A Clash of Kings-Chapter 26
|A Clash of Kings chapter|
|Place||The Riverlands on the way to Harrenhal - Harrenhal|
|Page||304 UK HC (Other versions)|
|Chapter chronology (All)|
Eight days pass before they leave the village. Each day, one of them is tortured by the Tickler for information about where valuables and food is hidden (with little result) and the whereabouts of Lord Beric Dondarrion (for no information). Finally they are marched to Harrenhal to serve under Tywin Lannister. Arya, after complaining about being assigned to the kitchen, is assigned to the understeward in the Wailing Tower, Weese.
Fear has become part of Arya's daily life as she walks the hard, rutted roads among a group of prisoners of Gregor Clegane and his men, a kind of fear she had never known until she was held captive in that storehouse at the shore of the Gods Eye. They spent eight days in the village and are now leaving on Clegane's command, and every day she has seen someone die.
The Mountain came into the storehouse each morning after breakfast to pick one of them to be interrogated. The village folk did not dare to look at him, maybe hoping they would escape his attention. But there was no way to hide from him, no way to be safe. He just chose whomever he liked. There was a girl he picked on the fourth day who had slept with a soldier three nights running, yet the soldier said nothing. There was an old man he picked on the fifth day, who had mended their clothing and declared so often that his son served in the City Watch and did all for Joffrey that the other prisoners had actually started calling him All-for-Joffrey. There was a young mother with a pox-scarred face who had told Clegane everything she knew on the expectation they would spare her daughter for it, only to see her daughter be picked the next morning to make certain the mother held nothing back.
The interrogations always went down the same way. They were done in front of the whole group, so that everyone knew what happened to rebels and traitors. They call the ordinarily looking man who did the questioning the Tickler. He was assisted by Chiswyck, the old stoop-shouldered man who smashed Arya's head when they caught her, or by someone else, with Clegane just watching and listening until the prisoners died, which they invariably did. The questions were always about valuables or food hidden in the village, about the whereabouts of Beric Dondarrion and the size of his band and about who of the villagers had assisted them. They found a few valuables from the interrogations, but only got wildly inconsistent information about Dondarrion and his men. The longest someone survived the Tickler's treatment was until evenfall. The bodies were hung by the fires as food for the wolves.
The time in the storehouse has taught Arya that she is no Water Dancer. Syrio Forel would have never let them knock him down, take his sword, just watch as Lommy Greenhands was killed, or sit meekly by in that storehouse doing nothing while others died. She hates the villagers for being sheep almost as much as she hates herself for being a lamb, not a direwolf as the sigil of her house suggests. By now the Lannisters have taken everything from her: father, friends, home, hope, courage, Needle. They broke her wooden sword in front of her. They have even taken away her secret of being a girl. She was still able to pee in privacy at the storehouse, yet on the open road that is not possible, even though she tried to hold it. Hot Pie gaped at her when she skinned her breeches at a brush in front of all, but nobody else even looked. Clegane's men didn't care at all.
Their captors have forbidden them to talk and they punish those who disregard the order, as Arya has learned herself by getting her lip broken. They smashed with a spiked mace the face of a boy who wouldn't stop calling for his father; then Raff the Sweetling killed the boy's mother as well when she started screaming. Arya sees no purpose any longer in being brave, so she watches people die and does nothing. One woman who was questioned tried to be brave, but she died screaming just as the rest did. There are no brave ones left on this march, only women and children and very old or very young men. The other men were chained to the gibbet and left as food for wolves and crows. They only spared Gendry because he admitted that he had forged his helmet himself, as blacksmiths are too valuable to be killed.
The Mountain tells them that they will be taken to Harrenhal to serve Lord Tywin Lannister, a last chance given to rebels and traitors, which they should take: "Obey, serve, and live." Arya hears people arguing about this when they go to sleep that night. An old woman laments that what is being done to them isn't just, as they didn't commit any treason. Dondarrion's me just came and taken everything from them, as Clegane's did. Unlike the Mountain's men, Dondarrion's did the village folk no harm though, another woman points out, and Thoros of Myr even paid for what they took. Only with signed papers, the old woman replies, and those don't lay eggs as the chicken they took from her used to. Having made sure that no guard is looking, she spits three times for all Lannisters and Starks and Tullys. An old man says that the old king would have never stood for this sin and shame. Arya, forgetting herself, asks whether he is talking about King Robert, but the man meant King Aerys. Then a guard interferes, the old man loses his two remaining teeth and everyone falls silent.
Besides the prisoners, Clegane's band is also taking pigs, chickens, a cow, and nine wagons of salt fish to Harrenhal. The Mountain and his men are riding horses, but the captives have to walk and are killed if they cannot keep up or try to flee. The guards pick women at night and go into the bushes with them, receiving almost no resistance. There was one girl, prettier than the rest, who had to go with four or five different men each night, until she finally hit one with a stone one day. Clegane himself beheaded her with his massive two-handed greatsword and made everyone watch. He commanded that the body was to be left for the wolves. Arya has a side-look at Needle, worn at the hip by a black-bearded, balding man called Polliver, thinking how good it is that they took the sword from her, as she would have used it to stab Glegane that moment – and that would likely have ended with her being left as food for the wolves as well.
