A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows, Part 9

Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Today’s entry is Part 9 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 13 (“The Soiled Knight”).

Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.

And now, the post!

A couple of notes before we begin: As some of you may know, JordanCon 6 is approaching, and as usual I will be there to fulfill my Other Blog duties. Therefore, there will be no ROIAF post on April 10th, and depending on what happens I’m reserving the right to take off the following Thursday, April 17th, as well. I will keep you posted.

Secondly and very awesomely, The Powers That Be have informed me that my ROIAF post last Thursday marks my 500th post overall on Tor.com.

DUDE. I am still a little bit in amazement over that. Go me!

And also, go onward!

Chapter 13: The Soiled Knight

What Happens
Ser Arys Oakheart rides through Sunspear, ashamed that he is wearing Dornish garb instead of his Kingsguard cloak, but knows to wear it would be to invite attack, especially now that the people have been inflamed by Oberyn’s death and the detainment of the Sand Snakes. He tells himself that “she” will respect the need for subterfuge, and reflects that love makes men fools. He is uneasy about leaving Myrcella alone, but tells himself she is heavily guarded, and enjoying playing games with her betrothed Prince Trystane.

He reminds himself that Prince Doran had promised they would be gone in a fortnight, taken to the Water Gardens for their protection, though he had been shocked to realize how ill and frightened Doran was. He also is wary of the fact that Doran had urged him not to disclose to King’s Landing just where they were going, arguing that the fewer people who know where Myrcella is, the safer she will be, but Arys had reluctantly agreed.

He reaches the place he had been directed to, and though he had intended to tell Princess Arianne Martell that he could not see her anymore, she greets him naked, and overcome with desire, he has sex with her instead. Afterwards he is filled with guilt, and tries to tell her he must do his duty and go. Arianne assures him that her father Doran will take forever to actually leave for the Water Gardens. Arys confesses that he is drunk with love for her, and fears for both their honor. Arianne isn’t worried, and entices him to come back to bed, but Arys says if they are discovered he will be named an oathbreaker.

She points out he’s claimed before that this is their last time together, and Arys thinks to himself that it is because he’s weak. She tells him that if he truly loves her, he wouldn’t want to leave her. He protests that he swore a vow, and she replies that surely he is not the only knight in the Kingsguard to break that particular vow. Arys knows this is true, but points out that those who were discovered came to bad ends. He is startled, though, at Arianne’s claim that her great-uncle Prince Lewyn, who is revered as a great knight, had had a lover while in the Kingsguard.

“My uncle always said that it was the sword in a man’s hand that determined his worth, not the one between his legs,” she went on, “so spare me all your pious talk of soiled cloaks. It is not our love that has dishonored you, it is the monsters you have served and the brutes you’ve called your brothers.”

Arys thinks of Joffrey, and is ashamed of when he struck Sansa Stark at his command, but points out that Tommen is king now. Arianne counters that Tommen may not be his brother, but he is not his sister either, and Arys admits to himself how much stronger and braver a person Myrcella is than Tommen. He thinks of Cersei and his own mother and the Queen of Thorns and Arianne herself, and reflects that “women are the strong ones, truly,” but tells Arianne that a son comes before a daughter. Arianne rejects this roundly, pointing out that she is her father’s heir, but Arys insists that Dorne is different.

Arianne counters that the first Viserys intended his daughter Rhaenyra to succeed him, but the Lord Commander of his Kingsguard decided it would be Prince Aegon instead. Arys thinks of the story of Ser Criston Cole the Kingmaker, and how he had set the Targaryen siblings against each other, touching off the civil war called Dance of the Dragons. Arianne suggests that perhaps Arys is here to set right what his brother white knight set wrong.

She tells Arys that Doran’s real motive for taking Myrcella to the Water Gardens is to prevent her being crowned, because he is a coward, and says if Arys truly loved Myrcella as a daughter he would not allow her to be deprived of her birthright and imprisoned, but defend her right to the crown. She argues that Myrcella will rule far better than Tommen, and will let no harm come to her brother either. Arys wavers, and Arianne presses her suit, saying that Myrcella would surely give Arys and herself leave to marry.

