it?! (One good thing about me not being too interested in re-reading it - it still feels like a pretty new book. Ten years dammit.) THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. NOT SO MUCH BLOOD. THIS TIME.

Come to think of it, I had already read a chapter from Feast before it arrived in the mail. I don't remember where or how I got it, but I had this booklet with Areo Hotah's chapter, 'Captain of the Guards', a sort of preview. I think I have to check out the Interweb to see if I can figure out how I got hold of it. Maybe it's a collector's item? Neh heh. "Special Pre-publication Excerpt", it says on the cover. Well, whatever. I remember not thinking it a very interesting chapter. It kind of dragged. But we'll get to that one later. The booklet, at any rate, seems to demand a fairly hefty sum on eBay, considering it's just a shortish chapter from the book. Anyway. So it looks like it has become a collector's item, indeed. Maybe hold on to it for a little longer, then. Though I still need to save up for a proper gaming rig. Everytime I've saved up a nice sum, something comes up that forces me to spend it, dammit. More often than not, it's the car. I love her, but she's a demanding patient. Yes, her. My car is a she. Her name is Queen Cersei. I kid, I kid. It's Margaery. Seriously though, I don't name cars as a rule.

I like how the first word of the prologue is Dragons, as said by this totally unfamiliar guy named Mollander. Kind of an unusual name, too, for the setting. That word, 'dragons', is our link back to the world of George R.R. Martin, and simply by having Mollander utter the word, then follow it up with the mundane act of picking up an apple from the ground, tells us that the rumors of Daenerys' dragons now for certain has reached many ears in Westeros proper. Efficient. Not a sentence later and Martin gives us yet another new character - this time Alleras the Sphinx, who apparently is an archer, but before you can learn anything more about this character with the intriguing nickname, Martin throws yet another name into the mix: Roone, the youngest of "them" (we still don't know everyone), who would very much like to see a dragon. Well, Martin certainly likes his dramatic irony, so if we ever meet Roone again, he might just see a dragon, or, knowing Martin, he'll probably die just before having the chance to take a gander upon said mythological creature. After these three very brief introductions we at last learn who's head we're inside - because, you know, we're always in someone's head in Martin's series, and I still enjoy the way Martin can paint his world through his characters' preferences and biases. The POV of the prologue, then, is a fellow named Pate, and we immediately learn that he is in love with someone named Rosey, and we learn that we're in Oldtown. I believe Rosey is a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien; did not Samwell Gamgee love a Rosie? I am not aware that Martin has ever confirmed this, though.

Geez, what's with all the characters? Now there's an Emma laughing from some window and apparently she is "entertaining a man". So it seems we're outside a brothel of sorts. Oh wait. The Quill and the Tankard (how appropriately maester-like with the quill). And this Emma is Rosey's mother. Still, we are talking brothel-like activities here; Emma has apparently decreed that Rosey's maidenhead costs one golden dragon (there's dragon again, in a different context, yet in a sense the whole prologue is about that one golden dragon Pate needs to be the one to take Rosey's virginity away; I don't know how much love there is in the air, to be honest - it sounds more like Pate's desperate for some action in the hay with his favoritest girl, rather than truly loving her - we'll see). 

And we have another character, Armen the Acolyte. His description immediately reveals him as an apprentice of the maesters, who we know have their headquarters right here in Oldtown. The fellows discuss whether there are dragons elsewhere (in Westeros, they are all certain, they are quite gone); we learn that Alleras is popular among the ladies, which Pate seems envious of; Mollander has a clubfoot (that's a new one), and finally throws an apple in the air for Alleras the Sphinx. This, technically speaking, probably to show us how skilled this character is with the bow and arrow (and since Martin is setting it up, it should be a given that we'll see this character again; it's been only a decade since Alleras was introduced, who knows?). I do note that the arrow is a shaft of golden wood with scarlet feathers - could this be a bow and arrows from the Summer Islands, those half-legendary things that apparently no one is allowed to buy (according to The World of Ice and Fire)? In that case, how did Alleras get hold of such arrows?

