“Ser? My lady?” said Podrick. “Is a broken man an outlaw?”
“More or less,” Brienne answered.
Septon Meribald disagreed. “More less than more. There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many sorts of birds. A sandpiper and a sea eagle both have wings, but they are not the same. The singers love to sing of good men forced to go outside the law to fight some wicked lord, but most outlaws are more like this ravening Hound than they are the lightning lord. They are evil men, driven by greed, soured by malice, despising the gods and caring only for themselves. Broken men are more deserving of our pity, though they may be just as dangerous. Almost all are common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war. Poorly shod and poorly clad, they march away beneath his banners, ofttimes with no better arms than a sickle or a sharpened hoe, or a maul they made themselves by lashing a stone to a stick with strips of hide. Brothers march with brothers, sons with fathers, friends with friends. They’ve heard the songs and stories, so they go off with eager hearts, dreaming of the wonders they will see, of the wealth and glory they will win. War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.
“Then they get a taste of battle.
“For some, that one taste is enough to break them. Others go on for years, until they lose count of all the battles they have fought in, but even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe.
“They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. There is never enough to eat, their shoes fall to pieces from the marching, their clothes are torn and rotting, and half of them are shitting in their breeches from drinking bad water.
“If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse, and before long they are stealing from the living too, from the smallfolk whose lands they’re fighting in, men very like the men they used to be. They slaughter their sheep and steal their chickens, and from there it’s just a short step to carrying off their daughters too. And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line with their spears and scythes and sharpened hoes, to stand their ground. And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world . . .
“And the man breaks.
“He turns and runs, or crawls off afterward over the corpses of the slain, or steals away in the black of night, and he finds someplace to hide. All thought of home is gone by then, and kings and lords and gods mean less to him than a haunch of spoiled meat that will let him live another day, or a skin of bad wine that might drown his fear for a few hours. The broken man lives from day to day, from meal to meal, more beast than man. Lady Brienne is not wrong. In times like these, the traveler must beware of broken men, and fear them . . . but he should pity them as well.”
When Meribald was finished a profound silence fell upon their little band. Brienne could hear the wind rustling through a clump of pussywillows, and farther off the faint cry of a loon. She could hear Dog panting softly as he loped along beside the septon and his donkey, tongue lolling from his mouth. The quiet stretched and stretched, until finally she said, “How old were you when they marched you off to war?”
“Why, no older than your boy,” Meribald replied. “Too young for such, in truth, but my brothers were all going, and I would not be left behind. Willam said I could be his squire, though Will was no knight, only a potboy armed with a kitchen knife he’d stolen from the inn. He died upon the Stepstones, and never struck a blow. It was fever did for him, and for my brother Robin. Owen died from a mace that split his head apart, and his friend Jon Pox was hanged for rape.”
“The War of the Ninepenny Kings?” asked Hyle Hunt.
“So they called it, though I never saw a king, nor earned a penny. It was a war, though. That it was.”
As I often do after finishing a series of books, I felt an acute sense of loss after finishing the fifth and last book in the George R. R. Martin series “A Song of Ice and Fire.” The difference is; the series isn’t over yet, there are at least two more books planned. As with television shows, I’d rather just read a series when they have concluded so I can read it all continuously without pause. Looking at the publishing history, I’m in for a long wait before The Winds of Winter is published. The publishing schedule for the first five books was as followed; August 1996, February 1999, November 2000, November 2005 and July 2011, so I might be in for a little wait. Even the sample chapter GRRM posted on his website wasn’t enough to sink my teeth into.
Though the quality of the story waxes and wanes quite a bit, overall I really enjoyed reading the books. The fourth book was a bit of a struggle, mostly due to the climax of the third book where a lot of loose ends seemed to be wrapped up. It felt like we entered a second phase of the overall story which was somewhat detached from the first three books, which made it feel like GRRM might not have had a good view of what the end-game of the overall story was going to be. Luckily, about halfway through the book, things started to pick up again.
The Red Wedding was a really tough pill to swallow because GRRM set everything up to root for the Starks. After that it became hard to get emotionally invested in anyone. It’s one thing to let the protagonists struggle, have setbacks and fail, it’s another to have no protagonists at all. Sure, it was easy to switch my cheers to Daenerys and it’s easy to be fond of Tyrion, but the former wasn’t going to get involved in the Game of Thrones in Westeros any time soon, and the other one wasn’t even a part of things, it seemed. I ended up being mostly attracted to Jon Snow as Lord Commander, Jaime’s redemption and Cersei’s decline, but non of that seemed to have any particular bearing on the Game of Thrones in Westeros, with the possible exception of Cersei’s decline.
The theory of Jon Snow being the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna was really what renewed me interest. That and Prince Doran Martell of Dorn’s scheming.
It’s hard to say what it is about this series that draws me in as much as it does. It’s not particularly well-written, nor is the story particularly complex, but it’s a solid story and it’s huge. The tapestry that GRRM weaves is intricate, simple, engrossing and compelling. The writing isn’t overly descriptive (except when describing the food that’s being eaten, for some reason), so it doesn’t suffer from the Tolkien drudgery, but is solid and has a nice pace. And still, hard to say what it is that makes it stand out. One thing that does stand out, and in that sense I’m going to contradict what I said earlier about sometimes getting the feeling that GRRM doesn’t always know what the end game will be, is that GRRM manages to set things up and is very patient in letting things unfold. He talks about the Children of the Forest in book one, mentions them here and there, but only really introduces one in book five. Well played, sir.
Anyway, even thinking about the wait that I have ahead of me makes me grumpy. I hope the television series will tide me until the release of The Winds of Winter.