|Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones|
Tyrion is bound and thrown over the back of a horse like a sack of wheat. He and his captor Jorah Mormont have reached Volantis. After the traditional rub over the head, the guards admit Tyrion and Ser Jorah to the city. The city stinks badly, Tyrion observes, and much of its once great size now lies in ruins, product of wars centuries past. Tyrion asks Jorah if they are to go to a brothel, since he could use one, but Jorah denies him and tells him to shut up if he doesn’t want to get his fist, which has happened several times these past days. Tyrion goes back to observe his surroundings and finds strange fascination in the omnipresent elephants, some of which are large and grey, but most of them small, white and put before carts.
They pass the temple of R’hollor, which seems to be the main temple of the cult, enormous in size, almost thrice the Great Sept of Baelor. Currently, the High Priest Benerro is holding ceremony, and especially the slaves are attending it. The priest uses fire tricks to give his sermon additional spice, producing flames from his fingers and fiery Valyrian glyphs into the air. The sermon is about Daenerys and her dragons, and Tyrion, who doesn’t really speak Volantene, can only make out “doom” and “dragons”. At a blacksmith, Tyrion is freed from his ties, but instantly wrought in irons as to prevent him from escaping. Jorah sells his horse, and Tyrion concludes that he wants to buy passage on a ship to Westeros. Jorah then leads the way through the big crowd.
On the way to their destination, they pass an enormous elephant, colorfully striped, with naked dancers on top who contribute to the campaign of Malaqo, who wishes to become triarch in the upcoming elections. They then reach the Merchant’s House and take a room. In said room, Tyrion is chained to the wall while Jorah gets some food. When he’s back, Tyrion talks with him about the upcoming elections. Jorah explains that they go on for 10 days and that every candidate tries to seduce the people into voting for him, stating the example of a candidate who has sent out 100 slave girls to fuck voters for free. Tyrion muses aloud that three kings make for a bad combination and are inefficient, but Jorah holds back that Volantis that way is never reigned by either a boy king nor a mad king, stating that if Aerys had had two colleague kings, the realm would never have bled as it did, which silences Tyrion.
When they go done in the common room the next day, Tyrion sees a dwarf at one of the tables that seems to recognize him, although he can’t say who it is. They hear that Aegon Targaryen and Jon Connington have hired the Golden Company and taken them west, which destroys Tyrion’s hopes of being rescued by them in Volantis. He thinks about why they did it and if it may be a ruse. Jorah then announces that they will see the old widow soon, explaining that she’s the widow of a triarch from decades past, offering wisdom and help to anyone who gives her a present. While they wait, Jorah tells Tyrion her story, being a former slave and freed by her husband, taking over his business after his death but being shunned by the Volantene society for her low upbringings.
When they are admitted to the widow, Tyrion doesn’t believe his ears: Ser Jorah actually asks for a passage to Meereen, not to King’s Landing. He obviously wants to bring Tyrion to Daenerys instead of Cersei. The widow tells him that passage can be got easily, provided one wants to fight Daenerys, which Jorah declines. He wants to be there before Volantis officially declares war, which it will do after the elections since all likely candidates are in favor of it. The widow tells him that not everyone in Volantis is for this war, as can be witnessed by the Bennero, but that the slaves don’t count. The nobility is in fear of the red priests, however, thinking of rooting the temple out. When asked what he wants to do in Meereen, Jorah states that he wants to serve Daenerys and if need be die for her, but the widow doesn’t believe him. When she asks Tyrion what he wants there, he answers that he wants to serve her, and that the only thing he wants in return is the chance to rape and kill his sister. The widow is content with this answer, but tells Jorah that he does not get passage from her since his motives are darker than he admits.
