Yoren’s party continues north. As they travel, they encounter more and more refugees on the kingsroad fleeing south and begin to see graves by the road. One of the men in the party, a sellsword named Praed, succumbs to illness. Yoren gives his longsword to the Bull. The next night, they stop at an inn to eat and wash. The innkeeper gives them a free round of beer because his brother, Lync, took the black several years ago after filching pepper from the table of a Ser Malcolm. Yoren even sends Lommy with beer for the three locked in the wagon. The patrons, including a man named Hod, warn Yoren against going north, where it is all burnt fields and raiders. There are also rumors of a large pack of wolves near the Gods Eye led by a particularly large she-wolf. Arya thinks it might be Nymeria. One patron claims the big wolf stalked right into a town and ate a baby. Arya protests that a wolf would not do that, and Yoren sends her to the stables to check on the horses.
Jaqen H’ghar, one of the three convicts chained in the wagon, hails Arya as she enters the stables and asks her to get him more beer. He introduces his companions, Rorge and Biter. They are rude to her and threaten her, so Arya stalks closer and hits Biter with her practice sword right between the eyes. The Bull comes in and takes her back outside. She challenges the Bull to a fight, but just when they are about to begin, the Bull notices some gold cloaks approaching, and they hide. Their leader hands Yoren an order from the queen telling him to turn over one of his boys. Yoren refuses. The gold cloak threatens him, and several of the others, Tarber, Cutjack, Kurz, Koss, Reysen, Dobber, and even Hot Pie, come to Yoren’s aid. Arya thinks they are there for her, and she steps out with Needle in hand. The Bull steps out behind her, and the gold cloak says he is the one they want. Yoren puts his sword at the officer’s throat, forces him to drop his own, and tells him to leave. The officer says he will be back. Yoren asks who wants the discarded sword, and Hot Pie speaks up and gets it. The Bull asks why they would want Arya, and she retorts that there is no reason they should want him either. She asks his name, and he tells her it is Gendry. Yoren says they must leave immediately, as the gold cloaks will be back. He tells Gendry and Arya that if the group is overtaken, they are to run and make for the Wall.
I had apparently forgotten just how depressing Arya’s chapters were because seriously, wartime Westeros is uncomfortably realistic in its depictions of the desperation and violence of its denizens. In this chapter alone we see as much death and decay as we’ve seen in the first book of this series. In a lot of ways though, these chapters are made of the stuff that kept me coming back to ASOIAF despite the continuing publication delays – there is that uncompromising dedication to grimy realism that some other fantasy series didn’t have the courage see through that made me think (at the time) that this was something special.
She wondered why no one else was going the same way as them.
This is actually a fairly simple sentence, but I think placed the way it is, it is actually fairly impactful in conveying just how much Arya and company standout on the Kingsroad as well as showing just how big the panic throughout the Seven Kingsdoms is if so many people realize the sheer magnitude of the war that is about to engulf them.
Yoren stripped him of his valuables before they threw the dirt on him.
I definitely didn’t remember this from my first read but I do like it. Not that Praed died (though I can’t for the life of me remember who the hell he was) but rather the way his death is treated by the other characters. Growing up in modern society as I have, the casualness with which his death is treated does represent something of an anomaly but I think what makes this sequence of events stand out is the effect it has on Arya who has already had an unusually (to say the least) exposure to the variety of forms that death takes. The narrative doesn’t say too much about Arya’s response to the event (at least, not explicitly) but the fact that an eight year old girl has to witness such events with only Yoren to act as an adult figure to guide her in the process of making sense of it all, is more than enough to help us understand why it is so easy for Arya to join the Faceless Men eventually.
“Around the Gods Eye, the packs have grown bolder’n anyone can remember.”
The early foreshadowing for Nymeria’s involvement in the plot is interesting if only I didn’t know that nothing would come of it three books later. Still, I have hopes that at some point this wolf pack that keeps getting larger will have some plot relevance.
When the tale reached Lord Mooton, him and his sons swore they’d put an end to her.
Yeah, good luck with that. I’m sure Lord Mooton and his brave boys thought they were a lot more badass than they actually turned out to be but the truth is that the fact that they are woefully un-prepared for most human led sieges leads me to think that even hunting more-intelligent-than-usual animals is beyond them.
“A boy has more courage than sense”
I think this is one of the lines that sums up Arya’s character the best. I wonder what exactly it is about Jaqen that makes the like of Rorge and Biter back off. I mean, yeah sure he’s a Faceless Man, but beyond that, I’m sure that Rorge and Biter are savage enough to give him a run for his money. In any case, I think this is one of the moments in the story where the fantasy elements outshine the more realistic, mundane elements. The way that Jaqen’s uniqueness is highlighted over and above Rorge and Biter’s is well done and immediately draws attention to Jaqen as a character.
Yoren looked at the blade. “That’s no law, just a sword. Happens I got one too.”
This is by far one of my favourite lines from Yoren. If your best defence for your actions is violence, then you better be damned sure that you’re good at it.
“Old fool. I have five men with me.”
This is easily the weakest follow-up to a threat I’ve ever seen. Even in real life, you don’t boast about your own numbers (even if you’re slightly better armed) when the enemy so heavily out-numbers you. The only pity here is that Yoren didn’t just slaughter the six of them on the spot.
“Well, as to that,” Yoren said, “if he can get it off my shoulders, he’s welcome to it.”
Yoren is literally too badass for this book. I’m a little curious as to how that random Goldcloak caught up to Yoren, got back to the city and then returned before Yoren could get far enough away. If I remember correctly it’s Lorch that catches up with Yoren but either way, I wonder what the logistics worked out.