Oh my! It's Thursday. Time for another re-read post. Apologies in advance because there are only two chapters in this one. BUT the chapters are longer than the previous ones, so hopefully that makes up for things.
Seriously, these ones were hella long, and they would not condense. Must find a way to prune the summaries.
Without much further ado, let's get to it, picking up from where we left off at the end of Part 6. Beware spoilers, ye who dare to read on. If you are new to this, or if you are looking for earlier posts, the intro is here, and the ASOIAF tag is being used to track the entries here. (#ASOIAF on Twitter.)
Chapter 19: Jon
Ser Alliser Thorne, master-at-arms at Castle Black, is training the newest recruits for the Watch, and the only one who is any good with a sword is Jon. Ser Alliser hates Jon, but he hates all the boys, thinking that they are weak and useless scum. Except for himself, Jon agrees with that assessment. None of the boys have been able to match him with dull swords, and he dispatches his latest victim, a huge boy named Grenn.
All the boys are older than Jon, and most are bigger. He dislikes them, and they feel the same way about him. Ser Alliser calls him by the mocking title of Lord Snow, and the nickname has stuck. Jon seethes with bitterness because no one warned him about the people and the brutal life on the Wall except for Tyrion.
In the armory yard, Grenn and three boys, including the two rapers from the journey north gang up on Jon. First they taunt him about being a bastard. Then they say his mother was a whore. They attack Jon, but he fights back, managing to knock down a couple of them before the fight is stopped by Donal Noye, the one-armed blacksmith. Noye sends the other boys packing, but he tells Jon to stay, and he has hard words for him.
The first issue he addresses is Jon's parentage. Jon was angry because they said his mother was a whore. Noye said it wouldn't matter even if it were true. Jon is even more upset that they would dare accuse Lord Eddard Stark of using a whore. Noye counters that Eddard must have forgotten honour somewhere long enough to father a bastard. He reminds Jon that these boys are his new brothers, something Jon doesn't accept yet.
"They're not my brothers," Jon snapped. "They hate me because I'm better than they are."
"No. They hate you because you act like you're better than they are. They look at you and see a castle-bred bastard who thinks he's a lordling." The armorer leaned close. "You're no lordling. Remember that. You're a Snow, not a Stark. You're a bastard and a bully."
"A bully?" Jon almost choked on the word. The accusation was so unjust it took his breath away. "They were the ones who came after me. Four of them."
"Four that you've humiliated in the yard. Four who are probably afraid of you. I've watched you fight. It's not training with you. Put a good edge on your sword, and they'd be dead meat; you know it, they know it. You leave them nothing. Does that make you proud?"
Noye asks Jon if his master-at-arms in Winterfell was a knight. Jon tells him it was Ser Rodrik, and Noye points out that all the other boys only have whatever they learn from Ser Alliser. The others have never had training like Jon, or fought with any kind of swords before.
Thoroughly chastened by now, Jon leaves the armory. He is joined by Tyrion, who remarks on the size of the Wall, and what must be on the other side. He considers it an impressive yet useless structure, since he does not believe in the Others, or the "grumkins and snarks". Jon bristles when Tyrion calls him Lord Snow, but the Imp reminds him to embrace the names others give him so that they cannot hurt.
The two of them go to eat in the common hall. Jon sits away from the other youths, but Tyrion joins him. Then Ser Alliser tells Jon the Lord Commander wants to see him. Jon asks if it concerns news of Benjen Stark, who is overdue for returning from a ranging mission. Ser Alliserdoes not care to answer him, but Tyrion uses his influence to get Thorne to talk and to stop worrying Jon. Ser Alliser says it involves news about Bran. Tyrion gives his condolences to Jon, thinking Bran has died, but Jon goes racing off to find the Lord Commander.
Jeor Mormont is a big, elderly man. He keeps a pet crow that repeats some of the words it hears. Mormont has a letter from Robb, but Jon is overjoyed that Bran will live, even if he can never use his legs. He rushes back to the hall, picks up Tyrion, and swings the dwarf around in happiness. He feels so good that he goes over to Grenn and apologizes for bruising his wrist. He also offers to teach him how to defend the attack Jon used on him.
Ser Alliser overhears this and laughs at the notion of someone else trying to teach the big but slow Grenn.
"Lord Snow wants to take my place now." He sneered. "I'd have an easier time teaching a wolf to juggle than you will training this aurochs."
"I'll take that wager, Ser Alliser," Jon said. "I'd love to see Ghost juggle."
The hall goes silent. Then Tyrion starts laughing and the rest of the crowd joins in, even Grenn. Everyone laughs except Ser Alliser.
"That was a grievous error, Lord Snow," he said at last in the acid tones of an enemy.
Well, someone can't take a joke. Sheesh. Lighten up, Thorne.
Aside from Jon making a new enemy, this chapter was more about him facing reality in the harsh, stripped-down way that is pretty much de rigueur on the Wall. Exhibit A: Donal Noye. The old blacksmith (he's about 30) doesn't sugarcoat his words. And he's absolutely right. Jon may be younger than the others, but he's still bullying them. It speaks well for Jon's character that he actually takes Noye's criticisms to heart and decides to do something about it. He has the decency to feel ashamed, and it's a sure bet that we'll see a different Jon the next time around.
