Yoren has taken the party off the kingsroad and onto poor trails in order to avoid any more pursuit. Lommy and many of the other boys treat Gendry like someone special since the queen wants him, but he is uncomfortable with the attention. They are largely out of provisions and mostly live off what Koss and Kurz, who were poachers before being caught, can hunt. At a holdfast called Briarwhite, they take some corn, but are chased off from restocking by farmers armed with scythes, much to Yoren’s disgust. Arya is able to catch a rabbit one day that everyone shares, including Biter, Rorge, and Jaqen. Rorge mocks her, but Jaqen thanks her politely for the treat. The going is slow, and once they have to detour for two days to avoid a group of soldiers flying a brown banner bearing a spotted treecat. After several more days of travel, Dobber spots a large fire in the distance.
The next day, the group comes upon a burned out holdfast. Yoren investigates with Murch and Cutjack and brings back the only two survivors, a woman with a missing arm and a little girl. Rorge and Biter find their wretched state funny until Murch shuts them up. Hot Pie tells Arya he is scared and apologizes for threatening her earlier. The woman dies that night. The water from the river tastes funny, and Lommy says it is because of corpses upstream, causing Hot Pie to attack him until Reysen pulls them apart. Arya drinks too much of the water and has to leave the camp to go to the bathroom, where she encounters a pack of wolves who just look at her and walk away. She tells Yoren about the wolves and how she wished she were home. Yoren says he has been a recruiter for thirty years, always taking the kingsroad and never considering an alternate route. He concedes that this time they probably should have taken a ship.
This Arya chapter typifies what I remember of her storyline in this book. It’s got that slice-of-horrifying-life going on as we begin to see the direct effects of war. Beyond just seeing the gory details though, these chapters create a fairly substantial emotional impact with how they portray the loss of human life and how Arya is affected by constantly being exposed to death and suffering. I’ll point out some of the more poignant examples as we go along.
The early parts of the chapter are fairly peaceful. I remember wondering how exactly the Goldcloaks were able to catch up with Yoren and company, get back to Cersei and then reach them again so quickly but re-reading the descriptions of how long and difficult the road was makes the above seem fairly realistic. Still, I am a little surprised that the Goldcloaks (or was it Amory Lorch?) found them after Yoren made the call to go off the Kingsroad. I’ll have to read on to remember exactly how that little disaster happened.
“Time was, a man in black was feasted from Dorne to Winterfell, and even high lords called it an honor to shelter him under their roofs.”
As sympathetic as I am to Yoren’s cause, the ‘time’ he speaks of was hundreds of years ago, at the very least. It’s a little unrealistic for a man who has been roaming the Seven Kingdoms for thirty years to be surprised by this reception. I wonder if I’m missing something – Yoren’s anger is somewhat justified but is nonetheless surprising to me because it indicates that in more peaceful times, the reception he received would have been better and I don’t know if that feels true. Sure, under more normal circumstances, they would be less openly hostile but I don’t know if they would be more cooperative.
“Him in his tree, let’s see how well he likes it up there when the Others come to take him. He’ll scream for the Watch then, that he will.”
I wonder if this little bit of bitterness is a little prophetic. I’ve suspected for a while (though absolutely without evidence) that Yoren has actually seen the Others and its statements like these that made me first think it. In any case, I wonder if the original game plan that Martin drew up included having the Others invade Westeros entirely – even reaching the Riverlands and the Crownlands. I want to see it happen, but I don’t know if there’s space for it in two books.
The carcasses of burnt and butchered animals dotted the ground, under living blankets of carrion crows that rose, cawing furiously, when disturbed.
Yeah, I’m getting the sense that Clegane and his fellow sociopaths pretty much slaughtered all the cattle on the spot. This was mentioned in Catelyn’s chapter previously but I didn’t want to think that any would actually just kill hundreds of animals just out of spite and for the strategic importance of starving the enemy. It makes perfect sense, but I just find it cruel and twisted.
Her belly clenched tight as she grabbed for Needle, not caring if she pissed herself, counting eyes, two four eight twelve, a whole pack …
You know, I had totally forgotten that this happened. Essentially a full pack of wolves casually walks up to Arya, the pack leader seems to connect her with Nymeria (why else would they run off?) and then leaves. Arya’s line about how she’s fine with direwolves but is afraid of wolves is a little comical but now I’m wondering if this is just foreshadowing of the connection between Nymeria and Arya and whether their bond is meant to be re-forged.