Pate daydreams about Rosey, how he loves her eyes and her breasts (obviously), her smiles, the dimples in her cheeks, the smell of her, her toes even - all right, Pate does seem like a lovelorn fool here and not so much desperate to get rid of his own virginity (I assume he is). This feels almost like a first read, the way I have to guess! Nifty. He tells himself that Rosey is all he wants in this world, and dreams of wandering Westeros with her at his side (a little reminiscent of Dunk and Egg's journeys, at least that sense of wayfarer adventure is invoked here). We get some backstory, and it feels a little clunky I have to say, letting us know that Pate has lost all faith in himself - once he had dreamed of being a maester in a castle, but it seems that other people don't believe in Pate either, with (yet another character) Leo telling him he will never make it.

Time for some scenery description! Always interesting when Martin shows us a new location, and now we're finally getting to see Oldtown, a city we've heard of for so long. He kind of cheats, though, with all the mist obscuring Pate's vision. I want to see Oldtown on a clear day, dammit! The place we get to see the best is the Quill and Tankard itself, an "island of light in a sea of mist"; but we also get to see the distant beacon of Hightower "floating in the damp of night like a hazy orange moon" (love that description). But, being a city larger than King's Landing, I would love to get a much closer look at Oldtown. Maybe we will see more of the place in The Winds of Winter. The place does seem poised to be central in the conflicts to come, at least according to the speculation of many readers anxiously awaiting said novel of severe lateness.

Now we get into the plot of the prologue. Pate is waiting for "the alchemist", and he is worried this alchemist isn't going to show up. Wisely, Martin lets us wonder precisely what Pate is up to; he's got to keep us reading, no? More backstory - Pate served with one Maester Walgrave, but he's apparently only an honorary member, having lost his wits a long time ago (poor old man was found weeping in the library, unable to find his room - now, I don't have a thing against the elderly, but I had to chuckle). Through this backstory, of course, we begin to get a picture, however vague yet, of how the Citadel works. Something about iron masks. Uhm.

A nightingale begins to sing in an apple tree beside the water, and Pate thinks it a sweet sound as opposed to the quorking of Maester Walgrave's white ravens and their endless "Pate, Pate, Pate." Have to love the fact that Walgrave wants to be eaten by them (that's how much he loves his ravens), and that Pate thinks that this is precisely what the ravens mean to do. The nightingale/white raven contrast can also be seen as a symbol for Rosey (the nightingale) and Pate (the white raven), perhaps suggesting that this can never be a couple, they are too different. Pate and the boys are drinking, and Pate wonders just how drunk he is when he believes he hears the nightingale sing words: gold for iron, gold for iron, gold for iron. This is what the alchemist had said "the night Rosey brought them together" - that's interesting, it was Rosey who made Pate acquainted with the mysterious alchemist. When Pate asked him who he was, he said "an alchemist" (and not no one, truly..) and that he can change iron into gold - the irony here is of course, that the alchemist uses iron coins (doesn't he?), but also that he offers Pate a deal; Pate has three days to consider the deal, which will earn him the golden dragon he needs to, well, let's call a spade a spade, break in Rosey. And now, of course, we're on that third day. So he came to the Quill and Tankard this evening to meet up with the alchemist, but his friends were already here, and it would be awkward not to join them. The plot unravels before my eyes.

Exposition time! The Quill and Tankard (tell me, is it an inn? brothel? tavern? why doesn't the text tell me, so I can stop spelling out the name all the time?!) is six hundred years old, which is pretty damned old, and its built on a small islet in the Honeywine (I like that detail for some reason). It makes the Quill...sigh...and Tankard feel like a never-changing place, what with the river flowing around it. Mollander's taken to drinking after his father died upon the Blackwater; there's another link to the story preceding the prologue. Nice little touch, that.

