Sunday, April 12, 2015

[Re-read] Captain Wheelchair Returns!

JEEBUS. Martin has given us another novella! Love the irony: A blog post about hate speech with his most hateful-looking icon attached. Ka-ching. Anyway. I'm back to finish up "The Captain of the Guards", a chapter early in A Feast with Dragons, my combined re-read of the two last books in the series that are actually published.

Where's the white hair? Or, uhm, any hair?
In an effort to rival Martin's more inspired creations like Captain Cosmos I have changed Areo's name to Captain Wheelchair, which is more fitting than "of the Guards" anyway because I don't think I've ever seen him actually dealing with guards. A new hero for a new age. And now we are going to see what other exciting adventures Areo experiences in his chapter. I can't stop imagining how much more interesting it would be to be inside Myrcella's head in this chapter; there's so much more material to work with in terms of characterization. Does she miss her mother? Has she heard the rumors about who her true father is, and how does she feel about it? Does she grieve Robert Baratheon? How is she dealing with life as a political hostage (that's not far off the mark, am I right?) in a kingdom that is radically different from King's Landing? Instead we get this big fellow from Norvos whose personality doesn't really leap off the page to grab you by the {insert your favorite body part}. Oh well. I can deal with it. Just feel like a missed opportunity. "But Myrcella is in Sunspear!" you might say, but I don't see how difficult it would be to have Myrcella present at the Water Gardens, if Martin was dead set on having the first part of the chapter take place here. Right. Back to the chapter.

So, Martin wanted to show us the Water Gardens but now we've been there enough and are shifting to the journey back to Sunspear. I actually like that the prince has this retreat away from his capital, it adds depth to the setting; after all, many noble lords of old had mansions and estates removed from their offices. Doran had spoken of leaving immediately upon the morning, but knowing the old man, Areo expects that their departure will be delayed. Doran is kind of like that company with the cheapest flights. So while Caleotte (do I ever spell it right, I wonder) bathes and bandages up the swollen joints of the prince, Areo dons his copper scale shirt, and a cloak of dun-and-yellow sandsilk. What's sandsilk? Is it real or something Martin made up? Well, there is something called sand-washed silk.

The day promises to be hot (I do have the impressions most Dornish dawns carry that promise), so his old Norvosi clothes have long ago been discarded in favor of orange silk. Martin really does make a point out of showing how Doran has time for everything. It's a risky move in a novel that's already brimming with slow-moving story-lines; coming from Storm into Feast is like running for your life into a sinkhole. So we first need to hear how the prince eats breakfast and of course a little detail about just what that breakfast includes: a blood orange, diced gull's eggs, ham, and fiery peppers. Does it add to the texture of Dorne? Yes, yes it does. Is it interesting? Not sure. And, of course, the prince must say farewell to his special favorite children; a Dalt boy and a round-faced orphan girl. At midday, they finally get going, the maester on a donkey, the rest on foot (and Doran in his litter). With the axe on his shoulder, Areo walks next to the litter. You'd think the Captain of the Guards would ride a horse. The road runs beside the sea.

Halfway to Sunspear, they are caught up by a second Sand Snake - a second bastard daughter of Oberyn Martell, that is - and thus, another relative of Prince Doran  - this time, Nymeria Sand, named after the legendary Nymeria who landed on the Dornish coast a fricking long time ago. Also, she shares her name with Arya's direwolf. What, you wonder, Arya doesn't have a direwolf, she's this lonely rampant murderer ... oh, wait, yeah, she did have a direwolf. And Martin has all but promised Nymeria's return. I believe it was in some interview he said that he wouldn't leave Nymeria (the direwolf) dangling. That's cool. I know she's been prowling the Riverlands, and it was most likely Nymeria who dragged Catelyn's body out of the river, but I would love to see Arya and Nymeria reunite. Hail to this reunion.

