A while back, within a few weeks after the release of Fire & Blood; Vol. 1, several readers reached the point in the story of Aerea Targaryen and her wonderful, willful ways as an adventurer. Sadly that took a tragic turn for the extremely worse after her last flight.
For sake of length in this post, I am not detailing all of Aerea’s life and events, but rather focusing on her last ride, the history of Valyria, and what hitchikers she picked up along the way.
Here is a link to the Aerea wiki page if you want to get highlights about her life. I have added many links to extra reading material if you want to fall down an internet hole and reads lots more about lots more.
In keeping with the intent of this blog, I will of course add in how GRRM has used these motifs to represent a recurring theme in his literary career.
What to Read?
I am speculating that what Aerea picked up was a wicked case of hookworms called ‘creeping eruptions’ while in Valyria, which I will detail below to gross horror.
While trying to keep this post to a readable length, some book quotes may get a little long. I am using references from these stories/books here to give extra support to my speculations:
- Dreamsongs Anthology; autobiography information by George R.R. Martin.
- Sandkings- Simon Kress is a fire-Targaryen person, and rather like Daenerys. Also note that creeping eruptions is also called “sand worms”.
- A Song for Lya- because the Greeshka truly are invasive fiery parasites.
- Fire & Blood; volume 1, written by some dude named GRRM.
- Have Space Suit- Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein.
- There is also something of an H.P. Lovecraft “Crawling Chaos” element to this horror as well. GRRM does use H.P. in his own work.
And this is related to the history of the questionable magic, slavery, and genetic manipulations being practiced in Valyria. As well as the Doom of Valyria possibly being caused by fourteen volcanoes erupting in explosions causing the destruction of Valyria. As well as thematic literary elements such as pyre-fire-volcano-mountains being connected, as noted in this World Building page.
Reminder- open spoilers everywhere!
Aerea’s Last Flight
From Fire & Blood after Aerea returns from Valyria after stealing Balerion the Black Dread for a time:
“We have told the world that Princess Aerea died of a fever, and that is broadly true, but it was a fever such as I have never seen before and hope never to see again. The girl was burning. Her skin was flushed and red and when I laid my hand upon her brow to learn how hot she was, it was as if I had thrust it into a pot of boiling oil. There was scarce an ounce of flesh upon her bones, so gaunt and starved did she appear, but we could observe certain…swellings inside her, as her skin bulged out and then sunk down again, as if…no, not as if, for this was the truth of it…there were things inside her, living things, moving and twisting, mayhaps searching for a way out, and giving her such pain that even the milk of the poppy gave her no surcease. We told the king, as we must tell her mother, that Aerea never spoke, but that is a lie. I pray that I shall soon forget some of the things she whispered through her cracked and bleeding lips. I cannot forget how oft she begged for death.
“All the maester’s arts were powerless against her fever, if indeed we can call such a horror by such a commonplace name. The simplest way to say it is that the poor child was cooking from within. Her flesh grew darker and darker and then began to crack, until her skin resembled nothing so much, Seven save me, as pork cracklings. Thin tendrils of smoke issued from her mouth, her nose, even, most obscenely, from her nether lips. By then she had ceased to speak, though the things within her continued to move. Her very eyes cooked within her skull and finally burst, like two eggs left in a pot of boiling water for too long.
“I thought that was the most hideous thing that I should ever see, but I was quickly disabused of the notion, for a worse horror was awaiting me. That came when Benifer and I lowered the poor child into a tub and covered her with ice. The shock of that immersion stopped her heart at once, I tell myself…if so, that was a mercy, for that was when the things inside her came out…
Eruption of Wyrms
From the magical wiki sourse: Cutaneous larva migrans (abbreviated CLM) is a skin disease in humans, caused by the larvae of various nematode parasites of the hookworm family (Ancylostomatidae). The most common species causing this disease in the Americas is Ancylostoma braziliense. These parasites live in the intestines of dogs, cats, and wild animals and should not be confused with other members of the hookworm family for which humans are definitive hosts, namely Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus.
Colloquially called creeping eruption due to its presentation, the disease is also somewhat ambiguously known as “ground itch” or (in some parts of the Southern USA) “sandworms“, as the larvae like to live in sandy soil. Another vernacular name is plumber’s itch. The medical term CLM literally means “wandering larvae in the skin”.
In the real world, these hookworms can be treated by taking anti-parasitic medications, either topically or orally. But as with in-series incest, real world science doesn’t matter in fantasyland. One thing many readers, including myself, noticed about this book Fire & Blood is that Martin seems to have looked back to his earlier career and re-dipped his quill into the horror story ink. I like it! George has seriously cranked this disease up to 11+.
Literary Connections Loop
I first made this post back on the Westeros.org forum when speculating about this new information was flying high. I have essentially recorded all of that information here in this blog post, but the link is here if you want to look at the other discussion on the forum.
This is where the background history is that spawned this terrifying event. Here are some notes from GRRM regarding this story and a little more from another of his stories. The thing about it is that he seems to be having fun going back to his formative years and reestablishing in Fire & Blood the many ways the fire elements can consume. To be clear, I am not saying A Song of Ice and Fire is secret SciFi in any way shape or form. The author likes the stories he likes, and he is remaking the theme to fit this new fantasy narrative.