So the group keeps hanging outside the Quill and the Tankard, with Mollander, drunk, trying to convince the others that dragons have returned (no, not the Others) and the others coming with counterarguments. When Armen says that next you'll hear some sailor claim he spent a year in the belly of a fish, I find that Martin strays too close to a familiar myth, perhaps. It's kind of jarring, much like it would have been if Armen said something akin to, "Speaking of them apples you are shooting, Alleras, have you heard the tale of the two first humans in a garden and stuff?" or Armen saying, "Next you'll hear a sailor claim he saw a man crucified only to rise from the dead three days later." Know what I mean, some stories are so ingrained that when a version appears here it's like a needle stuck in a groove on your favorite vinyl. That's probably just me, though. I'm sure most people passed right by this one, while I get hung up on it. Just a minor annoying detail, really. Yes, there are more ... I suppose anachronism is the wrong word here, but yes...should I really complain about it? It's not like half of the King's Landing plot lines aren't borrowed from medieval history; why not borrow a little from the Bible or any other religious work featuring someone inside a whale?

Alleras shows off his archery skills once more, we learn his smiles are soft, and his description leads us to the fact he's Dornish (at least half-Dornish); Martin could as well have described a young Oberyn Martell here.. Alleras has already forged three links in a very short time, and Pate knows Alleras will become a maester, which is frustrating to poor Pate of course. He really is a regular guy, isn't he? Armen, too, will make a maester, but he doubts Mollander will finish because of his heavy drinking. Which brings us to more backstory to a character we most likely never will see again (hey, it's a prologue after all). In a way this prologue is somewhat symptomatic of one of Feast's biggest problems (if not the biggest) - the bloat. The bloat is creeping in, as evidenced here with so much backstory for a soon-to-be-dead character (though, through this backstory, Martin can give us more glimpses of life at the Citadel, obviously), and with the large number of characters crammed into this one single prologue. Martin throws us a number of Citadel maester's names, which makes me suspect that we'll meet them for reals later in the story, most likely through Sam's POV chapters. Just a hunch. Why else give us so many names - Maester Walgrave, Maester Vaellyn, Maester Ebrose, Maester Gormon, Archmaester Benedict, if not for us to recognize their names later?

Mollander throws one last apple in the air, and this time Alleras misses. Roone comments that Alleras always misses his last shot, to which Alleras replies, "The day you make them all is the day you stop improving." This, to me, suggests that Alleras misses on purpose to fulfill the truth of that statement; and at the same time telling us just how darn good this bowyer is. So why does Martin want us to know how good Alleras is with the bow and arrow? Could this character end up, I don't know, shooting down someone...or something? Ah, confirmation that Alleras' bow is made from the fabled goldenheart tree from the Summer Isles. We're told that Alleras looks slight - the evidence is mounting up for this character to actually be a woman, I'd say. Someone named...I don't know, Sarella Sand, perhaps? Though it strikes me as rather clumsy - for such a complex and fantastic story so far - to have a character go by its name only spelled backwards. It's not convincing.

Alleras tells the others that the dragon has three heads, which they think of as a riddle - because sphinxes always speak in riddles; another nod to real world mythology which I find derivative. It was Lazy Leo (assuming this is the same "Leo" as we already have heard mentioned) who dubbed Alleras "the Sphinx", because Alleras is a little bit of this, a little bit of that - with a Dornishman as the father, and a Summer Islander as the mother, with eyes of onyx (well, that's weird). This leads to a, to me, clumsy bit of exposition that seems to come out of nowhere. I mean, it doesn't feel like a natural conversation as much as Alleras turning to face the camera to explain it all to us in case we have forgotten: "Don't get confused now. The baby who was smashed against a wall was Prince Rhaegar's young son, Aegon; but Rhaegar had a sister, Daenerys, and another brother, Viserys, remember? So the Targaryens aren't dead..." Even stranger, when Mollander suggests toasting to Daenerys, the Stomborn, Armen tells him to lower his voice because the "Spider has ears everywhere". That sounds a bit far-fetched too me, to be honest. Does he really have Little Birds at the Quill and Tankard? If so, how many little birds does he have in total? I suspect Martin wanted to further enhance the feeling that there are people in Westeros ready to join with a returned House Targaryen, but in this case it breaks the flow of the story. It's just not as well hidden exposition as we're used to in the story so far. My opinion, of course.