Nymeria Sand is graceful, a good rider, twenty-five, slender, straight black hair, long braid, widow's peak, dark eyes, high cheekbones,... man it goes on. Martin does seem to enjoy describing cool femme fatales, but poor Areo? He's big and has white hair. She slows her horse to ride beside the litter on the other side of Areo, and when she speaks she sings out, which sounds awkward and Disney-like to me. Doran tells her he is glad that she wants to ride along the rest of the way, but Areo notes he doesn't sound glad about it. Does this mean that Doran isn't that great a player of the game, after all? Can't even hide his emotions? You see, I don't feel that his plans seem that brilliant at all, especially compared to the genius of, say, Littlefinger. As we'll see later in the story his plans seem to fail - unless we don't know his true endgame. Anyway, that's still ahead, like Sunspear.

Basically, Nymeria comes trotting with the same intentions as her sister Obara. She speaks of vengeance, and wonders if it is true that Gregor admitted to slaying Elia and her children; the prince tells her the giant had roared it for all the court to hear, and that Tywin has promised Dorne the knight's head for it. Nymeria knows that Tywin will probably hold to that promise as she knows that Lannister always pays his debts, but she also reveals that her father "tickled that monster more than once", which is another hint leading to the conclusion that Oberyn's spear was poisoned (there were some hints in Storm as well). Doran tells her Obara wants to go to war, and Nym laughs.

She says that she was "abed with the Fowler twins" when she heard of her father's death, which shows us that Nymeria isn't exactly shy about what she's doing, tells us she is sexually free (a contrast to the way women are treated in the rest of Westeros). She says that Fowler's words are "Let me soar!" and that's what she wants to do - to soar. All she needs is her sister Tyene; together, Nymeria suggests, they could infiltrate King's Landing and take the lives of Jaime, Cersei, Tommen, and Tywin. Doran objects that "the boy" (Tommen) never has harmed them (showing us that he has morals), but Nymeria thinks of him as born of treason and incest (which is true) and that is enough to assassinate him. Again, Doran has to explain that Oberyn died during a trial by combat; a lawful death. He reveals that Oberyn "went beyond anything I asked of him" - Oberyn was supposed to only measure the Lannisters, their strengths and weaknesses, basically scouting enemy territory and then Doran would devise a plan for their vengeance. Again, showing us that the man thinks strategy in long terms (which nicely sets up the scene where Doran reveals to his daughter precisely what he has in mind). Nymeria is as impatient as Obara, then. All right. She gets angry (again, as hot-tempered as the father) and leaves.

The prince closes his eyes; Areo thinks he's in pain, I think Doran's mind is just racing with plans and thoughts and what to do with these impatient war-mongering nieces of his.

And finally they arrive at Sunspear, at dusk. We get a vivid description of how you see Sunspear as you approach from the road from the west, and it is a contrast to the serene and lush Water Gardens. Here, everything is dry and rough (smoke, dust, sweat, mud), and the vivid colors from before are replaced with brown and dun. We learn Sunspear is the ancient stronghold of the Martells (as suspected, of course, but first confirmed here).

As the litter passes through town, people shout, and Areo thinks that the Sand Snakes have riled them up. The crowd becomes bigger, and he has to shout for them to make way for Prince Doran. "To spears!" they shout, "Vengeance for the Viper!"

Doran stays inside the litter, cloaked by silken walls until the castle swallows his entourage, and they arrive in the outer ward. Here, Princess Arianne, Doran's daughter, awaits them with Ricasso (he's the seneschal), Ser Manfrey Martell, the castellan, Maester Myles, Dornish knights, little Myrcella Baratheon, her septa, and Ser Arys of the Kingsguard. Areo thinks of Arianne as "a little thing", suggesting he doesn't know too much about her (he does notice how she has a woman's body, though). Arianne calls out to her father that Sunspear rejoices at his return; Doran's reply suggests he is well aware that his people yearn for revenge; it also shows us how Oberyn must have been a very popular man in Sunspear, more than gout-ridden, hidden Doran. Hotah helps him out of the litter, which is painful to him. Arianne tells him they are going to dine on his favorite food that night. He wonders where Tyene is; Arianne explains that she awaits in the throne room for a private word. It's a bit fairy-tale like, innit? With the three sisters. Kind of matches the opening where there's talk of little princesses and white knights. In the throne room, Tyene sits cross-legged on a pillow beneath the high seats, rising when Doran enters. She looks as innocent as the maid herself, and we all know that she'll be quite the opposite of course, but right now she's embroidering (with two needles in fact, that's not how embroidery works is it); her hair is golden, her eyes are blue but still remind Areo of the Red Viper's eyes. Doran is helped into his high seat before hearing out Tyene. I guess we can expect what she wants to say. Something about vengeance on the Lannisters, maybe. She shows the emrbroidery, depicting her father mounted on a horse all armored in red and smiling. When she is done with it, she is giving it to Doran to help "remember him", as if the man needs help remembering his own brother. The hint, of course, from Tyene, is that people begin to wonder if he really cares about his brother's death at all. Another hint that Oberyn was poisoned as Tyene pretty much spells it out for us.

