Theon is admiring his new longship when an attractive young woman walks up. She says her name is Esgred and that she is the daughter of Ambrode and the wife of Sigrin, Lord Balon’s personal shipwright. Theon makes advances and banters a bit. During the course of the conversation, he is inspired to name his new ship Sea Bitch. At the conclusion of the banter, Theon convinces Esgred to come back to Pyke with him. They walk into Lordsport, which is packed with people. Lord Gorold Goodbrother had arrived the night before, and his men are everywhere. It is said that Otter Gimpknee’s whores are being overused due to the influx of people. As they walk through town, Esgred calls out to several men, including a longship captain named Bluetooth whose wife is pregnant, two warriors named Qarl and Uller, and a third warrior named Skyte, whose brother, Eldiss, recently died after drinking too much. Theon fetches his new squire, Wex, a mute bastard of one of Lord Sawane Botley’s half-brothers, out of an inn and has him get the horses. Esgred rides with Theon on his horse, Smiler, a temperamental black stallion Theon purchased from Lord Sawane. Theon is overly familiar with Esgred on the ride back, fondling her several times. She asks about his family. He says that his sister Asha is not a man no matter what she wears and he will make a marriage alliance with her after the war, that Aeron is drunk on his god, and that Victarion is strong and dutiful, but not an independent thinker. He did sail into Lannisport to destroy the Lannister fleet at anchor at the beginning of Balon Greyjoy’s Rebellion, but the plan was Euron’s. Euron himself has been gone for two years and is an infamous pirate. Esgred points out that the ironmen would not want a stranger as their ruler. When they reach Pyke, she reveals that she is really his sister, Asha.
That night, Theon goes down to a feast. There are near four hundred captains there from most of the notable houses, Harlaws from Harlaw, Blacktydes from Blacktyde, Sparrs, Merlyns, and Goodbrothers from Great Wyk, Saltcliffes and Sunderlys from Saltcliffe, and Botleys and Wynches from Pyke. All that remains is for Dagmer Cleftjaw to return from Old Wyk with the Stonehouses and Drumms. When Theon arrives, he is annoyed to see Asha sitting at the place of honor on his father’s right. He tells her she is in his seat, and she only mocks him. He asks if their father knows she married a shipwright, and she merely replies that Esgred was the name of Sigrin’s mother and the first ship he built. He asks if she is really with child, and she claims she is, calling for a man named Rolfe to throw an axe to her, which she slams down on her trencher, splattering Theon with gravy. She says the axe is her husband and the dirk nestled between her breasts is her suckling babe. The hall erupts in laughter directed at Theon. Asha tells him that he had best rethink his attitude if he means to be accepted by his people. He says he is their lawful prince, and Asha responds that the laws of the green lands do not apply on the Iron Islands.
After the feast, Lord Balon withdraws with Victarion, Aeron, Asha, and Theon to reveal his plans. The fleet will sail as soon as Dagmer returns with the Stonehouses and Drumms. He says that Theon, along with Aeron and Dagmer, will raid the Stony Shore with eight longships as a diversion. Asha will take thirty longships around Sea Dragon Point and seize Deepwood Motte. The main thrust will be launched by Victarion, who will sail up the Saltspear and the Fever River to take Moat Cailin. With Moat Cailin in hand, Robb will be blocked from returning north, and even if he tries his enemies in the south will crush him. Theon is furious that he is to be just a small diversion. After the meeting, Asha taunts him some more.
Ah this Theon chapter has it all – humour, incest, family drama, betrayal and violence and the promise of more to come. Seriously though, this chapter shows us the first hint of how poorly Theon fits in with the rest of the Ironborn. The first section where he is getting a little (ok, way more than a little) too familiar with Asha is that odd combination of hilarious and uncomfortable but the chapter ends on a somewhat more sombre note. We’ll look at both parts, though and start with the quick banter between the siblings.
Where has this wench been all my life?
Alright, so apparently Theon is the kind of guy that falls in love on his first date but that aside, I think it’s easy enough to understand why Theon has no clue what’s going on but Asha does take the whole thing rather uncomfortably far. There are plenty of quotable quotes from their exchange but aside from the humour in them, let’s take a look at what they actually reveal about Theon from the perspective of Asha, who has reason to suspect that he’s gone suspect and lost the Iron way. Their conversation starts off unfortunately for Theon who makes a passing comment on Asha’s look and she then takes the opportunity to milk it for all its worth. Theon starts getting clingy and desperate somewhere in the middle of the following conversation and I think the overall impression that it leaves Asha with that he is still very much a boy rather than a man. The impression of Theon as soft little man-child who wants but is unwilling to take (despite the unfortunate implications it carries) is a strong one and I think Asha never really takes Theon seriously and see most of his actions in the rest of the series as an immature man’s attempt at forcing his elders and betters at recognizing his achievements. It will be interesting to see how their dynamic changes now that they are reunited.
He was playing the part of a dutiful young prince for the moment, while he waited for Lord Balon to reveal the fullness of his plans. If it turned out that he did not like those plans or his part in them, however, well . . .
We learn a little more about Theon on the way too. The quote above would indicate that Theon was so certain of his position amongst the Ironborn that he had planned far enough ahead to consider overthrowing his father and uncles. The notion seems laughable given the way things turned out but I think that it says a lot about the gross misinformation that Theon’s mind is full of. Had the events of the book gone according to Theon’s will, there was still absolutely no way that Theon could have stood up against his uncle Victarion, who would have the absolute respect of every fighting man on the Isles, or his uncle Aeron, who would have the loyalty of every religious man on the Isles, or his uncle Euron who would just dispose of him like week old thrash. I guess any of those alternatives would have been preferable to Ramsay Snow though.
But I am not weak, Theon told himself, and I mean to be stronger yet by the time my father dies.
There is some irony in that sentence since by the time of Balon’s death Theon is well on his way to becoming Reek but you have to wonder what Martin has planned for Asha and Reek now that they have been reunited. It might not be totally implausible for Theon to make an attempt at the Seastone Chair though I strongly suspect Euron will disabuse him of any sovereign pretensions quickly enough. Aeron might support Theon’s claim though and should Victarion return with a dragon…we need that sixth book, don’t we?
He flushed. “Wine,” he told the thrall. Asha turned away and banged on the table, shouting for ale.
There is lot more going on behind the scenes here than I realized the first time I read this chapter. There are several clues like the above that really strongly suggest that Theon does not fit. The above wine/ale is particularly telling because as a highborn man (and technically a prince, at that) wine would be considered perfectly normal in most places in Westeros but the fact that things are different on the Iron Islands, and more importantly, that Theon is not aware of these differences is very telling and indicates to us how very wrong Theon’s impression of the place was.
“I mean for you to strike the first blow, Theon.”
I think despite everything, Balon seems pretty willing to give Theon a chance to prove himself. If Theon was even slightly less of an idiot, he could have settled for raiding the shore and proving himself there but the fact that he keeps escalating the matter and provoking his father shows Balon quickly enough that Asha’s report, which I’m assuming he has, is accurate. Even if he doesn’t have a report from Asha, he has his own suspicions of the kind of person Theon is based on their previous meetings and Theon doesn’t seem to be doing anything to disprove them. Still, I guess I’m being too hard on Theon – I think it’s been established that Balon has been predisposed to disliking and mistrusting Theon (not that he doesn’t have a good reason) and pretty nothing that Theon does is going to redeem him in his father’s eyes.
When my sons have struck their blows, Winterfell must respond.
Is this an error? Or does Balon actually consider Asha a ‘son’?