Then, hell breaks loose. The dwarf tries to attack and gut Tyrion, but Jorah and the guards of the widow interfere, capturing her and rescuing him. When Tyrion asks the held dwarf why he wants to kill him, it becomes clear that it’s a girl, belonging to the couple of dwarfs having jousted at Joffrey’s wedding, and that her brother, who performed with her, was killed by some Westerosi because they wanted to sell his head to Cersei. The widow, stating to be impressed by Jorahs quick interference in accordance to his knightly vows, tells him of a ship to Qarth of which Benerro has foretold that it should not reach its destination. She then says to Tyrion that he should bring Daenerys a message from him: she should come to Volantis soon. The slaves are waiting eagerly.
This is a fairly long chapter, and if one doesn’t pay close mind to what really happens and just goes over it in anticipation of the big stuff happening, one misses much and more going on behind the scenes and between lines. First the obvious thing: has anyone really believed that Jorah meant to go to Cersei? The double meaning of “to the queen” in the previous Tyrion chapter was just a bit too blatant for the reader, although Tyrion naturally fell for it, not knowing that Jorah was in love with Daenerys, which he figured out now.
It is a very cool twist and the introduction of a nice character that Penny the dwarf makes her appearance. Actions have consequences, and while all the courters in “A Feast for Crows” with their fake heads of Tyrion were more or less funny in a way, the harsh reality captures up with the reader at last: all these dwarfs and children were killed by someone, and they had relatives and friends who cared about them. Blaming Tyrion is a bit unfair, of course, but Penny can’t really be expected to know that or to make any difference in her state of mind.
One of the two things that may go largely unnoticed on the first read are the Volantis campaigns with all the triarchs trying to get the post in the elections. They mustn’t be confused with democratic or even republican elections, since only the wealthy aristocracy may vote, and only a handful women around them, but Jorah has the right of it: the form of government certainly prevents outrages like the ones of Aerys and Joffrey. It becomes clear that Volantis is steering towards war: one of the present triarchs, likely to be reelected, is a tiger anyway, and his also likely reelected colleague may be an elephant, but he lost a fortune in slave trade. And neither of the two equally likely candidates for the third spot has motives different from these two, so Dany will soon have another enemy at her door.
The other thing that may be overlooked is the role of the red priests. It is best compared to the early Christianity back in the days of the imperial Rome, being a religion for the poor and disposed, offering them a better place in life. Until now, the red priests don’t wield any political power, but that may change very soon, and their loyalties clearly lay with Daenerys, not only because she has dragons, but also because she is a liberator of slaves, and in Volantis at least slaves constitute the majority of the believers in R’hollor.
This also leads to the question of Melisandre. If the red priests officially declare for Daenerys, supporting her in her efforts, how will she react? After all, Rhaegar believed Aegon to be the Prince who was Promised, and Daenerys and her dragons may very well count as Azor Ahai reborn and Lightbringer. So, if the two of them finally reach Westeros and make their claim, will Melisandre support them too, leaving Stannis to his fate?
For Daenerys, these tidings are less unfortunate than one may believe first seeing the political situation in Volantis. While it is true that the cities declare for her one by one and pledge their fleets and armies to Yunkai’s cause in order to reestablish the slave trade, Daenerys can exploit the fact that she is a beacon of hope for the slaves in the whole east. She just has to know it – which she doesn’t yet – and find a way of using it, making allies with those swaying influence around the slaves. Since the armies of Yunkai and her allies depend on slaves for everything, especially for logistics, a coordinated uprising might bring her an astonishing victory.
The last thing in this complex chapter is Jorah Mormont. We get other tidbits of his character, being a hard and brutal, but yet somehow decent and just man, as evidenced by his hitting the thief but letting him run with a literally blooded nose and his defending of Tyrion and Penny. It is rather unclear, however, to which “darker motives” the widow refers to when she denies him passage over the Slaver’s Bay at first. Does he want to take revenge on Dany? That doesn’t seem likely since he then wouldn’t be so broken after hearing of her marriage later on. I can’t lose the feeling, however, that the widow knew what was going to happen to the ship she sends them to. Wanted she Tyrion to become a slave before meeting Dany, as to enhance her cause?