Friday, January 31, 2014

[Re-read] Davos IV: From Dungeon Rat to Lord Admiral Hand in Seven Easy Steps


Ah, Friday. Is there a better day in the week? Well, Saturday is an obvious candidate, but Friday is pretty great. That feeling of a weekend coming up. Everyone at work's a little happier. Friday is like a beautiful promise. Like fantasy! A promise of escape, of enjoyment. So Friday = Fantasyday. I loves it. 
Perfect day for another chapter of A Storm of Swords, especially since it's snowing heavily outside for the twenty-first day or so in a row. No seriously, we're snowed under here. Soon, people can just walk over the walls of my castle and take it. Hmm...could that happen in Westeros, I wonder? 

'Snowed Under' (c) FFG
Speaking of fantasy, I've (re)published a few of my latest flash- and short stories from SFFWorld to my collection at Words are Wind. I've apparently been on a roll as I won the last short story competition with my story The Heresiarch Aflame. I noticed I hadn't updated since June '13, but I've tried to write a short story or flash every month, mostly for fun - and now I've put them all up, good and bad. Shame I didn't realize I liked to write twenty years before, but I guess that's how it goes. Of course, not all the stories are good enough and I only win now and then, usually when I've sunk some extra thought and time in it. That's the great thing - participating nets you comments and constructive criticism from other participants. The other stories I've written lately and uploaded are Capsized, His Horned Liege, To Serve the Order, The Bournemouth Shades, Sidecar Sally, The Mad Lady Aryel, and Roland, Witnessing, which is the most recent submission and currently being voted for (or not) over at SFFWorld. A rather quirky story where I'm experimenting a little bit, but that's what I do with many of these small stories. I've toyed with high fantasy, horror, even let myself be inspired by Narnia in one of these. It's fun to make up stories! ...but writing them down is a bit of a hassle...

... because there's just so much fun to do and so little time. Granted, I should perhaps stay off the addictive computer games. They are the real time-sinks in my life once I get hooked on one game or the other. The last couple of months I've been immersed in Everquest 2 as noted before, and my enthusiasm hasn't waned yet (in fact, quite the opposite - it's a bit like Steven Erikson's books, you have to dig a little bit to find the gold but once you find it, you realize this is the good stuff). Now that I've found a guild with nice people I suspect I'll be continuing to game in the world of Norrath as I now have the means to traverse the more dangerous dungeons waiting to be looted mightily. I've also gone so old school it's older than an old school with the recently released Might & Magic X: Legacy. I've had it on Steam since the day it was for sale as a work-in-progress (what do they call this, pre-release something something?) and it lagged so much I haven't bothered. But somehow, automagically, when it was finally officially released, it ran smoothly and I could enjoy a foray into the lands of Oldschool, were you move tile-by-tile even when in town. Gameplay-wise it plays more old-school than Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven which I devoted a lot of hours to back in the mid/late nineties. But it's the kind of computer RPG I love. Dungeons, turn-based, monsters, a party of characters as portraits, healing potions and quests. I approve of this kind of entertainment and challenge. A third game I've sniffed at is an actual old school game, Realms of Arkana 2: Star Trail, also recently released on Steam. Haven't had a chance to properly get into it, and I probably never will, but you know. I still believe I'm somehow a young carefree man with too much time on my hands. Where did they go, those days when I had the time for seemingly endless dungeon crawls? 
Yup, that's me. Estellae. Note the Targaryen "ae". Talking to a frog at thirty-eight years. /facepalm

Hello, my name is Digression. How are you doing? I don't know. Me neither. Let's get back on track 'cause I'm really writing this post to share my thoughts on A Storm of Swords, Chapter 37: Davos IV. Admittedly Davos is one of the less interesting characters in my opinion, but he gets to experience a whole lot of interesting things anyway, so here we go and there you blow. Davos

Who is seaworthy!! A man you can trust! Man, how blunt can a last name be? Not that I've considered it before. But there it is. Davos Seaworth. Davos sounds like a Greek island, by the way. I don't know whether Greek islands can be trusted, or if that is indeed what George R.R. is trying to tell us. Could it be an hitherto undiscovered theme of deepest meaning in the saga? Okay, I'll shut up and go for it now. 

