Lord Commander Mormont checks on Jon, whose hand was seriously burned in the fire from killing the wight, and learns it will scar, but should heal well. Another ranging has returned, performed by Dywen and Hake, and once again found no sign of Benjen. A message arrived the night before stating that Ser Barristan had been removed from the Kingsguard and charged with treason. He slew two gold cloaks that came for him and left King’s Landing. A message arrived before that telling of Robb’s march to war, but Mormont did not tell Jon about that; Sam did. Jon is having a hard time dealing with that news and feels a coward for not going south to help despite his vows to the Watch.
The Lord Commander presents Jon with a gift for saving his life, his ancestral blade, Longclaw. It had passed to Jorah when Jeor took the black, but Jorah left it behind when he went into exile and Jeor put it away and largely forgot about it until he rediscovered it after the fire. The hilt had burned in the fire, but the Valyrian steel blade survived and a new hilt was crafted with a stone wolf replacing the original silver bear. Mormont has sent Ser Alliser to King’s Landing with the hand of the wight Jafer Flowers to plead the case of the Night’s Watch for more men. Ser Endrew Tarth will come from the Shadow Tower to replace him as master-at-arms. Mormont sends Jon for wine.
As Jon leaves the tower, Pyp, Todder, Grenn, Halder, and Matthar, surround him to see the sword, which they know about because Halder helped Pate carve the pommel, Sam bought the garnets for the hilt in Mole’s Town, and Rudge helped Donal Noye reform the sword in the forge. As his friends jest, Jon thinks of the other wight, Jafer, who killed five men including Ser Jaremy before it was hacked to pieces. Ser Jaremy had cut off his head, but the headless corpse responded by killing him. Jon is melancholy because of his injury and the fighting in the riverlands and soon takes leave of his friends. He goes back to his room and shows Longclaw to Ghost. Sam comes to tell Jon that Maester Aemon wants to see him. Sam told the maester about telling Jon about Robb.
Jon finds the maester feeding the ravens with the help of Clydas, whom the maester sends away. Aemon talks of the vows of the Night’s Watch and how important it is to place honor before love. When Aegon the Conqueror slew King Harren and conquered his kingdom, the Lord Commander of the Watch was his brother. Although Lord Commander Hoare had ten thousand swords, he did not march. When the Seven Kingdoms actually were seven and there was hardly a time three or four were not at war, the Watch did not take part. When the Andals came across the sea to destroy the kingdoms of the First Men, the Watch remained neutral. He tells Jon that he knows how he feels and how hard it is to keep the vows when tested, but Jon does not believe this, so Aemon tells his story. He was tested three times, but he chose his vows. Maesters give up their house names when they don the collar, but he was once Aemon Targaryen.
I don’t know if it’s the pace of the re-read or just my innate inability to flow chronologies but I’m having a bit of a hard time keeping the exact sequence of events together in my head. To the best of my knowledge, this chapter is a week or so after the last Jon chapter. We see him recovering from his burns but more importantly a lot has happened in the outside world – Jon found out about Ned’s arrest in his last chapter and by this chapter he knows that Selmy has been dismissed and that Robb is marching on King’s Landing. Now, based on Sansa’s chapters, the time difference between Ned being arrested and Selmy being dismissed can’t have been more than a few days – the events are still fresh in everyone’s minds and I can’t see Joffrey waiting longer than a week or so to instate the hound. The ravens Pycelle sends must be incredibly fast for them to make the trip to the Wall within a few days.
“In the dream, the corpse he fought had blue eyes, black hands, and his father’s face”
A neat bit of foreshadowing. Anyway, the real meat of this chapter comes from Jon’s angst regarding his inability to help Robb. I love this particular mini-arc that Jon has throughout AGoT. The way I see it, Jon’s arc for all of AGoT is basically him coming to terms with life on the wall. It’s an interesting arc to read because we do see Jon progress and his chapters are infrequent enough that the progress is made pretty apparent. In some sense, this is his final test. He must choose between the family he once had and his obligations to them and the family he now has and those obligations and vows.