Polliver is hardly the worst of the lot, Arya thinks. By now she knows every one of Clegane's men, when they were only nameless strangers the night she was caught. It's important to keep in mind who of them is lazy or brutal, smart or stupid. The one they call Shitmouth has the foulest tongue she ever heard, yet he will give you an extra piece of bread if you ask, while jolly old Chiswyck or soft-spoken Rafford will only hit you. Arya observes them and listens to their talk, polishing her hates the way Gendry used to polish his helmet. She hates Dunsen for wearing Gendry's helmet, Polliver for taking Needle and Chiswyck for thinking he's funny. She hates even more the people she knows are responsible for the death of ones close to her: Raff the Sweetling for the death of Lommy, Amory Lorch for the death of Yoren, Meryn Trant for the death of Syrio, the Hound for the death of Mycah, Ilyn Payne and Joffrey and Cersei for the death of her father, Fat Tom, Desmond and the rest, even for the death of Lady, Sansa's direwolf. The Tickler is almost too scary to hate, though. There are times Arya almost forgets that he is coming along with the band, as he is completely inconspicuous when he isn't torturing people, just another soldier and actually quieter than most of them. Arya has started whispering to herself the names of the people she hates, she does it every night now. In Winterfell, she used to pray with her father at the godswood and with her mother in the sept, but on the road to Harrenhal, whispering those names has become the only prayer left to her.
Finally the trees give way to a more open landscape of hills, streams and fields – and the occasional burnt holdfast. After another day's march, they get the first glimpse of the towers of Harrenhal rising hard against the blue of the lake. Prisoners keep telling each other that things will get better at Harrenhal, but Arya is not sure about this, as she remembers Old Nan's stories about this castle built on fear and with mortar Black Harren mixed with human blood, but where he was roasted with all his sons by the dragons of Aegon the Conqueror nonetheless. The castle is only a few more miles off, Arya thinks, yet they walk almost two more days before they reach Lord Tywin's army, encamped west of the castle in the scorched remains of a town, the stench from the overflowing latrines greeting them as they approach, telling Arya that the army has been here for some time. The sheer size of Harrenhal makes it deceptive to the eyes from afar, yet the gatehouse of the castle alone is as large as the Great Keep of Winterfell. Arya can only see the tops of the five immense towers from outside. Seeing their grotesque and misshapen form, looking like an old man's gnarled, knuckly fingers groping for the sky, she now believes every word Old Nan told about how the stones melted and flowed like candle wax, turning into a searing red as they sought out Harren where he hid.
Hot Pie does not want to enter the castle, declaring that there are ghosts within. Chiswyck gives him the choice of joining the ghosts or becoming one, so he walks in with the rest. In the echoing bathhouse, they have to strip and scrub themselves in tubs filled with scolding hot water, the process supervised by two fierce old women who talk about them like they are newly aquired donkeys. When they examine Arya, Goodwife Amabel is dismayed about her feet while Goodwife Harra has a closer look at the calluses she received while training with Needle. Harra believes Arya is a farmer's daughter and got them from churning butter. She tells Arya that she can earn a higher station in life if she works hard, but will be beaten if she does not. Asked for it, she does not dare to give away her true name, nor does she want to use Arry. Thus she says Lommy called her Weasel, the name of the first girl that comes to her mind. Amabel thinks the name is appropriate. She declares that Arya will lose her hair, as it is filled with lice, and will be assigned to the kitchen. Arya says she'd rather tend the horses, thinking that she could steal one and escape. Harra slaps her so hard that her lip breaks again and commands her to shut up, as nobody is interested in her views. Arya thinks that Harra wouldn't dare slap her if she still had Needle. Amabel explains that Lord Tywin has grooms and squires to look after the horses and that the kitchen would have been a nice place for Arya, as it is snug and clean and one can always find a warm place to sleep there. However, Arya doesn't seem to be smart, so they should give her over to Weese, Amabel suggests. They send her off with a rough-spun garb and ill-fitting shoes.
Weese turns out to be the understeward for the Wailing Tower, a squat man with a carbuncle on the nose and angry red boils at one corner of his lips. He tells the six assigned to him that the Lannisters are generous to those who serve them well, a fate none of them deserve. If they do well, they might rise one day as high as he did. However, if they intend to presume on Lord Tywin's kindness, they'll have to deal with Weese. They are told they are not to look the highborn in the eye, are only allowed to speak when spoken to and should not get in Lord Tywin's way. Weese says he can smell defiance, pride and disobedience, and if he does, they'll have to answer for it. All he wants to sniff of them is fear.
References and Notes
- Analyses and summary of the chapter in the course of a 10th reread by Slynt.
- Review and summary by Leigh Butler.