And then Lazy Leo enters the scene with a lazy chuckle, and a soft, sly voice. Not the best of introductions for making me like this character, his description further enhances the feeling of a character who thinks the world of himself, but might just be a loser. He calls Mollander "Hopfrog", which is a nasty thing to say to a person with a clubfoot, and Mollander tells him he is not welcome - so clearly, nobody likes Lazy Leo but Leo himself. More maesters are mentioned - Perestan and Mollos, these two most likely historical - and we learn that Leo has a father with connections as evidenced by his comment, "Buy me a cup of Arbor gold, Hopfrog, and perhaps I won't inform my father of your toast" (to House Targaryen). Later we learn Leo is a Tyrell. Leo flaunts his wealth to them (boasting about the luxury food he's been eating); apparently Leo is supposed to be confined at the Citadel for some mischief. Well, of all the characters in this prologue I have to say that Leo gets the best characterization in terms of those broad strokes quickly filling us in as to who this Leo is; as for Mollander, Roone, Armen, I can't really keep them that apart (oh, okay, Mollander drinks); Alleras remains a mystery, and Pate, well, Pate is just Pate. I like it when Alleras reminds Leo that he (Alleras) is "no lord's son," the irony of course being that she is a lord's daughter. Alleras too, makes a note of Leo not being one of the group, not a friend. And the way he behaves in this very scene is enough to make it clear that he deserves it. Pate would really like to hit Leo, but he isn't made for violence. The gang gets into a verbal quarrel with Leo, but Leo avoids it by confirming that Daenerys Targaryen is indeed alive, and that she has hatched three dragons, which astonishes young Roone - gotta love Leo's insolence here (another love-to-hate character enters the fold! Leo might be the first properly foppish character in the series):
"Three?" said Roone, astonished.
Leo patted his hand. "More than two and less than four. I would not try for my golden link just yet if I were you."
I chuckl'd.

And so we hear of the Mage, the maester Marwyn; also, Perestan is an archmaester very much alive and not a historical maester as I thought. Marwyn, then, believes the rumors of the dragons, but Armen says Marwyn is "unsound", which both Perestan and (another maester) Ryam agree with. Which leads us neatly into a paragraph of setting up said Marwyn. Now, if you've got a great memory, you may remember Marwyn being mentioned as far back as A Game of Thrones - I don't, but I know. That's pretty cool, innit. Mentioned so long ago, and now we finally get more on this character who, up to this point, was just a name. This is why I believe we are being set up to meet some, if not all, of the maesters at the Citadel. Anyway, Marwyn is described as anything but the typical maester; in fact, you could almost wonder if Pate is thinking about Euron Crow's Eye and not Marwyn: "People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards, talked with hairy Ibbenese and pitch-black Summer Islanders in their own tongues, and sacrificed to queer gods (...)" Apparently this Marwyn is the odd one out at the Citadel. Oh yes.

* * * * * *

Ooookay, I had to take a few days' break, you won't notice of course as I post everything at once, but I had to scan the first pages of the prologue just to get that feeling back. When I said that we've had a similar experience before - that is, being introduced to entirely new characters in the prologue of A Clash of Kings- I mentioned that this prologue felt a bit more jarring because of the long wait for new material, but I could also have mentioned another major difference: in Clash, the characters we get to see in the prologue become part of the regular cast (Ser Davos, Melisandre, Stannis), while the gang at the Quill and the Tankard - Mollander, Roone, Lazy Leo, Alleras, Armen, Pate - well, we never see them again (though Pate's case is a bit different - weirdly, we both never get to see him again and we will most likely see him again. How can it be possible?! Hang on. We're getting there). This makes this prologue stand out even more as an odd addition. This is why I feel Martin must reintroduce these characters, most likely in Sam's chapters. Once we get back to his story, he can meet these fellows (could they become his new crew?) and all this characterization of seemingly non-important characters in this prologue will make more sense. I almost hope so, for the quality of the work, if not for the characters themselves. Right. I'm back in the mood. Where was I? Oh yeah. Marwyn. The Mage, sounding like he's stepping straight out of Dungeons & Dragons and into Westeros. Oh my.

