Welcome to the disturbing tale of Simon Kress and his Sandkings. This character archetype is a favorite villain of Martinworld stories. Oh yes, a naughty child of George R.R. Martin, but one of his children none the less. Such a love of this mad child does Martin have that he sneekeded in a cameo of himself reading Sandkings into an episode of his TV show Beauty and the Beast (yes, I have dissected that show here).
This story exposes that bit of psyche that shows the reader that we don’t truly know a character until we’ve seen the worst of them. Additionally, this is another tale where GRRM gives the main character what they ask for, only it doesn’t play out the way it was expected. Another good Martin story to read that shares this strong theme is In The Lost Lands. I do not have that story transcribed yet, but will update when I do. In the meantime, it opens with the lines:
You can buy anything you might desire from Gray Alys
But it is better not to.
Published in Omni in 1979, Sandkings won both the 1980 Hugo and Nebula awards as well as 1979 Best Novelette at Noreascon 2 in Boston. It has since been reprinted into many different anthologies, including the growing-in-popularity Dreamsongs I.
This story was made into an episode that is nothing like the written story. It is just under 2-hours and it is here in the link if you want to watch it.
I have started this book club re-read for the older works of George R.R. Martin for purposes such as research, scholarship, and teaching. I own all copies of material that is used for this book club. If you have not yet read a story listed in the above link, please check with your local bookstore for your own reading material to purchase (Indie Bookstore Finder or Bookshop.org). The full list of GRRM stories outside of the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I have read can be found on this page here.
For a YouTube chat about this story, you can find that here…
Me and a few nerdy friends also livestreamed a discussion about this story. You can follow this link here, which aired on Saturday, February 20, 2021 at 7pm EST/US time. Feel free to subscribe here if you want more Martinworld discussion. This video includes all sorts of gems by me and two cohosts, including: Jason Bateman from American Psycho, Stoneheart, The Martells and Dorne, and much more.
Breaking it down
Sandkings is on the longer word count side of Martinworld stories I typically transcribe for rereads, but we’re gonna do it anyway, even if it requires a few breaks. To make it easier for you to pick up where you left off after a break, I broke the story into sections and you can jump to them from this list here.
First Act, sections 1-3 / Second Act, sections 4-9 / Third Act, sections 10-14
- Reading the mists
- Wo and Shade set up tank
- Motion beneath sand
- Images of God
- Spider, Big as Hounds!
- Following fights
- Kress gets a puppy
- Cath comes over
- Kress Stoneheart
- Goodbye Idi
- Odd scrambling
- Lissandre’s fiery hand
- House with the red door
“Laren Dorr” was published in 1976, “Bitterblooms” in 1977, “In the Lost Lands” in 1982. Old work, certainly, but I was always fond of those three stories, and of the three women who starred as the protagonists: Sharra, Gray Alys, and Shawn of Carinhall. None of the stories had anything to do with A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, of course, nor even with each other… but a careful reader can find hints and shadows and seeds of many of the ideas that would later bloom in Westeros in each of them. Still, even so, they remained obscure, known only to a few.
— George R.R. Martin, Not a Blog
Am I saying that Sandkings or Thousand Worlds Universe is part of A Song of Ice and Fire? No, not at all. However, Martin often says that he does, in fact, reclaim some elements and archetypes from his previous works. The front page of my blog has several (but not all) of those quotes. Knowing that, some common Martinworld themes, plot points, and archetypes in this story are:
- The desire for worship/god complex. Very Targaryen as well Euron Greyjoy.
- However, GRRM often has his Targ/Euron characters drawn from the same prototype.
- Sewing Red Dragons shows how these archetypes are drawn for each other and why.
- Simon Kress is a Daenerys/Viserys/Targaryen protoype, including bending people to his will and his psi-link with his Sandkings (Dothraki).
- From GRRM’s 1993 Outline, as discussed here: There, hunted by [unclear] of her [Daenerys] life, she stumbles on a [something about a clutch of three dragon eggs] and a young dragon will give Daenerys power to bend the Dothraki to her will. Then she begins to plan for her invasion of the Seven Kingdoms.
- This mind control is what GRRM calls ‘the game of mind’ in his Daenerys proto-type story The Glass Flower.
- This is also very much like the Hrangan Minds, humans greatest enemy during the double war (Dance of Dragons) that caused the Thousand Worlds version of the Long Night.
- Old Hranga = Old Valyria/“dragon lord” mind controllers. Discussed here for more info.
- A benfiet to the length of ASOIAF is the vast literary space a long-form epic has that allows for development of not just one side of a character.
- We will see some “chess pie” as well.
- Disregarding the directions of someone wiser than you.
- This wise woman even tries to remind you who you are.
- Fire, fire, fire.
- A sword from the sky, even.
- A hivemind mother-maw-mhysa. (No, this isn’t the weirwoods, silly)
- Another very strong hivemind-mother-mhysa-maw is the Greeshka from A Song for Lya.
- Puppy eating.
- A Kr-Cr naming style that “breeds for dragons” purposes, as discussed on this page here.
- Kress name meaning: unflattering nickname for a greedy person, from Old High German krassig, gratag ‘greedy’.
- Poisoning attempts.
- Fire & blood babies, which there is a good chance GRRM was thematically calling back to this story when decades later he developed Aerea Targaryen and her Creeping Eruptions.
Also, Simon Kress lives on Baldur near Asgard. It is well known that, among many other inspirations, Martin uses Norse mythology rather heavily across all of his works. In Norse mythology, Asgard is a fortified home to the Aesir tribe of gods located in the sky. Asgard consists of smaller realms that do not have as many depictions in mythological poems and prose. Asgard is set to be fully destroyed during Ragnarök, and later restored after the world’s renewal. Sandkings takes place post-interregnum, which is Martin’s version of Ragnarok and the Long Night of ASOIAF.
What does GRRM have to say about Kress?
- … and Sandkings married an SF background to a horror plot.
- I mean, really. What were these guys trying to tell me? I was an Analog writer, I’d sold a science fact article … and they were claiming that I wrote Bat Durston stories! Of course, it was true that I had based “Night Shift” on my father’s experiences… And even “Sandkings,” a few years later, started with that guy I knew in college and his aquarium of piranha. But so what? When I wrote the stories I moved them to other planets, and put aliens in them, and spaceships. How much more bloody science-fictional could they get?
- If you know my work at all, I suspect you’ve heard of “Sandkings.” Until A Song of Ice and Fire, it was the story that I was best known for, far and away the most popular thing I ever did. “Sandkings” was the third of the three stories I wrote during that Christmas break in the winter of 1978-79. The inspiration for it came from a guy I knew in college, who hosted Creature Features parties every Saturday. He kept a tank of piranha, and in between the first and the second creature feature, he would sometimes throw a goldfish into the tank, for the amusement of his guests. “Sandkings” was also intended to be the first of a series. The strange little shop on the back alley where queer, dangerous items can be bought had long been a familiar trope of fantasy. I thought it might be fun to do a science fiction version. My “strange little shop” was actually going to be a franchise, with branches scattered over light-years, on many different planets. Its mysterious proprietors, Wo & Shade, would figure in each story, but the protagonists would be the customers, like Simon Kress. (Yes, I did begin a second Wo & Shade story, set on ai-Emerel, a world much mentioned in my old future history, but never seen. It was called “Protection” and I wrote 18 pages of it before putting it aside, for reasons that I no longer recall.) If you had asked me back in January 1979 about the three stories I’d just finished, I would have told you that “The Ice Dragon” was going to knock people’s socks off. I ranked it right up there with the best work I’d ever done. I felt “The Way of Cross and Dragon” was damned good too, might even win some awards. And “Sandkings”? Not bad at all. Not near as strong as the other two, mind you, but hey … no one hits a home run every time.I have never been so wrong about a story. “Sandkings” sold to Omni, the best-paying market in the field, and became the most popular story they ever published. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula in its year, the only one of my stories ever to accomplish that double. It has been reprinted and anthologized so many times that I’ve lost count, and has earned me more money than two of my novels and most of my TV scripts and screenplays. It was adapted as a graphic novel by DC Comics, and someday soon may be a computer game as well. Hollywood producers flocked to it, and I sold half a dozen options and saw half a dozen different screenplays and treatments before the story was finally filmed for television as the two-hour premiere episode of the new Outer Limits, adapted by my friend Melinda M. Snodgrass. Is it the best thing I ever wrote? You be the judge. The success of “Sandkings” inspired me to try more SF/horror hybrids, most notably with “Nightflyers,” my haunted starship story.
Per usual with book club rereads, I add my notes along the way to help start the conversation of topics about the story itself, how it fits into Martinworld as a whole, and how it is a prototype for A Song of Ice and Fire. There is no way that I am going to include every single detail/crossover I find, however, I have added plenty.
Please like and share this post as well as commenting with any other commonalities you found while reading.
Thank you and let’s begin…
Sandkings by George R.R. Martin
** Section 1 **
Simon Kress lived alone in a sprawling manor house among the dry, rocky hills fifty kilometers from the city. So, when he was called away unexpectedly on business, he had no neighbors he could conveniently impose on to take his pets. The carrion hawk was no problem; it roosted in the unused belfry and customarily fed itself anyway. The shambler Kress simply shooed outside and left to fend for itself; the little monster would gorge on slugs and birds and rockjocks. But the fish tank, stocked with genuine Earth piranha, posed a difficulty. Kress finally just threw a haunch of beef into the huge tank. The piranha could always eat each other if he were detained longer than expected. They’d done it before. It amused him.
Unfortunately, he was detained much longer than expected this time. When he finally returned, all the fish were dead. So was the carrion hawk. The shambler had climbed up to the belfry and eaten it. Simon Kress was vexed.
The next day he flew his skimmer to Asgard, a journey of some two hundred kilometers. Asgard was Baldur’s largest city and boasted the oldest and largest starport as well. Kress liked to impress his friends with animals that were unusual, entertaining, and expensive; Asgard was the place to buy them.
This time, though, he had poor luck. Xenopets had closed its doors, t’Etherane the Petseller tried to foist another carrion hawk off on him, and Strange Waters offered nothing more exotic than piranha, glowsharks, and spider-squids. Kress had had all those; he wanted something new.
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys IV
She fled from him, but only as far as the next open door. I know this room, she thought. She remembered those great wooden beams and the carved animal faces that adorned them. And there outside the window, a lemon tree! The sight of it made her heart ache with longing. It is the house with the red door, the house in Braavos. No sooner had she thought it than old Ser Willem came into the room, leaning heavily on his stick. “Little princess, there you are,” he said in his gruff kind voice. “Come,” he said, “come to me, my lady, you’re home now, you’re safe now.” His big wrinkled hand reached for her, soft as old leather, and Dany wanted to take it and hold it and kiss it, she wanted that as much as she had ever wanted anything. Her foot edged forward, and then she thought, He’s dead, he’s dead, the sweet old bear, he died a long time ago. She backed away and ran.
Near dusk, he found himself walking down the Rainbow Boulevard, looking for places he had not patronized before. So close to the starport, the street was lined by importers’ marts. The big corporate emporiums had impressive long windows, where rare and costly alien artifacts reposed on felt cushions against dark drapes that made the interiors of the stores a mystery. Between them were the junk shops—narrow, nasty little places whose display areas were crammed with all manner of offworld bric-a-brac. Kress tried both kinds of shops, with equal dissatisfaction.
Then he came across a store that was different.
It was quite close to the port. Kress had never been there before. The shop occupied a small, single-story building of moderate size, set between a euphoria bar and a temple-brothel of the Secret Sisterhood. Down this far, the Rainbow Boulevard grew tacky. The shop itself was unusual. Arresting.
The windows were full of mist; now a pale red, now the gray of true fog, now sparkling and golden. The mist swirled and eddied and glowed faintly from within. Kress glimpsed objects in the window—machines, pieces of art, other things he could not recognize—but he could not get a good look at any of them. The mists flowed sensuously around them, displaying a bit of first one thing and then another, then cloaking all. It was intriguing.
As he watched, the mist began to form letters. One word at a time. Kress stood and read:
WO. AND. SHADE. IMPORTERS. ARTIFACTS. ART. LIFEFORMS. AND. MISC.
- This is not the only time a type of House of the Undying experince happens to a character. The Stone City (1977) also has a very strong HotU scene with a shed boss.
- It is also no surprise that ‘Shade’ is connected with a prototype of HotU.
- Wo functions as a Quaithe prototype in this story.
- A dealer in ‘lifeforms’ is also akin to Illyrio Mopatis. More on this as the story goes…
The letters stopped. Through the fog, Kress saw something moving. That was enough for him, that and the word “Lifeforms” in their advertisement. He swept his walking cloak over his shoulder and entered the store.
Inside, Kress felt disoriented. The interior seemed vast, much larger than he would have guessed from the relatively modest frontage.It was dimly lit, peaceful. The ceiling was a starscape, complete with spiral nebulae, very dark and realistic, very nice. The counters all shone faintly, the better to display the merchandise within. The aisles were carpeted with ground fog. In places, it came almost to his knees and swirled about his feet as he walked.
“Can I help you?”
She seemed almost to have risen from the fog. Tall and gaunt and pale, she wore a practical gray jumpsuit and a strange little cap that rested well back on her head.
“Are you Wo or Shade?” Kress asked. “Or only sales help?”
“Jala Wo, ready to serve you,” she replied. “Shade does not see customers. We have no sales help.”
“You have quite a large establishment,” Kress said. “Odd that I have never heard of you before.”
“We have only just opened this shop on Baldur,” the woman said. “We have franchises on a number of other worlds, however. What can I sell you? Art, perhaps? You have the look of a collector. We have some fine Nor T’alush crystal carvings.”
- We have the Rainbow Blvd and now crystals. These are small fragments that make up the larger ASOIAF of the Faith of Seven/Andals being in service to and paving the way for Targaryens.
- And Seven Times Never Kill Man
- The Steel Andal Invasion
“No,” Simon Kress said. “I own all the crystal carvings I desire. I came to see about a pet.”
“We have a mimic in stock. From Celia’s World. A clever little simian. Not only will it learn to speak, but eventually it will mimic your voice, inflections, gestures, even facial expressions.”
“Cute,” said Kress. “And common. I have no use for either, Wo. I want something exotic. Unusual. And not cute. I detest cute animals. At the moment I own a shambler. Imported from Cotho, at no mean expense. From time to time I feed him a litter of unwanted kittens. That is what I think of cute. Do I make myself understood?”
Wo smiled enigmatically. “Have you ever owned an animal that worshiped you?” she asked.
Kress grinned. “Oh, now and again. But I don’t require worship, Wo. Just entertainment.”
“You misunderstand me,” Wo said, still wearing her strange smile. “I meant worship literally.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think I have just the thing for you,” Wo said. “Follow me.”
She led Kress between the radiant counters and down a long, fog-shrouded aisle beneath false starlight. They passed through a wall of mist into another section of the store, and stopped before a large plastic tank. An aquarium, thought Kress.
Wo beckoned. He stepped closer and saw that he was wrong. It was a terrarium. Within lay a miniature desert about two meters square. Pale sand bleached scarlet by wan red light. Rocks: basalt and quartz and granite. In each corner of the tank stood a castle.
Kress blinked, and peered, and corrected himself; actually only three castles stood. The fourth leaned; a crumbled, broken ruin. The other three were crude but intact, carved of stone and sand. Over their battlements and through their rounded porticoes, tiny creatures climbed and scrambled. Kress pressed his face against the plastic. “Insects?” he asked.
“No,” Wo replied. “A much more complex lifeform. More intelligent as well. Considerably smarter than your shambler. They are called sandkings.”
- Sandkings are essentially sand-Khals of the Dothraki.
- Both work on a psi-link mind control, as the earlier mentioned outline shows Daenerys being able to have over the Dothraki.
“Insects,” Kress said, drawing back from the tank. “I don’t care how complex they are.” He frowned. “And kindly don’t try to gull me with this talk of intelligence. These things are far too small to have anything but the most rudimentary brains.”
- Near same description as the fire-goo-Greeshka from A Song for Lya.
- “Drogon is never going to share witty aphorisms with Dany. The Targaryens rule by Fire and Blood and that is what the dragons represent in the story”– GRRM
“They share hiveminds,” Wo said. “Castle minds, in this case. There are only three organisms in the tank, actually. The fourth died. You see how her castle has fallen.”
Kress looked back at the tank. “Hiveminds, eh? Interesting.” He frowned again. “Still, it is only an oversized ant farm. I’d hoped forsomething better.”
“They fight wars.”
“Wars? Hmmm.” Kress looked again.
“Note the colors, if you will,” Wo told him. She pointed to the creatures that swarmed over the nearest castle. One was scrabbling at the tank wall. Kress studied it. It still looked like an insect to his eyes. Barely as long as his fingernail, six-limbed, with six tiny eyesset all around its body. A wicked set of mandibles clacked visibly, while two long, fine antennae wove patterns in the air. Antennae, mandibles, eyes, and legs were sooty black, but the dominant color was the burnt orange of its armor plating. “It’s an insect,” Kress repeated.
“It is not an insect,” Wo insisted calmly. “The armored exoskeleton is shed when the sandking grows larger. If it grows larger. In a tank this size, it won’t.” She took Kress by the elbow and led him around the tank to the next castle. “Look at the colors here.”
He did. They were different. Here the sandkings had bright red armor; antennae, mandibles, eyes, and legs were yellow. Kress glanced across the tank. The denizens of the third live castle were off-white, with red trim. “Hmmm,” he said.
“They war, as I said,” Wo told him. “They even have truces and alliances. It was an alliance that destroyed the fourth castle in this tank. The blacks were getting too numerous, so the others joined forces to destroy them.”
Kress remained unconvinced. “Amusing, no doubt. But insects fight wars too.”
“Insects do not worship,” Wo said.
Wo smiled and pointed at the castle. Kress stared. A face had been carved into the wall of the highest tower. He recognized it. It was Jala Wo’s face. “How…?”
“I projected a holograph of my face into the tank, kept it there for a few days. The face of god, you see? I feed them; I am always close. The sandkings have a rudimentary psionic sense. Proximity telepathy. They sense me, and worship me by using my face todecorate their buildings. All the castles have them, see.” They did.
On the castle, the face of Jala Wo was serene and peaceful, and very lifelike. Kress marveled at the workmanship. “How do they do it?”
- We do know that the weirwoods in ASOIAF are often (but not always) carved with an expression that represents some action in the story. The thing is, the trees do not *require worship, as the “green gods” (for simplicity sake) is in everything; earth, trees, stones, worms, some winds, etc. And Bran is even told he will be able to see beyond the trees. At this moment in the story, Jala Wo is representing a green, naturistic approach, as opposed to how we will see Kress split and develop.
- The only “god” in ASOIAF that requires worship or sacrifice is the greedy, hungry god that is always hungry; fire. That is the crux of the variations on the “gods”, one serves the many and requires personal sacrifice, the other requires blood and fire and worship to feed the self.
“The foremost legs double as arms. They even have fingers of a sort; three small, flexible tendrils. And they cooperate well, both inbuilding and in battle. Remember, all the mobiles of one color share a single mind.”
“Tell me more,” Kress said.
Wo smiled. “The maw lives in the castle. Maw is my name for her. A pun, if you will; the thing is mother and stomach both. Female,large as your fist, immobile. Actually, sandking is a bit of a misnomer. The mobiles are peasants and warriors, the real ruler is a queen. But that analogy is faulty as well. Considered as a whole, each castle is a single hermaphroditic creature.”
A Feast for Crows – Samwell IV
…What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years. Daenerys is the one, born amidst salt and smoke. The dragons prove it.” …
“What do they eat?”
“The mobiles eat pap—predigested food obtained inside the castle. They get it from the maw after she has worked on it for severaldays. Their stomachs can’t handle anything else, so if the maw dies, they soon die as well. The maw … the maw eats anything. You’ll have no special expense there. Table scraps will do excellently.”
“Live food?” Kress asked.
Wo shrugged. “Each maw eats mobiles from the other castles, yes.”
“I am intrigued,” he admitted. “If only they weren’t so small.”
“Yours can be larger. These sandkings are small because their tank is small. They seem to limit their growth to fit available space. If Imoved these to a larger tank, they’d start growing again.”
“Hmmmm. My piranha tank is twice this size, and vacant. It could be cleaned out, filled with sand….”
“Wo and Shade would take care of the installation. It would be our pleasure.”
“Of course,” said Kress, “I would expect four intact castles.”
“Certainly,” Wo said.
They began to haggle about the price.
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys III
She stood in her stirrups and raised the harpy’s fingers above her head for all the Unsullied to see. “IT IS DONE!” she cried at the top of her lungs. “YOU ARE MINE!” She gave the mare her heels and galloped along the first rank, holding the fingers high. “YOU ARE THE DRAGON’S NOW! YOU’RE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR! IT IS DONE! IT IS DONE!”
- Just like Daenerys haggling with Kraznys/Kress about the cost of her warring sandkings that are the Unsullied. Dany didn’t free the Unsullied, who are made for war and worship thier won warrior goddess (Daenerys), she gained an army of worshippers. Everything in Martinworld has a cost and things aren’t always what they seem. Also, Daenerys buying the Unsullied is the same decision she earlier thinks Viserys would make. She made a decision as Viserys would.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys II
“They are larger.” Dany’s voice echoed off the scorched stone walls. A drop of sweat trickled down her brow and fell onto her breast. “Is it true that dragons never stop growing?”
“If they have food enough, and space to grow. Chained up in here, though …”
* *Section 2 * *
Three days later Jala Wo arrived at Simon Kress’ estate, with dormant sandkings and a work crew to take charge of the installation.Wo’s assistants were aliens unlike any Kress was familiar with—squat, broad bipeds with four arms and bulging, multifaceted eyes. Their skin was thick and leathery, twisted into horns and spines and protrusions at odd spots upon their bodies. But they were very strong, and good workers. Wo ordered them about in a musical tongue that Kress had never heard.
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys IV
“A willful beast,” laughed a handsome young man. “Shall we teach you the secret speech of dragonkind? Come, come.”
In a day it was done. They moved his piranha tank to the center of his spacious living room, arranged couches on either side of it for better viewing, scrubbed it clean, and filled it two-thirds of the way up with sand and rock. Then they installed a special lighting system, both to provide the dim red illumination the sandkings preferred and to project holographic images into the tank. On top they mounted a sturdy plastic cover, with a feeder mechanism built in. “This way you can feed your sandkings without removing the top of the tank,” Wo explained. “You would not want to take any chances on the mobiles escaping.”
The cover also included climate control devices, to condense just the right amount of moisture from the air. “You want it dry, but not too dry,” Wo said.
Finally one of the four-armed workers climbed into the tank and dug deep pits in the four corners. One of his companions handed the dormant maws over to him, removing them one by one from their frosted cryonic traveling cases. They were nothing to look at. Kress decided they resembled nothing so much as a mottled, half-spoiled chunk of raw meat. With a mouth.
The alien buried them, one in each corner of the tank. Then they sealed it all up and took their leave.
“The heat will bring the maws out of dormancy,” Wo said. “In less than a week, mobiles will begin to hatch and burrow to the surface. Be certain to give them plenty of food. They will need all their strength until they are well established. I would estimate that you will have castles rising in about three weeks.”
“And my face? When will they carve my face?”
“Turn on the hologram after about a month,” she advised him. “And be patient. If you have any questions, please call. Wo and Shade are at your service.” She bowed and left.
Kress wandered back to the tank and lit a joy-stick. The desert was still and empty. He drummed his fingers impatiently against the plastic, and frowned.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys
When the coals were a fire, Dany sent Ser Jorah from her. She had to be alone to do what she must do. This is madness, she told herself as she lifted the black-and-scarlet egg from the velvet. It will only crack and burn, and it’s so beautiful, Ser Jorah will call me a fool if I ruin it, and yet, and yet …
Cradling the egg with both hands, she carried it to the fire and pushed it down amongst the burning coals. The black scales seemed to glow as they drank the heat. Flames licked against the stone with small red tongues. Dany placed the other two eggs beside the black one in the fire. As she stepped back from the brazier, the breath trembled in her throat.
She watched until the coals had turned to ashes. Drifting sparks floated up and out of the smokehole. Heat shimmered in waves around the dragon’s eggs. And that was all.
- Stone, she told herself. They are only stone, even Illyrio said so, the dragons are all dead. She put her palm against the black egg, fingers spread gently across the curve of the shell. The stone was warm. Almost hot. “The sun,” Dany whispered. “The sun warmed them as they rode.”
* * Section 3* *
On the fourth day, Kress thought he glimpsed motion beneath the sand, subtle subterranean stirrings.
On the sixth day, he counted a dozen of them, whites and reds and blacks. The oranges were tardy. He cycled through a bowl of half-decayed table scraps. The mobiles sensed it at once, rushed to it, and began to drag pieces back to their respective corners. Each colorgroup was very organized. They did not fight. Kress was a bit disappointed, but he decided to give them time.
- The oranges I tend to think of being related to Dorne and the overripe oranges and the Sand Snakes who want Doran Martell to go to war.
A Feast for Crows – The Captain Of Guards
The blood oranges are well past ripe,” the prince observed in a weary voice, when the captain rolled him onto the terrace.
After that he did not speak again for hours.
The oranges made their appearance on the eighth day. By then the other sandkings had begun to carry small stones and erect crude fortifications. They still did not war. At the moment they were only half the size of those he had seen at Wo and Shade’s, but Kress thought they were growing rapidly.
The castles began to rise midway through the second week. Organized battalions of mobiles dragged heavy chunks of sandstone andgranite back to their corners, where other mobiles were pushing sand into place with mandibles and tendrils. Kress had purchased apair of magnifying goggles so he could watch them work, wherever they might go in the tank. He wandered around and around the tall plastic walls, observing. It was fascinating. The castles were a bit plainer than Kress would have liked, but he had an idea about that.The next day he cycled through some obsidian and flakes of colored glass along with the food. Within hours, they had been incorporated into the castle walls.
- ASOIAF Spyglass/glass candles
- Obsidian and colored glass is what is found under Dragonstone as well as being integral in other Martinworld fire-related structures, and each of these stories also has the main character as an antagonist with a god complex; The Glass Flower, In The House of the Worm, The Skin Trade, , This Tower of Ashes.
The black castle was the first completed, followed by the white and red fortresses. The oranges were last, as usual. Kress took his meals into the living room and ate seated on the couch, so he could watch. He expected the first war to break out any hour now.
He was disappointed. Days passed; the castles grew taller and more grand, and Kress seldom left the tank except to attend to his sanitary needs and answer critical business calls. But the sandkings did not war. He was getting upset.
Finally, he stopped feeding them.
Two days after the table scraps had ceased to fall from their desert sky, four black mobiles surrounded an orange and dragged it backto their maw. They maimed it first, ripping off its mandibles and antennae and limbs, and carried it through the shadowed main gate oftheir miniature castle. It never emerged. Within an hour, more than forty orange mobiles marched across the sand and attacked the blacks’ corner. They were outnumbered by the blacks that came rushing up from the depths. When the fighting was over, the attackers had been slaughtered. The dead and dying were taken down to feed the black maw.
Kress, delighted, congratulated himself on his genius.
When he put food into the tank the following day, a three-cornered battle broke out over its possession. The whites were the big winners. After that, war followed war.
** Section 4**
Almost a month to the day after Jala Wo had delivered the sandkings, Kress turned on the holographic projector, and his face materialized in the tank. It turned, slowly, around and around, so his gaze fell on all four castles equally. Kress thought it rather a good likeness—it had his impish grin, wide mouth, full cheeks. His blue eyes sparkled, his gray hair was carefully arrayed in a fashionable sidesweep, his eyebrows were thin and sophisticated.
Soon enough, the sandkings set to work. Kress fed them lavishly while his image beamed down at them from their sky. Temporarily, the wars stopped. All activity was directed towards worship.
His face emerged on the castle walls.
At first all four carvings looked alike to him, but as the work continued and Kress studied the reproductions, he began to detect subtle differences in technique and execution. The reds were the most creative, using tiny flakes of slate to put the gray in his hair. The white idol seemed young and mischievous to him, while the face shaped by the blacks—although virtually the same, line for line—struck him as wise and beneficent. The orange sandkings, as ever, were last and least. The wars had not gone well for them, and their castle was sad compared to the others. The image they carved was crude and cartoonish, and they seemed to intend to leave it that way. When they stopped work on the face, Kress grew quite piqued with them, but there was really nothing he could do.
When all the sandkings had finished their Kress-faces, he turned off the holograph and decided that it was time to have a party. His friends would be impressed. He could even stage a war for them, he thought. Humming happily to himself, he began to draw up a guest list.
The party was a wild success.
Kress invited thirty people: a handful of close friends who shared his amusements, a few former lovers, and a collection of business and social rivals who could not afford to ignore his summons. He knew some of them would be discomfited and even offended by his sandkings. He counted on it. Simon Kress customarily considered his parties a failure unless at least one guest walked out in high dudgeon.
- Daenerys says no less than 13 times a phrase like Cyrain from The Glass Flower, the mindgame phrase of, “I am but a young girl, what do I know of the ways of war.”
A Dance with Dragons – Tyrion XI
There was no better place to hear the latest news and rumors than around the well. “I know what I saw,” an old slave in a rusted iron collar was saying, as Tyrion and Penny shuffled along in the queue, “and I saw that dragon ripping off arms and legs, tearing men in half, burning them down to ash and bones. People started running, trying to get out of that pit, but I come to see a show, and by all the gods of Ghis, I saw one. I was up in the purple, so I didn’t think the dragon was like to trouble me.”
“The queen climbed onto the dragon’s back and flew away,” insisted a tall brown woman.
On impulse he added Jala Wo’s name to his list. “Bring Shade if you like,” he added when dictating her invitation.
Her acceptance surprised him just a bit. “Shade, alas, will be unable to attend. He does not go to social functions,” Wo added. “As for myself, I look forward to the chance to see how your sandkings are doing.”
Kress ordered them up a sumptuous meal. And when at last the conversation had died down, and most of his guests had gotten silly on wine and joy-sticks, he shocked them by personally scraping their table leavings into a large bowl. “Come, all of you,” he told them.“I want to introduce you to my newest pets.” Carrying the bowl, he conducted them into his living room.
The sandkings lived up to his fondest expectations. He had starved them for two days in preparation, and they were in a fighting mood. While the guests ringed the tank, looking through the magnifying glasses Kress had thoughtfully provided, the sandkings waged a glorious battle over the scraps. He counted almost sixty dead mobiles when the struggle was over. The reds and whites, who had recently formed an alliance, emerged with most of the food.
“Kress, you’re disgusting,” Cath m’Lane told him. She had lived with him for a short time two years before, until her soppysentimentality almost drove him mad. “I was a fool to come back here. I thought perhaps you’d changed, wanted to apologize.” She had never forgiven him for the time his shambler had eaten an excessively cute puppy of which she had been fond. “Don’t ever invite me here again, Simon.” She strode out, accompanied by her current lover and a chorus of laughter.
- Similar to Drogon eating Hazzea as a type of whisperjewel etching.
A Game of Thrones – Eddard III
Robert’s face darkened with anger. “That would be a fine trick, without a wolf.”
“We have a wolf,” Cersei Lannister said. Her voice was very quiet, but her green eyes shone with triumph.
His other guests were full of questions.
Where did the sandkings come from?, they wanted to know. “From Wo and Shade, Importers,” he replied, with a polite gesture towards Jala Wo, who had remained quiet and apart through most of the evening.
Why did they decorate their castles with his likeness? “Because I am the source of all good things. Surely you know that?” That brought a round of chuckles.
- Similar to the “death cult” of the Faceless Men, Him of Many Faces, the Many-Faced God, collecting faces and the experiences/expressions that remain within the skin. A phrase associated with the cult of the Many-Faced God is valar morghulis, the High Valyrian for “All men must die”. The traditional response to this is valar dohaeris, or “All men must serve.” So die, then serve. Wights?
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys VI
Dany broke her fast under the persimmon tree that grew in the terrace garden, watching her dragons chase each other about the apex of the Great Pyramid where the huge bronze harpy once stood… Up here in her garden Dany sometimes felt like a god, living atop the highest mountain in the world.
Do all gods feel so lonely? Some must, surely.
Will they fight again? “Of course, but not tonight. Don’t worry. There will be other parties.”
Jad Rakkis, who was an amateur xenologist, began talking about other social insects and the wars they fought. “These sandkings are amusing, but nothing really. You ought to read about Terran soldier ants, for instance.”
“Sandkings are not insects,” Jala Wo said sharply, but Jad was off and running, and no one paid her the slightest attention. Kress smiled at her and shrugged.
Malada Blane suggested a betting pool the next time they got together to watch a war, and everyone was taken with the idea. An animated discussion about rules and odds ensued. It lasted for almost an hour. Finally the guests began to take their leave.
Jala Wo was the last to depart. “So,” Kress said to her when they were alone, “it appears my sandkings are a hit.”
“They are doing well,” Wo said. “Already they are larger than my own.”
“Yes,” Kress said, “except for the oranges.”
“I had noticed that,” Wo replied. “They seem few in number, and their castle is shabby.”
“Well, someone must lose,” Kress said. “The oranges were late to emerge and get established. They have suffered for it.”
“Pardon,” said Wo, “but might I ask if you are feeding your sandkings sufficiently?”
Kress shrugged. “They diet from time to time. It makes them fiercer.”
She frowned. “There is no need to starve them. Let them war in their own time, for their own reasons. It is their nature, and you will witness conflicts that are delightfully subtle and complex. The constant war brought on by hunger is artless and degrading.”
Simon Kress repaid Wo’s frown with interest. “You are in my house, Wo, and here I am the judge of what is degrading. I fed the sandkings as you advised, and they did not fight.”
“You must have patience.”
“No,” Kress said. “I am their master and their god, after all. Why should I wait on their impulses? They did not war often enough to suit me. I corrected the situation.”
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys III
She stood in her stirrups and raised the harpy’s fingers above her head for all the Unsullied to see. “IT IS DONE!” she cried at the top of her lungs. “YOU ARE MINE!” She gave the mare her heels and galloped along the first rank, holding the fingers high. “YOU ARE THE DRAGON’S NOW! YOU’RE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR! IT IS DONE! IT IS DONE!”
She glimpsed old Grazdan turn his grey head sharply. He hears me speak Valyrian. The other slavers were not listening. They crowded around Kraznys and the dragon, shouting advice. Though the Astapori yanked and tugged, Drogon would not budge off the litter. Smoke rose grey from his open jaws, and his long neck curled and straightened as he snapped at the slaver’s face.
- In ADWD, Daenerys’ city walls are surrounded by starving people. She has trouble feeding them, but still they come to prostrate themselves to her as they see her as a god/dess. This isn’t going to bode well for when she returns to the city in The Winds of Winter. Readers of this blog know that I often point out how ‘mhysa’ is actually a hymn of worship (a “dead word” in old Ghis, also part of the Seven). Same that happens in the The Glass Flower as well as And Seven Times Never Kill Man.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys VI
The Astapori stumbled after them in a ghastly procession that grew longer with every yard they crossed. Some spoke tongues she did not understand. Others were beyond speaking. Many lifted their hands to Dany, or knelt as her silver went by. “Mother,” they called to her, in the dialects of Astapor, Lys, and Old Volantis, in guttural Dothraki and the liquid syllables of Qarth, even in the Common Tongue of Westeros. “Mother, please … mother, help my sister, she is sick … give me food for my little ones … please, my old father … help him … help her … help me …”
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys IX
Her lord husband stood and raised his hands. “Great Masters! My queen has come this day, to show her love for you, her people. By her grace and with her leave, I give you now your mortal art. Meereen! Let Queen Daenerys hear your love!”
Ten thousand throats roared out their thanks; then twenty thousand; then all. They did not call her name, which few of them could pronounce. “Mother!” they cried instead; in the old dead tongue of Ghis, the word was Mhysa! They stamped their feet and slapped their bellies and shouted, “Mhysa, Mhysa, Mhysa,” until the whole pit seemed to tremble. Dany let the sound wash over her. I am not your mother, she might have shouted, back, I am the mother of your slaves, of every boy who ever died upon these sands whilst you gorged on honeyed locusts. Behind her, Reznak leaned in to whisper in her ear, “Magnificence, hear how they love you!”
“I see,” said Wo. “I will discuss the matter with Shade.”
“It is none of your concern, or his,” Kress snapped.
“I must bid you good night, then,” Wo said with resignation. But as she slipped into her coat to depart, she fixed him with a final disapproving stare. “Look to your faces, Simon Kress,” she warned him. “Look to your faces.”
Puzzled, he wandered back to the tank and stared at the castles after she had taken her departure. His faces were still there, as ever. Except—he snatched up his magnifying goggles and slipped them on. Even then it was hard to make out. But it seemed to him that the expression on the face of his images had changed slightly, that his smile was somehow twisted so that it seemed a touch malicious. But it was a very subtle change, if it was a change at all. Kress finally put it down to his suggestibility, and resolved not to invite Jala Wo to any more of his gatherings.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys X
“Quaithe?” Dany called. “Where are you, Quaithe?”
Then she saw. Her mask is made of starlight.
“Remember who you are, Daenerys,” the stars whispered in a woman’s voice. “The dragons know. Do you?”
Over the next few months, Kress and about a dozen of his favorites got together weekly for what he liked to call his “war games.”Now that his initial fascination with the sandkings was past, Kress spent less time around his tank and more on his business affairs and his social life, but he still enjoyed having a few friends over for a war or two. He kept the combatants sharp on a constant edge of hunger. It had severe effects on the orange sandkings, who dwindled visibly until Kress began to wonder if their maw was dead. But the others did well enough.
Sometimes at night, when he could not sleep, Kress would take a bottle of wine into the darkened living room, where the red gloom of his miniature desert was the only light. He would drink and watch for hours, alone. There was usually a fight going on somewhere, and when there was not he could easily start one by dropping in some small morsel of food.
- Dany’s dragons often fight when food is involved.
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys I
Drogon moved quicker than a striking cobra. Flame roared from his mouth, orange and scarlet and black, searing the meat before it began to fall. As his sharp black teeth snapped shut around it, Rhaegal’s head darted close, as if to steal the prize from his brother’s jaws, but Drogon swallowed and screamed, and the smaller green dragon could only hiss in frustration.
“Stop that, Rhaegal,” Dany said in annoyance, giving his head a swat. “You had the last one. I’ll have no greedy dragons.” She smiled at Ser Jorah. “I won’t need to char their meat over a brazier any longer.”
“So I see. Dracarys?”
They took to betting on the weekly battles, as Malada Blane had suggested. Kress won a good amount by betting on the whites, who had become the most powerful and numerous colony in the tank, with the grandest castle. One week he slid the corner of the tank top aside, and dropped the food close to the white castle instead of on the central battleground as usual, so that the others had to attack the whites in their stronghold to get any food at all. They tried. The whites were brilliant in defense. Kress won a hundred standards from Jad Rakkis.
Rakkis, in fact, lost heavily on the sandkings almost every week. He pretended to a vast knowledge of them and their ways, claiming that he had studied them after the first party, but he had no luck when it came to placing his bets. Kress suspected that Jad’s claims were empty boasting. He had tried to study the sandkings a bit himself, in a moment of idle curiosity, tying in to the library to find out to what world his pets were native. But there was no listing for them. He wanted to get in touch with Wo and ask her about it, but he had other concerns, and the matter kept slipping his mind.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon II
“The Others.” Sam licked his lips. “They are mentioned in the annals, though not as often as I would have thought. The annals I’ve found and looked at, that is. …which suggests that it was written during—”“Long ago,” Jon broke in. “What about the Others?”
“I found mention of dragonglass. The children of the forest used to give the Night’s Watch a hundred obsidian daggers every year, during the Age of Heroes. The Others come when it is cold, most of the tales agree. Or else it gets cold when they come. Sometimes they appear during snowstorms and melt away when the skies clear. They hide from the light of the sun and emerge by night … or else night falls when they emerge. Some stories speak of them riding the corpses of dead animals. Bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, it makes no matter, so long as the beast is dead. The one that killed Small Paul was riding a dead horse, so that part’s plainly true. Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don’t know what those are. Men who fall in battle against the Others must be burned, or else the dead will rise again as their thralls.”
Finally, after a month in which his losses totaled more than a thousand standards, Jad Rakkis arrived at the war games carrying a small plastic case under his arm. Inside was a spiderlike thing covered with fine golden hair.
“A sand spider,” Rakkis announced. “From Cathaday. I got it this afternoon from t’Etherane the Petseller. Usually they remove the poison sacs, but this one is intact. Are you game, Simon? I want my money back. I’ll bet a thousand standards, sand spider against sandkings.”
- ASOIAF Sand Snakes against whom in the story?
- Some in Dorne such as Sand Snakes and their father Oberyn Martell are known for thier “venom”.
Kress studied the spider in its plastic prison. His sandkings had grown—they were twice as large as Wo’s, as she’d predicted—but they were still dwarfed by this thing. It was venomed, and they were not. Still, there were an awful lot of them. Besides, the endless sandking wars had begun to grow tiresome lately. The novelty of the match intrigued him. “Done,” Kress said. “Jad, you are a fool. The sandkings will just keep coming until this ugly creature of yours is dead.”
“You are the fool, Simon,” Rakkis replied, smiling. “The Cathadayn sand spider customarily feeds on burrowers that hide in nooks and crevices and—well, watch—it will go straight into those castles, and eat the maws.”
Kress scowled amid general laughter. He hadn’t counted on that. “Get on with it,” he said irritably. He went to freshen his drink.
The spider was too large to cycle conveniently through the food chamber. Two of the others helped Rakkis slide the tank top slightly to one side, and Malada Blane handed him up his case. He shook the spider out. It landed lightly on a miniature dune in front of the red castle, and stood confused for a moment, mouth working, legs twitching menacingly.
“Come on,” Rakkis urged. They all gathered round the tank. Simon Kress found his magnifiers and slipped them on. If he was going to lose a thousand standards, at least he wanted a good view of the action.
