Warning: This analysis assumes that one of ASOIAF’s main themes is the instability and inscrutability of identity and the difficulty of recognition. I’ve written about this HERE. Have a look if you dislike the idea of “secret identities” in ASOIAF beyond those that are already “obvious”.
Welcome to my Secret History of House Martell series: a wholesale revision and expansion of my nutty ideas regarding all things Nymeros-Martell.
In the first “chapter” of the series, I’ll argue for the following propositions (which I acknowledge will at first blush strike many folks as outlandish, clearly absurd, batshit crazy, and/or surely devoid of any textual support):
- Quiet Isle’s Elder Brother is now in the Vale in the guise of Ser Morgarth the Merry, a hedge knight hired by (an unwitting) Littlefinger. He is likely seeking Sansa Stark in concert with “Ser Shadrich” and “Ser Byron the Beautiful” (who are also not what they seem, although that will not be argued here).
- The man known as both Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth is in fact Prince Lewyn Martell of Dorne, who is “dead” in the same sense Sandor Clegane is “dead”.
- Elder Brother/Ser Morgarth the Merry/Prince Lewyn Martell has an older brother: Archmaester Marywn “The Mage”. They are both the younger brothers of the nameless former ruling Princess of Dorne, who birthed Doran, Elia, and Oberyn. Marwyn is thus the great-uncle of Sarella Sand AKA Alleras the Sphinx.
- Obara Sand is almost certainly not Oberyn’s daughter but Marwyn’s.
- Oberyn’s daughter Tyene Sand is already in King’s Landing in the guise of the pock-marked, storky novice appearing in ADWD’s Epilogue.
These hypotheses and the evidence for them are highly interdependent, so it might not be until I’m talking about Marwyn being Obara’s daddy or about Tyene-the-stork-novice that the evidence coalesces and dovetails such that the earlier hypotheses start to feel grounded.
The Oberyn/Salty Dornish Obfuscation
The arguments I’ll be making will be easier to swallow if you provisionally grant as a possibility a couple additional, interrelated hypotheses:
- First, Oberyn Martell and his daughters (save for Obara, who I’ll argue isn’t his daughter) are in several important ways not physically typical Martells, notwithstanding the fact that Oberyn possesses traits that are typical of the “lithe and dark” salty Dornishmen in general. (SOS Ty V)
- Second, members of House Martell aren’t always obviously “salty Dornish” in appearance. Specifically, they are sometimes physically large and not dramatically “swarthy”.
It’s my belief that Oberyn’s physically-attractive, graceful, tall, long-legged, slender-handed, smooth-skinned, sharp-nosed, big-and-wet-and-dark-eyed physicality and the similar looks of his known daughters (minus Obara, who isn’t his) are largely related to his paternity and are not indicative of what Martells—including the men of his Martell mother’s generation—look like. (I’ll talk about Oberyn’s paternity in the next chapter of my Secret History of House Martell.)
I submit that Oberyn’s early introduction is a masterstroke of obfuscation: after coming to identify him as the face of House Martell, how many readers would even consider that ugly, thickly-built, ham-handed, heavy-jawed, big-and-square headed, hirsute men like Elder Brother, Ser Morgarth and Marwyn the Mage might be his Martell uncles?
We’re misled not just by Oberyn being the first and only Martell we meet until AFFC, but also by what we’re told at that time about the Dornish in general. We meet Oberyn when the Dornish come to King’s Landing. As they arrive, Tyrion tells us the “stony Dornishmen” of the mountains are the “biggest” Dornishmen, “sons of the Andals and the First Men”, whereas the “salty Dornishmen”—who “lived along the coast” (where the Martells live!) and who are “lithe and dark” (like Oberyn!)—have “the most Rhoynish blood”. (SOS Ty V)
It’s thus seems merely logical that the Rhoynish-blooded salty Dornishmen are the smallest Dornishmen, and that they’re the reason people believe the Dornishmen in general are small:
“The Dornish paint their silks, I’ve heard, but you look too big to be a Dornishman.” (tSS)
She had always heard that Dornishmen were small and swarthy, with black hair and small black eyes… (SOS A VIII)
Given that (a) Oberyn’s house descends from Nymeria, Queen of the Rhoynar, (b) Tyrion dubs Oberyn a “salty Dornishmen for certain”, (c) Oberyn’s face is “saturnine” (which can mean “swarthy”), (d) Oberyn has the “black hair and… black eyes” Arya has heard “small and swarthy” Dornishmen have (although his eyes are actually quite large), and (e) Oberyn is at least “slender”, if not small per se, we’re clearly being tempted to conclude that the Nymeros-Martells—who after all proclaim their Rhoynish blood in their names—are in general paradigmatic salty Dornishmen: small (or at least lithe) and swarthy.
Notice, though, that Tyrion isn’t speaking from personal observation. He’s citing a book written 140 years ago by a boy-king who died at age 18—a book that’s demonstrably wrong about both Dornish culture—
Low of roof and wide abeam, the poleboats had hardly any draft to speak of; the Young Dragon had disparaged them as “hovels built on rafts,” but that was hardly fair. All but the poorest orphan boats were wonderfully carved and painted. (FFC tQM)
—and its titular topic, The Conquest of Dorne:
[Jon:] “When the Young Dragon conquered Dorne, he used a goat track to bypass the Dornish watchtowers on the Boneway.”
“I know that tale as well, but Daeron made too much of it in that vainglorious book of his. Ships won that war, not goat tracks. Oakenfist broke the Planky Town and swept halfway up the Greenblood whilst the main Dornish strength was engaged in the Prince’s Pass.” (DWD J IV)
This raises the possibility that the clear-cut Dornish phenotypes Tyrion posits may not be so clear-cut after all. Real world experience with colonial conquest (e.g. Spain’s casta system) and race is instructive here: The “knowledge” that a person “is” this or that “race” causes people to see them as such; ignorance of what one is supposed to be seeing can blur the lines considerably, as can the context in which someone appears.
Still, surely there’s some truth to Tyrion’s claim that the stony Dornish “sons of the Andals and the First Men” are the “biggest”, right? After all, the fact that “the Big Man” Archibald Yronwood hails from a stony Dornish house conveniently backs him up! True. However.
The Martells Are Not Average Salty Dornishmen
While it may very well be the case that the heavily Rhoynish salty Dornishmen in general are “small and swarthy” and “lithe and dark”, I believe that the Martells themselves are often anything but small or lithe. Yes, the house was co-founded by Nymeria of the Rhoynar, and yes, an abundance of Rhoynish blood may mean the average, lowborn salty Dornishman is smaller and lither than the average sandy or stony Dornishmen. But House Nymeros-Martell was also founded by Mors Martell, who descended from an Andal adventurer who defeated and surely intermarried with the First Men living in the area. While most of the Rhoynish immigrants and their descendants who identified as Rhoynish surely stayed in the area and for centuries married other similar people living in the vicinity, thereby producing the “known” salty Dornish phenotype, it was surely regularly incumbent on the genetically half-Andal Martells to seek peace-making marriages of alliance with far-flung Dornish houses which did not have as much Rhoynish blood.
After all, Nymeria herself took an Uller/Andal second husband and a Dayne/first man third husband. Moreover, given centuries of antipathy between the stony House Yronwood and the originally salty Nymeros-Martells—
Before Nymeria came, the Kings of Yronwood were the most powerful house in all of Dorne—far greater than the Martells of the time. They ruled half of Dorne—a fact that, to this day, the Yronwoods let no one forget. In the centuries after House Martell rose to the rule of Dorne, the Yronwoods have been the house likeliest to rebel, and have done so several times. (TWOIAF)
—it’s overwhelmingly likely the ruling Princes and Princesses of Sunspear have over the years regularly taken Yronwood consorts in an effort to quell the bad blood between their houses, much as the Blackwoods and Brackens have intermarried countless times over the millennia:
“We’ve had a hundred peaces with the Brackens, many sealed with marriages. There’s Blackwood blood in every Bracken, and Bracken blood in every Blackwood.” (DWD Jai I)
Thus it’s likely that the often-large Yronwoods have Martell blood in them, and that the Martells are often somewhat less obviously Rhoynish in appearance than most assume, as hinted at by Quentyn (and thus perhaps Doran, whom Quentyn “looks like”/”looks too much like”), who isn’t lithe like a salty Dornishman at all, but instead “short-legged and stocky, thickly built“. (FFC PitT; DWD MM)
Mariah Martell’s Sons
The real clue, though, the thing that tells us that Quentyn is not some aberration and that the Martells of recent generations have not all been lithe and slender like Oberyn and/or “small and swarthy” like a stereotypical salty Dornishmen, is the powerful, imposing appearances of Baelor Breakspear and Maekar Targaryen, who were maternal Martells: the sons of Mariah Martell and Daeron II. Given that Daeron was notably “small of frame”—
[Daeron] was small of frame, with thin arms, round shoulders, and a scholarly disposition… (TWOIAF)
—it’s likely that Mariah’s Martell blood played a big role in producing the “tall tall” (even to Dunk!), puissant Baelor “Breakspear” and the much shorter but “powerful” Maekar, who was “stocky” and “thickly built”, verbatim like Quentyn. (tHK) Not least because Baelor was Known as “more Martell than Targaryen”:
Yet too many men looked upon Baelor’s dark hair and eyes and muttered that he was more Martell than Targaryen. (TWOIAF)
Note that no one “muttered” that Mariah’s other two, very different sons—the “bookish”, “spindly and stooped” Aerys I and the “meek and sickly” Rhaegel—took after her, which again suggests that Baelor and Maekar’s imposing appearances had much to do with their mother’s Martell blood. (SSM 11.1.2005; tHK)
So who was Mariah Martell, who birthed the great warriors Baelor Breakspear and Maekar I? None other than the sister of Dorne’s ruling Prince Maron Martell, from whose marriage to the diminutive Daeron II’s sister Daenerys all present day Martells descend.