Archmaester Marwyn © Fantasy Flight Games

So, Marwyn is "inclined" to believe the tales of dragons is true. That's not the way we have been presented maesters before, is it? We've seen the order of the maesters mainly through Luwin in Winterfell, and doddering Pycelle in King's Landing, and Luwin at least seems very down to earth, not really believing in the "higher mysteries". But just as these two are very different men, Marwyn is an entirely different character again. When all the people of the Earth realize that we're all different, even within small communities that from the outside look similar, and we get rid of that damned "us vs. them" mentality (espoused by politics and religion and that zany invention called "borders") maybe, just maybe, we could all start to get along. But I'm not going to go all political on your behinds - I'm just giving Marwyn the benefit of the doubt ^^ Though the accompanying art from the Game of Thrones Card Game here makes me wonder if the artist thinks of Marwyn as a bit of a nefarious character - at least that's what I feel the art emanates. What's with all the cool words, all of a sudden? Nefarious, emanates. Oh, I have a whole lot more, but I'm using them sparingly so that I still can spice up a post eighty chapters from now. I kid. But now I'm really going back to the chapter. Guess I just needed to write something down to get rolling. Now I'm rolling. Really.

So, while we heard of him previously (and most likely forgotten again), we now get some heavy (dare I say blunt) exposition on Marwyn. Again warning bells are tolling, telling me that this guy will we definitely see more of. Why else give us so much detail? Right, I covered the aspect of Marwyn that reminded me of Euron Crow's Eye, but there's more: Marwyn spent eight (!) years mapping distant lands in the East, searching for lost books (so this would be when Mirri Maz Duur met him, apologies if I misspelled her name, legions of Mirri-fans), "studying with warlocks and shadowbinders". Now this is interesting - shadowbinding, would that be the name for the magic Melisandre used beneath Storm's End? I would say yes, and does this mean Melisandre, too, studied in the far east - she does seem to know a thing or two about Asshai? Is that where shadowbinding is taught? Also, does this mean that Marwyn has visited the House of the Undying (warlocks)? Very interesting, and also so aggravating to not know more. Arf. It does explain how Marwyn earned his nickname though.

When Armen says Marwyn has no proof of dragons (spoken like a true scientist), Leo says he's wrong, because "there is a glass candle burning in the Mage's chambers." I do so remember scratching my head at this. What does that mean? What glass candle? Whaaat?! And how does a burning glass candle serve as evidence for the return of dragons? Also, I have to admit, I find the whole thing about the maesters (generally) being portrayed almost like scientists fighting against superstition a bit derivative (is that the right word? one moment - checking thesaurus - ... yeaaah...I think that's the word I'm looking for), because. You know. It's been a pretty hot topic the last decade or two. Science versus religion I mean - it feels as if this is part of what fuels Martin's similar "maesters vs. magic" subplot. If it can be called a subplot. Only, of course, in Martin's world it's inversed - here, the superstition becomes real - and I am curious how the maesters will react to the return of magic. Man, it's such a wide topic, Martin could write a new series based on this alone. But anyway, I find it distracting but that might be because I am personally very interested in the discourse (or lack thereof) between scientists, religious apologists and everyone in between. I love watching debates, for example, and I find it amazing how people can have such amazingly different views on stuff like the origins of life, or the existence of deities. How will Dany's dragons change the maesters' view on life? I want to know. I want to know now. Gimme gimme gimme The Winds of Winter. Also, before I forget, one more reason why I don't particularly like this added dimension to the story - there is already more than enough to wrap up. Now Martin has to wrap up this as well. And in no more than two books. Count me among those who can't really fathom how two books can do justice to all the things that have yet to be wrapped up, from Nymeria's pack roaming the Riverlands, to the maesters and their glass candles and their links and their views, to the rise of the Faith, to all those horns that are about, to ...well, you know as much as I how much stuff is going on in this story. Of course, if Jaime's chapter in Dance is an indicator for how Martin is going to wrap things up, we might be in for some severe disappointment. I know, I'm getting ahead of myself, but really, what was that about?! Was it just a minor detail added to satisfy our need to know whether Brienne survived Feast? I almost hope so. Because that was not wrapping up. That was just...I don't know. Shoving dust under the rug instead of vacuum-cleaning?

The Hightower in Oldtown by Ted Nasmith

Geez I haven't even turned a page yet and I'm rambling like...uhm, Martin? Because let's face it, there is a whole lot more rambling going on in A Feast with Dragons, and it's already noticeable here in this prologue, filled to the brim with new characters, exposition galore (yet curiously little detail on Oldtown itself - sadly). Still, it's (so far) not as bad as I remember it. Or I'm getting used to it. So, Roone asks for all of us, what the heck are glass candles? Predictably, this allows Martin to launch into yet another exposition. So much exposition in this prologue. Very clearly setup, I'd wager. Was setup so clear in previous novels? It feels more direct, more blunt.

George R.R. Martin Armen the Acolyte cleared his throat.

Right, let's see if I can get those candles straight (because, you know, "all were tall and twisted" ahaha). Everybody knows about them, though they are supposed to be secret. They come from Valyria from before the Doom. There are four - one green and three black (wonder if those colors signify anything?). The candles are made from obsidian (would that be stone melted by dragonfire, same stuff found as arrowheads far to the North - I believe I remember correctly). The ridges on the candles are sharp as razors; and acolytes must spend a night trying to light one, which, from the sound of it all, seems impossible - hinting that the fact Marwyn has a lit candle means its somehow connected to the impossible, as in magic. Mmm, do they burn again because magic exists again? Sounds like it. Oh, and the candles casts no light (which is weird when they phrase it as something that can be lit, but hey, that's magic to you). Armen explains this oddity, but I'm not convinced - he claims that the glass candle is "meant to represent truth and learning, rare and fragile and beautiful things (...)" and that a maester will remember the vigil where he could not make the candle burn and remind himself that even with knowledge, "some things are not possible." This sounds more like what a Septon would've said, kind of giving up on finding explanations and just go with "magic did it". I find it a bit jarring. Anyway, Leo says he did see a candle burning, so I guess I misunderstood - the candle does burn, and it casts strange shadows and its flame never flickers, it was just that Pate & company don't believe the candle can burn, hence not shed light. Pate reminds us all that another word for obsidian is dragonglass, which pretty much confirms that "burning glass candle equals dragons are living and breathing somewhere in the world". Leo says that Marwyn is the only one to see "the truth" (again, so jarring - I prefer the medieval fantasy, not a blunt look at the differences between scientific inquiry and superstition, not in these books anyway, but hey, I can complain but Martin does of course write whatever he feels like...when he writes...) However, everything we hear about a glass candle burning comes from Lazy Leo, and he says right here that he prefers the taste of Arbor gold, and isn't that the wine associated with deception? I read a theory about this somewhere, somewhen - that whenever a character drinks or talks about Arbor gold, there's deception going on. So maybe Leo is lying. We'll have to wait and see, I suppose. Anyway, the night is finally coming to an end, and Armen says it's time to disperse. After all, Archmaester Ebrose will "be speaking on the properties of urine." Now that sounds like an intriguing class you wouldn't want to piss miss.

Leo tells them that he'll linger to have some sexytime with Rosey (just to get a rise out of Pate, I suspect - after all, the foppish Tyrell boy doesn't have the required coin to take her maidenhead). Maidenhead. Sounds like a tribute band playing Iron Maiden and Motörhead songs. I can like that. More than I like Lazy Leo Tyrell, at any rate. What a, excuse my Dothraki, douche. Alleras reminds Pate that Leo can't afford Rosey, so just leave it be - and Mollander, trying to be helpful, says that he's got to go because Old Walgrave will be needing Pate's help on the privy. Yeah, thanks Mollander, that's just what I needed to hear! I'll just leave Leo here close to Rosey and go help the old man empty his bladder. Or bowels. Yay. Woo and also hoo.

