By Charles Matthews

Thursday, November 17, 2011

21. A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 587-627

The Princess in the Tower

Arianne has been returned to Sunspear by Hotah, though Darkstar has escaped. She is kept in the Spear Tower, near the top, and although she is imprisoned, her surroundings are comfortable. She mourns the death of Arys and the mutilation of Myrcella's face, and wonders who had betrayed them.

She expects to be summoned by her father, but days, then weeks pass without hearing from Prince Doran. She asks one of her maids to smuggle a letter to Garin, and when she agrees, Arianne begins plotting to get messages to others who might help her. But when she gives the letter to her, the girl disappears and doesn't return. Her attempts to communicate with the others who wait on her fail.

Finally, so many days pass that she loses count of them. And then one morning she is awakened by Areo Hota, who tells her that Doran is ready to see her. She is taken to his solar, where he is sitting at a cyvasse table. He had ordered one put in her chambers, he says, and when she protests that she has no one to play the game with, he tells her that she should play it with herself: "Sometimes it is best to study a game before you attempt to play it." He is not really talking about cyvasse.

He asks why she did it, and she replies, "For the honor of our House," and chides him for his "meekness." She asks if he has caught Ser Gerold, and he tells her no. "You were a fool to make him part of this. Darkstar is the most dangerous man in Dorne. You and he have done us all harm." She asks, hesitantly about Myrcella, and is told that she is alive, "though Darkstar did his best.
"All eyes were on your white knight so no one seems quite certain just what happened, but it would appear that her horse shied away from his at the last instant, else he would have taken off the top of the girl's skull. As it is, the slash opened her cheek down to the bone and sliced off her right ear. Maester Caleotte was able to save her life, but no poultice nor potion will ever restore her face. She was my ward, Arianne. Betrothed to your own brother and under my protection. You have dishonored all of us." 
When she protests that it was the result of Hotah's interfering with her plot, he replies, "you would have crowned Myrcella queen, to raise a rebellion against her brother. Instead of an ear, she would have lost her life."  He explains to her the impossible odds against her plan's succeeding. He will not tell her who informed against her, and he tells her he could execute her friends for treason, though he won't. He has sent them all to various places instead.

"You and your cousins wanted war. You may get your wish. Another Kingsguard knight creeps toward Sunspear even as we speak. Ser Balon Swann is bringing me the Mountain's head." And when he gets there, he will of course want to see Myrcella and his sworn brother, Ser Arys. He could explain away Arys's death as an accident of some sort, but short of killing Myrcella there is no way to keep her from telling the truth. "No lie will save Dorne from the queen's wroth if her daughter should perish whilst in my care."

And then she argues with him about the succession, which she accuses him of trying to deprive her in favor of her brother Quentyn. She tells him she read his letter to Quentyn: "'One day you will sit where I sit and rule all Dorne,' you wrote him." He admits that he did plan for Quentyn to rule Dorne: "I had other plans for you." She bitterly lists the unsuitable marriages that had been proposed for her, including Gyles Rosby and Walder Frey. But he tells her he knew she would refuse them: "I dared not bring you any man you might accept. You were promised, Arianne."

She doesn't believe him, but he tells her that the secret was so great that he kept it even from her, for fear she would tell one of her friends. When she demands to know whom she has been betrothed to all these years, he says, "It makes no matter. He is dead." She assumes he must have been an old man, and asks what he died of. Doran replies, "It was a pot of molten gold."  He doesn't utter the name Viserys Targaryen.

He promises that she will succeed him. "Your brother Quentyn has a harder road to walk." She is fed up with his secrets, however, and says, "Tell me the rest, Father ... or else name Quentyn your heir and send for Hotah and his axe, and let me die beside my cousins." He replies that he has no intention of harming his brother's children: The older Sand Snakes, Obara, Nym, and Tyene are still in custody, but "lack for nothing but their freedom," and the younger ones are at the Water Gardens.

As for Quentyn, he has gone "on a long and perilous voyage, with an uncertain welcome at its end. He has gone to bring us back our heart's desire." And what is that, she asks.
"Vengeance." His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening. "Justice." Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers, and whispered,  "Fire and blood."
Something tells me Daenerys is going to be getting a lot of unexpected company before long.


It is moving day at the Eyrie, and Robert Arryn is determined not to go. He has thrown his chamber pot at Maester Colemon, so Sansa/Alayne is very carefully entering his room. If she can't persuade him to go, Ser Lothor Brune is going to have to carry him by force, which is likely to throw him into one of his fits. She tells him, "It's beautiful outside, Sweetrobin. The sun is shining bright, a perfect day for going down the mountain. The mules are waiting down at Sky with Mya."

But the mules are "smelly" and one of them tried to bite him once and he isn't going. "No one can hurt me so long as I stay here. The Eyrie is impregnable." She knows he's afraid, especially after his mother's fall, and the way down is "perilous enough to daunt anyone." But winter is coming and the Eyrie "would soon be inaccessible as well, and the way down grew more hazardous every day." Only a few servants remain, enough to get Lord Robert down safely.

