|Melisandre of Asshai|
Melisandre is in her chambers. Fires and candles are burning. Every one of her servants has to learn at first that these fires must never be allowed to go out. She turns to the fire in the hearth to use it for her visions. At first, she sees eyeless faces, then towers by the sea, swallowed up by the tide, then winged shadows before a blue sky. She tries to find Stannis and some trace of him, but she doesn’t succeed, instead witnessing a wooden white face with thousand red eyes around it and a boy-wolf howling beside it. She then sees skulls, and Jon’s face in between them. She again tries to concentrate on Stannis, but she only gets Jon, seeing him to change from man to wolf and then to man again. She also hears Jon’s name, along with the names Melony and Lot Seven. She then breaks up the vision, thinking that the skulls signify death and that she already tried to warn Jon about the danger.
She muses about Devan then, who was left behind to serve her. She asked Stannis to leave him here to protect Davos from further grief, but she knows that neither will thank her. Her guards are the lowest of all, and she knows that they won’t protect her in the case of danger, but she trusts in R’hollor. When Devan comes in to feed the fire, he asks her if she wants food, which she agrees to, and he leaves again. Melisandre acknowledges the need to keep up certain premises, and while she doesn’t need food due to the powers of R’hollor, other people shouldn’t know.
Her thoughts then go over to Jon Snow. She thinks his modesty in taking his rooms in the armory a shrewd sort of pride and naïve besides, since power rests in the display of it. She then summons the Lord of Bones to talk to him. When he comes in without his bone armor, she tells him that he needs to wear it to maintain the image and that he is not cautious enough, for starting an argument with some black brothers, including Bowen Marsh, over supper. He replies that he would like to die with a sword in his hand, but Melisandre dismisses it and tells him that he needs to save the girl that is coming for the Wall for protection since Jon can’t due to his vows. Before they can continue the discussion, however, a horn blast is heard, not followed up by another. Rattleshirt observes that this means rangers returning, and Melisandre knows which, and that they are dead.
She goes out where the black brothers bring in the severed heads of three of the rangers Jon sent out earlier, with their eyes removed. Bowen Marsh is there too, calling to Jon that he should have never sent them out and being hushed by the Lord Commander. Jon then commands Melisandre to walk with him, who invites him to her rooms. On the way, they talk about the rangers, and Jon gives in to the fact that she warned him that they would die and that she doesn’t know where the others are. He is worried about an attack by the Weeper, known to cut out the eyes of rangers, on the Bridge of Skulls, but Melisandre tells him about the towers in her vision, confirming his thought that may mean Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. She muses about the similarities between Jon and Stannis before they reach the chamber.
There, Jon is taken aghast when he sees the Lord of Bones, and even more so when Melisandre tells him what she had in mind for him to do. Jon is even more repulsed then, telling her that Rattleshirt is the worst of men and that he will kill him personally if he leaves Castle Black. Faced with this uncompromising attitude, Melisandre stops the spell over the Lord of Bones, letting fall the illusion over him and revealing that it is Mance Rayder. Jon is very surprised about it, and Mel thinks that when he killed the Lord of Bones who was truly burned that day he saved her a lot of strength in maintaining the illusion. They talk about the scheme, and Jon gives in this time, allowing Mance to recruit some spearwives in Mole’s Town and try to save Arya Stark.
This chapter is certainly one of the more controversial ones in “A Dance with Dragons”. Many complained that while it does not contain really much information about Melisandre it destroys the myth around her, profaning her in a way. Rereading it, I can’t really concur with that thought. Melisandre is as well profaned in this chapter as she retains some myth. We actually witness her doing her visions and reading them, and we learn that there are limits to her power, but we don’t know which and we can also see that she is capable of more than we knew before.
On the one hand, she uses alchemist powders to create certain effects mainly targeted at maintaining an aura of myth at no cost to her actual powers, and she definitely is established as capable of error in reading her visions in this chapter (which wouldn’t come as a surprise to most, but now it’s official). On the other hand, adding to the myth of her powers, we learn that her zeal about Stannis is true. There were theories out there that she just uses him to her own ends, but that is clearly not true. She believes fervently that he is Azor Ahai reborn. She also experiences a growth in her powers, due to the Wall which she christened earlier “one of the hinges of the world”, although we haven’t seen what powers these are as yet. She doesn’t need to eat, which is a new detail, and she doesn’t really sleep, training herself to the end of not sleeping at all.
At this point, we get the greatest new mystery about her at all in this chapter. In the flames, she hears the names Melony and Lot Seven, and later she says that she wants to get rid of sleep altogether so she doesn’t dream about the two anymore. It is possible that “Melony” is Melisandre’s true name, and that she was auctioned on the slave block with lot number seven to the Red Temple like so many others. It certainly would make sense regarding the emphasis on the temple in the chapters in Volantis. “Melisandre of Asshai” therefore would just be a clever nickname, and Asshai itself remain the fabled location of which nobody can really say if it exists at all. This mystery will have to wait for future revealing, perhaps in the "Winds of Winter".
We also get some things about Jon Snow. The chapter clearly strengthens those who think that he is Azor Ahai, since she clearly says that she wants to see Azor Ahai, and that R’hollor only shows her Jon Snow. She expects Stannis, dismissing the possibility to err (although in the first sentences of the chapters she explicitly states that the possibility is always there). It is also a nice detailed touch by Martin, again showing his prowess as a writer, that Melisandre notices Jon’s flexing of his right hand. We know that it’s due to his burning and that it became a habit, but it’s nice to see that others recognize it as well.
As to side notes, Melisandre says that her bed doesn’t see much use since Stannis is gone. This could either indicate that she really has sex with him or that she just used it to hide her powers. I personally think it’s the latter one, since Stannis just isn’t the type for adultery, and Melisandre not the type to sleep with anyone, especially a man like Stannis.