- Dreamsongs Anthology
GRRM: Along with the usual cowboys, knights, and green army men, I had all the space toys, the ray guns and rocket ships and hard plastic spacemen with the removable clear plastic helmets that were always getting lost. Best of all were the colored plastic aliens I bought for a nickel apiece from bins in Woolworth’s and Kresge’s. Some had big swollen brains and some had four arms, and some were spiders with faces or snakes with arms and heads. My favorite guy had a tiny little head and chest on top of a gigantic, hairy lower body. I gave them all names, and decided they were a gang of space pirates, led by the malignant big-brained Martian I called Jarn, who was not nearly as nice as Pinto Vortando. And of course I dreamed up endless stories of their adventures, and even made some halting attempts at writing one or two of them down.
Science fiction could be found in the movies as well. I saw Them and War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still and This Island Earth and Destination Moon. And Forbidden Planet, which put all of them to shame. Little did I suspect that I was getting my first taste of Shakespeare there in the DeWitt Theater, courtesy of Dr. Morbius and Robby the Robot.
Most of my beloved funny books were science fiction of a sort as well. Superman was from another planet, wasn’t he? He came to Earth in a spaceship, how scientific could you get? The Martian Manhunter came from Mars, Green Lantern was given his ring by a crashed alien, and the Flash and the Atom got their powers in a lab. The comics offered pure space opera as well. There was Space Ranger (my favorite), Adam Strange (everybody else’s favorite), Tommy Tomorrow (nobody’s favorite), and this guy who drove a space cab along the space freeways … There were the Atomic Knights, post-holocaust heroes who patrolled a radioactive wasteland in suits of lead-lined armor, riding giant mutant Dalmations … and on a somewhat more elevated plane, there were the wonderful Classics Illustrated adaptions of War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, which gave me my first introduction to the works of H. G. Wells.
All that was only prelude, though. When I was ten years old, my mother’s childhood friend Lucy Antonsson gave me a book for Christmas. Not a comic book, but a book book, a hardcover of Have Space Suit, Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein.
I was a little dubious at first, but I liked Paladin on TV, and the title suggested this might be about some kind of space Paladin, so I took it home and began to read about this kid named Kip, who lived in a small town and never went anywhere, just like me. Some critics have suggested that Citizen of the Galaxy is the best of the Heinlein juveniles. Citizen of the Galaxy is a fine book. So too are Tunnel Through the Sky, Starman Jones, Time for the Stars, and many of the others … but Have Space Suit, Will Travel towers above them all. Kip and PeeWee, Ace and the malt shop, the old used spacesuit (I could smell it), the Mother Thing, the wormfaces, the trek across the moon, the trial in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud with the fate of humanity at stake. “Die trying is the proudest human thing.” What could compare with that?
To a ten-year-old boy in 1958, Have Space Suit, Will Travel was crack with an Ed Emshwiller cover. I had to have more.
There was no way I could afford hardcovers, of course. Have Space Suit, Will Travel had cost $2.95, according to the price inside the dustwrapper … but the paperbacks on the spinner rack in the candy store on Kelly Parkway only went for 35¢, the price of three-and-a-half funny books. If I didn’t buy so many comics and skipped a Milky Way from time to time, I could scrape together the price of one of those. So I saved my dimes and nickels, stopped reading some comics I didn’t like all that much to begin with, played a few less games of Skee-Ball, avoided the Good Humor truck and Mister Softee when they came by, and started buying paperbacks.
Worlds and universes opened wide before me. I bought every Heinlein that I found; his “adult” books like The Man Who Sold the Moon and Revolt in 2100, since the other juveniles were not to be found. RAH was “the dean of science fiction,” it said so right on the back of his books. If he was the dean, he must be the best. He remained my favorite writer for years to come, and Have Space Suit, Will Travel remained my favorite book … until the day when I read The Puppet Masters.
Yes, in Have Space Suit, the Wormfaces are an alien race that are harvesting humans to consume them. There is plenty of fiery imagery that is given to them as well. Makes sense since this ASOIAF stuff happens in Valyria to fire people. There is a discussion in the story that the main character Kip has with himself whether it is appropriate to refer to the wormfaces as cannibals since humans and wormfaces are not the same species. Kip likens the situation to humans farming and eating sheep. There are too many wormface references to add them all (over 100), so I will just add this one which is packed with good stuff! I will say that there is a major intergalactic trial at the end of this story, and the human race is (partially) saved by a green monkey… soooo
Have Space Suit- Will Travel
But what was Wormface doing on Pluto?
If you were invading another solar system, how would you start? I’m not joking; a dungeon on Pluto is no joke and I never laughed at Wormface. Would you just barge in, or toss your hat in first? They seemed far ahead of us in engineering but they couldn’t have known that ahead of time. Wouldn’t it be smart to build a supply base in that system in some spot nobody ever visited?