She promises to tell him stories and give him lemon cakes when they have made the descent, but he demands, "a hundred lemon cakes and five tales!" She thinks, "I'd like to give you a hundred spankings and five slaps. You would not dare behave like this if Petyr were here." But she continues to sweet talk him into making the descent, and he agrees. While the servants are bathing and dressing him, she confers with Maester Colemon, who suggests that Robert could be drugged with milk of the poppy and lashed to the back of a mule. But she insists, "The Lord of the Eyrie cannot descend from his mountain tied up like a sack of barleycorn." Littlefinger, who has already made the descent and is on the other side of the Vale at a wedding, has warned her that "the full extent of Robert's frailty and cowardice" mustn't get widely known.

She tells Colemon to give Lord Robert a cup of sweetmilk to prevent his seizures, but the maester is reluctant: too many doses of sweetsleep apparently are harmful. Colemon also worries about the feast that is to be held at the end of the journey because Robert dislikes noise and strangers and music. She insists, however, "Music soothes him.... It's singing he can't abide, since Marillion killed his mother."

She goes to the winch room, where the huge buckets are being prepared to lower them the first six hundred feet down the mountain. Ser Lothor tells her that Lady Myranda Royce, Lord Nestor's daughter, will be accompanying them from Sky, the destination of the buckets. Alayne wonders why she would come so far up the mountain only to turn around and descend it. She has been warned by Littlefinger that Myranda is "shrewder than her father. Guard your tongue around her." But Robert likes Myranda, so that's a plus.

Mya Stone, who guides the mules, is also in the winch room, and she urges Alayne to hurry Robert up. "It's getting colder, can't you feel it? We need to get below Snow before the sun goes down.... If he bathes much longer, we'll be trapped up here all winter with nothing to eat but each other." Fortunately, he arrives shortly after that, though when Mya asks him to ride down with her, he says, "I want Alayne. You smell all stinky, like a mule."

As they are being lowered, "For a moment she found herself wondering how long it had taken her aunt to fall that distance, and what her last thought had been as the mountain rushed up to meet her." But she puts that out of her mind when the descending bucket bumps against the side of the mountain and Robert clings to her in fright.

Myranda is there to meet them, and she flatters Robert into a good mood. She asks Alayne how old she is, and Alayne tells her she is fourteen. "She had decided that Alayne Stone should be older than Sansa Stark." When Mya Stone arrives, she starts getting the mules ready for the single-file descent to the next level. It takes half an hour to get ready, and by the time they depart Robert is whining, "It's too cold. We should go back and wait till it's warmer."

While they can still ride side-by-side, Myranda gives Alayne the news: "Riverrun has yielded, but Dragonstone and Storm's End still hold for Lord Stannis." And there's a new High Septon, "and the Night's Watch has a boy commander, some bastard son of Eddard Stark's." Alayne blurts out, "Jon Snow?" but Myranda doesn't seem to take note of Alayne's surprise at hearing about the only brother she thinks she has left. And she reminds herself that Alayne Stone doesn't have any brothers, "baseborn or otherwise." Myranda is full of other gossip: She had been married, but her husband died while they were having sex, and she had once slept with Marillion. "Despite herself, Alayne found herself warming to the older girl. She had not had a friend to gossip with since poor Jeyne Poole."

They reach the most dangerous part of the passage, a narrow path, about a yard wide and eight yards long with a sheer drop on either side, and Robert begins to shake. They have to lead the mules across, and Mya goes first. But when she steps out onto the path, the wind lifts her cloak and she staggers for a moment until she gets her balance. So Alayne takes Robert's hand and tells him she's frightened and he must help her get across. The ruse works, though by the time they reach the other side, he has begun to shake and she has to hold him until he calms. Over the meal that awaits them, Myranda says, "So you're brave as well as beautiful."

Stone is the largest of the three waycastles on the descent, and snow has begun to fall by the time they leave it. Myranda suggests that they turn back and spend the night there, but Mya says they could get five feet of snow by then, so they should keep going. Fortunately, the last part of the journey is easier, and Robert falls asleep in the saddle.

When they get there, one of Littlefinger's guards tells her that her "father" has arrived and is waiting for her. She finds him drinking with three knights, who excuse themselves so she and Littlefinger can talk privately. She gives him a polite, daughterly kiss, but when they have gone, "He pulled her closer, caught her face between his hands, and kissed her for a long time." He tells her that Cersei is making a mess of things. "I always anticipated that she would beggar the realm and destroy herself, but I never expected she would do it quite so fast."

Then he tells her, "I have made a marriage contract for you." She protests that she is already married to Tyrion, but he says, "This is only a betrothal. The marriage must needs wait until Cersei is done and Sansa's safely widowed. And you must meet the boy and win his approval." She has been promised to Harrold Hardyng, one of Lady Waynwood's sons. Alayne is confused until Littlefinger lays out a complicated genealogy for her, the upshot of which is that Harrold Hardyng is the heir to Lord Robert Arryn. She says, "If Robert were to die...."
Petyr arched an eyebrow. "When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn's bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon ... and when they come together for his wedding, and you come in with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden's cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back ... why every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa ... Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That's worth another kiss now, don't you think?"

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