He is torn, and realizes she is trembling, and she says she needs him desperately, that she is afraid of her father’s guards, who have already imprisoned her cousins and she fears to be next, along with Myrcella. Arys protests that she is her father’s heir, but she says it is her brother Quentyn who Doran really wants to succeed him, that she had found a letter as a child proving it. Arys thinks that he would want his son to succeed him as well, but knows he cannot say this to her.

He suggests that she misunderstood the letter, but Arianne tells him Quentyn is even now across the narrow sea, posing as a merchant. She thinks it is to do with the Golden Company breaking its contract with Myr even though Myr is on the brink of war with Lys and Tyrosh. She thinks Quentyn’s foster father, Lord Anders Yronwood, is encouraging Quentyn to believe that he should have the throne after Doran, not Arianne. So, she says, Arys has two princesses who have a common cause, and yet he will not defend them. Arys goes down on one knee and pledges to defend her honor and birthright as well as Myrcella’s.

“I am yours. What would you have of me?”

“All.” She knelt to kiss his lips. “All, my love, my true love, my sweet love, and forever. But first…”

“Ask, and it is yours.”

“…Myrcella.”

Commentary
So, before even beginning this chapter, I amused myself for a few minutes by trying to guess who the title referred to, and was stymied by trying to figure out which knight in ASOIAF wasn’t soiled, at least a little. Not counting Dunk, of course, who is not only unsoiled (as of “The Sworn Sword,” anyway) but also decades (centuries?) dead.

I mean, Jaime, Barristan – hell, every last one of the current Kingsguard – either of the Cleganes (though Gregor probably wouldn’t see it that way), Jorah, Beric… the list goes on of knights whose records are less than stellar.

So, um… we haven’t seen anything of Dany yet, so I’m going with Jorah. Let’s see if I’m right!

…Aaaand I’m totally wrong. Dangit.

In other news: Daammnn, y’all. Arianne Martell just played Arys Oakheart like a fiddle. That was straight-up masterful, right there.

I don’t know whether I am awed or appalled. Probably both. She even managed to dance him past his crippling case of cultural patriarchy, which is probably more impressive than all the rest of it put together. Lawyers and con artists everywhere just got all hot and bothered and they don’t even know why.

Of course, the question is what her actual motives are, and how much of what she’s fed Arys is bullshit and how much isn’t. No way to tell at this point, for instance, whether she is totally just using Arys for his access to Myrcella, or whether she genuinely has feelings for him. I tend to think the former, but even if she does care for him there’s no doubt she’s also using him for his access to Myrcella.

But what does she actually want with Myrcella? Does she want what she told Arys, to crown Myrcella queen of the Seven Kingdoms while also securing her own power in Dorne, or is there something else going on? The answer to that, I think, lies in whether her story about her brother Quentyn (which, hi there new character totally coming out of the woodwork) is real or bogus, and whether he is any actual threat to Arianne’s succession.

I… can’t decide what I think about that. It all played just a little too neatly into Arys’s cultural prejudices for me to not be suspicious of it, plus I don’t remember that we had any hint of such a thing from when we were in Doran’s head earlier. But then again, it’s an awfully specific and elaborate conspiracy theory. Perhaps too much so to be made up from whole cloth?

*shrug* Dunno. But one thing’s for sure, Arianne needs “protection” from Arys about as much as a giraffe needs a stepladder. She may not technically be one of the Sand Snakes, but if Doran had really wanted to cover his bases re: scary and badass female relatives who are totally going to start shit between Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms, methinks he missed one.

Arianne’s pitch to Arys in general conflicts me quite a bit. On the one hand, it will shock precisely no one that I am all in favor of ending the Seven Kingdoms’ version of Salic law and allowing either male or female offspring to succeed to the throne. (Side note: as far as I can tell the absolute Salic bar to female inheritance applies only to the Iron Throne; in most other cases it seems that male-preference primogeniture applies, which allows women to inherit if all possible male heirs are dead. Which is still sucky but not quite as sucky. I could be wrong about that though. About the primogeniture thing, I mean, not the sucky thing. Because the suckiness thing is not in question. You know, in case that was unclear – You know what, I’m gonna move on.)