Then you could set up advance bases, say on an airless satellite of a likely-looking planet, from which you could scout the surface of the target planet. If you lost your scouting base, you would pull back to main base and work out a new attack.
Remember that while Pluto is a long way off to us, it was only five days from Luna for Wormface. Think about World War II, back when speeds were slow. Main Base is safely out of reach (U.S.A./Pluto) but only about five days from advance base (England/The Moon) which is three hours from theater-of-operations (France-Germany/Earth). That’s a slow way to operate but it worked for the Allies in World War II.
I just hoped it would not work for Wormface’s gang.
Though I didn’t see anything to prevent it.
Somebody chucked down another can—spaghetti and meat balls. If it had been canned peaches, I might not have had the fortitude to do what I did next, which was to use it for a hammer before I opened it. I beat an empty can into a flat narrow shape and beat a point on it, which I sharpened on the edge of the catch basin. When I was through, I had a dagger—not a good one, but it made me feel less helpless.
Then I ate. I felt sleepy and went to sleep in a warm glow. I was still a prisoner but I had a weapon of sorts and I believed that I had figured out what I was up against. Getting a problem analyzed is two-thirds of solving it. I didn’t have nightmares.
* * *
“What’sa Wormface?” you ask. They are an extraterrestrial species that want to invade Earth to harvest humans. Their society is ruled by a group of Queens, suggesting that they evolved from eusocial ancestors.
They are carnivorous, and consider themselves as the only intelligent species in existence. All the other races are viewed by them as mere animals, therefore the Wormfaces have no problem with feeding on them, invading their planets and even exterminating them.
And from Sandkings, where we have alien creatures purchased by Simon Kress from Jala Woe for the specific intent to worship Kress, and have now morphed into something not ever seen. Again, too many references to quote them all here, but these all include the “mother” maw pulsing and writhing and consuming. The sandkings eat a lot! And the term “maw” is frequently used by GRRM in conjunction with fiery eaters of various types. I will skip to near the end of the story where it is most detailed:
“Do not be absurd,” Wo said. “A first-stage sandking is more like a sperm than an infant. The wars temper and control them in nature. Only one in a hundred reaches second stage. Only one in a thousand achieves the third and final plateau, and becomes like Shade. Adult sandkings are not sentimental about the small maws. There are too many of them, and their mobiles are pests.” She sighed. “And all this talk wastes time. That white sandking is going to waken to full sentience soon. It is not going to need you any longer, and it hates you, and it will be very hungry. The transformation is taxing. The maw must eat enormous amounts both before and after. So you have to get out of there. Do you understand?”
“I can’t,” Kress said. “My skimmer is destroyed, and I can’t get any of the others to start. I don’t know how to reprogram them. Can you come out for me?”
“Yes,” said Wo. “Shade and I will leave at once, but it is more than two hundred kilometers from Asgard to you, and there is equipment we will need to deal with the deranged sandking you’ve created. You cannot wait there. You have two feet. Walk. Go due east, as near as you can determine, as quickly as you can. The land out there is pretty desolate. We’ll find you easily with an aerial search, and you’ll be safely away from the sandking. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Simon Kress. “Yes, oh, yes.”
They signed off, and he walked quickly toward the door. He was halfway there when he heard the noise—a sound halfway between a pop and a crack.
One of the sandkings had split open. Four tiny hands covered with pinkish-yellow blood came up out of the gap and began to push the dead skin aside. Kress began to run.
* * *
Actually, now that I think about it, this includes the fiery Greeshka beings from A Song for Lya as well. I am sure there are more fiery creatures consuming in other stories, and they are usually rooted in religion, but I will stop here for now. In this passage you can also see a very early idea starting to develop where George has the idea for Mel and Selyse to burn Shireen, and most likely in a cave, tunnel, or at a gate. I say gate. Here is but a small example of the text that explains the fiery-consumptive nature of the Greeshka.
A Song for Lya
On their heads rode the Greeshka. I’d expected to find the sight hideous. I didn’t. It was faintly disquieting, but only because I knew what it meant. The parasites were bright blobs of crimson goo, ranging in size from a pulsing wart on the back of one Shkeen skull to a great sheet of dripping, moving red that covered the head and shoulders of the smallest like a living cowl. The Greeshka lived by sharing the nutrients in the Shkeen bloodstream, I knew.
And also by slowly—oh so slowly—consuming its host.
Lya and I stopped a few yards from them, and watched them ring. Her face was solemn, and I think mine was. All of the others were smiling, and the songs that the bells sang were songs of joy. I squeezed Lyanna’s hand tightly. “Read,” I whispered. We read. Me: I read bells. Not the sound of bells, no, no, but the feel of bells, the emotion of bells, the bright clanging joy, the hooting-shouting-ringing loudness, the song of the Joined, the togetherness and the sharing of it all. I read what the Joined felt as they pealed their bells, their happiness and anticipation, their ecstasy in telling others of their clamorous contentment.
And this has been your daily dose of chunks of information you didn’t know you wanted to know . Feel free to leave thoughts or additional information in the comments.
Feature image artist credit: Targaryengirl234
Thank you for reading along with jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire.