I took a lot of notes. Huge spoilers here! [GRRM announced that he would read two new chapters, even though he wonders why he is giving more and more of the next book away.] SER BARRISTAN I The chapter begins with a gory description of the bodies of plague victims being thrown into the city by the trebuchets. Only the northern districts across the river are far enough away to avoid being hit. Barristan rides into the large market by the western gate wearing his new Queensguard armor and riding the silver horse that Drogo gave to Dany. He feels that this is presumptuous, but thinks that even while the queen is missing it is important to have some symbol of her around to improve morale. Three of his lads ride with him: Tumco Lho, Larraq, and the Red Lamb. In the marketplace (featuring landmarks like the statue of the chainmaker and the spire of skulls), at the “hour of the wolf,” the main forces that will participate in the attack gather. There are five thousand unsullied, the Storm Crows, a ragged band of about twenty dothraki and the pitfighters. The Shavepate’s beasts are manning the city walls in place of the unsullied. They will serve as the city’s last line of protection if Barristan’s attack fails and Dany has not returned. The attack will leave from three gates (north, south, and west), but Barristan will lead the charge against the main Yunkai’i forces directly to the west. Barristan thinks that the attack is against all of his instincts, as the basic numbers are against them and success hinges on trusting sellswords -- in particular, trusting the in the Tattered Prince’s greed. He meets with his commanders (including the Widower, Jokin, Grey Worm, and some of the pitfighters). Their plan is to lead with the horse and flank the defending legions, taking out the trebuchets and burning the pavilions. The pitfighters will advance after the horse and focus on intimidation and slaughter. Finally, the unsullied will line up outside the gate, which should be successful if the Yunkai’i don’t mount an immediate counterattack. Barristan reminds the commanders that they must retreat or advance when they hear the Red Lamb blow the horn. The Windower asks what to do if there is no horn blast -- that is, if Barristan and his lads are all dead. Barristan knows that this is likely, as he intends to be first through the lines of the Yunkai’i, so he just says that in that case, the Widower will be second in command. Barristan then remembers that Lord Commander Hightower had once told him to never speak of defeat before a battle, since the gods might be listening. It will be dawn soon. Someone says “A red dawn,” and Barristan thinks “A dragon dawn.” Previously, he had prayed to each of the seven for various things, ending with a plea to the stranger for mercy. Though he knows all men must die eventually, Barristan would like to live through the day. More bodies fall from the sky. Barristan notices Tumco Lho’s reaction and sees that the lad fears the pale more more than the foes outside the gates. Barristan then gives a stirring pep talk about how every man fears every battle. At first, the Red Lamb is defiant, saying that doesn’t fear death because at that point he’ll get to meet the Great Shepherd -- when he plans to break his shepherd’s crook in two and castigate the shepherd for creating such a peaceful people in such a violent world. Barristan continues his lecture, saying that there is “nothing more terrible, nothing more glorious, nothing more absurd” than war. Even Barristan admits that he shat his pants in his first battle. He is interrupted by a murmur among the soldiers -- a fire is lit at the harpy on top of one of the pyramids, presumably to signal the men at each gate to begin the attack. The gate opens and Barristan sounds the call to attack. [At this point he says there will be a Victarion and Tyrion chapter (perhaps the ones he has already read), in some order, at which point we return to...] SER BARRISTAN II His gut feels twisted from nervousness as he rides through the gates. He knows that the feeling will go away when time slows down in the chaos of battle. Dany’s horse is easily outpacing the lads and the rest of the cavalry; Barristan is pleased because he intends to outrun the Widower and strike the first blow. The Yunkai’i are totally unprepared and Barristan closes in on the Harridan, the largest of the trebuchets. The stormcrows take up the cry, “Daario!” and “Stormcrows, fly!” Barristan thinks that he will never again doubt the valor of sellswords. There are only thirty yards between the horse and the Yunkai’i legions by the time any defense is mounted. The air fills with arrows. A squire for the stormcrows is killed, and a bolt pierces Barristan’s shield. There are three horn blasts and the pitfighters emerge from the gate behind them. Barristan glances back to see the pitfighters. There are about two hundred of them, but they make enough noise for two thousand. One woman stands out, wearing nothing but greaves, sandals, a