The sandkings had seen the invader. All over the castle, activity had ceased. The small scarlet mobiles were frozen, watching.
The spider began to move toward the dark promise of the gate. On the tower above, Simon Kress’ countenance stared down impassively.
At once there was a flurry of activity. The nearest red mobiles formed themselves into two wedges and streamed over the sand toward the spider. More warriors erupted from inside the castle and assembled in a triple line to guard the approach to the underground chamber where the maw lived. Scouts came scuttling over the dunes, recalled to fight.
Battle was joined.
The attacking sandkings washed over the spider. Mandibles snapped shut on legs and abdomen, and clung. Reds raced up the golden legs to the invader’s back. They bit and tore. One of them found an eye, and ripped it loose with tiny yellow tendrils. Kress smiled and pointed.
But they were small, and they had no venom, and the spider did not stop. Its legs flicked sandkings off to either side. Its dripping jaws found others, and left them broken and stiffening. Already a dozen of the reds lay dying. The sand spider came on and on. It strode straight through the triple line of guardians before the castle. The lines closed around it, covered it, waging desperate battle. A team of sandkings had bitten off one of the spider’s legs, Kress saw. Defenders leaped from atop the towers to land on the twitching, heaving mass.
Lost beneath the sandkings, the spider somehow lurched down into the darkness and vanished.
Jad Rakkis let out a long breath. He looked pale. “Wonderful,” someone else said. Malada Blane chuckled deep in her throat.
“Look,” said Idi Noreddian, tugging Kress by the arm.
They had been so intent on the struggle in the corner that none of them had noticed the activity elsewhere in the tank. But now the castle was still, the sands empty save for dead red mobiles, and now they saw.
Three armies were drawn up before the red castle. They stood quite still, in perfect array, rank after rank of sandkings, orange and white and black. Waiting to see what emerged from the depths.
Simon Kress smiled. “A cordon sanitaire,” he said. “And glance at the other castles, if you will, Jad.”
Rakkis did, and swore. Teams of mobiles were sealing up the gates with sand and stone. If the spider somehow survived this encounter, it would find no easy entrance at the other castles. “I should have brought four spiders,” Jad Rakkis said. “Still, I’ve won.My spider is down there right now, eating your damned maw.”
Kress did not reply. He waited. There was motion in the shadows.
All at once, red mobiles began pouring out of the gate. They took their positions on the castle, and began repairing the damage the spider had wrought. The other armies dissolved and began to retreat to their respective corners.
“Jad,” said Simon Kress, “I think you are a bit confused about who is eating who.”
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys I
“Well, how long does a dragon live?” She looked up as Viserion swooped low over the ship, his wings beating slowly and stirring the limp sails.
Ser Jorah shrugged. “A dragon’s natural span of days is many times as long as a man’s, or so the songs would have us believe . . . but the dragons the Seven Kingdoms knew best were those of House Targaryen. They were bred for war, and in war they died. It is no easy thing to slay a dragon, but it can be done.”
The following week Rakkis brought four slim silver snakes. The sandkings dispatched them without much trouble.
Next he tried a large black bird. It ate more than thirty white mobiles, and its thrashing and blundering virtually destroyed their castle, but ultimately its wings grew tired, and the sandkings attacked in force wherever it landed.
After that it was a case of insects, armored beetles not too unlike the sandkings themselves. But stupid, stupid. An allied force of oranges and blacks broke their formation, divided them, and butchered them.
Rakkis began giving Kress promissory notes.
It was around that time that Kress met Cath m’Lane again, one evening when he was dining in Asgard at his favorite restaurant. He stopped at her table briefly and told her about the war games, inviting her to join them. She flushed, then regained control of herself and grew icy. “Someone has to put a stop to you, Simon. I guess it’s going to be me,” she said. Kress shrugged and enjoyed a lovely meal and thought no more about her threat.
Until a week later, when a small, stout woman arrived at his door and showed him a police wristband. “We’ve had complaints,” she said. “Do you keep a tank full of dangerous insects, Kress?”
“Not insects,” he said, furious. “Come, I’ll show you.”
When she had seen the sandkings, she shook her head. “This will never do. What do you know about these creatures, anyway? Do you know what world they’re from? Have they been cleared by the ecological board? Do you have a license for these things? We have a report that they’re carnivores, possibly dangerous. We also have a report that they are semi-sentient. Where did you get these creatures, anyway?”
“From Wo and Shade,” Kress replied.
“Never heard of them,” the woman said. “Probably smuggled them in, knowing our ecologists would never approve them. No, Kress,this won’t do. I’m going to confiscate this tank and have it destroyed. And you’re going to have to expect a few fines as well.”
Kress offered her a hundred standards to forget all about him and his sandkings.
She tsked. “Now I’ll have to add attempted bribery to the charges against you.”
Not until he raised the figure to two thousand standards was she willing to be persuaded.
“It’s not going to be easy, you know,” she said. “There are forms to be altered, records to be wiped. And getting a forged license from the ecologists will be time-consuming. Notto mention dealing with the complainant. What if she calls again?”
“Leave her to me,” Kress said. “Leave her to me.”
- Sidenote: This is also a very common and repeated sub-theme in Martin’s books, the twisted records of time and history keeping. Here is another case of altering history. I did write a semi-theory how the current Night’s Watch vows are altered history. Here if you want, but you don’t have to.
* * Section 7 * *
He thought about it for a while. That night he made some calls.
First he got t’Etherane the Petseller. “I want to buy a dog,” he said, “A puppy.”
The round-faced merchant gawked at him. “A puppy? That is not like you, Simon. Why don’t you come in? I have a lovely choice.”
“I want a very specific kind of puppy,” Kress said. “Take notes. I’ll describe to you what it must look like.”
Afterward he punched forIdi Noreddian. “Idi,” he said, “I want you out here tonight with your holo equipment. I have a notion to record a sandking battle. Apresent for one of my friends.”
The night after they made the recording, Simon Kress stayed up late. He absorbed a controversial new drama in his sensorium, fixed himself a small snack, smoked a joy-stick or two, and broke out a bottle of wine. Feeling very happy with himself, he wandered intothe living room, glass in hand.
The lights were out. The red glow of the terrarium made the shadows flushed and feverish. He walked over to look at his domain, curious as to how the blacks were doing in the repairs on their castle. The puppy had left it in ruins.
- Again, the Unsullied and how they are trained. Also, everything, every decision made in Martinworld comes with a price. The archetypal ingrediants are all there between stories.
A Storm of Swords – Daenerys II
Blood and fire, thought Dany. The words of House Targaryen. She had known them all her life. “The blood of my enemies I will shed gladly. The blood of innocents is another matter. Eight thousand Unsullied they would offer me. Eight thousand dead babes. Eight thousand strangled dogs.”
“Your Grace,” said Jorah Mormont, “I saw King’s Landing after the Sack. Babes were butchered that day as well, and old men, and children at play. More women were raped than you can count. There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword or spear and send him forth to war, the beast stirs. The scent of blood is all it takes to wake him. Yet I have never heard of these Unsullied raping, nor putting a city to the sword, nor even plundering, save at the express command of those who lead them. Brick they may be, as you say, but if you buy them henceforth the only dogs they’ll kill are those you want dead. And you do have some dogs you want dead, as I recall.”
The restoration went well. But as Kress inspected the work through his magnifiers, he chanced to glance closely at the face. It startled him.
He drew back, blinked, took a healthy gulp of wine, and looked again.
The face on the walls was still his. But it was all wrong, all twisted. His cheeks were bloated and piggish, his smile was a crooked leer. He looked impossibly malevolent.
Uneasy, he moved around the tank to inspect the other castles. They were each a bit different, but ultimately all the same.
The oranges had left out most of the fine detail, but the result still seemed monstrous, crude—a brutal mouth and mindless eyes.
The reds gave him a satanic, twitching kind of smile. His mouth did odd, unlovely things at its corners.
The whites, his favorites, had carved a cruel idiot god.
- The Daenerys/dragons, Asshai/By-the-Shadow, and Euron arcs are filled with Lovecraftian nods and homages. Azathoth, and Outer God, is the cruel idiot god, also called the Nuclear God.
- “Dragons are the nuclear deterrent, and only Dany has them, which in some ways makes her the most powerful person in the world. But is that sufficient? These are the kind of issues I’m trying to explore. The United States right now has the ability to destroy the world with our nuclear arsenal, but that doesn’t mean we can achieve specific geopolitical goals. Power is more subtle than that. You can have the power to destroy, but it doesn’t give you the power to reform, or improve, or build.”– GRRM Source.
Simon Kress flung his wine across the room in rage. “You dare,” he said underhis breath. “Now you won’t eat for a week, you damned…” His voice was shrill. “I’ll teach you.” He had an idea. He strode out of the room, and returned a moment later with an antique iron throwing-sword in his hand. It was a meter long, and the point was still sharp. Kress smiled, climbed up and moved the tank cover aside just enough to give him working room, opening one corner of the desert. He leaned down, and jabbed the sword at the white castle below him. He waved it back and forth, smashing towers and ramparts and walls. Sand and stone collapsed, burying the scrambling mobiles. A flick of his wrist obliterated the features of the insolent, insulting caricature the sandkings had made of his face. Then he poised the point of the sword above the dark mouth that opened down into the maw’s chamber, and thrust with all his strength. He heard a soft, squishing sound, and met resistance. All of the mobiles trembled and collapsed. Satisfied, Kress pulled back.
- Yes, Daenerys is going to be capable of attacking her own. She is the flaming sword/stallion who will mount the world. This is something GRRM has done many times with his “fiery god” archetypes. This also happens in Weekend in a Warzone and And Seven Times Never Kill Man to suggest a few other reads.
- The Stallion Who Mounts the World is the prophecy about the rise of the most powerful khal the world has seen… except prophecy is tricky, it will be a mare who mounts the world as the most powerful khaleesi.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys III
I know one stands before me now, weeping mummer’s tears. The realization made her sad.
“When I went to the Hall of a Thousand Thrones to beg the Pureborn for your life, I said that you were no more than a child,” Xaro went on, “but Egon Emeros the Exquisite rose and said, ‘She is a foolish child, mad and heedless and too dangerous to live.’ When your dragons were small they were a wonder. Grown, they are death and devastation, a flaming sword above the world.” He wiped away the tears. “I should have slain you in Qarth.”
“I was a guest beneath your roof and ate of your meat and mead,” she said. “In memory of all you did for me, I will forgive those words … once … but never presume to threaten me again.”
He watched for a moment, wondering whether he’d killed the maw. The point of the throwing-sword was wet and slimy. But finallythe white sandkings began to move again. Feebly, slowly, but they moved.
He was preparing to slide the cover back in place and move on to a second castle when he felt something crawling on his hand.
He screamed and dropped the sword, and brushed the sandking from his flesh. It fell to the carpet, and he ground it beneath his heel, crushing it thoroughly long after it was dead. It had crunched when he stepped on it. After that, trembling, he hurried to seal the tank up again, and rushed off to shower and inspect himself carefully. He boiled his clothing.
Later, after several fresh glasses of wine, hereturned to the living room. He was a bit ashamed of the way the sandking had terrified him. But he was not about to open the tank again. From now on, the cover stayed sealed permanently. Still, he had to punish the others.
Kress decided to lubricate his mental processes with another glass of wine. As he finished it, an inspiration came to him. He went to the tank smiling, and made a few adjustments to the humidity controls.
By the time he fell asleep on the couch, his wine glass still in his hand, the sand castles were melting in the rain.
- Reynes/Rains of Castamere
A Clash of Kings – Arya VII
Arya thought that was stupid. Harren and his sons had died in Kingspyre Tower, that was why it had that name, so why should they cross the yard to haunt her? The Wailing Tower only wailed when the wind blew from the north, and that was just the sound the air made blowing through the cracks in the stones where they had fissured from the heat. If there were ghosts in Harrenhal, they never troubled her. It was the living men she feared, Weese and Ser Gregor Clegane and Lord Tywin Lannister himself, who kept his apartments in Kingspyre Tower, still the tallest and mightiest of all, though lopsided beneath the weight of the slagged stone that made it look like some giant half-melted black candle.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys II
If I look back, I am doomed, Dany told herself … but how could she not look back? I should have seen it coming. Was I so blind, or did I close my eyes willfully, so I would not have to see the price of power?
Viserys had told her all the tales when she was little. He loved to talk of dragons. She knew how Harrenhal had fallen. She knew about the Field of Fire and the Dance of the Dragons. One of her forebears, the third Aegon, had seen his own mother devoured by his uncle’s dragon. And there were songs beyond count of villages and kingdoms that lived in dread of dragons till some brave dragonslayer rescued them. At Astapor the slaver’s eyes had melted. On the road to Yunkai, when Daario tossed the heads of Sallor the Bald and Prendahl na Ghezn at her feet, her children made a feast of them. Dragons had no fear of men. And a dragon large enough to gorge on sheep could take a child just as easily.
Kress woke to angry pounding on his door. He sat up, groggy, his head throbbing.
Wine hangovers were always the worst, he thought. He lurched to the entry chamber.
Cath m’Lane was outside. “You monster,” she said, her face swollen and puffy and streaked by tears. “I cried all night, damn you. But no more, Simon, no more.”
“Easy,” he said, holding his head. “I’ve got a hangover.”
She swore and shoved him aside and pushed her way into his house. The shambler came peering round a corner to see what the noise was. She spat at it and stalked into the living room, Kress trailing ineffectually after her. “Hold on,” he said, “where do you … you can’t….” He stopped, suddenly horror struck. She was carrying a heavy sledgehammer in her left hand. “No,” he said.
She went directly to the sandking tank. “You like the little charmers so much, Simon? Then you can live with them.”
“Cath!” he shrieked.
Gripping the hammer with both hands, she swung as hard as she could against the side of the tank. The sound ofthe impact set his head to screaming, and Kress made a low blubbering sound of despair. But the plastic held.
She swung again. This time there was a crack, and a network of thin lines sprang into being.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys X
The third crack was as loud and sharp as the breaking of the world.