The Jon we see here isn’t quite as polished or mature as the version of his that we see in ADWD. He is still prone to some occasional childishness and petulance but he is certainly getting there. I guess the Wall does force you to get your shit together. A part of Jon’s maturity comes from the responsibility that he is given. He is by far the best cadet out of all the recent trainees and that comes with a certain set of expectations that he seems comfortable with. The rest of the trainees and perhaps even some of the slightly more senior brothers respect him and I think he seems fairly comfortable with that too and as a ‘son’ of Eddard Stark I think he should be fairly accustomed to the idea of leadership. This chapter itself gives Jon another bit of responsibility – Longclaw. I call it a responsibility rather than a gift (which it technically is) because while Mormont is ostensibly giving it to Jon as a reward for ‘honourable conduct’ the gift says so much more than that. It is a statement from the Lord Commander that not only does he trust Jon in a professional capacity but also in a personal one, so much so that he is willing to give Jon such an overt symbol of his authority. Jon walking around with Longclaw sends a message to everyone who sees him that Jon is someone the Lord Commander respects and that itself gives Jon an extra bit of authority.
Having said that though, it was a little sad that Jorah had failed his family and House so thoroughly that Mormont had to give possibly their greatest treasure (remember that Valyrian steel swords are incredibly valuable) to an ‘outsider’ just because Jorah couldn’t man up and tell his wife to get it together. There’s also a point to be made (if somewhat vaguely) about how Mormont is shaping into a father figure for Jon just as he is about to lose another. We’ll talk about it when the time comes though.
Yet he could. scarcely tell Lord Mormont that it was another man’s sword he dreamt of . . .
Um, phrasing? But seriously though, whose sword is this? I mean, there’s no way that Jon ever thought he would be inheriting Ice right? I can only imagine the kind of fit Catelyn would throw if Jon got Ice over Robb, who funnily enough might actually be pretty fine with splitting the inheritance with Jon; he gets the title of Lord and Jon gets Ice. In any case, I guess dreaming of swords is Martin’s way of saying that Jon was missing Ned. I think.
It was Valyrian steel, beautiful but so sharp I was afraid I’d hurt one of my sisters.
There are times when I think that Sam is just a normal person born in the wrong setting and then there are times like this where I don’t even understand what exactly he’s thinking. I’m not even saying that he absolutely has to be a manly man who loves swords and fighting and killing, but the step from holding a Valyrian steel sword to hurting his sisters is absolutely absurd. It’s not like he was going to roam around waving it in his sisters’ general direction. I hate to say it, but there are times when I actually sympathize with Randyl Tarly – sure he was terrible father, worse than terrible actually, but still Sam absolutely point blank refused to even try to get used to some of the things that Randyl expected. Like using a sword – sure, he might have no talent at it, but it’s not something that you can’t practice. There’s no way that he was so scared of a sword that he couldn’t just force himself to practice for a little bit every day. I don’t know, I just get really annoyed by Sam’s pansiness (that’s a word right?) sometimes.
I want to quote Aemon’s entire speech here but that would defeat the purpose a little. I’ll stick to some of the better bits:
“What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.”
This is one of my favourite passages in ASOIAF. I love how it takes these abstract concepts of honour and duty and compares them so bluntly to more tangible emotions.
” A craven can be as brave as any man, when there is nothing to fear. And we all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor.”
Nothing to say really. It’s just really well-written and rings as true in our world as it does in theirs.
“Three times the gods saw fit to test my vows. Once when I was a boy, once in the fullness of my manhood, and once when I had grown old.”
A bit of speculation because I think I’ve forgotten what exactly these three times were. The first I’m guessing was when he was offered the Iron Throne since he was elder to Aegon – he didn’t say that it was specifically his Night’s Watch oaths that were tested. The second, I don’t quite recall though I hope some kind soul will remind if it’s well known. The third and last is obviously regarding Robert’s Rebellion. It’s actually crazy to think that Aemon lived (at least for some time) concurrently with his great-great-great-grandnephew Aegon VI. I don’t even know how related they are at this point, but my point is that the man’s seen some shit in his time.