chainmail skirt, and a python. Barristan is a bit shocked and, watching her breasts bouncing around, thinks that this day is sure to be her last. The pitfighters are mostly shouting “Loraq!” and “Hizdar!” but some do call out “Danaerys!” Larraq is hit in the chest with an arrow, bringing Barristan’s attention forward, but the squire keeps the banners held high and shakes it off. Barristan has reached the Harridan, but a Ghiscari legion six thousand strong has lined up to protect the huge trebuchet. They are six ranks deep -- the first rank kneels and holds their spears pointing out and up, the second rank stands and holds their spears out at waist height, and and the third rank holds the spears out on their shoulders. The rest have small throwing spears and are ready to step forward when their comrades fall. Barristan knows that a maester’s chain is only as strong as his weakest link, and identifies the companies of the Yunkish lords as the weakest of his immediate foes, certainly weaker than the slave legions. In particular, Barristan targets the Little Pigeon and his herons. The slaves chosen to be herons were freakishly tall before they were put on stilts, and wear pink scales and feathers and steel beaks. But Barristan sees that they will be blind because of the dawn rising over the city, and like to break ranks easily, so Barristan turns away from the legion guarding the trebuchet at the last minute and heads for the herons. He cuts the head off of one of the herons and his lads join the fray. Dany’s horse knocks a heron into three others and they all fall over. In a moment, the herons are scattering and running away, led by the Little Pigeon himself. Unfortunately for the Little Pigeon, he trips over the fringes of his bird armor and gets caught by the Red Lamb. The Little Pigeon begs for mercy, saying that he will fetch a large ransom. The Red Lamb just says “I came for blood, not gold” and knocks in the Little Pigeon’s head with his mace, splattering blood all over Barristan and Dany’s silver horse. The unsullied begin marching through the gates, and Barristan sees that the Yunkai’i have missed their chance to effectively launch a counterattack. As he watches more of the slave legions get slaughtered, mostly those who were chained together and could not retreat, he wonders where the sellsword companies like the treacherous Second Sons have gone. The unsullied finish lining up outside the gates, implacable even when one of their own number falls with a crossbow bolt to the neck. Tumco draws Barristan’s attention to the bay, asking “Why are there so many ships?” Barristan remembers that yesterday there were twenty, but now there are thrice that many. His heart sinks when he reasons that the ships from Volantis must have arrived, but then sees that some of the ships are crashing together. He asks Tumco, whose young eyes can see more clearly, to identify the banners. Tumco says “Squids, big squids. Like in the Basilisk Isles, where sometimes they drag whole ships down.” Barristan replies, “Where I’m from, we call them krakens.” Realizing that the Greyjoys have arrived, his first thought is “Has Balon joined with Joffrey, or the Starks?” But he realizes that he’s heard that Balon is dead, and wonders if this has something to do with the Balon’s son, the boy who was a ward of the Starks. He sees that ironmen are coming ashore, fighting the Yunkish, and says, surprised, “They are on our side!” The sellswords did not come to meet his charge because they were already preoccupied with the ironborn! Barristan is almost gleeful. “It’s like Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar, the hammer and the anvil. We have them! We have them!” [GRRM pointed out that these were, of course, Victarion's men and made a comment about Tyrion currently being quite miserable.] There were a couple of interesting things in the Q&A session, too. When asked if he felt guilty killing his characters, he said yes, but that stories with perfectly safe heroes are dishonest because death is a part of life. I asked whether he would comment on his choice to call these chapters “Ser Barristan” instead of continuing with the titles from ADWD, and he replied that he has “a method to his madness” for promoting characters with descriptors to named characters but that he didn’t want to say more. He mentioned the Wild Cards movie that Syfy and Universal are working on, being written by Melinda Snodgrass, and that he thinks they asked for the license in order to have a superhero franchise to compete with Marvel or DC. When asked for his suggestions for Hugo nominations, he highlighted the potential for fans to nominate prominent bloggers for the fan writing award even though blogs are excluded from being nominated as “zines.” In particular, he called out John J Miller from Cheese Magnet and Alan Whitehead of the Wertzone. Anyway, I loved hearing these chapters and I had a lot of fun at my first con! Hopefully next time I'll be free to track down some folks from the BWB.