Maron and Daenerys were married c. 187. Doran was born c. 247/248, so he is surely either their great or great-great-grandson, making Doran’s uncle Prince Lewyn (and any brother Lewyn may have) their grandson(s) or great-grandson(s). Given that Baelor and Maekar were anything but “small” and “lithe”, might not their double first cousins, once or twice removed be big, strong, powerful men as well?
I’ll have lots more to say about Baelor and Maekar as we proceed. Here I just wanted to establish prima facie reason to consider that it might not only be Dornishmen carrying the names of stony houses who belie the stereotype of the small Dornishman, but sometimes also the princes of House Martell itself. As we’re about to see, this is exemplified by both Lewyn Martell, AKA Elder Brother of Quiet Isle AKA Ser Morgarth the Merry, and his brother Archmaester Marwyn “the Mastiff” Martell.
With that, let’s jump into a comparative analysis of the descriptions of Elder Brother, Ser Morgarth, Marwyn, the known Martells—especially Quentyn and Doran—and the maternal Martell “Targaryens” of The Hedge Knight, Baelor Breakspear and Maekar.
Let’s begin with the descriptions of Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth the Merry, whom I believe are one and the same. Here’s Elder Brother:
He could hardly be called elder, for a start; whereas the brothers weeding in the garden had had the stooped shoulders and bent backs of old men, he stood straight and tall, and moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years. Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer. His head was large and square, his eyes shrewd, his nose veined and red. Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw.
He looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal them, thought the Maid of Tarth…
[Brienne tells the Elder Brother:] “You look more like a knight than you do a holy man.” It was written in his chest and shoulders, and across that thick square jaw. (FFC B VI)
One more key datum is squirreled away amid dialog: He has “big hands”.
[The Elder Brother] leaned forward, his big hands on his knees.
Compare that description with what we see of Ser Morgarth, who first appears in the Vale ten chapters after Brienne leaves Elder Brother, which comports with the idea that in the wake of Brienne’s visit, Elder Brother leaves Quiet Isle and, in the guise of Morgarth, travels to the Vale with Ser Shadrich (Howland Reed) to hunt down Sansa Stark.
a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. (FFC Al II)
Let’s line things up:
- Ser Morgarth is “burly”. Elder Brother looks like a bone-breaker and a knight, especially in “his chest and shoulders”. Per ASOIAF, being “burly” like Morgarth entails both a big chest—
he was bigger across the chest, burlier… (DWD tW)
—and big shoulders—
Mormont was big and burly, …thick of shoulder. (SOS Dae I)
Burly and broad-shouldered, forty if he was a day… (DWD Ty VI)
—exactly like Elder Brother.
- Ser Morgarth has a “red nose bulbous with broken veins”; Elder Brother has a “nose veined and red”.
- Ser Morgarth has “gnarled hands as large as hams”; Elder Brother has “big hands”.
- Ser Morgarth has a “thick” beard; Elder Brother has a “thick” jaw and dense stubble ripe for thick beard growth.
- Ser Morgarth’s “salt-and-pepper beard” indicates black hair going grey, which marries well with Elder Brother having seen “four-and-forty name days”. (FFC B VI) (Might “salt-and-pepper” nod to him being, in truth, a “salty” Dornishman—said Dornish being famed for their “fiery Dornish peppers“? [SOS Ty X])
Ser Morgarth is called Morgarth the Merry. The epithet “Merry” hints at his other two identities in a few ways. First, Marillion tells Sansa, “Mead only makes me merry“, whereas Elder Brother’s Quiet Isle’s mead is “far famed” and “excellent”. (SOS San VI; FFC B VI)
Second, consider what Petyr says about Randa Royce:
“She likes to play the merry fool, but underneath she’s shrewder than her father.”
We read this as the all-knowing Littlefinger seeing through Randa’s affectation, but won’t his smugness prove ironic when it’s revealed that “underneath” Ser Morgarth the Merry, who Littlefinger believes to be a mere hedge knight, is the “shrewd” eyed Elder Brother, AKA Prince Lewyn Martell (who has a minor bone to pick with Littlefinger’s man Lyn Corbray).
Speaking of Lewyn becoming the holy Elder Brother, who is now Ser Morgarth “the Merry”, this passage about people pretending to be priests jumps off the page as metatext:
Merry always claimed the mummers made much better priests than priests, especially Myrmello. (FFC CotC)
Finally, this passage—
And “Merry” was what she was to call boisterous plump Meredyth Crane, but most definitely not Lady Merryweather, a sultry black-eyed Myrish beauty. (SOS San I)
—is suspiciously awkward. Why does GRRM highlight the fact that Taena Merryweather’s name contains the word “Merry”? Perhaps because “Morgarth the Merry” is Lewyn Martell and (as I’ll argue in a future chapter of this Secret History) Taena is his nephew Oberyn’s bastard daughter and one of Doran’s “friends at court”.
“Burly Fellows” Of the Kingsguard and Elder Brother Lewyn: Silent, Straight and Tall as a Tower
Let’s fold in some wordplay hinting that Elder Brother, Morgarth and Lewyn are all the same dude. We just saw that Sansa thinks of Ser Morgarth as “a burly fellow”. Curiously, the only other time Sansa uses the term “fellow” refers to the Kingsguard—
Ser Mandon Moore went to take his place under the throne beside two of his fellows of the Kingsguard. (GOT S V)
—while the very passage which confirms that being “burly” like Morgarth means having a big chest like Elder Brother associates “burly” with (a) the Kingsguard and (b) House Martell, since it’s de facto Martell Areo Hotah who says that Ser Balon Swann is…
…bigger across the chest [than fellow Kingsguard Arys Oakheart], burlier, his arms thick with muscle. (DWD tW)
Hotah’s very next words are about Ser Balon’s “snowy cloak”, which recalls an image of “soldier pines and sentinels” cloaked in white by snow:
Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak the soldier pines and sentinels in white. (DWD B III)
Kingsguards are both sentinels and soldiers, of course, so the symbolism is obvious. And what does Arianne Martell say such about “soldier pines”? That they…
…stood as tall and straight as a tower… (WOW Ar II)
…a phrase which just so happens to perfectly combine Prince Lewyn being “tall as a tower” with the fact that Elder Brother “stood straight and tall” while also referring to “soldiers”, which both men were. (tSK) Moments later, Arianne references “silent trees”, which is consistent with the idea that this verbiage is hinting that Elder Brother of Quiet Isle, whose brothers take “a vow of silence”, is Lewyn Martell of the Kingsguard. (FFC B VI)
It also so happens that the only other person in ASOIAF who is described verbatim as “straight and tall” like Elder Brother is, like Lewyn Martell, a prince: the Tattered Prince, who is, like Elder Brother, curiously nameless.
Prince Lewyn Martell of Dorne: A Good Man. A Valiant Prince.
We aren’t told much about Prince Lewyn. Jaime groups him with Sers Whent and Darry, “good men every one.” (SOS Jai VIII) Selmy thinks:
“Prince Lewyn was as valiant a brother-in-arms as any man could wish for.” (DWD Dan VIII)
Might not a good and valiant “brother-in-arms” like Prince Lewyn help Howland Reed (“Ser Shadrich”) extricate Sansa Stark from the aegis of a seeming shitbag like Littlefinger? Certainly.
Another word for “valiant” is “gallant”. (https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/gallant; https://www.thefreedictionary.com/gallant) Thus when Meribald likens a holy man to a gallant prince while en route to Elder Brother’s Quiet Isle—
“I was young and full of sap, and the girls… a septon can seem as gallant as a prince if he is the only man you know who has ever been more than a mile from your village.” (FFC B V)
—I read it as hinting that Elder Brother was once the “valiant” Prince Lewyn. Likewise, when Sansa calls “Ser Morgarth” and his two companions “gallant”—
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.” (FFC Ala II)
—it’s foreshadowing that the “gallant” Morgarth is “also” the “valiant” Prince Lewyn.
Notice that it’s a guy named “Meribald” (Merry-bald) who compares holy men to gallant princes like Lewyn, and I’m arguing that the tonsured (i.e pointedly bald) Elder Brother becomes the explicitly “gallant”, no-longer-bald “Ser Morgarth the Merry“. This putative Merry/Meri wordplay is hinted at in the appendices: *Meri*anne Frey is “called Merry”.)
Lewyn the Tickler
Arianne says Lewyn…
“…used to tickle me until I could not breathe for laughing.” (FFC tSK)
Sounds like a “merry” fellow, no?
Knightly Shoulders, Hidden Martells and the Kingsguard
Elder Brother admits to having been a knight, and we’re told it is “written in his chest and shoulders”. That verbiage is curiously reminiscent of Pate’s description of Mollander when Mollander is throwing an apple for Alleras, who is, like Elder Brother, a disguised Martell (Sarella Sand):
“The apple,” Alleras said. “Unless you mean to eat it.”
“Here.” Dragging his clubfoot, Mollander took a short hop, whirled, and whipped the apple sidearm into the mists that hung above the Honeywine. If not for his foot, he would have been a knight like his father. He had the strength for it in those thick arms and broad shoulders. (FFC Pro)
More than that, I have argued that Mollander is in fact the son of Ser Dontos Hollard. The Hollards were famously allies to and intermarried with the Darklyns since the Age of Heroes. And what are the Darklyns known for?
[The swords] stood for the seven sons of Darklyn who had worn the white cloaks of the Kingsguard. No other house in all the realm could claim as many. (FFC B II)
Being Kingsguards, like Prince Lewyn.
Youthful Vigor and Gout
There’s a nifty irony to Elder Brother “mov[ing] with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years” if he is indeed Lewyn, the younger uncle of Doran, who is by contrast aged beyond his years by gout and aching joints —
Though he was but two-and-fifty, Doran Martell seemed much older. (FFC CotG)
—especially considering that the canon contains an explicit juxtaposition of Elder Brother-ish “young man’s vigor” against gouty, aching joints like Doran’s:
He no longer had a young man’s vigor and was afflicted by gout, aching joints, back pain, and a tightness in the chest… (tRP)
The Martells’ seat of power so happens to be described using the exact same color scheme—
Sunspear was built from mud and straw, and colored brown and dun. (AFFC The Captain of the Guards)
—as the “brown-and-dun robes” worn by the holy brothers of Quiet Isle. (FFC B VI)
A Harpist. Arthur Dayne and “Elder Brother”
During the meal Brienne eats on Quiet Isle, a holy brother plays the high harp until he is excused by Elder Brother. I suspect this is a wink at Elder Brother Lewyn’s close relationship with Rhaegar—
The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in [Rhaegar’s] confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell… (TWOIAF)
—whose prowess with the high harp is first noted by Barristan Selmy, Lewyn’s Kingsguard brother. (SOS Dae IV) I suspect it’s no accident that the holy harpist “filling the hall with soft sweet sounds” recalls a singer who “fill[ed] the hall with the sweet music of the high harp” while singing “of Nymeria’s ten thousand ships”, i.e. of the founder of Lewyn’s House Nymeros-Martell. (FFC B VI; COK S VI)
Lewyn was also “brother” to Arthur Dayne. Was GRRM winking at Lewyn’s whereabouts when he contrived to have Edric Dayne speak of Arthur’s “elder brother”?
“My father was Ser Arthur’s elder brother.” (SOS Ar VIII)
Quick To Anger, Slow To Forgive
“We Dornish are a hot-blooded people, quick to anger and slow to forgive.” (FFC tSK)
Elder Brother says his previous life was one of “fighting” and “blood”, which is consistent with him being an easily angered Dornishman. We also see Elder Brother being “slow to forgive”, when he tells Meribald:
“…no doubt Ser Quincy will ask you for forgiveness. I am glad that you are here to give it. I could not.” (FFC B VI)
Who else are “quick to anger”? Targaryens:
Aegon II was two-and-twenty, quick to anger and slow to forgive. (P&Q)
It is said that he and his wife quarreled before the voyage, for Lady Baela was of the blood of the dragon and quick to anger… (F&B 702)
So? So, Lewyn “Martell” is just as Targaryen as the “Targaryens” of his generation, being a descendant of Maron Martell’s marriage to Daenerys Targaryen, just as the “Targaryens” were descendants of Maron’s sister Mariahs’s marriage to Daenerys’s brother Daeron II.
Do Not Disturb the Martells
Elder Brother’s concern that Quiet Isle not be “disturb[ed]”—
“The Elder Brother will know more. He keeps the worst of the tidings from outside to himself, so as not to disturb the tranquility of the septry.” (ibid)
—calls back to Lewyn’s nephew Doran’s foregrounded interest in the same in AFFC CotG:
“The prince does not wish to be disturbed.”
“And you say, he does not wish to be disturbed!”
“He does not wish to be disturbed,” Areo Hotah said again.
“The prince… is never to be disturbed when he is watching the children at their play.”
A Young Great-Uncle
Some will argue that Lewyn cannot be the 44-year-old Elder Brother, given that he is 52-year-old Doran’s uncle and Quentyn’s great-uncle, but ASOIAF goes out of its way to demonstrate that uncles can be younger than their nephews. (DWD Dae VIII) Most famously, Dany was born about 25 years after Rhaegar, and—if you believe she is Rhaegar’s sister—was younger than her niece Rhaenys and nephew Aegon.
Better still, GRRM gives us a tidy parallel to Doran and Lewyn in the Waynwoods. Lady Anya Waynwood’s grandson Ser Roland Waynwood is about 25—
Ser Roland was the oldest of the three, though no more than five-and-twenty. (WOW Ala I)
—whereas Roland’s uncle and Anya’s youngest son, Ser Wallace Waynwood, is just knighted, probably 16-18:
“The Waynwood wheel has a broken spoke, and we have my nuncle here.” Ser Roland gave Wallace a whap behind the ear. “Squires should be quiet when knights are speaking.”
Ser Wallace reddened. “I am no more a s-squire, my lady. My n-nephew knows full well that I was k-k-kni-k-k-kni—” (ibid)
Roland is about 8 years older than his uncle Wallace—just as Doran is about 8 years older than his uncle Elder Brother—because Anya birthed Roland’s father Morton at least 20 years before she had Wallace. A similar situation would entirely explain Doran being 8 years Lewyn’s senior. (Indeed, a similar situation, albeit less extreme, occurred when the Martells and Targaryens intermarried: Daeron II’s half-Martell son Baelor was two years older than his own aunt, Daeron’s sister, the original Daenerys.)
Alternately, if Doran’s mother’s father (rather than Doran’s mother’s mother) ruled Dorne before Doran’s mother, Lewyn’s mother could have simply been a second younger wife taken after Doran’s grandmother died. Here, consider the Freys: Ryman Frey is at least 43 years older than one of his aunts.
Notice that Lewyn being 44 c. AFFC means he was about 23 when he “had come to court with Princess Elia”, who betrothed and married Rhaegar in 279. 23 is a normal, unremarkable age at which to join the Kingsguard: the same age at which Criston Cole and Barristan Selmy joined. (TWOIAF; tRP; DWD tQG) Conventional scenarios which assume Lewyn would be very old today have a very hard time explaining how he either (a) joined the Kingsguard at an advanced age without comment or (b) can be said to “come to court” with Elia despite already being in the Kingsguard.
Elder Brother has “shrewd” eyes, which are very rare in ASOIAF: there are only five other people with shrewd eyes in the canon. The only eyes that are repeatedly “shrewd” aren’t human—they’re raven. Every time a raven’s eyes are called “shrewd”, they’re also called “black”—
Mormont’s raven watched with shrewd black eyes… (DWD J I)
…the Old Bear’s raven peered down at him with shrewd black eyes. (DWD J III)
…the third raven looked at him with shrewd black eyes… (DWD B III)
—which oddly happens only after we meet the “shrewd-eyed” Elder Brother.
This conflation of shrewd eyes with black eyes is consistent with the shrewd-eyed Elder Brother being Lewyn Martell. Lewyn’s niece Elia Martell had “black eyes.” (FFC C V) Tyrion notes that Oberyn’s eyes are “black and shiny as pools of coal oil”. (SOS Ty V) Arianne’s eyes are “bold and black as sin”. (FFC tSK)
Given the association of “shrewd” eyes with ravens, it’s interesting that raven eyes are twice called “small black eyes”—
The ravens could speak it, though. Their small black eyes were full of secrets… (DWD B)
Ravens were walking on the rafters overhead, peering down with small black eyes and quorking at him. (tSS)
—which matches verbatim both what Arya tells us about Dornishmen—
She had always heard that Dornishmen were small and swarthy, with black hair and small black eyes. (SOS A VIII)
—and what Arys Oakheart reports about the Dornish of Sunspear:
He could feel eyes upon him everywhere he went, small black Dornish eyes regarding him with thinly veiled hostility. (FFC tSK)
One of the five other shrewd-eyed characters in the canon, Uthor Underleaf of The Sworn Sword (whose role as a “signpost” linking secret and known Martells I’ll discuss in detail later) has “small and shrewd” eyes, bridging the gap between the “small” eyes of Sunspear and the “shrewd-eyed” Elder Brother. Another, Tycho Nestoris, has “shrewd dark eyes”. Again, this may hint that Elder Brother’s shrewd eyes are dark ‘n’ Dornish. (DWD tS)
To be clear: Elder Brother may not have small and/or black eyes. But calling Elder Brother’s eyes “shrewd” while repeatedly associating “shrewd” eyes with black and small eyes subtly associates him with the Dornish and the Martells.
One of the other three characters with “shrewd” eyes is Qhorin Halfhand. (COK J VII) I’ve long argued (and will detail extensively in a future post) that Qhorin is in fact the “dead” Gerold Hightower, who was Lewyn’s Lord Commander in Rhaegar’s Kingsguard. While Qhorin being Gerold is an argument beyond the scope of this writing, there’s wonderful symmetry if two “dead” Kingsguards both have “shrewd” eyes.
Finally and best of all, we see Maekar Targaryen give Dunk “a shrewd look” in The Hedge Knight. Again, Maekar was the son of Mariah Martell and Daeron Targaryen, who were respectively sister to Maron Martell and brother to Daenerys Targaryen, who together begat modern day House Martell. I’ll discuss Maekar the maternal Martell more later, but I suspect the rhyme is there to hint at the blood ties between him and his cousin Elder Brother.
Marwyn Martell vs. Elder Brother Lewyn
Speaking of blood ties, nearly everything we’re told about Archmaester Marwyn is consistent with the idea that the text is encoding him as Elder Brother’s/Ser Morgarth’s/Lewyn Martell’s brother, Doran’s (and even Oberyn’s) uncle, and Quentyn’s and Arianne’s great-uncle.
Just as “Elder Brother was not what Brienne had expected”, neither is Marwyn what Sam expected:
Marwyn wore a chain of many metals around his bull’s neck. Save for that, he looked more like a dockside thug than a maester. His head was too big for his body, and the way it thrust forward from his shoulders, together with that slab of jaw, made him look as if he were about to tear off someone’s head. Though short and squat, he was heavy in the chest and shoulders, with a round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore in place of robes. Bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. His brow beetled, his nose had been broken more than once, and sourleaf had stained his teeth a mottled red. He had the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen. (FFC S V)
In both form and substance, this description of Marwyn “rhymes” with the description of Elder Brother, just as we might expect if they are brothers, with both men defying the images their titles conjure:
- Elder Brother “could hardly be called elder,” but “moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years. Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer.” Marwyn “looked more like a dockside thug than a maester”, let alone most readers’ idea of a “mage”.
- Elder Brother “looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal them”. Marwyn similarly “look[s] as if he were about to tear off someone’s head”.
- Brienne tells Elder Brother, “You look more like a knight than you do a holy man”. Pate thinks, “Marwyn looked more a mastiff than a maester.” (FFC Pro)
Marwyn the Mastiff
Marwyn is called “mastiff” again:
Leo yawned. “The sea is wet, the sun is warm, and the menagerie hates the mastiff.” (FFC Pro)
If Marwyn looks like a mastiff, he surely has a square head:
Mastiffs possess characteristics unique to the breed, especially the head with a broad, deep muzzle with flews hanging over the bottom lip, giving the head a square appearance. (Mastiff Club of America website)
General AppearanceHead, in general outline, giving a square appearance when viewed from any point. (The Old English Mastiff Club website)
This marries perfectly with Marwyn being the older brother of Elder Brother, whose head is “large and square“.
AFFC confirms that GRRM is aware of the square-mastiff association:
…with a square jutting chin that his close-cropped yellow beard did little to conceal, [Kevan] reminded her of some old mastiff… (FFC C II)
The Mastiff-Dragon Cypher
Marwyn’s mastiff-like appearance recalls this description of the skulls of the last Targaryen dragons—
The most recent were also the smallest; a matched pair no bigger than mastiff’s skulls, and oddly misshapen, all that remained of the last two hatchlings born on Dragonstone. (GOT Ty II)
—which is consistent with my hypothesis that ASOIAF is encoding the similarly misshapen (“His head was too big for his body”) Marwyn as a Martell prince of Dorne who is two generations closer to the original Daenerys Targaryen than is Quentyn, who reminds us:
“I am a prince of Dorne, and the blood of dragons is in my veins.” (DWD tSS)
Curiously, two of the only analogues in the canon to the phrase “oddly misshapen” (which memorably describes the Marwyn-the-mastiff-eque dragon skulls) just happen to crop up vis-a-vis (a) Elder Brother’s strange furniture (about which I’ll have more to say later)—
All were made from driftwood, oddly shaped pieces cunningly joined together… (FFC B VI)
—and (b) the wine-stain birthmark of Bloodraven, a Targaryen bastard and hence, like the Martells, a kind of quasi-dragon:
Across his cheek and chin spread a wine-stain birthmark that was supposed to resemble a red raven, though Dunk only saw an odd-shaped blotch of discolored skin. (tMK)
Notice that Bloodraven’s “odd-shaped” birthmark being a “wine-stain” closes the referential loop, recalling both Marwyn’s drug-stained teeth—
sourleaf had stained his teeth a mottled red. (FFC S V)
—and Elder Brother’s “life writ in red, in blood and wine”. (FFC B VI)
Marwyn vs. Elder Brother/Morgarth, Round 2
Meanwhile, further similarities between Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn abound.
- Elder Brother Lewyn has a “heavy jaw” and a “thick square jaw”. Marwyn has a “slab of jaw”.
- Elder Brother’s head is “large”. Marwyn’s head is “too big for his body”.
- Elder Brother looks like a knight “in his chest and shoulders”. As Morgarth, he’s “burly”, which ASOIAF associates with a big chest and big shoulders. And Marwyn? He’s “heavy in the chest and shoulders”.
- Elder Brother’s “big hands” are “gnarled hands as large as hams” when he’s Morgarth. Marwyn has “the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen” (which, by the way, remind us of “the biggest feet that Brienne had ever seen”, which belong to Meribald, the guy who introduces us to Elder Brother).
- More subtly/textually, Elder Brother’s bulbous, veiny red nose is that of an admitted “drunk”. As Morgarth his nose has “broken” veins. Marwyn’s nose is “broken more than once”, his sourleaf habit stains his teeth red and connotes an addictive personality, and his belly is called an “ale belly”.
- Both men are hirsute: Elder Brother is “stubbly”. That stubble grows into Morgarth’s “thick salt-and-pepper beard”. Marwyn has “bristly white hair sprout[ing] from his ears and nostrils” and “his brow beetled.” Given that Sam finds it notable that Marwyn’s ear and nostril hair is white (like salt), might his beetling eyebrows and the hair on his head be dark (like pepper)?
- When telling his life story, which I see as a riff on the Faceless Men’s “lying game”, Elder Brother Lewyn talks about “fighting” and living a life “writ in red, in blood”. Marwyn’s nose “had been broken more than once” as if by fighting, and he is rumored to have “killed a man with his fists”, which sounds pretty bloody.
Marwyn’s Nose and Baelor Breakspear
I’ve mentioned that Marwyn’s “nose had been broken more than once” a couple times. This more than echoes how Baelor Breakspear’s “nose looked as though it had been broken more than once”. (tHK) Again, Baelor was a maternal Martell, the son of Mariah Martell and Daeron Targaryen, who were respectively sister to Maron Martell and brother to Daenerys Targaryen, who together begat modern day House Martell.
Marwyn The Figurative Giant
Marwyn’s is “squat” and “stocky”, implying short, sturdy legs and a certain thickness. Together with his “too big” head “thrust[ing] forward from his shoulders”; his “bull’s neck”, his “dockside thug” look, his “heavy… chest and shoulders”; his “rock-hard ale belly” (i.e. “lower torso”) so big it is “straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore”; his beetled brow; his huge hands which compare to Morgarth’s “hands as large as hams” and imply huge feet; and his addiction to a substance, he sounds suspiciously like a small giant. Consider:
…[the giants’] lower torsos looked half again as wide as their upper. Their legs were shorter than their arms, but very thick, and they wore no boots at all; their feet were broad splayed things…. Neckless, their huge heavy heads thrust forward from between their shoulder blades, and their faces were squashed and brutal. Rats’ eyes no larger than beads were almost lost within folds of horny flesh…(SOS J II)
The giant… paw[ed] at his eyes with hands as big as hams to rub the sleep away… (DWD J VII)
Wun Wun had never tasted wine until he came to Castle Black, but once he had, he had taken a gigantic liking to it. (J IX)
As a maester, Marwyn is a “grey rat”, and thus might even be said to have “Rats’ eyes” like a giant. Meanwhile, Marwyn looking “as if he were about to tear off someone’s head” prefigures Wun Wun the Giant actually tearing off Ser Patrek’s arms while smashing his head. (DWD J XIII)
A Figurative Marwyn vs. A Figurative Elder Brother
So, Marwyn being a figurative giant facilitates a nifty textual connection between him and Elder Brother—who, remember, “looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal one”—via the main event of the pit-fighting matches Dany attends in Meereen:
Goghor the Giant would go against Belaquo Bonebreaker. (DWD Dae VIII)
Get it? “The Giant” (like Marwyn) against a Bonebreaker (like Elder Brother).
The connection goes farther. Marwyn has a “bull’s neck”, while his analogue Goghor the Giant “looked more bull than man”. Better still, remember when Marwyn randomly mentions a “Gorghan of Ghis”?
“Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman.” (FFC S V)
Gorghan of Ghis. Goghor the Giant. The similarity is unmistakable, especially in a book that sees a POV character idly muse about the similarity of the names Areo and Arys:
Ser Arys had come to Dorne to attend his own princess, as Areo Hotah had once come with his. Even their names sounded oddly alike: Areo and Arys. (FFC CotG)
“Gorgan of Ghis” suddenly feels less like random “world-building” and more like a metatextual reference to the similarly named, Marwyn-esque Goghor the Giant and thus, via Goghor’s opponent Belaquo Bonebreaker, to Marwyn’s brother, Elder Brother Lewyn, “a man made to break bones”.
Even the fact that Marwyn’s Gorghan happens to be “of Ghis” seems to confirm that GRRM contrived the bout between Goghor the Giant and Belaquo Bonebreaker specifically to suggest a link between Marwyn and Elder Brother, a religious man of the gods, inasmuch as pit fighting just so happens to be “the mortal art of Ghis“…
…religious in nature, a blood sacrifice to the gods of Ghis. (DWD Dae I)
The Marwyn-ish Goghor’s foe, Belaquo Bonebreaker—our Elder Brother analogue—wields a “flail”, which makes sense if he’s a proxy for a knight-turned-holy healer, because tabletop RPG nerds like GRRM know that clerics, the priestly warrior-healers of Dungeons & Dragons, often use flails. (DWD Dae IX) (There’s actually a flail called a “holy water sprinkler”.)
Now, consider that the name “Belaquo” is basically “Obella” (one of Oberyn’s daughters) with the O moved around to the end and a QU (as in Quentyn) dropped in the middle. O-bella becomes Bela-O (with a QU). One of the only things we ever read about Obella—
“Dorea stalks about knocking oranges off the trees with her morningstar, and Elia and Obella have become the terror of the pools.” (FFC PitT)
—just so happens to mention a morningstar, a weapon which is constantly conflated and confused with a flail (per either wikipedia entry) and again associated with D&D’s holy warrior-healers. It also mentions “stalking”, “oranges”, and “pools”. Recall that Meribald, who leads Brienne safely across the path of faith to Quiet Isle, loves oranges:
“I have a weakness for the orange, I confess.” (FFC B V)
And what guards the path to Quiet Isle? Storks stalking through tidal pools:
Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them… (B VI)
The scrambled motifs all point to one conclusion: Elder Brother is a Martell.
Meanwhile, the name “Belaquo” also reminds us of the name “Borroq” in the same way Areo and Arys are vaguely similar, which is curious for two reasons.
First, Borroq the wildling is weirdly Martell-ish. He has a “flat nose” like Quentyn’s “too broad” nose. He’s called “black-browed”, which recalls both the implication that Marwyn is “beetle-browed” and Oberyn’s twice-mentioned “black eyebrows”. His “heavy jowls dark with stubble” echo Elder Brother Lewyn’s “stubbly… heavy jaw”, and he has both Obara’s “close-set” eyes and the “small black” eyes of the Sunspear Dornish. (DWD J XII; SOS Ty V; FFC B VI, CotG, tSK) Second, he has a boar. What does that boar do?
…his boar seemed happy rooting amongst the graves… (DWD Jon VIII)
He’s a gravedigger, like the one on the Elder Brother “Bonebreaker”‘s Quiet Isle.
Brothers, Not Twins
What about Marwyn being “short and squat” and having a notable “ale belly”? That part doesn’t sound like Lewyn being “tall as a tower” nor like Elder Brother being “straight and tall”, right? True, but in that they are no more different and no less brothers than Mariah Martell’s sons Baelor Breakspear and Maekar: The “tall tall” Baelor was “a head taller” than his “stocky”, “thickly built” brother Maekar. Lewyn and Marwyn are likewise brothers, not twins. (tHK)
Quentyn (thus Doran) and Marwyn and Lewyn
Marwyn’s “round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore” ties him to House Martell. Consider what we’re told of Quentyn Martell’s appearance, and hence of Doran’s, given that we’re told twice that Doran looks like Quentyn, first when Arianne says as much to Doran—
“[Quentyn] looks like you, he thinks like you, and you mean to give him Dorne, don’t trouble to deny it.” (FFC PitT)
—and again in TWOW Arianne I:
[Quentyn] was too thick about the middle. He looks too much like Father.
If Arianne thinks Quentyn and Doran are “too thick about the middle”, she’d surely think the same of the ale-bellied Marwyn. Together with his “heavy… chest and shoulders”, Marwyn being “short and squat” prefigures Quentyn (and thus Doran) being “short and stocky”:
Short and stocky, plain-faced,… not the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster. (DWD tDK)
Quentyn cut a poor figure by comparison [to Drinkwater] — short-legged and stocky, thickly built, with hair the brown of new-turned earth. His forehead was too high, his jaw too square, his nose too broad. A good honest face, a girl had called it once, but you should smile more. (DWD MM)
Quentyn’s (and thus Doran’s?) “too high” forehead, “too square” jaw and a “too broad” nose calls back to Marwyn’s head being “too big for his body”. Quentyn’s “nose too broad” checks the same broad “flawed schnoz” box as Marwyn and Lewyn.
Since three people call Quentyn “stocky”, and since Quentyn “looks like” Doran, it’s worth defining the term—
stocky adj of solid and sturdy form or build; thick-set and, usually, short.
—and noting that it could easily be used to describe the “short and squat” Marwyn, with his heavy chest and shoulders and “rock-hard ale belly”. Quentyn is “short-legged”, and given that Marwyn is “squat”, it’s clear Marwyn has short legs, too, much like the giants he so oddly resembles, whose “legs were shorter than their arms”.
Solemn Quentyn and his Great-Uncles Lewyn
Arianne calls Quent a…
solemn boy… who always did [his] duty. (TWOW Ari II)
…and Dany registers the Doran-looking Quentyn as:
a solemn, stocky lad, brown of hair and eye. His face was squarish, with a high forehead, heavy jaw, and broad nose. The stubble on his cheeks and chin made him look like a boy trying to grow his first beard. (DWD Dae VII)
Calling Quent “solemn” twice—which can mean (a) “serious” but also (b) “having a religious character”—is a sly nod to his great uncle Lewyn being (a) a holy man (Elder Brother) and (b) Morgarth the Merry (inverting “solemn”).
Stubble. Heavy Jaws. Big Square Heads.
Mentioning Quentyn’s boyish “stubble” winks at the hirsute motif we saw with Marwyn and Morgarth/Lewyn. Combined with Quentyn’s “heavy jaw”—which matches Marwyn’s “slab of a jaw”—it present a half-textual, half-in-world link to Elder Brother, whose…
…scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw.
[Quentyn’s] head was overlarge and sort of square, his hair the color of dried mud. His shoulders slumped as well… He looks too much like Father. (TWOW Arianne I)
Quentyn’s (and presumably Doran’s) “overlarge and sort of square” head (and, elsewhere, “square face”) squares (har!) with Elder Brother Lewyn’s “large and square” head and with Marwyn looking like a square-faced Mastiff with a head “too big for his body”. (DWD Dae VIII)
Posture and Bookishness.
There’s an unusual focus on all these men’s shoulders and related posture as well: Quentyn’s (and thus Doran’s?) “shoulders slumped”, while Marwyn’s head “thrust forward from his shoulders”. Meanwhile, the notably “straight” Elder Brother’s posture is explicitly contrasted to that of his holy “brothers”, who are said to have “stooped shoulders”—
[W]hereas the brothers weeding in the garden had had the stooped shoulders and bent backs of old men, [Elder Brother] stood straight and tall… (FFC B VI)
—much like Lewyn’s nephews Doran and Quentyn seem to.
Of course, House Martell descends from the first Daenerys Targaryen, whose brother Daeron II had “round shoulders, and a scholarly disposition”—recalling slump-shouldered and “bookish” Quentyn, but more importantly, the poor posture of the scholarly Marwyn, whose room could not be more literally “bookish”:
Books and scrolls were everywhere, strewn across the tables and stacked up on the floor in piles four feet high. (FFC S V)
What’s more, Daeron’s Martell wife Mariah gave birth to Aerys I, who was not only “bookish” like Quentyn and Marwyn but “stooped”, verbatim like Elder Brother Lewyn’s “brothers”. (SSM 11.1.2005) Meanwhile, Mariah’s first son, the “stooped” Aerys’s brother Baelor, stood “tall” on his “long straight legs”, just as Elder Brother Lewyn stands “straight and tall” in contrast to his “brothers”. (tHK)
Sober Yet Savoring
From its beginning with the Dornish wine merchant ruse, Quentyn’s story seems to nod to Elder Brother’s confession that he once had a drinking problem involving red wine, as in “Dornish Red”:
“When I was not fighting, I was drunk. My life was writ in red, in blood and wine.” (FFC B VI)
At the same time, there are striking resonances with Elder Brother’s subsequent recovery and current relative sobriety. Thus Selmy tells Dany Quentyn is…
“Drinking with his knights” (DWD Dae VIII)
…and when Quent subsequently appears and his face is “flushed and ruddy”, Dany assumes he’s drunk on wine (just like Elder Brother):
Too much wine, the queen concluded… (ibid.)
Yet Quent doesn’t have a drink in his hand, and it’s entirely possible that Gerris and Arch were doing most of the drinking while he is simply a flushed, nervous wreck around Dany.
Similarly, we see Quentyn really savor a glass of wine and pour himself another—
Quentyn… poured himself a cup of wine and drank it in the dark. The taste was sweet solace on his tongue, so he lit a candle and poured himself another. (DWD tDT)
—such that it’s easy to imagine him developing a drinking problem like Elder Brother did—or perhaps a sourleaf habit like Marwyn. (Sidebar: Notice that Quentyn “lit a candle”, thus winking at his relationship with the glass candle-lighting Marwyn.) Yet despite finding “sweet solace” in his first glass of wine, as Elder Brother Lewyn clearly did in his past life, we never see him drink his second glass. Rather, he “put[s] down his cup” and it vanishes from the story, neatly calling back to Elder Brother, here:
[Elder Brother] put aside the driftwood cup, and stood. (FFC B VI)
Quentyn even actively stops Gerris from drinking—
When Gerris made to pour himself a cup of wine, Quentyn stopped him. “No wine. There will be time enough for drink afterward.” (DWD tDT)
—and totally ignores the Tattered Prince’s offer to drink during their meeting at the Purple Lotus, again signaling an ability to moderate as his Elder Brother uncle has. (DWD tSS)
Quentyn, Elder Brother and Ser Bonifer the Holy Stork.
Potentially punning, GRRM has Selmy call Quentyn “sober”:
“a decent lad, sober, sensible, dutiful… but not the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster“… (DWD tDK)
In-world Selmy doesn’t mean that Quentyn doesn’t drink, of course, but a close look at this passage suggests it’s all about connecting Quentyn to the former drunk (i.e. “sober”) Elder Brother. How so? Almost every word of that description of Quentyn maps to what we’re told about the “sober, just, and dutiful” Ser Bonifer Hasty—”Bonifer the Good”—of the Holy Hundred, who is, like Elder Brother, a knight-turned-holy man. Bonifer is a “solemn [like Quentyn!] stork of a man” who doesn’t seem like “the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster” either, but who ironically did just that when he won the heart of Rhaella Targaryen when she was “a girl”. (FFC Jai III; DWD Dae VII)
Now, what is the one obvious element about Hasty that isn’t reworked in any obvious way by what we’re told about Quentyn? Hasty looks like a stork. And where do we find storks? Lo and behold, on the path of faith to Elder Brother Lewyn Martell’s Quiet Isle:
The mud was such a dark brown it appeared almost black, but there were swathes of golden sand as well, upthrust rocks both grey and red, and tangles of black and green seaweed. Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them… (FFC B VI)
That colorful mud in turn reminds us that Quentyn’s hair is “the color of dried mud”. So let’s talk about Quentyn’s overdetermined… hair!?
Hair “The Brown of New-Turned Earth”
Quentyn’s hair is described as…
the brown of new-turned earth…
…a phrase that’s redolent of grave-digging, which I suspect refers to his great-uncle Lewyn being in charge of Quiet Isle and its lichyard.
A passage from Dunk’s grave-digging dream in The Sworn Sword helps underscore the connection between Quentyn and the infamous gravedigger:
There were red mountains in the distance and white sands beneath his feet. Dunk was digging, plunging a spade into the dry hot earth, and flinging the fine sand back over his shoulder. He was making a hole. A grave, he thought, a grave for hope. A trio of Dornish knights stood watching, making mock of him in quiet voices.
Consider the motifs: Dunk is turning “earth”. A “trio of Dornish knights” stand around “making mock”, which recalls Quentyn being accompanied by “three of Lord Yronwood’s best young knights”, including Gerris Drinkwater, who “mocks” Quentyn’s “hopes”, thus reworking Dunk’s “grave for hope”. (FFC PitT; tDT) Despite their mockery, the “Dornish knights” speak in “quiet voices”, recalling “Quiet Isle”. Dunk is a future Kingsguard, so it all makes a kind of poetic sense given that a “Dornish knight” of the Kingsguard is the gravedigger’s boss.
So why did I highlight the “fine sand”? Well…
“Hair the Color of Dried Mud”
Quentyn’s hair is also called “the color of dried mud”, which reminds us not just of the colorful mud (and “golden sand”!) of Quiet Isle, with its Ser Bonifer-ish storks, but more literally of the “mud-brick” (i.e. dried mud) construction of Sunspear, which we’re told is “colored brown and dun”—
Sunspear was built from mud and straw, and colored brown and dun. … To the west, in the shadows of Sunspear’s massive walls, mud-brick shops and windowless hovels clung to the castle like barnacles to a galley’s hull. (CotG)
—exactly like the “brown and dun” robes of Quiet Isle.
We would call Sunspear’s mud-brick construction “adobe”. (Per wikipedia, adobe construction involves bricks made of “dried mud” and a filler such as straw, a perfect match.) And what constitutes ideal adobe mud? Per wikipedia’s entry, mostly “fine sand”—
The most desirable soil texture for producing the mud of adobe is 15% clay, 10–30% silt, and 55–75% fine sand.
—i.e. the exact stuff Dunk shovels in his gravedigging dream involving Dornish knights talking in “quiet voices”, which recalls the other description of Quentyn’s hair. Wow, George.
It’s not just that Quentyn’s hair is “the color of… mud”. He is called “mud”:
She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud.
You could make a poultice out of mud to cool a fever. You could plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud would nourish you, where fire would only consume you, but fools and children and young girls would choose fire every time. (DWD tDK)
But notice what immediately follows: a passage that specifies that said mud heals, grows crops and nourishes. In other words, a passage which spells out exactly what is done on Quiet isle, where mud is emphasized again and again:
“If you would sleep beneath a roof tonight, you must climb off your horses and cross the mud with me. The path of faith, we call it.”
The soft brown mud squished up between [Meribald’s] toes.
A brief but furious struggle ensued before the dog came trotting back, wet and mud-spattered, with the crab between his jaws.
Dog wagged his tail, and Meribald shook mud from his feet.
“…mayhaps I should take you up to Elder Brother. He will have seen you crossing the mud.“
Septon Meribald was rubbing his foot, the mud flaking off beneath his finger.
The women’s cottages were on the east side of the isle, looking out over a broad expanse of mud and the distant waters of the Bay of Crabs.
Thus one prince of Dorne “is” mud, while if I’m right, another presides over a domain of mud.
Cutting a ___ Figure
Quentyn is said to “cut a poor figure”. Once again, GRRM seems to choose each and every word with the utmost care, because GRRM uses the idiom “to cut an [adjective] figure” only two other times, and both times are of interest to House Martell if and only if my hypotheses are correct. The first time involves Ser Hugh of the Vale, a likely Littlefinger pawn (as Ser Morgarth seems to be) who dies in the Hand’s Tourney, which I’ve argued elsewhere prefigures the forthcoming Tourney in the Vale (attended by Ser Morgarth) in numerous ways. Ser Hugh “cut a gallant figure”. (GOT E VII) Gallant, like the princes holy men can sometimes seem to be, according to Meribald. Gallant, the very term Sansa uses to describe Ser Morgarth, AKA “poor” figure-cutting Quentyn’s great-uncle Lewyn.
GRRM also writes that Bloodraven “cut a striking figure” in The Sworn Sword, two seconds before he mentions his “odd-shaped… wine-stain birthmark”, which I’ve argued references both Elder Brother Lewyn and Marwyn, helping to encode their fraternity. Bloodraven is a major character in The Mystery Knight, in which he attends a tournament at a white castle disguised as a hedge knight (just as Elder Brother Lewyn is now attending the tourney at a white castle as the hedge knight Ser Morgarth). I will argue elsewhere that The Sworn Sword is in fact the key to uncovering the true identity of Morgarth’s companion, Ser Byron the Beautiful, who I’ve already argued seems in every way to surely be the long-lost Tyrek Lannister. If two instances of people “cutting figures” relate so readily to the Vale tournament, why shouldn’t the third (i.e. Quentyn’s)? It does, because Quentyn’s great-uncle Lewyn, to whom he is explicitly and repeatedly linked in ADWD—
“Prince Lewyn was as valiant a brother-in-arms as any man could wish for. Quentyn Martell is of the same blood, if it please Your Grace.” (Dae VIII)
I could not help Prince Lewyn on the Trident, but I can help his nephew [Quentyn] now. (tDK)
Nor was Prince Lewyn his [i.e. Quentyn’s] only uncle. (tDK)
—is “Ser Morgrath the Merry”.
Doran and Drinking
Doran’s story, like Quentyn’s, hints at the Martell identities of the former “drunk” Elder Brother and the sourleaf-addicted Marwyn by referencing addiction and sobriety rather than by making Doran a (dry) drunk/addict, too. Thus Doran complains that “Obara is too fond of wine”, like Elder Brother was. That said, we do see Doran take comfort in two glasses of a wine he “loved”:
[Doran] ate a bit of it, and drank a cup of the sweet, heavy strongwine that he loved. (CotG)
Loving a glass of wine is a good way to become a wino like Elder Brother. At the same time, a glass of wine with dinner (on what he knows is his last night at the Water Gardens after two years there, on the heels of the news that Oberyn is dead) is hardly a problem, and while Doran refills his cup, it’s not clear whether he actually drinks the second glass. (Not that two drinks over the course of many hours is a “problem”.)
As we did with Quentyn, we’re explicitly shown Doran foregoing blissful intoxication (despite the pain he is in), which again foregrounds the issue of sobriety:
[Caleotte:] “Shall I fetch a draught for the pain?”
[Doran:] “No. I need my wits about me.” (CotG)
Doran’s gout definitely nods to alcoholism/addiction. Alcohol was historically/colloquially believed to cause gout, and thus we’re invited to connect gouty Doran to the formerly drunk Elder Brother (and the likely addict Marwyn). In truth, though, while booze isn’t good for gout, clinically fructose is a greater villain. Thus Doran’s orange-eating—
He had decided to break his fast before he went, with a blood orange and a plate of gull’s eggs diced with bits of ham and fiery peppers. (CotG)
“We were eating oranges.” – Doran Martell (CotG)
—is probably worse for his gout than his alcohol consumption, per se (despite the fact that vitamin C on its own may help reduce one’s risk of contracting gout). That purine-rich ham is especially bad for him, and the dates Dorne is known for—
A fortnight past, a trader had been butchered in the shadow city, a harmless man who’d come to Dorne for fruit and found death instead of dates. (FFC tSK)
—are a fructose bomb.
(All the butter they make on the Quiet Isle, by the way, is good for gout, so if Lewyn has a genetic predisposition toward gout, which is a thing, he’s eating right!)
Not Simply Gout, But Saturnine Gout
. Lead sugar AKA “salt of Saturn” AKA lead acetate was often added to wine in and after the Middle Ages to sweeten and/or preserve it. And what kind of wine does Doran love?
sweet, heavy [like lead!] strongwine
Sounds like wine sweetened with lead sugar to me, especially given (a) lead’s colloquial reputation as quintessentially “heavy” and (b) GRRM’s love of wordplay.
Sure enough, the distinguishing features of saturnine gout perfectly coincide with Doran’s symptoms. Unlike normal gout, which tends to afflict one or perhaps two joints only and most frequently the joint at the base of the big toe, bouts of saturnine gout “tend to occur in the knee” and “are frequently polyarticular”, meaning they affect many joints at once. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2661030) Indeed, Doran’s knees are a huge problem, and his gout is very polyarticular:
The gout had swollen and reddened his joints grotesquely; his left knee was an apple, his right a melon, and his toes had turned to dark red grapes, so ripe it seemed as though a touch would burst them. (FFC CotG)
Doran has other subtle symptoms that are consistent with lead poisoning/saturnine gout as well. Consider these descriptions of Doran:
…they found Doran Martell seated behind a cyvasse table, his gouty legs supported by a cushioned footstool. He was toying with an onyx elephant, turning it in his reddened, swollen hands. The prince looked worse than she had ever seen him. His face was pale and puffy, his joints so inflamed that it hurt her just to look at them. (FFC PitT)
Beneath the coverlet, his legs were pale, soft, ghastly. Both of his knees were red and swollen, and his toes were almost purple, twice the size they should have been. (DWD tW)
[Doran] sounded so sad, so exhausted, so weak. (FFC PitT)
When he raised his head to look at her, his dark eyes were clouded with pain. Is that the gout? Arianne wondered. (PitT)
The prince leaned back against his pillows and closed his eyes, but Hotah knew he did not sleep. He is in pain. (CotG)
Sometimes in the deep black hours of the morning sleep found him in his chair. (CotG)
The prince sat in his high seat beneath the Martell spear, his face pale with pain. (CotG)
Look, his hand is shaking. The Prince of Dorne is terrified. (tSK)
[Doran’s] legs had been useless for three years, but there was still some strength in his hands and shoulders. (DWD tW)
Doran’s generalized pain, exhaustion and weakness, his insomnia, his hand tremors (if not feigned for Arys’s benefit) and his mostly pallid complexion combined with the lividity (blood pooling/dark color/swelling) in his hands and lower body is likewise consistent with chronic lead poisoning.
Another symptom of lead poisoning is loss of appetite (whereas common gout is associated with overconsumption), and Doran certainly doesn’t seem the hungry sort:
A serving man brought him a bowl of purple olives, with flatbread, cheese, and chickpea paste. He ate a bit of it, and drank a cup of the sweet, heavy strongwine that he loved.