When the fire died at last and the ground became cool enough to walk upon, Ser Jorah Mormont found her amidst the ashes, surrounded by blackened logs and bits of glowing ember and the burnt bones of man and woman and stallion. She was naked, covered with soot, her clothes turned to ash, her beautiful hair all crisped away … yet she was unhurt.
Kress threw himself at her as she drew back her hammer for a third swing. They went down flailing, and rolled. She lost her grip on the hammer and tried to throttle him, but Kress wrenched free and bit her on the arm, drawing blood. They both staggered to their feet,panting.
“You should see yourself, Simon,” she said grimly. “Blood dripping from your mouth. You look like one of your pets. How do you like the taste?”
“Get out,” he said. He saw the throwing-sword where it had fallen the night before, and snatched it up. “Get out,” he repeated, waving the sword for emphasis. “Don’t go near that tank again.”
She laughed at him. “You wouldn’t dare,” she said. She bent to pick up her hammer.
Kress shrieked at her, and lunged. Before he quite knew what was happening, the iron blade had gone clear through her abdomen. Cath m’Lane looked at him wonderingly, and down at the sword. Kress fell back whimpering. “I didn’t mean … I only wanted…”
She was transfixed, bleeding, dead, but somehow she did not fall. “You monster,” she managed to say, though her mouth was full of blood. And she whirled, impossibly, the sword in her, and swung with her last strength at the tank. The tortured wall shattered, and Cath m’Lane was buried beneath an avalanche of plastic and sand and mud.
Kress made small hysterical noises and scrambled up on the couch.
Sandkings were emerging from the muck on his living room floor. They were crawling across Cath’s body. A few of them ventured tentatively out across the carpet. More followed.
He watched as a column took shape, a living, writhing square of sandkings, bearing something, something slimy and featureless, apiece of raw meat big as a man’s head. They began to carry it away from the tank. It pulsed.
That was when Kress broke and ran.
The World of Ice and Fire – The Fall of the Dragons: Robert’s Rebellion
The battle screamed about Lord Robert and Prince Rhaegar both, and by the will of the gods, or by chance—or perhaps by design—they met amidst the shallows of the ford. The two knights fought valiantly upon their destriers, according to all accounts. For despite his crimes, Prince Rhaegar was no coward. Lord Robert was wounded by the dragon prince in the combat, yet in the end, Baratheon’s ferocious strength and his thirst to avenge the shame brought upon his stolen betrothed proved the greater. His warhammer found its mark, and Robert drove the spike through Rhaegar’s chest, scattering the costly rubies that blazed upon the prince’s breastplate.
Some men on both sides stopped fighting at once, leaping instead into the river to recover the precious stones. And a general rout quickly began as the royalists started fleeing the field.
It was late afternoon before he found the courage to return.
He had run to his skimmer and flown to the nearest city, some fifty kilometers away, almost sick with fear. But once safely away, hehad found a small restaurant, put down several mugs of coffee and two anti-hangover tabs, eaten a full breakfast, and gradually regained his composure.
It had been a dreadful morning, but dwelling on that would solve nothing. He ordered more coffee and considered his situation with icy rationality.
Cath m’Lane was dead at his hand. Could he report it, plead that it had been an accident? Unlikely. He had run her through, after all,and he had already told that policer to leave her to him. He would have to get rid of the evidence, and hope that she had not toldanyone where she was going this morning. That was probable. She could only have gotten his gift late last night. She said that she hadcried all night, and she had been alone when she arrived. Very well; he had one body and one skimmer to dispose of.
- Small notes that bring us back to GRRM’s original idea that Catelyn Tully-Stark was going to have been killed by the ice dragon Others. From the outline. Now we have Lady Stoneheart.
That left the sandkings. They might prove more of a difficulty. No doubt they had all escaped by now. The thought of them around his house, in his bed and his clothes, infesting his food—it made his flesh crawl. He shuddered and overcame his revulsion. It really shouldn’t be too hard to kill them, he reminded himself. He didn’t have to account for every mobile. Just the four maws, that was all.He could do that. They were large, as he’d seen. He would find them and kill them.
Simon Kress went shopping before he flew back to his home. He bought a set of skinthins that would cover him from head to foot, several bags of poison pellets for rockjock control, and a spray cannister of illegally strong pesticide. He also bought a magnalock towing device.
When he landed, he went about things methodically. First he hooked Cath’s skimmer to his own with the magnalock. Searching it, he had his first piece of luck. The crystal chip with Idi Noreddian’s holo of the sandking fight was on the front seat. He had worried about that.
When the skimmers were ready, he slipped into his skinthins and went inside for Cath’s body.
It wasn’t there.
He poked through the fast-drying sand carefully, but there was no doubt of it; the body was gone. Could she have dragged herself away? Unlikely, but Kress searched. A cursory inspection of his house turned up neither the body nor any sign of the sandkings. He did not have time for a more thorough investigation, not with the incriminating skimmer outside his front door. He resolved to try later.
Some seventy kilometers north of Kress’ estate was a range of active volcanoes. He flew there, Cath’s skimmer in tow. Above the glowering cone of the largest, he released the magnalock and watched it vanish in the lava below.
- Readers of Martin’s work and this blog know how many times GRRM puts the fiery characters in with volcanoes. Whether a volcano, a mountain with fiery god underneath, Dragonstone, Valyria, pyramids with Bakkalon, pyramids with dragons on top, they are all analogous to each other.
It was dusk when he returned to his house. That gave him pause. Briefly he considered flying back to the city and spending the nightthere. He put the thought aside. There was work to do. He wasn’t safe yet.
He scattered the poison pellets around the exterior of his house. No one would find that suspicious. He’d always had a rockjock problem. When that task was completed, he primed the cannister of pesticide and ventured back inside.
Kress went through the house room by room, turning on lights everywhere he went until he was surrounded by a blaze of artificial illumination. He paused to clean up in the living room, shoveling sand and plastic fragments back into the broken tank. The sandkings were all gone, as he’d feared. The castles were shrunken and distorted, slagged by the watery bombardment Kress had visited upon them, and what little remained was crumbling as it dried.
He frowned and searched on, the cannister of pest spray strapped across his shoulders.
Down in his deepest wine cellar, he came upon Cath m’Lane’s corpse.
It sprawled at the foot of a steep flight of stairs, the limbs twisted as if by a fall. White mobiles were swarming all over it, and as Kress watched, the body moved jerkily across the hard-packed dirt floor.
- This “jerked” corpsehandling movement is a very common feature in Martinworld, including Lady Stoneheart mentioned above. One other example is the dragon-ship-mother from Nightflyers also makes this happen:
- The corpse stood above her. Stopped. Its pale-fleshed hands trembled, spasmed, jerked upward. Long painted fingernails. Made claws. Began to rise.
He laughed, and twisted the illumination up to maximum. In the far corner, a squat little earthen castle and a dark hole were visible between two wine racks. Kress could make out a rough outline of his face on the cellar wall.
The body shifted once again, moving a few centimeters towards the castle. Kress had a sudden vision of the white maw waiting hungrily. It might be able to get Cath’s foot in its mouth, but no more. It was too absurd. He laughed again, and started down into the cellar, finger poised on the trigger of the hose that snaked down his right arm. The sandkings—hundreds of them moving as one—deserted the body and formed up battle lines, a field of white between him and their maw.
Suddenly Kress had another inspiration. He smiled and lowered his firing hand. “Cath was always hard to swallow,” he said, delighted at his wit. “Especially for one your size. Here, let me give you some help. What are gods for, after all?”
He retreated upstairs, returning shortly with a cleaver. The sandkings, patient, waited and watched while Kress chopped Cath m’Laneinto small, easily digestible pieces.
Simon Kress slept in his skinthins that night, the pesticide close at hand, but he did not need it. The whites, sated, remained in the cellar, and he saw no sign of the others.
In the morning he finished the clean-up of the living room. After he was through, no trace of the struggle remained except for the broken tank.
He ate a light lunch, and resumed his hunt for the missing sandkings. In full daylight, it was not too difficult. The blacks had located in his rock garden, and built a castle heavy with obsidian and quartz. The reds he found at the bottom of his long-disused swimming pool, which had partially filled with wind-blown sand over the years. He saw mobiles of both colors ranging about his grounds, many of them carrying poison pellets back to their maws. Kress decided his pesticide was unnecessary. No use risking a fight when he could just let the poison do its work. Both maws should be dead by evening.
- The Windblown sellsword company.
- I have talked about the Tattered Prince, his dead air, and his many-colored cloak here, if you want.
That left only the burnt orange sandkings unaccounted for. Kress circled his estate several times, in ever-widening spirals, but found no trace of them. When he began to sweat in his skinthins—it was a hot, dry day—he decided it was not important. If they were out here, they were probably eating the poison pellets along with the reds and blacks.
He crunched several sandkings underfoot, with a certain degree of satisfaction, as he walked back to the house. Inside, he removed his skinthins, settled down to a delicious meal, and finally began to relax. Everything was under control. Two of the maws would soon be defunct, the third was safely located where he could dispose of it after it had served his purposes, and he had no doubt that he would find the fourth. As for Cath, all trace of her visit had been obliterated.
His reverie was interrupted when his viewscreen began to blink at him. It was Jad Rakkis, calling to brag about some cannibal worm she was bringing to the war games tonight.
Kress had forgotten about that, but he recovered quickly. “Oh, Jad, my pardons. I neglected to tell you. I grew bored with all that, and got rid of the sandkings. Ugly little things Sorry, but there’ll be no party tonight.”
Rakkis was indignant. “But what will I do with my worms?”
“Put them in a basket of fruit and send them to a loved one,” Kress said, signing off. Quickly he began calling the others. He did not need anyone arriving at his doorstep now, with the sandkings alive and infesting the estate.
As he was calling Idi Noreddian, Kress became aware of an annoying oversight. The screen began to clear, indicating that someone had answered at the other end. Kress flicked off. Idi arrived on schedule an hour later. She was surprised to find the party cancelled, but perfectly happy to share an evening alone with Kress. He delighted her with his story of Cath’s reaction to the holo they had made together. While telling it, he managed to ascertain that she had not mentioned the prank to anyone. He nodded, satisfied, and refilled their wine glasses. Only a trickle was left. “I’ll have to get a fresh bottle,” he said. “Come with me to my wine cellar, and help me pick out a good vintage. You’ve always had a better palate than I.”
She came along willingly enough, but balked at the top of the stairs when Kress opened the door and gestured for her to precede him.“Where are the lights?” she said. “And that smell—what’s that peculiar smell, Simon?”
When he shoved her, she looked briefly startled. She screamed as she tumbled down the stairs. Kress closed the door and began to nail it shut with the boards and airhammer he had left for that purpose. As he was finishing, he heard Idi groan. “I’m hurt,” she called.“Simon, what is this?” Suddenly she squealed, and shortly after that the screaming started.
It did not cease for hours. Kress went to his sensorium and dialed up a saucy comedy to blot it out of his mind.
When he was sure she was dead, Kress flew her skimmer north to the volcanoes and discarded it. The magnalock was proving a good investment.
- This section is a lot like Quentyn Martell going into the dragonpit and being consumed (burned) by Rhaegal. The darkness, the smell, the screaming pain. This is also very much like the scene in NIghtflyers when Lommie Thorne is “consumed” by the dragon-ship-maw and dies.
A Dance with Dragons – The Dragontamer
… “Bring the cart.” The dragons would be more docile once fed. Let them gorge themselves on charred mutton.
Archibald Yronwood grasped the iron doors and pulled them apart. Their rusted hinges let out a pair of screams, for all those who might have slept through the breaking of the lock. A wash of sudden heat assaulted them, heavy with the odors of ash, brimstone, and burnt meat.
It was black beyond the doors, a sullen stygian darkness that seemed alive and threatening, hungry. Quentyn could sense that there was something in that darkness, coiled and waiting. Warrior, grant me courage, he prayed. He did not want to do this, but he saw no other way. Why else would Daenerys have shown me the dragons? She wants me to prove myself to her. Gerris handed him a torch. He stepped through the doors.
- NightflyersThen she stiffened. “Oh,” she said. It was almost a whimper. “Cold,” she said. She shook her head and it was gone, but there was a sound in her ears, a terrible whooping sound. “Damn,” she said, “that’ll wake everyone.” She glanced up when she felt Alys’ fingers dig painfully into her shoulder, squeezing, hurting. A gray steel panel slid almost silently across the access to the corridor, cutting off the whooping cry of the alarm. “What?” Lommie Thorne said. “That’s an emergency airseal,” said Alys Northwind in a dead voice. She knew starships. “It closes where they’re about to load or unload cargo in vacuum.” Their eyes went to the huge curving outer airlock above their heads. The inner lock was almost completely open, and as they watched it clicked into place, and the seal on the outer door cracked, and now it was open half a meter, sliding, and beyond was twisted nothingness so burning-bright it seared the eyes. “Oh,” said Lommie Thorne, as the cold coursed up her arm. She had stopped whistling.
Odd scrabbling noises were coming from beyond the wine cellar door the next morning when Kress went down to check it out. He listened for several uneasy moments, wondering if Idi Noreddian could possibly have survived, and was now scratching to get out. Itseemed unlikely; it had to be the sandkings. Kress did not like the implications of that. He decided that he would keep the door sealed, at least for the moment, and went outside with a shovel to bury the red and black maws in their own castles.
He found them very much alive.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys VI
A cool wind was blowing on her terrace. Dany sighed with pleasure as she slipped into the waters of her pool. At her command, Missandei stripped off her clothes and climbed in after her. “This one heard the Astapori scratching at the walls last night,” the little scribe said as she was washing Dany’s back.
Irri and Jhiqui exchanged a look. “No one was scratching,” said Jhiqui. “Scratching … how could they scratch?”
“With their hands,” said Missandei. “The bricks are old and crumbling. They are trying to claw their way into the city.”
The black castle was glittering with volcanic glass, and sandkings were all over it, repairing and improving. The highest tower was up to his waist, and on it was a hideous caricature of his face. When he approached, the blacks halted in their labors, and formed up into two threatening phalanxes. Kress glanced behind him and saw others closing off his escape. Startled, he dropped the shovel and sprinted out of the trap, crushing several mobiles beneath his boots.