So, we left Davos in a dungeon the last time, where Lord Alester had just become his roommate. Which is kind of weird because wouldn't you put these guys in separate cells just to be sure? Makes for a less interesting scene, of course, I know that. They are hearing people approach in the darkness, Lord Alester is all hopeful that his captors have realized their mistake and have come to free him. It is Ser Axell Florent and four guardsmen who arrive outside the cell. Hopeful Alester wonders who sent for him, but grumpy Axell calls him a traitor and he's there for Davos. Now that's got to hurt for our Lord Alester. A solid bitch-slap right there. Davos fears he's being fetched only to be thrown on a pyre, a sacrifice to the Red God. Oh, religion, you. The interesting thing here is that Alester and Axell are brothers, and Axell treats Alester like a dog's droppings. Axell shows that he's been brainwashed by Melisandre, and for him there is only one god now, the Red God, Rh'llor. Did I tell you I am sick of spell-checking this god's name? And why does Rh'llor sound like a being more at home in Lovecraft's Chthulhu mythos? Could the Red God be a slumbering (or awakened, since his magic seems to work) monstrosity from outer space? They leave Alester whimpering and begging in the darkness, and Davos learns it is King Stannis who has sent for him, not Melisandre. That's good news. 

We get a nice description of the walk up the many stairs, and I believe Martin loves describing Dragonstone. It is an evocative location, and the way he can play with light and shadows and wind and weather here is nice. They end up on a stone bridge spanning a courtyard where the nightfires are burning, when Axell turns around and tells Davos that if he were in charge, he'd burn them both - Alester and Davos. This tells me something of just how fanatical Axell has become to Melisandre's cause, because you know, for good people to do bad things you need religion. Entirely subjective opinion, but it seems Martin is thinking along the same lines. I have no idea whether the author is an atheist or a devout something, though. Interestingly, Axell claims to be able to see in the flames just like Melisandre does, and he claims to have seen that Davos will betray King Stannis! Wow, I have never caught on to this little bit before. That's quite interesting, really. That line, "Stannis Baratheon will sit the Iron Throne", I believe they have given it to Melisandre in the TV show, but I feel like we will end up seeing Stannis in the Iron Throne, even if it's for just a few seconds before he is brutally murdered by someone. You know, it's the kind of prophecy that most likely will turn out true with a twist. It feels that way. What Axell is really after, though, is Davos' agreement to tell Stannis to make Axell the new Hand of the King (take his brother's place). Alester even promises him a new ship. We get a not-so-flattering description of the man, and it seems that by merely looking at him Davos doubts the man can keep such a promise. A short but intense little scene with a great backdrop (Dragonstone's courtyard below, the wind howling around the battlements, the threat that Axell could just shove Davos off the ledge) - and then we come to the Stone Drum and, within it, the Chamber of the Painted Table. 

Stannis sits behind it, wearing a grey wool tunic, a dark red mantle and a plain black leather belt - and he seems ten years older to Davos; in fact, Davos is shocked at his friend and king's appearance.He looks drained. All right, now I am not so sure Stannis will sit the Iron Throne. Isn't this just sublime foreshadowing of Stannis eventually becoming a wight in the army of the Others? (...) the bones moved beneath his skin like spears, fighting to cut free. Even his crown seemed to large for his head. His eyes were blue pits lost in deep hollows, and the shape of a skull could be seen beneath his face. That sounds like a wight! Will he sit the Iron Throne as an undead? Man, can this story go in many directions or what?! Davos is unsure of Stannis now, both exemplified through Stannis' changed looks, and the fact that Davos wonders if Stannis is now being controlled entirely by others; Davos wonders if Stannis actually knows he has been imprisoned (the TV show made it pretty clear, though). But Stannis seems to be much less hostile than what Davos seemed to expect on his way here; Stannis calls him friend, tells him he has missed him, and that he needs his good counsel. Stannis asks Davos what the penalty for treason is. Davos becomes even more insecure - is Stannis talking about Davos, or someone else? 