Tyene, too, wants to go to war, but her suggestions is to strengthen Dorne's border defenses and slaughter any Tyrell or Lannister coming down their passes. Tyene suggests crowning Myrcella Queen of Dorne, which will force the Lannisters to come down to fight. The man she suggests to be Myrcella's groom is Trystane, another Martell we know little about as of now. Doran, however, doesn't think of Trystane as the lawful heir (there is another - but clearly Tyene doesn't think of Trystane's older brother as fit for kingship; we'll meet him soon enough too; or does Doran think of Arianne as the first in line? I'm confused). Doran agrees to think on it, but we all suspect (I suppose) that he's already thought about it and made plans. That's how Doran comes off the page, I think. "You think too much," Tyene tells him, and that's precisely the point that drives a wedge between him and, well, the rest of Dorne, and especially the Sand Snakes who act more rashly, seem more impulsive. Like Oberyn, when he decided to stand champion for Tyrion Lannister. She accuses Doran of being fearful, Doran explains that there is a difference between fear and caution.

After this, Caleotte hurries to the prince and offers him milk of the poppy - it's been a long and painful day for the prince, what with the bumping of the litter and the harassing Sand Snakes. And, much to my surprise, we finally get a mention of the guards. Doran asks Areo how loyal his guards are, and Areo replies that they are loyal. It does feel as if Areo isn't entirely sure how loyal they are; he has to promise Doran he'll behead any of them who refuse his orders. Probably there are quite a few who agree with the Sand Snakes. Following this, Doran orders Areo to capture the three Sand Snakes and confine them, quitely and without attracting attention (this is why he asked about the loyality of his guards; they might side with Nym, Tyene, and Obara); his heart sinking at the prospect, Areo nevertheless will do the deed for his prince. In his head, he thinks that "his princess will mislike this." Finally he asks about a fourth Sand Snake, one Sarella, and we learn that she is not in Dorne; and she is playing a (these hint at Arellas being Sarella, though we haven't yet learned that Doran knows she is in Oldtown, specifically); "All Dorne will howl" when the people learn of this, Doran admits, but he wants it done, in the hope that Tywin Lannister then "might know what a loyal friend he has in Sunspear".

This tells us that Doran is playing an entirely different game than the Sand Snakes, and it is, I admit, quite interesting all though it takes Martin a while to get to the point in this chapter. It's not exactly a riveting chapter, but I like it for its use of colors and contrasts; its a moody piece compared to what has come before, and is different in many ways. Martin has thrown us another small host of new characters, and I can only wonder at what Sarella's game is, why she goes about pretending to be a man, and all that. Most likely she's trying to find some valuable information at Oldtown, but for whom? It seems from the text that it isn't Doran who drives her, but her own motivations.

Right! Another chapter done. I promise I'll try to be more frequent than one re-read a month, but it's been incredibly busy of late, and I'm not sure it ends just yet. Today is the day, though, for Game of Thrones' return to the TV screen, and I am excited to see how they adapt, among other things, this very chapter. Look for a review of the episode on one of the coming days.


  1. And the twins Nymeria was abed with are female.

  2. Sarella seems to actually be a sane scholar, what with earning 3 links in a year- which makes sense, her mom is from the Summer Isles, the sanest place on Planetos.