A Clash of Kings-Chapter 6
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A Game of Thrones
Jon Snow finds Samwell Tarly in the dark library cellar of Castle Black, where Sam has found a number of maps for the great ranging. Out in the courtyard they watch the new recruits practicing and Jon talks with Donal Noye. After they present their maps, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont discusses Maester Aemon’s past with Jon.
Jon calls out to Samwell Tarly amidst the ancient books and scrolls of Castle Black’s library. Jon wends his way down the narrow aisles toward the glow of Sam’s lamp to find the fat boy hunched over a table. When Jon asks if he has been there all night, Sam reveals that he lost all track of time in the windowless cellar. Jon calls Sam a sweet fool and reminds him that soon they will be sleeping on hard ground, not soft beds. Sam yawns and explains that Maester Aemon sent him to find maps for Lord Commander Mormont, but he never thought there would be thousands of interesting documents to read. Jon is unimpressed by the books and asks if Sam found the maps.
Sam gestures toward a clutter of books and scrolls on the table and declares he has found at least a dozen. He shows Jon a faded parchment that marks the sites of many wildling villages. Then he excitedly shows Jon an account of a ranging to Lorn Point by a ranger named Redwyn from before the Targaryen Conquest that mentions fighting with giants and trading with the children of the forest. Meaning to sound encouraging, Jon suggests that Sam can write an account of their own great ranging, but talk of what they are to face on the morrow makes Sam uncomfortable. He shuffles scrolls about and says there are more maps if he only had time to set the library in order, which will take years. Jon remarks that the Lord Commander wanted the maps a little sooner than that.
When Jon picks up a scroll it crumbles in his hand. Sam explains that the most important documents were copied over when needed, and the oldest have likely been copied half a hundred times. Jon says there is no need to copy this one, which is only a list of goods. Sam seems fascinated, but Jon wonders who would care how much pickled cod men ate six hundred years ago. Sam insists that he would, since it can tell them how many men were in the Night’s Watch, and how they lived, and what they ate. Jon responds that they ate food and lived as he and Sam do. Sam disagrees and claims that the vault is a treasure trove. Jon is dubious: to him treasure means gold, silver, and jewels. Sam has also found works even the Citadel does not have: drawings of weirwood faces, thousand year old counts of the seasons, scrolls from old Valyria, and even a book about the language of the children of the forest.
Jon assures Sam the books will still be here when they return, but Sam replies, “If we return.” Jon tries to reassure Sam by pointing out that Mormont is taking 200 seasoned men (most of them rangers), and Qhorin Halfhand will join them with 100 more from the Shadow Tower. He insists Sam will be as safe as back at Horn Hill, but Sam replies that he was never very safe there either.
Jon thinks it a cruel joke that Pyp and Toad (who want to go) are to remain behind while Sam (the self-proclaimed coward) must go in Maester Aemon’s place to tend the two cages of ravens. Sam argues that Jon or Grenn could care for the ravens, and Jon can write messages as well as he can. Jon insists that he has his own duties as the Lord Commander’s steward. He reminds Sam that he said the vows, but Sam says that a brother of the Night’s Watch should not be so scared. Jon insists they are all scared, and they should be with so many rangers disappearing in the last two years, but what matters is how they face it. Then he offers to help gather up the maps and they depart the library.
The vault opens onto one of the underground passages called the wormwalks, which bind Castle Black together in winter. Jon thinks of the white raven that came to Maester Aemon, and knows winter will come soon. He remembers the last winter, which was short and mild, but he can feel that this one will be different. By the time they reach the surface, Sam is out of breath. The sight of the Wall reminds Jon that it marks the end of the world, and tomorrow they are going beyond it.
The morning sky is streaked by clouds but the red comet is still visible behind them, even by day. The black brothers have dubbed it “Mormont’s Torch,” claiming (only half in jest) that the gods have sent it to light the way through the haunted forest. The castle seems deserted with so many gone to the brothel in Mole's Town. Grenn is among them, since Pyp and Halder and Toad offered to buy him his first woman. They invited Jon and Sam as well, but Jon insisted on keeping his vow of celibacy and Sam is as frightened of whores as he is of everything else.
As they pass the sept, they hear a hymn being sung. Jon notes that on the eve of battle some men want whores and some want gods. He wonders who feels better after. The sept tempts him no more than the brothel; the Seven have no power beyond the Wall, but the nameless old gods whom Jon worships will be waiting there.
Outside the armory, Ser Endrew Tarth is training the six new recruits brought in the previous night. Ser Endrew is a gentler master-at-arms than Ser Alliser Thorne, but his lessons can still raise bruises. Sam winces at the sight, but Jon watches closely. From the door of the armory, the one-armed smith Donal Noye asks Jon’s opinion of the recruits. Jon declares they smell of summer and asks where Conwy recruited them. Noye says it was a dungeon near Gulltown and labels the recruits as a brigand, a barber, a beggar, two orphans, and a boy whore. Jon replies that they will do; he and Sam did.
Noye asks Jon if he has heard that his brother Robb Stark is now a king. Jon admits that last night in the common room there was talk of little else. Jon is still unsure how he feels about the brother he grew up with becoming a king while he remains on the Wall, but he tells Noye that Robb will make a good king. Noye is not so sure and declares that once he might have said the same of Robert Baratheon, but Robert was never the same after he put on the crown. Noye confirms that he forged Robert’s warhammer and claims he knew the Baratheon brothers as well as anyone. The smith compares Robert to a sword: made for fighting and prone to rust if left unused. When Jon asks if Robert’s brothers are the same, Noye considers for a moment then declares:
Jon wonders what metal Robb is, but decides it is best not to ask. Noye was a Baratheon man before taking the black and likely believes Robb is a traitor. There is an unspoken pact amongst the Watch not to probe too deeply into such matters since old loyalties are not easily forgotten. Even Sam’s former House is sworn to Highgarden, which has supported Renly. As Jon departs with Sam, Noye offers a prayer for Jon on the morrow and urges him to bring his uncle back.