"Death," Davos finally replies, as if Stannis doesn't know; and Stannis gives us a list of traitors who paid the price, which, fascinatingly enough, includes Rhaenyra Targaryen of recent The Princess and the Queen fame. Stannis tells him we're talking about law, and not cruelty, when discussing the death penalty. That is just so Stannis Baratheon. In a sense, you could argue that Martin is telling us that even though the man's changed, his core remains the same. Or I am reading too much into this sequence. Your pick.
Stannis isn't talking about Davos, but Alester, still down in the dungeon. Stannis goes off on a rant and we get some more historical background. Has someone pieced it all together into one continuing text of lore? That Randyll Tarly, for example, he's really been living the (brutal, medieval) life. He's often talked about, at any rate. Then, Stannis tells Davos how Axell wants to resumre the war, and gives us a list of reasons why not to do so - in essence, an update on the situation for Team Stannis. 

Axell Florent, (c) FFG
So much detail! Axell explains his plan to Davos. Simple enough, but at the same time we learn how one Lord Belgrave had to wash a beggar's feet at the command of King Baelor the Blessed; there's the curious note that the Celtigars own a horn that can summon monsters from the deep (krakens - and, could the Drowned God be a giantific kraken? Or at least something big with tentacles that would match the Red God's lovecraftian visage - if he is indeed such a mythic creature)?
Stannis needs to hear from Davos what he thinks of Axell's plan. Invade House Celtigar's ancestral island, loot it for what it's worth (and use some of it as payment to keep Salladhor Saan happy), that is. And Davos, ever the most honest man to replace Lord Eddard Stark in the story, tells it true: the plan is stupid. Makes Axell almost go up in flames. Davos, much wiser than Axell, tells them that it makes no sense to attack House Celtigar, for there are no true enemies there. No Lannisters. It would be disastrous, for so many people of Claw Isle did die for Stannis' cause on the Blackwater - attacking them now, even if their lord has sworn fealty to someone else, would be a very stupid decision, politically. Kind of a wonder Stannis needs Davos to figure this out, but there you go. 

The conversation that follows is interesting and realistic, and the tension lies in how honest Davos can be before someone gets angry enough to cut his throat. And indeed, soon enough Axell has a blade out, ready to draw blood. Fortunately, Davos manages to stay alive by giving Stannis some food for thought. Did Stannis himself remain utterly loyal to King Aerys when his brother Robert rebelled? No. And that's just a fantastic slap in the face for Stannis Baratheon, rigid - there was a time when he was more flexible. And now he should be flexible when it comes to House Celtigar. Lord Celtigar may be a traitor, all his people on Claw Isle had no choice but to either follow his lead, or die. Lovely bit.

Stannis admits the truth can be a bitter draught, tells Axell off and calls for Melisandre. Stannis tells Davos how hard it was to choose between brother and liege. And it's one of those few moments were we get a glimpse of the man inside the shell. And we learn that Stannis doesn't really want the Iron Throne (there's also the curious fact that the throne seems to have a will of its own, cutting those it deems unworthy - at first I thought, mmmm, could it be magical or something but then I realized that Joffrey should be cut to ribbons a long time ago so it is probably just a tale that grew in the telling, so to speak). Nope, Stannis is all about the law and the throne is his by rights. He would fight just as hard to secure it for, say, Renly, if by law Renly should sit the throne. He is a man of duty. He owes it to his daughter. His reasons are crystal clear, really, just hard to imagine a man being so...rigid. Small line of particular interest in there - Ser Barristan once told me that the rot in King's Landing began with Varys. Stannis thinks that Jaime should have been sent to the Wall (if you read the theories on Jaime ending up at the Wall fighting the Others, then this line could be seen as foreshadowing of the vague kind); and then, abruptly, Stannis asks Davos, "Why did you wish to murder Melisandre?" 

