[Red Pen Reads] A Game of Thrones – Arya and Bran

Arya is hunting pigeons on the streets. It’s a good thing Syrio’s training has her so well-prepared for the life of a street urchin. Unfortunately, bakers are not interesting in trading freshly baked tarts for dead pigeons, no matter how fat a pigeon it may be. Imagine that. Luckily for Arya, the baker is fat and unlikely to catch her. Luckily for the baker, two city watch guards are around to make up for any deficiencies in his physique.

In terms of knowing what’s going on, Arya’s not doing so bad. She knows how to listen and the darkest alleys and lowest streets are filled with information, the problem is only differentiating rumours from facts. There are all sorts of versions of Robert’s death circulating. None of it is terribly important to Arya right now, she’s more concerned about the fact that she can’t get out of the city. Most of the gates are not letting people out and those that are have everyone and everything searched first. I’m assuming this is actually precisely for Arya’s benefit.

I have to admire Arya’s enterprising spirit, I think more than I did when I first read this. She’s doing fantastically well for a nine-year-old: she hasn’t been caught and hasn’t starved to death. She’d be cleaner and maybe somewhat better fed as a prisoner, but I would say a lot worse off. Joffrey is not reasonable, not very smart, and very quick to anger. Sansa can save herself by being meek and saying what people want to hear, but Arya can’t do that, she’d provoke Joffrey into killing her in five minutes.

Lest we think that Arya is having one of those fun, middle-grade-friendly adventures, she thinks about the pot-shops (places where she trades her pigeons for food) and how they’re always filled with people, some of whom want to steal her clothes and some of whom obviously want what’s under the clothes. It’s a good thing none of us is reading this book for a bit of fun escapism.

Investigating the possibility of stowing away in a ship, Arya makes her way to the docks. There she finds that the ship Ned hired to take her and Sansa away still hasn’t left. She’s happy to see men in Winterfell colours near it, but good sense outweighs joy. Not recognizing any of them, she smells a trap and avoids it by pretending to be just another boy off the streets. She makes her way back to the dirty streets, safe but having lost her pigeon and thus her chance for dinner that day.

Summoning bells interrupt everyone’s plan for dinner, people streaming to gather to watch Ned being brought to Baelor’s Sept. Following the stream of people, Arya makes it to the place and climbs onto the statue of Baelor the Blessed for a better vantage point from which she can see that Ned has been dressed up in lordly clothing for this public appearance. The whole court is there, including Sansa. Arya isn’t pleased to see Sansa looking happy. Don’t worry, kid, there’ll be a lot of unhappy people here before this is over.

The crowd is quieted down and Ned begins to “confess” his “treason.” When he’s finished the High Septon preaches on the virtue of mercy. Joffrey preens and says that mercy is for weenies and asks for Ned’s head on a platter. The head thing is literal, the platter is my exaggeration. The grown-ups of the court are appalled at this strategically disastrous decision, but the beauty of absolute monarchy is that the king gets to be batshit crazy without limitation. That worked out so well for Aerys, eh?

As Ser Ilyn Payne, the aptly named executioner, approaches Ned, Arya jumps back into the crowd and draws her sword. Aw, isn’t she precious? As she fights through the crowd, she can hear Sansa scream, and see Payne draw Ned’s Valyrian Steel greatsword — Ice. Her meagre progress towards her father is arrested by a man who catches her and tells her to close her eyes just as a sound and the crowd’s reaction announce the end of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell. Ah, Ned, you were a good man and good men are not long for GRRM’s world. Besides, if this is to be a proper fantasy epic, your various children need to be orphans. It’s a rule, it’s probably even written down somewhere.

Arya recognizes the old man holding her as Yoren, the Night’s Watch brother who came to see Ned when he arrived in the city. He lets her keep Needle and pointedly calls her “boy” several times then cuts off her hair for good measure to make sure everyone else will call her a boy, too. It’s not gentle, but it’s better than either in Joffrey’s grasp or alone on the streets. Castle Black isn’t officially under Winterfell’s command, but let’s face it, what bonds keep the Night’s Watch connected to King’s Landing or any of the rest of the south? Aside from being a dumping ground for their criminals and unwanted sons, the Wall means nothing to the southrons. It’s part of the North and the North means Winterfell.