Jon leaves Ghost outside the door of the King’s Tower, where Lord Commander Mormont resides now that fire has gutted his own tower. Sam is disheartened by the number of stairs, but Jon jests that stairs are one thing they will not confront beyond the Wall.
When they enter the solar, Mormont complains about how long it took them. Ignoring the boys, Thoren Smallwood argues that the Lord Commander’s place is at Castle Black. Mormont declares that Smallwood can do as he likes if he ever becomes Lord Commander. Smallwood insists that the command should be his as First Ranger, but Mormont will have none of it. He declares that he already sent out two rangings and will not wait and wonder if the third is lost as well. Mormont dismisses Smallwood with the reminder that Benjen Stark remains First Ranger until his death is confirmed. Once Smallwood is gone, Mormont exclaims that he would sooner name Sam as First Ranger and complains that Smallwood called him too old for a ranging.
Brusquely examining the maps, Mormont asks if they were all Sam could find. When Sam stutters, Jon points out that the villages might be gone, but the geography will still be correct. Mormont asks Sam about the ravens and commands that he wants the best, saying that if they are all butchered he means for his successor to know where and how. Talk of butchery leaves Sam open-mouthed and speechless. Mormont declares he is too busy for such behavior and dismisses Sam, who almost trips in his haste to leave.
Mormont asks, without waiting for an answer, whether Sam is as big a fool as he seems. He explains that he was considering sending Sam as an envoy to King Renly, since his father stands high in Renly’s councils, but Renly is not likely to heed a quaking fat boy so Ser Arnell (whose mother was a green-apple Fossoway) will go instead. Jon asks what Mormont would have of King Renly, and Mormont replies that he will take anything that is offered.
Mormont continues that Ser Alliser Thorne should reach King Joffrey soon, but House Lannister has never been a friend to the Watch. Jon points out that Thorne does have the twitching wight’s hand to show them. Mormont laments they do not have a second hand to send to Renly. Jon remarks that Dywen claims a man can find anything beyond the Wall. Mormont scoffs that Dywen also claims he saw a bear fifteen feet tall, insisting a man must believe his own eyes.
Turning the conversation back to hands, Mormont asks Jon about his burned hand. Jon explains it is well enough to wield Longclaw and that he is exercising the fingers as Maester Aemon suggested. Mormont opines that Aemon knows his work and prays they can keep him another twenty years. Then he asks if Jon knows that Aemon could have been king. Jon is taken by surprise; he assumed the maester was a younger son of a king.
Mormont explains that Aemon was a younger son, the third son of King Maekar I Targaryen, who was himself the fourth son of King Daeron II Targaryen. Slow of sword but quick of wit, Aemon was sent to the Citadel when he was nine or ten and ninth or tenth in the succession. Jon struggles to imagine the 100-year-old maester as a little boy. Mormont continues that Crown Prince Baelor died in a tourney mishap and soon after his two sons, Valarr and Matarys died in the Great Spring Sickness along with King Daeron, so the crown passed to Daeron’s second son, Aerys I Targaryen. Aerys reigned for twelve years (during which Aemon took his vows as a maester) then died without issue and the throne passed to Aemon’s father Maekar I. During his father’s reign, Aemon’s eldest brother, Daeron "the Drunken", died of a pox, leaving only a feeble-minded daughter, and his second brother, Aerion Targaryen, who killed himself by drinking wildfire, believing it would turn him into a dragon. Less than a year later, King Maekar died in battle with an outlaw lord.
A Great Council was convened to decide on the succession. It passed over Aerion’s infant son and quietly offered the throne to Maester Aemon, but Aemon chose to abide by his vows even after the High Septon offered to absolve him. Therefore, his younger brother, Aegon V Targaryen, was named king, and became known as "the Unlikely" because (as the fourth son of a fourth son) he was never expected to become king. Yet Maester Aemon knew that those dissatisfied with his brother’s rule would seek to use him, so he became a member of the Night’s Watch and remained at the Wall while his brother’s descendents ruled as kings until Robert's Rebellion put an end to the line of the Dragonkings.
Mormont’s raven begins repeating the word “king.” Jon notes that the bird seems to like the word, and jests that perhaps the raven believes Mormont should have a crown. Mormont declares that there are three kings already, which is two too many for his liking.
Jon asks why Mormont has told him all this about Maester Aemon. Mormont explains that Jon and Aemon have something in common: a king for a brother. Jon points out that they also share a vow. Mormont comments that if he had a man for every vow he has seen broken the Wall would never lack for defenders. Jon says he always knew Robb would be Lord of Winterfell, but Mormont insists that a king is a different thing:
They will garb your brother Robb in silks, satins, and velvets of a hundred different colors, while you live and die in black ringmail. He will wed some beautiful princess and father sons on her. You’ll have no wife, nor will you ever hold a child of your own blood in your arms. Robb will rule, you will serve. Men will call you a crow. Him they’ll call Your Grace. Singers will praise every little thing he does, while your greatest deeds all go unsung. Tell me that none of this troubles you, Jon... and I’ll name you a liar, and know I have the truth of it.
Jon asks what a bastard like himself might do if these facts did trouble him, but Mormont asks what Jon will do. Jon declares that he will be troubled, and keep his vows.
References and Notes
- A Read of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings, Part 3 Analyses and summary of the chapter by Leigh Butler.