This chapter also features Tyrion being noble and comforting. Coming on the heels of a chapter that basically implicated him in the attempted murder of Bran, I think the talk between Tyrion and Jon does a lot to show that the Imp is not a bad guy. Sure, he could be faking it, but that doesn't feel believable. Tyrion is being set up.
In the roles of Also Appearing in this Chapter, we had Grenn, Ser Alliser, Lord Jeor Mormont, and his chatty crow. Jeor, of course, is the father of Ser Jorah Mormont, aka Daenerys's banished knight, aka the informant. I think we'll find father and son are cut from entirely different cloth.
Chapter 20: Eddard
Eddard arrives at the Red Keep, dusty and cranky. The king's steward tells him the small council requests his presence. Ned doesn't want to go, but it would look bad to snub the other members on his first day in King's Landing. The four present council members are Renly, Littlefinger, Varys, and Pycelle, the sleepy old Grand Maester. Missing are Stannis Baratheon, Ser Barristan, and King Robert.
The introductions are short. Ned knows Varys, but does not like him. Although he has never met the man, he likes Littlefinger even less, in part because of the history between Petyr, Catelyn, and Brandon Stark. Ned's mood isn't helped by Littlefinger's witticisms, and he decides to get the meeting started before any more time is wasted. He questions the absence of the king, but Renly tells him that Robert leaves matters to the small council, since he hates "counting coppers".
The reason for the meeting shocks Ned. Robert has asked the council to prepare a tournament in celebration of the new King's Hand. As if a tourney in his honour weren't embarrassing enough, the event would cost the realm over a hundred thousand gold dragons. Littlefinger mentions that with the treasury empty for years, he'll have to borrow some more money, probably from Tywin Lannister. Ned splutters when he hears that the kingdom is 3 million gold dragons in debt, and he almost chokes when Littlefinger corrects him; the kingdown owes 3 million to Tywin, but there is another 3 million or so owed to other lenders as well.
There is little Ned can do about the mismanagement of funds at the moment, especially since the spendthrift seems to be Robert, not the council. He leaves the meeting in a worse mood than when he arrived, and he's not best pleased when Littlefinger appears a few minutes later, taking him somewhere secretive. Littlefinger tells Ned that Catelyn is waiting for him. Ned does not believe the man, but he follows him for a while until they arrive outside a brothel.
Still thinking that he is being tricked, Ned attacks Littlefinger in anger, and he is only stopped by the appearance of Ser Rodrick. Baflled by the presence of his master-at-arms, Ned follows Littlefinger inside and finds Catelyn in a room. He worries that there is bad news about Bran, but the truth is still bad. Catelyn tells him everything that happened. Ned sees no connection between Tyrion and Bran, but Littlefinger says that Tyrion wouldn't have acted alone. However, he advises Ned to lose the knife and drop the matter, since he doesn't think Ned has evidence for a case against anyone. Ned is not amused.
"Lord Baelish, I am a Stark of Winterfell. My son lies crippled, perhaps dying. He would be dead, and Catelyn with him, but for a wolf pup we found in the snow. If you truly believe I could forget that, you are as big a fool now as when you took up sword against my brother."
"A fool I may be, Stark... yet I'm still here, while your brother has been moldering in his frozen grave for some fourteen years now. If you are so eager to molder beside him, far be it from me to dissuade you, but I would rather not be included in the party, thank you very much.
The meeting ends with Littlefinger saying he'll help Ned for Catelyn's sake. Ned tells Catelyn she needs to return to Winterfell without anyone seeing her. She protests, but Littlefinger agrees, pointing out that someone would notice her and whoever sent the killer would grow suspicious and wary.
Littlefinger leaves the Starks after that. When they are alone, Ned tells Catelyn to fortify the north. She worries that he means war, but Ned hopes it doesn't come to that. He hopes that Robert is still the man he used to know.
Littlefinger brings up a good point about still being alive. The number one skill in Westeros is staying alive. With so many people angling for power, the higher you are, the better your odds of getting killed off. Littlefinger is remarkably good at staying alive. He's the most slippery character in the whole series. Ned is right not to trust him, but a first-time reader might just think he's being paranoid. After all, Littlefinger says all the right things, and he never seems to get offended. How bad could he be?
This is not to say that I think Littlefinger is evil. He's just looking out for number one, and he will compromise anyone to survive and thrive. This reminds me of something Jamie told Cersei when Bran was listening to them. He was actually talking about Littlefinger versus Ned. "Give me honorable enemies rather than ambitious ones, and I'll sleep more easily by night."
Suspicion in the crimes leans heavily towards the Lannisters. Of course, Jamie and Cersei are guilty of Bran's fall, but did either of them send the killer with the knife? The Starks need little nudging to heap guilt on Lannisters, so it's only a matter of time before the animosity between direwolf and lion build to a head.
Other than the politicking and misdirection (if it is misdirection), the reunion between Ned and Catelyn is too short, unfortunately. But when you have kingdoms and household to run, and the lives of your children are in danger, I guess there isn't much time for tenderness.
Speaking of running kingdoms, Westeros is badly in debt. Clearly, Robert has never heard of fiscal responsibility. Oh, right, he hates "counting coppers." Meanwhile, he just gets more and more in debt with others. And who is the Master of Coin, the facilitator for borrowed money? Littlefinger. I'm just pointing that out.
Done! Until Monday, of course, when we return with Part 8. I hope to have more chapters in that post. In the meantime, have a great weekend, and happy reading!