The red castle was creeping up the walls of the swimming pool. The maw was safely settled in a pit, surrounded by sand and concrete and battlements. The reds crept all over the bottom of the pool. Kress watched them carry a rockjock and a large lizard into the castle. He stepped back from the poolside, horrified, and felt something crunch. Looking down, he saw three mobiles climbing up his leg. He brushed them off and stamped them to death, but others were approaching quickly. They were larger than he remembered. Some werealmost as big as his thumb.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys VI
“And to Rhaego son of Drogo, the stallion who will mount the world, to him I also pledge a gift. To him I will give this iron chair his mother’s father sat in. I will give him Seven Kingdoms. I, Drogo, khal, will do this thing.” His voice rose, and he lifted his fist to the sky. “I will take my khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water as no khal has done before. I will kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak to bow down beneath the Mother of Mountains. This I vow, I, Drogo son of Bharbo. This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.”
He ran. By the time he reached the safety of the house, his heart was racing and he was short of breath. The door closed behind him, and Kress hurried to lock it. His house was supposed to be pest-proof. He’d be safe in here.
A stiff drink steadied his nerve. So poison doesn’t faze them, he thought. He should have known. Wo had warned him that the mawcould eat anything. He would have to use the pesticide. Kress took another drink for good measure, donned his skinthins, and strapped the cannister to his back. He unlocked the door.
Outside, the sandkings were waiting.
Two armies confronted him, allied against the common threat. More than he could have guessed. The damned maws must be breeding like rockjocks. They were everywhere, a creeping sea of them.
Kress brought up the hose and flicked the trigger. A gray mist washed over the nearest rank of sandkings. He moved his hand fromside to side.
Where the mist fell, the sandkings twitched violently and died in sudden spasms. Kress smiled. They were no match for him. He sprayed in a wide arc before him and stepped forward confidently over a litter of black and red bodies. The armies fell back. Kress advanced, intent on cutting through them to their maws.
All at once the retreat stopped. A thousand sandkings surged toward him.
Kress had been expecting the counter attack. He stood his ground, sweeping his misty sword before him in great looping strokes. They came at him and died. A few got through; he could not spray everywhere at once. He felt them climbing up his legs, sensed their mandibles biting futilely at the reinforced plastic of his skinthins. He ignored them, and kept spraying.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys X
“Remember who you are, Daenerys,” the stars whispered in a woman’s voice. “The dragons know. Do you?”
The next morning she woke stiff and sore and aching, with ants crawling on her arms and legs and face. When she realized what they were, she kicked aside the stalks of dry brown grass that had served as her bed and blanket and struggled to her feet. She had bites all over her, little red bumps, itchy and inflamed. Where did all the ants come from? Dany brushed them from her arms and legs and belly. She ran a hand across her stubbly scalp where her hair had burned away, and felt more ants on her head, and one crawling down the back of her neck. She knocked them off and crushed them under her bare feet. There were so many …
It turned out that their anthill was on the other side of her wall. She wondered how the ants had managed to climb over it and find her. To them these tumbledown stones must loom as huge as the Wall of Westeros. The biggest wall in all the world, her brother Viserys used to say, as proud as if he’d built it himself.
Then he began to feel soft impacts on his head and shoulders.
Kress trembled and spun and looked up above him. The front of his house was alive with sandkings. Blacks and reds, hundreds of them. They were launching themselves into the air, raining down on him. They fell all around him. One landed on his faceplate, its mandibles scraping at his eyes for a terrible second before he plucked it away.
- More House of the Undying imagery, down to the eye being ajitated, the same reason Euron lost his eye.
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys IV
But then black wings buffeted her round the head, and a scream of fury cut the indigo air, and suddenly the visions were gone, ripped away, and Dany’s gasp turned to horror. The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . .
He swung up his hose and sprayed the air, sprayed the house, sprayed until the airborne sandkings were all dead and dying. The mist settled back on him, making him cough. He coughed, and kept spraying. Only when the front of the house was clean did Kress turn hisattention back to the ground.
They were all around him, on him, dozens of them scurrying over his body, hundreds of others hurrying to join them. He turned the mist on them. The hose went dead. Kress heard a loud hiss, and the deadly fog rose in a great cloud from between his shoulders, cloaking him, choking him, making his eyes burn and blur. He felt for the hose, and his hand came away covered with dying sandkings. The hose was severed; they’d eaten it through. He was surrounded by a shroud of pesticide, blinded. He stumbled and screamed, and began to run back to the house, pulling sandkings from his body as he went.
Inside, he sealed the door and collapsed on the carpet, rolling back and forth until he was sure he had crushed them all. The cannister was empty by then, hissing feebly. Kress stripped off his skinthins and showered. The hot spray scalded him and left his skin reddened and sensitive, but it made his flesh stop crawling.
He dressed in his heaviest clothing, thick workpants and leathers, after shaking them out nervously. “Damn,” he kept muttering,“damn.” His throat was dry. After searching the entry hall thoroughly to make certain it was clean, he allowed himself to sit and poura drink. “Damn,” he repeated. His hand shook as he poured, slopping liquor on the carpet.
The alcohol settled him, but it did not wash away the fear. He had a second drink, and went to the window furtively. Sandkings weremoving across the thick plastic pane. He shuddered and retreated to his communications console. He had to get help, he thoughtwildly. He would punch through a call to the authorities, and policers would come out with flamethrowers and….
Simon Kress stopped in mid-call, and groaned. He couldn’t call in the police. He would have to tell them about the whites in his cellar,and they’d find the bodies there. Perhaps the maw might have finished Cath m’Lane by now, but certainly not Idi Noreddian. He hadn’teven cut her up. Besides, there would be bones. No, the police could be called in only as a last resort.
He sat at the console, frowning. His communications equipment filled a whole wall; from here he could reach anyone on Baldur. He had plenty of money, and his cunning—he had always prided him self on his cunning. He would handle this somehow.
He briefly considered calling Wo, but soon dismissed the idea. Wo knew too much, and she would ask questions, and he did not trust her. No, he needed someone who would do as he asked without questions.
His frown faded, and slowly turned into a smile. Simon Kress had contacts. He put through a call to a number he had not used in along time.
A woman’s face took shape on his viewscreen: white-haired, bland of expression, with a long hook nose. Her voice was brisk and efficient. “Simon,” she said. “How is business?”
“Business is fine, Lissandra,” Kress replied. “I have a job for you.”
“A removal? My price has gone up since last time, Simon. It has been ten years, after all.”
“You will be well paid,” Kress said. “You know I’m generous. I want you for a bit of pest control.”
She smiled a thin smile. “No need to use euphemisms, Simon. The call is shielded.”
“No, I’m serious. I have a pest problem. Dangerous pests. Take care of them for me. No questions. Understood?”
“Good. You’ll need … oh, three or four operatives. Wear heat-resistant skinthins, and equip them with flamethrowers, or lasers,something on that order. Come out to my place. You’ll see the problem. Bugs, lots and lots of them. In my rock garden and the oldswimming pool you’ll find castles. Destroy them, kill everything inside them. Then knock on the door, and I’ll show you what elseneeds to be done. Can you get out here quickly?”
Her face was impassive. “We’ll leave within the hour.”
* *Section 12 * *
Lissandra was true to her word. She arrived in a lean black skimmer with three operatives. Kress watched them from the safety of a second-story window. They were all faceless in dark plastic skinthins. Two of them wore portable flamethrowers, a third carried lasercannon and explosives. Lissandra carried nothing; Kress recognized her by the way she gave orders.
- Yes, Kress called out ‘faceless men‘ to come and assaninate the insects and maw.
- Yes, Lissanra is a precursor name to Melisandre, and both are fire “hands of the king”. And remember that Melisandre is a slave to R’hllor.
- More Melisandre name origins in Bitterblooms if you want to check it out.
Their skimmer passed low overhead first, checking out the situation. The sandkings went mad. Scarlet and ebony mobiles ran everywhere, frenetic. Kress could see the castle in the rock garden from his vantage point. It stood tall as a man. Its ramparts were crawling with black defenders, and a steady stream of mobiles flowed down into its depths.
Lissandra’s skimmer came down next to Kress’ and the operatives vaulted out and unlimbered their weapons. They looked inhuman, deadly.
The black army drew up between them and the castle. The reds—Kress suddenly realized that he could not see the reds. He blinked. Where had they gone?
Lissandra pointed and shouted, and her two flamethrowers spread out and opened up on the black sandkings. Their weapons coughed dully and began to roar, long tongues of blue-and-scarlet fire licking out before them. Sandkings crisped and blackened and died. The operatives began to play the fire back and forth in an efficient, interlocking pattern. They advanced with careful, measured steps.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys II
It ended as quickly as it began. The arakhs shivered together faster than Dany could follow, one man missed a step, the other swung his blade in a flat arc. Steel bit into flesh just above the Dothraki’s waist, and opened him from backbone to belly button, spilling his entrails into the dust. As the loser died, the winner took hold of the nearest woman—not even the one they had been quarreling over—and had her there and then. Slaves carried off the body, and the dancing resumed.
Magister Illyrio had warned Dany about this too. “A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed a dull affair,” he had said. Her wedding must have been especially blessed; before the day was over, a dozen men had died.
- Also the “final union” with the fiery Greeshka in A Song for Lya.
The black army burned and disintegrated, the mobiles fleeing in a thousand different directions, some back toward the castle, otherstoward the enemy. None reached the operatives with the flamethrowers. Lissandra’s people were very professional.
Then one of them stumbled. Or seemed to stumble.
Kress looked again, and saw that the ground had given way beneath the man. Tunnels, he thought with a tremor of fear—tunnels, pits, traps. The flamer was sunk in sand up to his waist, and suddenly the ground around him seemed to erupt, and he was covered with scarlet sandkings. He dropped the flamethrower and began to claw wildly at his own body. His screams were horrible to hear.
His companion hesitated, then swung and fired. A blast of flame swallowed human and sandkings both. The screaming stopped abruptly. Satisfied, the second flamer turned back to the castle and took another step forward, and recoiled as his foot broke throughthe ground and vanished up to the ankle. He tried to pull it back and retreat, and the sand all around him gave way. He lost his balance and stumbled, flailing, and the sandkings were everywhere, a boiling mass of them, covering him as he writhed and rolled. His flamethrower was useless and forgotten.
Kress pounded wildly on the window, shouting for attention. “The castle! Get the castle!”
Lissandra, standing back by her skimmer, heard and gestured. Her third operative sighted with the lasercannon and fired. The beam throbbed across the grounds and sliced off the top of the castle. He brought it down sharply, hacking at the sand and stone parapets. Towers fell. Kress’ face disintegrated. The laser bit into the ground, searching round and about. The castle crumbled; now it was only a heap of sand. But the black mobiles continued to move. The maw was buried too deeply; they hadn’t touched her.
Lissandra gave another order. Her operative discarded the laser, primed an explosive, and darted forward. He leaped over the smokingcorpse of the first flamer, landed on solid ground within Kress’ rock garden, and heaved. The explosive ball landed square a top the ruins of the black castle. White-hot light seared Kress’ eyes, and there was a tremendous gout of sand and rock and mobiles. For amoment dust obscured everything. It was raining sandkings and pieces of sandkings.
Kress saw that the black mobiles were dead and unmoving.
“The pool,” he shouted down through the window. “Get the castle in the pool.”
Lissandra understood quickly; the ground was littered with motionless blacks, but the reds were pulling back hurriedly and re-forming. Her operative stood uncertain, then reached down and pulled out another explosive ball. He took one step forward, but Lissandra called him and he sprinted back in her direction.
It was all so simple then. He reached the skimmer, and Lissandra took him aloft. Kress rushed to another window in another room to watch. They came swooping in just over the pool, and the operative pitched his bombs down at the red castle from the safety of the skimmer. After the fourth run, the castle was unrecognizable, and the sandkings stopped moving.
Lissandra was thorough. She had him bomb each castle several additional times. Then he used the lasercannon, crisscrossing methodically until it was certain that nothing living could remain intact beneath those small patches of ground.
- All this fighting with lasercannon, etc is just as the Steel Angels did, and it reads as something that could happen in ASOIAF in either or both of the upcoming dragon wars; Winterfell with the ice dragon Others, King’s Landing with the fire dragon Daenerys.
Finally they came knocking at his door. Kress was grinning manically when he let them in. “Lovely,” he said, “lovely.”
Lissandra pulled off the mask of her skinthins. “This will cost you, Simon. Two operatives gone, not to mention the danger to my own life.”
“Of course,” Kress blurted. “You’ll be well paid, Lissandra. Whatever you ask, just so you finish the job.”
“What remains to be done?”
“You have to clean out my wine cellar,” Kress said. “There’s another castle down there. And you’ll have to do it without explosives. Idon’t want my house coming down around me.” Lissandra motioned to her operative. “Go outside and get Rajk’s flamethrower. It should be intact.”
He returned armed, ready, silent. Kress led them down to the wine cellar.
The heavy door was still nailed shut, as he had left it. But it bulged outward slightly, as if warped by some tremendous pressure. That made Kress uneasy, as did the silence that held reign about them. He stood well away from the door as Lissandra’s operative removed his nails and planks. “Is that safe in here?” he found himself muttering, pointing at the flamethrower. “I don’t want a fire, either, youknow.”
“I have the laser,” Lissandra said. “We’ll use that for the kill. The flamethrower probably won’t be needed. But I want it here just incase. There are worse things than fire, Simon.”
The last plank came free of the cellar door. There was still no sound from below. Lissandra snapped an order, and her underling fell back, took up a position behind her, and leveled the flamethrower square at the door. She slipped her mask back on, hefted the laser,stepped forward, and pulled open the door.
No motion. No sound. It was dark down there. “Is there a light?” Lissandra asked.
- The night is dark and full of terrors.
“Just inside the door,” Kress said. “On the right hand side. Mind the stairs, they’re quite steep.”
She stepped into the door, shifted the laser to her left hand, and reached up with her right, fumbling inside for the light panel. Nothing happened. “I feel it,” Lissandra said, “but it doesn’t seem to…”
Then she was screaming, and she stumbled backward. A great white sandking had clamped itself around her wrist. Blood welled through her skinthins where its mandibles had sunk in. It was fully as large as her hand.