See, in lots of cases it helps to actually talk about things instead of going all violent. Just ask, and maybe you can figure out a way to solve a conflict without the need for blood. So, good for you, Stan. You could've asked right away, too, saving Davos days in the dungeon among rats and piss and rat's piss. And Alester. Again, Davos is honest: he wants revenge for the death of four sons, whom he thinks she gave to the flames in sacrifice. Stannis tells him she had no part in it; it was the Imp's doing. Davos tries a different tack; she slew Cressen and Ser Cortnay Penrose and Renly, Stannis' brother - and Stannis says, no, no, she was with him when Renly died. This irks me - does not Stannis always come off as honest and truthful, harsh as he may be? Yet here he clearly lies, because he knows that they gave birth to a shadow baby and it was sent off to kill Renly. Has she cast a spell (a glamor as we later know she calls it) on Stannis? Is he conveniently forgetting the implications here? Anyway, Stannis surprises Davos when he says it is Melisandre herself who wished Davos to be spared from the fire Axell wanted for him. But why? 

The chapter kind of skips to a new topic when Stannis brings up Robert's bastard son (one of them at any rate) Edric Storm and how he's sick and how Stannis thinks that neither Robert nor Renly ever took good care of him, but the point seems to be that Melisandre claims there is "power in a king's blood", and this suggests that they are thinking of sacrificing Edric for the 'greater good'. It's a little bit confusing (but probably realistic) how their talk flows from one topic to the next, but eventually it culminates with Stannis agreeing with Davos that there is no point in destroying House Celtigar - Stannis sees that every man must answer for his own actions (which I suppose is important to remember for later). And then, just like that, Stannis makes Davos his new Hand of the King (Axell's gonna love that one) - Martin against makes a point of telling us that Stannis' sword, Lightbringer, is a fake. All Stannis wants is loyalty, honesty, and service - and for that, Stannis wisely sees, no man is better suited than the once-smuggler of onions, the Seaworth. Stannis goes through the list of other candidates, finding no one good enough for the job. I'm mentioning this because Stannis says that "the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother..." and that could be another seed for the story to come - will Daenerys pick up the new Sunglass on her way to Westeros, a man intent on avenging his brother? If yes, Martin can safely point back to this chapter and say, "See? I already prepared you for this character." Or, the books being dense enough already, he could skip it and no one would complain. 

Melisandre enters and I love how we only hear her first - a woman's voice "rich with the accents of the east"
(or the Netherlands, according to the TV series) - and she speaks of the 'great battle', the mother of all battles, for a powerful evil is gathering its forces (Sauron?!) and soon comes the night that never ends. Stannis now reveals that he too sees things in the fires, but the way it is written it could be argued that maybe Melisandre is casting spells (sorry glamors) that trick Stannis into believing he is seeing stuff. It's still a bit muddled at this point. And I like it that way.
So what did he see? He saw the Fist of the First Men, didn't he, and the dead come to attack the Night's Watch. Melisandre explains that the great battle has already begun, the Other on one side, Rh'llor on the other. Turns out Melisandre wants Edric to conjure more powerful visions, but Stannis won't have it. That's good news. For Edric Storm. I love how Stannis says, "I'll hear no more of this. The dragons are done," can't wait to "see" the look on his face when they show up. 

She throws a few fat leeches in the fire of a brazier (apparently she's been draining Edric Storm, which, dear Stannis, could explain why the boy's a bit out of it!) and then Stannis says three names: Joffrey Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, and Robb Stark. Robb the last of course, because that's the one we're the most invested in. I am not sure I got the importance of this chapter-ending bit the first time around. There is no text here explaining what is going on. Still, Martin creates a somewhat gloomy and ominous atmosphere that makes me go "Okay, this is probably bad for those three in some way..." Stannis does tell her that she has to be content with those leeches, I realize that, but still... 

...all in all a nice chapter to read through again, with some small details here and there to file away for the future. I love how the chapter is almost exclusively talkety talk and yet it is atmospheric and interesting. If you caught on to that last bit on your first read and thought "Oh, wow, those three are so dead", I applaud you for your clarity of mind and acuteness of perception. 

Next up - an awkward bath tub scene, and more!

Oh, and happy birthday, my first-born son :-) 

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