My POINT is, a lot of the things Arianne is arguing for here are things that, in principle, I am totally in favor of, because yay progressive gender roles, etc. (Her story about the first king Viserys and his daughter was very interesting, and a rather sad Might-Have-Been to boot.) And yet, at the same time, she is augmenting her case by using tactics that are so regressive (and squicky) that I want to cringe. Because she’s sitting there espousing gender equality, while simultaneously embodying some of the most stereotypical scheming, devious, using-her-feminine-wiles-to-manipulate-hapless-male-libidos femme fatale tropes in the book.

And in a way it’s even more offensive that Arianne should use these tactics than most of the other female characters in the series, because it’s one thing when “feminine wiles” is the only power a character has at her disposal to protect herself, but rather another thing when that character has power and agency in her own right.

But then again, it’s worth remembering that just because Dorne has greater gender equality than the rest of Westeros, (a) it’s not like that’s a very high bar to clear, and ergo that (b) that doesn’t mean everything in Dorne is all puppies and rainbows between the sexes, just that it evidently doesn’t suck quite as much as everywhere else.

There’s also the point that it might actually be a double standard to condemn Arianne for pulling out all the stops on Arys to get what she needs/wants, when we might not necessarily feel the same about (or at least be less likely to immediately demonize) a male character employing dubious emotionally manipulative means to achieve his ends. Caveat emptor, and alla that.

It is also, quite possibly, evidence of unconscious sexism on my part that I immediately assumed that Arianne was being less than ingenuous here. I don’t think I am, because there were just a few too many clues in the chapter that indicated otherwise, but it is a possibility and so I acknowledge it.

All that said, one can hardly help feeling bad for Arys either way, an emotion which I suspect is at least partially helped along by the fact that it’s been so long since I read about him that I’ve mostly forgotten about the many shitty things I feel sure he did while in King’s Landing (besides hitting Sansa, of course, which he specifically mentions in this chapter, and at least has the decency to feel bad about). So, perhaps undeservedly, I feel bad for him, and for his stupid constipated cultural conditioning and taboos that turns sex (and actual strong women) into a weapon against which he has no defense or even frame of reference, barely.

I suppose the best you can do is hope that Arianne’s affection for him is not totally counterfeit, and also that she doesn’t intend any harm to Myrcella. I’m not really holding my breath here, honestly, but it’s nice to hope.

Speaking of Myrcella, ain’t it a shame. The one character who looks like she’s actually enjoying her involuntary betrothal-slash-exile, hanging out and playing games with her fiancé and all, and it’s about to go completely pear-shaped on her. Not that I’m shocked about that or anything, but that doesn’t make it any less sad-making on her behalf.

I can’t quite figure out whether I want Myrcella to get crowned or not. Purely in principle, perhaps, but going by the track record so far, getting crowned in this series has the survival rate equivalent of whitewater rafting without an actual raft: even if you do make it past the rapids, you ain’t gonna look pretty when you arrive. And that’s not an experience I would wish on any ten-year-old who isn’t Joffrey.

Other notes:

Do I remember the Golden Company, or that a new thing we’ll get introduced to whenever we get back to Dany’s storyline? There’s been so many shifting political shenanigans going on around her war, many of them seemingly involving mercenaries and/or slave soldiers, that I’m having trouble keeping track. (Note that I do not actually want an answer to this question; I’ll figure it out when I get there.)

There’s also the thought that while Quentyn is a new character to me in real name, judging from Arianne’s remarks about his undercover work overseas, I assume there’s a possibility that I have already met him in disguise. Something to keep in mind.


But that’s for next time, Gadget, next time! Have a delineated chunk of time, and I’ll see you next Thursday!

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