- This imagery is about the blood & fire hand. Victarion and his volcano hand, the fiery hands of R’hllor.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon IV
“Not me. I’m done with those bloody fools.” Rattleshirt tapped the ruby on his wrist. “Ask your red witch, bastard.”
Melisandre spoke softly in a strange tongue. The ruby at her throat throbbed slowly, and Jon saw that the smaller stone on Rattleshirt’s wrist was brightening and darkening as well. “So long as he wears the gem he is bound to me, blood and soul,” the red priestess said. “This man will serve you faithfully. The flames do not lie, Lord Snow.”
Lissandra did a horrible little jig across the room and began to smash her hand against the nearest wall. Again and again and again. It landed with a heavy, meaty thud. Finally the sandking fell away. She whimpered and fell to her knees. “I think my fingers are broken,” she said softly. The blood was still flowing freely. She had dropped the laser near the cellar door.
“I’m not going down there,” her operative announced in clear firm tones.
Lissandra looked up at him. “No,” she said. “Stand in the door and flame it all. Cinder it. Do you understand?”
Simon Kress moaned. “My house,” he said. His stomach churned. The white sandking had been so large. How many more were down there? “Don’t,” he continued. “Leave it alone. I’ve changed my mind. Leave it alone.”
Lissandra misunderstood. She held out her hand. It was covered with blood and greenish-black ichor. “Your little friend bit clean through my glove, and you saw what it took to get it off. I don’t care about your house, Simon. Whatever is down there is going to die.”
Kress hardly heard her. He thought he could see movement in the shadows beyond the cellar door. He imagined a white army bursting forth, all as large as the sandking that had attacked Lissandra. He saw himself being lifted by a hundred tiny arms, and dragged down into the darkness where the maw waited hungrily. He was afraid. “Don’t,” he said.
They ignored him.
Kress darted forward, and his shoulder slammed into the back of Lissandra’s operative just as the man was bracing to fire. He grunted and unbalanced and pitched forward into the black. Kress listened to him fall down the stairs. Afterward there were other noises—scuttlings and snaps and soft squishing sounds.
Kress swung around to face Lissandra. He was drenched in cold sweat, but a sickly kind of excitement was on him. It was almost sexual.
A Feast for Crows – Jaime II
The sight had filled him with disquiet, reminding him of Aerys Targaryen and the way a burning would arouse him. A king has no secrets from his Kingsguard. Relations between Aerys and his queen had been strained during the last years of his reign. They slept apart and did their best to avoid each other during the waking hours. But whenever Aerys gave a man to the flames, Queen Rhaella would have a visitor in the night. The day he burned his mace-and-dagger Hand, Jaime and Jon Darry had stood at guard outside her bedchamber whilst the king took his pleasure. “You’re hurting me,” they had heard Rhaella cry through the oaken door. “You’re hurting me.” In some queer way, that had been worse than Lord Chelsted’s screaming. “We are sworn to protect her as well,” Jaime had finally been driven to say. “We are,” Darry allowed, “but not from him.”
Lissandra’s calm cold eyes regarded him through her mask. “What are you doing?” she demanded as Kress picked up the laser she haddropped. “Simon!”
“Making a peace,” he said, giggling. “They won’t hurt god, no, not so long as god is good and generous. I was cruel. Starved them. I have to make up for it now, you see.”
“You’re insane,” Lissandra said. It was the last thing she said. Kress burned a hole in her chest big enough to put his arm through. He dragged the body across the floor and rolled it down the cellar stairs. The noises were louder—chitinous clackings and scrapings and echoes that were thick and liquid. Kress nailed up the door once again.
- A “heart attack”, or, burning a hole in the heart is also what R’hllor is doing to Stannis (see his new burning Hart sigil), and it is the same thing that the fiery Ananda Cain does to Edan Morse in Armageddon Rag.
- Also, Bowen Marsh *might* suffer a “heart attack” in The Winds of Winter.
As he fled, he was filled with a deep sense of contentment that coated his fear like a layer of syrup. He suspected it was not his own.
He planned to leave his home, to fly to the city and take a room for a night, or perhaps for a year. Instead Kress started drinking. He was not quite sure why. He drank steadily for hours, and retched it all up violently on his living room carpet. At some point he fell asleep. When he woke, it was pitch dark in the house.
He cowered against the couch. He could hear noises. Things were moving in the walls. They were all around him. His hearing wasextraordinarily acute. Every little creak was the footstep of a sandking. He closed his eyes and waited, expecting to feel their terribletouch, afraid to move lest he brush against one.
Kress sobbed, and was very still for a while, but nothing happened.
He opened his eyes again. He trembled. Slowly the shadows began to soften and dissolve. Moonlight was filtering through the highwindows. His eyes adjusted.
The living room was empty. Nothing there, nothing, nothing. Only his drunken fears.
Simon Kress steeled himself, and rose, and went to a light.
Nothing there. The room was quiet, deserted.
He listened. Nothing. No sound. Nothing in the walls. It had all been his imagination, his fear.
The memories of Lissandra and the thing in the cellar returned to him unbidden. Shame and anger washed over him. Why had he done that? He could have helped her burn it out, kill it. Why … he knew why. The maw had done it to him, put fear in him. Wo had said it was psionic, even when it was small. And now it was large, so large. It had feasted on Cath, and Idi, and now it had two more bodies down there. It would keep growing. And it had learned to like the taste of human flesh, he thought.
He began to shake, but he took control of himself again and stopped. It wouldn’t hurt him. He was god. The whites had always been his favorites.
He remembered how he had stabbed it with his throwing-sword. That was before Cath came. Damn her anyway.
He couldn’t stay here. The maw would grow hungry again. Large as it was, it wouldn’t take long. Its appetite would be terrible. What would it do then? He had to get away, back to the safety of the city while it was still contained in his wine cellar. It was only plaster and hard-packed earth down there, and the mobiles could dig and tunnel. When they got free…. Kress didn’t want to think about it.
He went to his bedroom and packed. He took three bags. Just a single change of clothing, that was all he needed; the rest of the spacehe filled with his valuables, with jewelry and art and other things he could not bear to lose. He did not expect to return.
His shambler followed him down the stairs, staring at him from its baleful glowing eyes. It was gaunt. Kress realized that it had been ages since he had fed it. Normally it could take care of itself, but no doubt the pickings had grown lean of late. When it tried to clutch at his leg, he snarled at it and kicked it away, and it scurried off, offended.
Kress slipped outside, carrying his bags awkwardly, and shut the door behind him.
For a moment he stood pressed against the house, his heart thudding in his chest. Only a few meters between him and his skimmer. He was afraid to cross them. The moonlight was bright, and the front of his house was a scene of carnage. The bodies of Lissandra’s two flamers lay where they had fallen, one twisted and burned, the other swollen beneath a mass of dead sandkings. And the mobiles, the black and red mobiles, they were all around him. It was an effort to remember that they were dead. It was almost as if they were simply waiting, as they had waited so often before.
Nonsense, Kress told himself. More drunken fears. He had seen the castles blown apart. They were dead, and the white maw was trapped in his cellar. He took several deep and deliberate breaths, and stepped forward onto the sandkings. They crunched. He ground them into the sand savagely. They did not move.
Kress smiled, and walked slowly across the battleground, listening to the sounds, the sounds of safety.
Crunch. Crackle. Crunch.
He lowered his bags to the ground and opened the door to his skimmer.
Something moved from shadow into light. A pale shape on the seat of his skimmer. It was as long as his forearm. Its mandiblesclacked together softly, and it looked up at him from six small eyes set all around its body.
Kress wet his pants and backed away slowly.
There was more motion from inside the skimmer. He had left the door open. The sandking emerged and came toward him, cautiously. Others followed. They had been hiding beneath his seats, burrowed into the upholstery. But now they emerged. They formed a ragged ring around the skimmer.
Kress licked his lips, turned, and moved quickly to Lissandra’s skimmer.
He stopped before he was halfway there. Things were moving inside that one too. Great maggoty things, half-seen by the light of the moon.
Kress whimpered and retreated back toward the house. Near the front door, he looked up.
He counted a dozen long white shapes creeping back and forth across the walls of the building. Four of them were clustered close together near the top of the unused belfry where the carrion hawk had once roosted. They were carving something. A face. A very recognizable face.
Simon Kress shrieked and ran back inside.
* * Section 13 * *
A sufficient quantity of drink brought him the easy oblivion he sought. But he woke. Despite everything, he woke. He had a terrificheadache, and he smelled, and he was hungry. Oh so very hungry. He had never been so hungry.
Kress knew it was not his own stomach hurting.
A white sandking watched him from atop the dresser in his bedroom, its antennae moving faintly. It was as big as the one in the skimmer the night before. He tried not to shrink away. “I’ll … I’ll feed you,” he said to it. “I’ll feed you.” His mouth was horribly dry, sandpaper dry. He licked his lips and fled from the room.
- Superficially similar but very different type of mental “feeding” as seen between the direwolves and the dragons. This has to do with base-level worldlbuilding of “magic” brother agaisnt brother. Like the Karstarks are no longer Starks, the fire element functions different than the green element.
- Also, GRRM repeatedly tells readers that while he writes grey characters, “that’s not to say that all charcters are equally grey.” Some are mostly white with occasional flaws, some are very dark, and that even GRRM is writing one side as objectively more just than the other. One such video here.
The house was full of sandkings; he had to be careful where he put his feet. They all seemed busy on errands of their own. They weremaking modifications in his house, burrowing into or out of his walls, carving things. Twice he saw his own likeness staring out athim from unexpected places. The faces were warped, twisted, livid with fear.
He went outside to get the bodies that had been rotting in the yard, hoping to appease the white maw’s hunger. They were gone, bothof them. Kress remembered how easily the mobiles could carry things many times their own weight.
It was terrible to think that the maw was still hungry after all of that.
When Kress re-entered the house, a column of sandkings was wending its way down the stairs. Each carried a piece of his shambler. The head seemed to look at him reproachfully as it went by.
Kress emptied his freezers, his cabinets, everything, piling all the food in the house in the center of his kitchen floor. A dozen whites waited to take it away. They avoided the frozen food, leaving it to thaw in a great puddle, but they carried off everything else.
When all the food was gone, Kress felt his own hunger pangs abate just a bit, though he had not eaten a thing. But he knew the respitewould be short-lived. Soon the maw would be hungry again. He had to feed it.
Kress knew what to do. He went to his communicator. “Malada,” he began casually when the first of his friends answered, “I’m having a small party tonight. I realize this is terribly short notice, but I hope you can make it. I really do.”
He called Jad Rakkis next, and then the others. By the time he had finished, nine of them had accepted his invitation. Kress hoped that would be enough.
Kress met his guests outside—the mobiles had cleaned up remarkably quickly, and the grounds looked almost as they had before thebattle—and walked them to his front door. He let them enter first. He did not follow.
When four of them had gone through, Kress finally worked up his courage. He closed the door behind his latest guest, ignoring the startled exclamations that soon turned into shrill gibbering, and sprinted for the skimmer the man had arrived in. He slid in safely, thumbed the startplate, and swore. It was programmed to lift only in response to its owner’s thumbprint, of course.
Jad Rakkis was the next to arrive. Kress ran to his skimmer as it set down, and seized Rakkis by the arm as he was climbing out. “Getback in, quickly,” he said, pushing. “Take me to the city. Hurry, Jad. Get out of here!”
But Rakkis only stared at him, and would not move. “Why, what’s wrong, Simon? I don’t understand. What about your party?”
And then it was too late, because the loose sand all around them was stirring, and the red eyes were staring at them, and the mandibles were clacking. Rakkis made a choking sound, and moved to get back in his skimmer, but a pair of mandibles snapped shut about his ankle, and suddenly he was on his knees. The sand seemed to boil with subterranean activity. Jad thrashed and cried terribly as they tore him apart. Kress could hardly bear to watch.
After that, he did not try to escape again. When it was all over, he cleaned out what remained in his liquor cabinet, and got extremely drunk. It would be the last time he would enjoy that luxury, he knew. The only alcohol remaining in the house was stored down in the wine cellar.
Kress did not touch a bite of food the entire day, but he fell asleep feeling bloated, sated at last, the awful hunger vanquished. His last thoughts before the nightmares took him were of whom he could ask out tomorrow.
Morning was hot and dry. Kress opened his eyes to see the white sandking on his dresser again. He shut them again quickly, hoping the dream would leave him. It did not, and he could not go back to sleep. Soon he found himself staring at the thing.
He stared for almost five minutes before the strangeness of it dawned on him; the sandking was not moving.
The mobiles could be preternaturally still, to be sure. He had seen them wait and watch a thousand times. But always there was somemotion about them—the mandibles clacked, the legs twitched, the long fine antennae stirred and swayed.
But the sandking on his dresser was completely still.
Kress rose, holding his breath, not daring to hope. Could it be dead? Could something have killed it? He walked across the room.
The eyes were glassy and black. The creature seemed swollen, somehow, as if it were soft and rotting inside, filling up with gas that pushed outward at the plates of white armor.
Kress reached out a trembling hand and touched it.
It was warm—hot even—and growing hotter. But it did not move. He pulled his hand back, and as he did, a segment of the sandking’s white exoskeleton fell away from it. The flesh beneath was the same color, but softer-looking, swollen and feverish. And it almost seemed to throb.
- The part that Daenerys played with the soul exchange of baby Rhaego is part of Daenerys metamorphosis into a myhsa-Dragon-Khaleesi.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys IX
She waited, but Ser Jorah could not say it. His face grew dark with shame. He looked half a corpse himself.
“Monstrous,” Mirri Maz Duur finished for him. The knight was a powerful man, yet Dany understood in that moment that the maegi was stronger, and crueler, and infinitely more dangerous. “Twisted. I drew him forth myself. He was scaled like a lizard, blind, with the stub of a tail and small leather wings like the wings of a bat. When I touched him, the flesh sloughed off the bone, and inside he was full of graveworms and the stink of corruption. He had been dead for years.”
Kress backed away, and ran to the door.
Three more white mobiles lay in his hall. They were all like the one in his bedroom.