Bran is watching Ser Rodrik drill some young men. No, not that way. Yes, I know that in these books, you have to specify. The drills are for the men who’ll be replacing all the soldiers and guards that went to war with Robb and will not come back. Bran knows he used to be better than all of the older boys down in the yard. He’s thinking of weapons he can fight with while sitting on Hodor’s shoulders. Maester Luwin thinks that’s unlikely no matter how many examples of knights with disabilities Bran can enumerate from Old Nan’s stories.

From Bran’s dreams of knighthood they segue into his actual dreams. In his latest dream, the three-eyed crow led him into the family crypt where he saw Ned who was sad. Bran wanted to go down there to see if Ned’s there in reality, but Hodor refused to go. The important bit here is of course the part where Bran’s dreams accurately represents Ned’s newfound absence from the ranks of the living. Luwin is tries to explain to Bran that Ned wouldn’t be there because dreams are just dreams. Obviously, he’s forgotten that these books are classified as fantasy, therefore mystical little boys always speak the truth. Since there is an easy way to settle this — going down to the crypts to look — Luwin summons Osha, the wildling from the group that attacked Bran during his first horse-back outing, to carry Bran instead of the unwilling Hodor (see, Hodor knows better than to doubt mystical little boys, but no one listens to Hodor).

As the group (including Summer) descend into the crypts, Bran remembers playing down there with his siblings and wishes they were with him. In the preceding Arya chapter, she was missing her brothers, too. I do love how heart-warmingly close the Stark children are and how they miss each other when apart. It’s sweet. I’m not even excluding Sansa from that, as her thoughts (or at least one thought) in the later books will show.

Everyone seems uncomfortable to be down there, even the direwolf, except apparently Maester Luwin. He sounds like one of those eminently rational men. Efficient, too, since he decides to use this as an impromptu history lesson and has Bran tell Osha about the old Stark kings. They go all the way down the line until finally they come to Ned’s pre-arranged tomb. It’s empty of Ned, of course, but unfortunately full of a snarling, pouncing direwolf named Shaggydog. He attacks Maester Luwin and Summer has to hold his brother at bay until Rickon calls him off.

(In the middle of writing that paragraph, I went off to look something up on A Wiki of Ice and Fire and ended up getting sucked into the soap opera of House Targaryen, the only reason I’m back to writing is because the site is down.)

Rickon’s there for the same reason Bran is — he saw Ned in a dream the night before. He refuses to leave because he wants to wait for his father in the place where he saw him. Bran coaxes him away with promises that it’ll be just them and their wolves, waiting. Luwin tries to object because he doesn’t want Shaggydog anywhere other than in chains in the kennels, but since Bran is the ranking Stark in Winterfell, he gets to lay down the law (as Osha reminds everyone). So everyone piles into the Maester’s cluttered tower. Luwin is still trying to be a sceptic about the boys’ dreams. While he’s explaining why it’s perfectly natural for them to have the same dream at the same time, he’s also instructing Osha to tend to his Shaggydog-inflicted wounds and it includes this little tidbit of dialogue: “ooh, seven hells, that burns, no, don’t stop, more.” GRRM just can’t help himself, can he?

Osha believes the boys, she brings up the Children of the Forest to make her point about special dreams. Luwin points out that magic didn’t save the Children from extinction. He calls magic a “glass sword” and then shows the boys some obsidian (“dragonglass”) arrowheads. The boys like the arrowheads well enough — this is a thousand times more Rickon than we’ve had in the entire book up until now and I think about 90% of all of Rickon’s presence in the books to date — but Bran really wants to know more about the Children. The Children are more or less this world’s elf equivalent and they lived on Westeros before the First Men and Andals and all the rest of the human racial groups made their home there.

The First Men were the, uh, first men to arrive on the continent, and they brought bronze and horses with them. They fought with the Children, then settled into peace and adopted their nature gods and kept the weir-trees with carved faces in their settlements. Osha says the Children still live north of the Wall, although Luwin doesn’t believe it, of course. He tells the boys about the Andals, who came next, bringing with them steel and the faith of the seven. They conquered the southern part of the continent.

The wolves interrupt Luwin with their howling, ceasing it just before a message-bearing raven arrives. Bran feels despair before the bird even gets there, knowing what’s coming. Rickon does, too, because he starts crying. Summer licks Shaggydog and Bran hugs Rickon while Luwin gets the message. Even before he reads it, he’s resigned himself to accepting what the boys’ dreams have told them. With tears in his eyes, he confirms the worst for the two littlest Starks.

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