For some reason, the line "You have been measured and you've been found wanting" came up in my noodle. Where did that come from? A Knight's Tale? (I admit. I google.) I guess it occurred to me that this whole scene with the boys and Leo is a bit of a...manly contest. From Leo's perspective, at any rate. Hey, there's a nice little shout-out to good ol' dead Maester Cressen! Pate tells his buddies he's going to stay a little while longer (he's still waiting for the alchemist). And yes, finally a little bit more on Oldtown itself: it's a labyrinth of wynds and alleys and crookback streets. Woot! Sounds perfectly medieval. Love Armen's parting warning, "The night is damp, and the cobbles will be slippery." Because. You know. "The night is dark, and full of terrors." Imagine if Melisandre had that first line. Teehee!

So now the cast has shrunk to just Pate and Leo. And Leo continues to be rude to Pate. Pate thinks that he wants to kill Leo, but, he is not drunk enough "to throw away his life." Well, isn't that ironic? Haha. I like. The irony!

Oh no...more exposition. On Leo. Trained to fight, deadly with blade and dagger. Leo's father is the commander of the City Watch (of Oldtown) - a Ser Moryn Tyrell. And fricking Mace Tyrell is Leo's cousin. Wow. Compared to, say, Garlan Tyrell and even Loras, and probably also Willas, Lazy Leo is a bit of a let-down. Well, so is Mace.

Dawn at last. Light and stuff. From the east. Pate's really drunk, needing to lean on a table just to stand. He tells Leo to leave Rosey be, and threatens to kill Leo. I imagine this with a very slurred voice, and indeed Leo doesn't take the threat very seriously. Finally Pate is off, crossing the old plank bridge, on his way back to the Citadel, even though in his dreams he'd rather be anywhere else. Adventuring across the world, like. Poor Pate with his daydreams. If only he were Luke Skywalker. Or another heroic archetype.

Oldtown © Fantasy Flight Games

Morning bells begin to peal from the Sailor's Sept (nice little touch), with other temples following suit until the town is all properly woken up by the "mighty music". Oy, there are Red Priests in Oldtown?! When the heck did they arrive? I was always under the impression that Thoros and Melisandre were almost anomalies. Really, what's going on here? Have we been informed that they have temples of their own in Westeros, or is the first and only one? Have I missed something? Or is Martin being sneaky and slipping them in to show us how they kind of just make space for themselves? And why haven't they come before? Didn't they have a clergy and stuff like that before now, before the awakening of magic/dragons?! I'm so confus'd. Martin allows himself to remind us about Stannis, his defeat at the hands of Tywin Lannister, and subtly reminding us of Melisandre (through mentioning those Red Priests who just suddenly popped up with a complete temple right in the middle of southern Westeros).

I do like to get a view of Oldtown, seriously. For all the exposition and strangeness I find in this chapter, I like Oldtown's description. King's Landing sounds like a (huge) pig sty in comparison. And of course, dawn is a perfect time of day to capture the good looks of Oldtown. There is of course the biggest and most impressive landmark, the Hightower. But can you really see all the way to the Wall from the top? No, that's ridiculous. There's an insane amount of distance between Hightower and the Wall. But could there be some truth in it? I don't know, some kind of ancient magical device that allows you to see the Wall...? Could there have been a palantír in Hightower? It would be cool, but does the story really need this? No; so I suppose it's just Martin toying with us, a nice little detail added to the ever-growing setting of his imagination.

Right. A butcher's cart rumbles past, down the river road, and you have to wonder why Martin adds in yet another detail instead of getting on with it. Well, there are five piglets in the back, squealing in distress, which could be seen as foreshadowing - we have already connected Pate to pigs (Leo calls him the "pig boy"), so this could mean that Pate will, you know, be in distress sooner than later. Also, Pate decides that he will never be a maester, which is true enough. When he trips and falls on the cobbled street, the alchemist finally shows up, telling him good morning.