He ran down the stairs, jumping over sandkings. None of them moved. The house was full of them, all dead, dying, comatose, whatever. Kress did not care what was wrong with them. Just so they could not move.
He found four of them inside his skimmer. He picked them up one by one, and threw them as far as he could. Damned monsters. He slid back in, on the ruined half-eaten seats, and thumbed the startplate.
Kress tried again, and again. Nothing. It wasn’t fair. This was his skimmer, it ought to start, why wouldn’t it lift, he didn’t understand. Finally he got out and checked, expecting the worst. He found it. The sandkings had torn apart his gravity grid. He was trapped. He was still trapped.
Grimly, Kress marched back into the house. He went to his gallery and found the antique axe that had hung next to the throwing-sword he had used on Cath m’Lane. He set to work. The sandkings did not stir even as he chopped them to pieces. But they splattered when he made the first cut, the bodies almost bursting. Inside was awful; strange half-formed organs, a viscous reddish ooze that looked almost like human blood, and the yellow ichor.
Kress destroyed twenty of them before he realized the futility of what he was doing. The mobiles were nothing, really. Besides, therewere so many of them. He could work for a day and night and still not kill them all.
He had to go down into the wine cellar and use the axe on the maw.
Resolute, he started down. He got within sight of the door, and stopped.
It was not a door any more. The walls had been eaten away, so that the hole was twice the size it had been, and round. A pit, that was all. There was no sign that there had ever been a door nailed shut over that black abyss.
A ghastly, choking, fetid odor seemed to come from below.
And the walls were wet and bloody and covered with patches of white fungus.
- This white fungus ina mind-control story arc is also seen in This Tower of Ashes.
And worst, it was breathing.
Kress stood across the room and felt the warm wind wash over him as it exhaled, and he tried not to choke, and when the wind reversed direction, he fled.
Back in the living room, he destroyed three more mobiles, and collapsed. What was happening? He didn’t understand.
Then he remembered the only person who might understand. Kress went to his communicator again, stepping on a sandking in his haste, and prayed fervently that the device still worked.
When Jala Wo answered, he broke down and told her everything.
She let him talk without interruption, no expression save for a slight frown on her gaunt, pale face. When Kress had finished, she said only, “I ought to leave you there.”
Kress began to blubber. “You can’t. Help me. I’ll pay….”
“I ought to,” Wo repeated, “but I won’t.”
“Thank you,” Kress said. “Oh, thank….”
“Quiet,” said Wo. “Listen to me. This is your own doing. Keep your sandkings well, and they are courtly ritual warriors You turned yours into something else, with starvation and torture. You were their god. You made them what they are. That maw in your cellar is sick, still suffering from the wound you gave it. It is probably insane. Its behavior is … unusual.
“You have to get out of there quickly. The mobiles are not dead, Kress. They are dormant. I told you the exoskeleton falls off when they grow larger. Normally, in fact, it falls off much earlier. I have never heard of sandkings growing as large as yours while still in the insectoid stage. It is another result of crippling the white maw, I would say. That does not matter.
“What matters is the metamorphosis your sandkings are now undergoing. As the maw grows, you see, it gets progressively more intelligent. Its psionic powers strengthen, and its mind becomes more sophisticated, more ambitious. The armored mobiles are useful enough when the maw is tiny and only semi-sentient, but now it needs better servants, bodies with more capabilities. Do you understand? The mobiles are all going to give birth to a new breed of sandking. I can’t say exactly what it will look like. Each maw designs its own, to fit its perceived needs and desires. But it will be biped, with four arms, and opposable thumbs. It will be able to construct and operate advanced machinery. The individual sandkings will not be sentient. But the maw will be very sentient indeed.”
Simon Kress was gaping at Wo’s image on the viewscreen. “Your workers,” he said, with an effort. “The ones who came out here …who installed the tank….”
Jala Wo managed a faint smile. “Shade,” she said.
“Shade is a sandking,” Kress repeated numbly. “And you sold me a tank of … of … infants, ah….”
“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 isequipment 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 can find you easily with an aerial search, and you’ll be safely away from the sandking. Do you understand?”
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys III
Dany’s wrist still tingled where Quaithe had touched her. “Where would you have me go?” she asked.
“To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”
Asshai, Dany thought. She would have me go to Asshai. “Will the Asshai’i give me an army?” she demanded. “Will there be gold for me in Asshai? Will there be ships? What is there in Asshai that I will not find in Qarth?”
“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.
- Again, the soul swap with Rhaego.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys X
And there came a second crack, loud and sharp as thunder, and the smoke stirred and whirled around her and the pyre shifted, the logs exploding as the fire touched their secret hearts. She heard the screams of frightened horses, and the voices of the Dothraki raised in shouts of fear and terror, and Ser Jorah calling her name and cursing. No, she wanted to shout to him, no, my good knight, do not fear for me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don’t you see? Don’t you SEE? With a belch of flame and smoke that reached thirty feet into the sky, the pyre collapsed and came down around her. Unafraid, Dany stepped forward into the firestorm, calling to her children.
The third crack was as loud and sharp as the breaking of the world.
* * Section 14 * *
He had not counted on the heat.
The hills were dry and rocky. Kress ran from the house as quickly as he could, ran until his ribs ached and his breath was coming in gasps. Then he walked, but as soon as he had recovered he began to run again. For almost an hour he ran and walked, ran and walked, beneath the fierce hot sun. He sweated freely, and wished that he had thought to bring some water. He watched the sky in hopes of seeing Wo and Shade.
He was not made for this. It was too hot, and too dry, and he was in no condition. But he kept himself going with the memory of the way the maw had breathed, and the thought of the wriggling little things that by now were surely crawling all over his house. He hoped Wo and Shade would know how to deal with them.
He had his own plans for Wo and Shade. It was all their fault, Kress had decided, and they would suffer for it. Lissandra was dead, buthe knew others in her profession. He would have his revenge. He promised himself that a hundred times as he struggled and sweated his way east.
At least he hoped it was east. He was not that good at directions, and he wasn’t certain which way he had run in his initial panic, butsince then he had made an effort to bear due east, as Wo had suggested.
A Game of Thrones – Daenerys III
“Dead,” agreed Jhiqui. “Long and long ago.”
Viserys had told her that the last Targaryen dragons had died no more than a century and a half ago, during the reign of Aegon III, who was called the Dragonbane. That did not seem so long ago to Dany. “Everywhere?” she said, disappointed. “Even in the east?” Magic had died in the west when the Doom fell on Valyria and the Lands of the Long Summer, and neither spell-forged steel nor stormsingers nor dragons could hold it back, but Dany had always heard that the east was different. It was said that manticores prowled the islands of the Jade Sea, that basilisks infested the jungles of Yi Ti, that spellsingers, warlocks, and aeromancers practiced their arts openly in Asshai, while shadowbinders and bloodmages worked terrible sorceries in the black of night. Why shouldn’t there be dragons too?
When he had been running for several hours, with no sign of rescue, Kress began to grow certain that he had gone wrong. When several more hours passed, he began to grow afraid. What if Wo and Shade could not find him? He would die out here. He hadn’t eaten in two days; he was weak and frightened; his throat was raw for want of water. He couldn’t keep going. The sun was sinking now, and he’d be completely lost in the dark. What was wrong? Had the sandkings eaten Wo and Shade? The fear was on him again, filling him, and with it a great thirst and a terrible hunger. But Kress kept going. He stumbled now when he tried to run, and twice he fell. The second time he scraped his hand on a rock, and it came away bloody. He sucked at it as he walked, and worried about infection.
A Dance with Dragons – Daenerys X
It took Dany half the morning to climb down. By the time she reached the bottom she was winded. Her muscles ached, and she felt as if she had the beginnings of a fever. The rocks had scraped her hands raw. They are better than they were, though, she decided as she picked at a broken blister. Her skin was pink and tender, and a pale milky fluid was leaking from her cracked palms, but her burns were healing.
The sun was on the horizon behind him. The ground grew a little cooler, for which Kress was grateful. He decided to walk until last light and settle in for the night. Surely he was far enough from the sandkings to be safe, and Wo and Shade would find him come morning.
When he topped the next rise, he saw the outline of a house in front of him.
It wasn’t as big as his own house, but it was big enough. It was habitation, safety. Kress shouted and began to run toward it. Food and drink, he had to have nourishment, he could taste the meal now. He was aching with hunger. He ran down the hill towards the house, waving his arms and shouting to the inhabitants. The light was almost gone now, but he could still make out a half-dozen children, playing in the twilight. “Hey there,” he shouted. “Help, help.”
They came running toward him. Kress stopped suddenly. “No,” he said, “oh, no. Oh, no.” He backpedaled, slipped on the sand, got up and tried to run again. They caught him easily. They were ghastly little things with bulging eyes and dusky orange skin. He struggled, but it was useless. Small as they were, each of them had four arms, and Kress had only two.
They carried him toward the house. It was a sad, shabby house built of crumbling sand, but the door was quite large, and dark, and it breathed. That was terrible, but it was not the thing that set Simon Kress to screaming. He screamed because of the others, the little orange children who came crawling out from the castle, and watched impassively as he passed.
All of them had his face.
- And now, the god is dead. The children have their own destiny in hand. What does this mean for ASOIAF?
- This is one of the main reasons why I think the house with the red door is some sort of false/twisted memory and in truth it will be Daenerys’ death. Like every other example in ASOIAF, you tend to get what you wish for, just not how you wished for it as the opening In the Lost Lands quote emphasizes. #Daenerys house with the red door is the ASOIAF Hall of Karma. It’s when you “go to the gods”, so to speak. It will be Drogon’s maw, the Nightflyer mothership, final Union with the Greeshka, the Ozymandias that the Fevre Dream turned into; a religious-like death.
A Clash of Kings – Daenerys IV
Faster and faster the visions came, one after the other, until it seemed as if the very air had come alive. Shadows whirled and danced inside a tent, boneless and terrible. A little girl ran barefoot toward a big house with a red door. Mirri Maz Duur shrieked in the flames, a dragon bursting from her brow. Behind a silver horse the bloody corpse of a naked man bounced and dragged. A white lion ran through grass taller than a man. Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed. Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them . . .
Thank you immensely for sticking with this story and my notes until this end.
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In the beginning there is a comment by George regarding this story, “Is it the best thing I ever wrote? You be the judge.”
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I have started a book club re-read for the older works of George R.R. Martin for purposes such as research, scholarship, and teaching. I own all copies of material that is used for this book club. If you have not yet read a story listed, please check with your local bookstore for your own reading material to purchase (Indie Bookstore Finder or Bookshop.org). The full list of GRRM stories outside of the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I have read can be found on this page here.
It takes a while to transcribe and then note each story for research purposes, even the really short ones, so the main book club page will be updated as each re-read is added. Make sure you subscribe for updates.
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- Override– A betrayal between brothers. We are introduced to the rather well adjusted, pacifist main character Kabaraijian who is eventually sold out by his coworker/brother for money. A blood betrayal in #ASOIAF terms.
- Nightflyers– Nightflyers is about a haunted ship in outerspace. This story is everything a reader would want from a GRRM story; high body count, psi-link mind control, whisperjewels, corpse handling, dragon-mother ships, the Night’s Watch ‘naval’ institution in space, and Jon and Val.
- Bitterblooms– In the dead of deep winter, a young girl named Shawn has to find the mental courage to escape a red fiery witch. Prototyping Val, Stannis, and Arya along with the red witch Melisandre.
- The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr – Discarded Knights guards the gates as Sharra feels the Seven while searching for lost love. Many Sansa and Ashara Dayne prototyping here as well.
- …And Seven Times Never Kill Man– A look into a proto-Andal+Targaryen fiery world as the Jaenshi way of life is erased. But who is controlling these events? Black & Red Pyramids who merge with Bakkalon are on full display in this story.
- The Last Super Bowl– Football meets SciFi tech with plenty of ASOIAF carryover battle elements.
- Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg– first in the Corpse Handler trio, and sets a lot of tone for future ASOIAF thematics.
- Closing Time– A short story that shows many precursor themes for future GRRM stories, including skinchanging, Sneaky Pete’s, catastrophic long nights…
- The Glass Flower– a tale of how the drive for perfection creates mindlords and mental slavery.
- Run to Starlight– A tale of coexistence and morality set to a high stakes game of football.
- Remembering Melody– A ghost tale written by GRRM in 1981 that tells of long nights, bloodbaths, and pancakes.
- Fast-Friend transcribed and noted. Written in December 1973, this story is a precursor to skinchanging, Bran, Euron, Daenerys, and ways to scheme to reclaim lost love.
- The Steel Andal Invasion– A re-read of a partial section of The World of Ice and Fire text compared to the story …And Seven Times Never Kill Man. This has to do with both fire and ice Others in ASOIAF.
- A Song for Lya– A novella about a psi-link couple investigating a fiery ‘god’. Very much a trees vs fire motif, and one of GRRM’s best stories out there.
- For A Single Yesterday– A short story about learning from the past to rebuild the future.
- This Tower of Ashes– A story of how lost love, mother’s milk, and spiders don’t mix all too well.
- A Peripheral Affair (1973)– When a Terran scout ship on a routine patrol through the Periphery suddenly disappears, a battle-hungry admiral prepares to renew the border war.
- The Stone City– a have-not surviving while stranded on a corporate planet. Practically a GRRM autobiography in itself.
- Slide Show– a story of putting the stars before the children.
- Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark– rubies, fire, blood sacrifice, and Saagael- oh my!
- A Night at the Tarn House– a magical game of life and death played at an inn at a crossroads.
- Men of Greywater Station– Is it the trees, the fungus, or is the real danger humans?
- The Computer Cried Charge!– what are we fighting for and is it worth it?
- The Needle Men– the fiery hand wields itself again, only, why are we looking for men?
- Black and White and Red All Over– a partial take on a partial story.
- Fire & Blood excerpt; Alysanne in the north– not a full story, but transcribed and noted section of the book Fire & Blood, volume 1.
If you want to browse my own thoughts and speculations on the ASOIAF world using GRRM’s own work history, use the drop-down menu above for the most content, or click on the page that just shows recent posts -> Recent Posts Page.
Thank you for reading the jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire, by Gumbo!