The alchemist explains that he did not wish to be rude and intrude when he saw Pate with his friends. Pate tells him that he has decided he is a thief - in other words, he has decided to accept the alchemist's gold coin...but what does the alchemist want in return?

It turns out to be a key. Pate has stolen a key from Archmaester Walgrave. It was hidden in a prince's gauntlet inside the maester's strongbox. Why not just a chest? Anyway. It's an old key and it supposedly opens every door at the Citadel. That's a pretty big betrayal from Pate. He basically hands over the entire Citadel of Oldtown. Oh, and that's where Pate got his silver (just not enough for Rosey's maidenhead). Lol, that's a nice little detail I had forgotten.

The alchemist leads Pate to a narrow alley to complete the deal. The alchemist shows Pate the promised coin: "The alchemist made it walk across his knuckles." Pate grabs it from the man's hand and bites on it (because, hilariously, he believes he needs to taste if it's pure because that's what he has seen other men do) . And then the alchemist asks for the key. And Pate hesitates, wondering what the alchemist wants in the Citadel. Man, it really really is a low thing to do, Pate. You've really hit the bottom. Imagine if the janitor at NASA gave the key to all of the offices and what-not to some agent from some naughty country. And yes I'm fully aware there are probably more janitors at NASA than one. But you get the point. It's such a terrible treachery, no matter how badly he feels he has been treated (not that I get the impression; it's just that Pate was never cut out to be a maester, am I right?).

For some (narrative) reason, Pate wishes to see the man's face (it was hidden underneath a hood), and the alchemist grants him a look: A young man's face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. Well, it's been a decade since this book was released, so I have a feeling I'm not telling you anything new when I say this description is enough for us readers to know just who the alchemist is. It's Jaqen H'ghar, of course. He changed his appearance when he left Arya, and now here he is. To confirm the suspicion, he tells Pate that he is "A stranger. No one. Truly." It was quite surprising, the way this prologue ends, don't you agree?

Since the glass candles had a pretty solid introduction earlier in the prologue, it is my suspicion that Jaqen wants the - hold on to your hats - glass candles. This remains speculation, however, for the foreseeable futurum.

I also have the feeling that by tasting the coin, Pate got himself an unfortunate case of poisoning. Though it's anybody's guess how Jaqen predicted that Pate would put the coin in his mouth. Unless it's contact poison, of course. Wait. Does Jaqen wear gloves, mysteriously? *Re-reads description* Nope. Knuckles bare and stuff, to make that coin walk. Next possibility: Jaqen is immune, because, as a Faceless Man, he's spent time hardening his body against poisons? I don't know. I might be confusing this for Erikson's The Wurms of Blearmouth, which I recently read, in which Mancy, the servant of the necromancer duo of much hilarity, is revealed to have trained his body to withstand poisons.

And finally, finally the prologue is over and done with! Yay! Man, that took hours. Good I did actual paid work earlier today. Anyway. Did Jaqen kill Pate with a poisoned coin? Or did he just trip a second time, this time landing in a very unfortunate position that broke his neck or something? And do we feel sorry for Pate? And is it cool that we get Jaqen back, in a sense? And how does this sync with Balon Greyjoy's death? All intriguing questions that may occupy the mind during a Long Wait. But right now, all my mind wants is a chapter of Miles Cameron's The Red Knight (it's surprisingly good so far, maybe a Tier Two book) and sleepy.

Until next post!


  1. You should name your car Ygritte and program the GPS to say "You know nothing, Janos Slynt" every time you make a wrong turn

  2. Now Martin has to wrap up this as well. And in no more than two books.

    Martin will die of a heart attack after finishing the sixth book, and Brandon Sanderson will have to be brought in to finish the last book. It is known.

  3. Yaay. I love AFFC and am growing fonder of ADWD, so I'm highly excited for this reread.

  4. The "you have been tried and found wanting" bit didn't originate in A Knight's Tale, but rather from the "writing on the wall" incident recounted in the Biblical book of Daniel.