Chronic common gout leads to the formation of “tophi”—white, chalky deposits of uric acid crystals which can break through the skin—but “tophi rarely develop” in cases of saturnine gout. And indeed, there’s no hint of tophi in the descriptions of Doran’s gout symptoms. Given the medical evidence, it’s safe to say that Doran’s beloved strongwine is the primary cause of his troubles. In a certain unusual sense, then, it can be said that Doran does have a drinking problem of sorts, and thus that he is in his way “like” his former “drunk” Elder Brother uncle after all.
Given the medical evidence, it’s safe to say that Doran’s beloved strongwine is the primary cause of his troubles. (In a certain unusual sense, then, it can be said that Doran does have a drinking problem of sorts after all. It’s just not the alcohol that’s causing the problem.)
The “Saturnine” Giveaway
While the medical evidence adds up, for me there’s an even better, textually-coded reason to believe that Doran has saturnine gout. Remembering that saturnine gout is caused by lead poisoning, isn’t it interesting that Doran’s brother Oberyn is (a) a master poisoner and (b) literally called “saturnine” in juxtaposition to a reference to Doran’s gout”
“My brother’s health requires he remain at Sunspear.” The princeling removed his helm. Beneath, his face was lined and saturnine, with thin arched brows above large eyes as black and shiny as pools of coal oil. (SOS Ty V)
Ladies and gentlemen: GRRM.
The Charles I/V Parallel
Doran’s gout is clearly riffing on the story of one of real-world history’s most infamous gout sufferers: Spain’s King Charles I AKA Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Charles didn’t marry until he was 25—very late in life for his era and station. Doran likewise married very late for a firstborn highborn man of Westeros: Given that Doran is 52 at the beginning of AFFC, in very early 300 AC—
Though he was but two-and-fifty, Doran Martell seemed much older. (FFC CotG)
—he was likely 25 c. 273, when he did not sail to Casterly Rock with his mother and siblings because…
…Doran was betrothed to Lady Mellario of Norvos… (SOS Ty X)
Much as King Charles famously fell in love with his wife at first sight, so did Doran and Mellario fall for one another at first sight—
“I saw Volantis once, on my way to Norvos, where I first met Mellario. The bells were ringing, and the bears danced down the steps. Areo will recall the day.”
“I remember,” echoed Areo Hotah in his deep voice. “The bears danced and the bells rang, and the prince wore red and gold and orange. My lady asked me who it was who shone so bright.”
Prince Doran smiled wanly. (FFC PitT)
—such that It Is Known that he “married for love”. (DWD tDT)
Perhaps most obviously, Charles was infamously carried from place to place in a sedan chair due to the pain of his gout, just as Doran transported by litter, unable to walk or even ride.
Two Doran-Charles connections are more playful. First, Charles’s love was Isabella of Portugal. Portugal is, of course, famous for the production of Port, which “coincidentally” could be described rather perfectly as a “sweet heavy strongwine” like the one Doran “loved”.
Second, while Charles’s wife Isabella gave birth to five children in total, two of her sons died as infants, leaving her with three children who grew to adulthood. This just so happen to prefigure what we’re told about Doran’s mother:
“I was the oldest,” the prince said, “and yet I am the last. After Mors and Olyvar died in their cradles, I gave up hope of brothers. I was nine when Elia came, a squire in service at Salt Shore. … And a year later Oberyn arrived, squalling and kicking.” (FFC CotG)
All these allusions to King/Emperor Charles are fascinating. To the extent that people have long speculated that Charles suffered from saturnine gout, much like many believe the Romans did, the parallel could even help reinforce the idea that Doran’s gout is saturnine, caused by the lead sugar used to sweeten his wine.
The parallel isn’t just for fun, though. It also betrays the secrets of House Martell. To wit, Charles had a famously enlarged lower jaw, recalling not just Quentyn’s “too square”, “heavy jaw”, but also Elder Brother’s “heavy jaw”/”thick square jaw” and Marwyn’s “slab of jaw”, which makes sense if they are related to our “Charles”, Doran.
Far more revealingly, Charles famously abdicated his titles and retired to a monastery, which is exactly what I am arguing Doran’s uncle Lewyn did after the Battle of the Trident.
And finally, Charles famously staged his own death and resurrection at the monastery, which is more or less exactly what Lewyn Martell did when he was “reborn” as a monk on Quiet Isle:
“When I died in the Battle of the Trident…” – Elder Brother
(The Martell/King Charles parallel also happens to support something I will argue in Chapter 2 of my Secret History of House Martell, but naturally I’ll wait until then to discuss it.)
Doran hints that Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn are Martells in a few more ways. Brienne reaches Elder Brother Lewyn’s Quiet Isle by walking “the path of faith”. She’s told…
“The path of faith, we call it. Only the faithful may cross safely.” (FF C B VI)
Her safe crossing, then, might be termed an “act of faith”, right? That just so happens to be exactly what does Arianne dubs Doran’s standing to bid her farewell. (WOW Ar I)
The Strength in Doran’s Hands and Shoulders
Although Doran is weakened and in great pain…
…there was still some strength in his hands and shoulders. (DWD tW)
Doran thus has relatively strong hands and shoulders, right? We’ve seen that Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn have huge hands and thick shoulders, while the “strength in [Marwyn’s] hands” is evident here:
When Sam hesitated, one of those hands grabbed him by the arm and yanked him through the door. (FFC S V)
The phrase “there was still some strength in his hands” is also curiously reminiscent of what Cersei thinks about Qyburn—
This one has some strength in him still. (FFC C I)
—who just so happens to be linked to Marwyn:
Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.” (SOS Jai VI)
The Martell Hands of Harrenhal
While we’re invited to assume Doran’s notably large knuckles—
His knuckles were as dark as cherries and near as big. (DWD tW)
—are only large because of his gout—
The gout had swollen and reddened his joints grotesquely… (FFC CotG)
—their knuckly, “grotesque” appearance is hardly inconsistent with Doran being kin to Morgarth, a man with “gnarled hands as large as hams”. Can it be coincidence that Doran’s cherries and Morgarth’s hams pair so well, given that AFFC makes this explicit?
Instead, the cooks… served them ham studded with cloves and basted with honey and dried cherries. (C IX)
Is it likewise coincidence that Arya’s odd description of Harrenhal—
Arya thought [the towers] looked like some old man’s gnarled, knuckly fingers groping after a passing cloud.… each tower was more grotesque and misshapen than the last, lumpy and runneled and cracked. (COK A VI)
—implies that “gnarled” hands (like Morgarth’s) are “knuckly” and “grotesque” (like Doran’s)? Meanwhile, “misshapen” reminds us of our other secret Martell, Marwyn (whose mastiff-like, “too big for his body” skull links him to a pair of “oddly misshapen”, mastiff-like dragon skulls), who has “the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen”. Funny, Harrenhal is “the largest castle ever raised in Westeros”. (TWOIAF; SOS B II)
Red and Swollen. Ghastly.
Doran’s gouty knees—
Both of his knees were red and swollen… (DWD tW)
—sound like Morgarth’s nose:
a red nose bulbous with broken veins
There’s a “tasty” textual bridge between them, too. Hotah likens Doran’s “red and swollen” knee to “an apple”. (FFC CotG) What else is both a figurative apple and, verbatim, “red and swollen”, like Doran’s knee?
[Lem’s] nose looked like a squashed apple, red and raw and swollen… (SOS A III)
A broken nose, a la Morgarth’s “broken” nose veins, Marwyn’s nose that “had been broken more than once”, and the maternal Martell Baelor Breakspear’s nose that “looked as though it had been broken more than once”.
GRRM also links the Martells to Marwyn by using the same rarely-used word, ghastly, to describe Doran’s legs—
Beneath the coverlet, his legs were pale, soft, ghastly. (DWD tW)
—Quentyn’s apparent death—
“The prince [Quentyn] paid a ghastly price for what he did.” (DWD tQH)
—and Marwyn’s smile—
Marywn smiled a ghastly smile…
—before describing Marwyn’s new crony fake-Pate as a “pale, soft youth”, thus circling back to Doran’s “pale, soft” legs. Rhyming, people. Rhyming.
Marwyn, Alleras, Poison, and, Especially, Maester Aemon.
I don’t mean to give the impression that all the evidence that Marwyn is a Martell is about coded physical descriptions and wordplay and such. It also makes sense. If Marwyn is a Martell, why wouldn’t Oberyn’s daughter Sarella/Alleras Sand be his right hand “man”? Likewise, Oberyn’s foray to Oldtown and successful (if brief) time at the Citadel—
He had studied at the Citadel, going so far as to forge six links of a maester’s chain before he grew bored. (SOS Tyr V)
—jibes with Archmaester Marwyn being his uncle. Might Marwyn be the oddly nameless maester mentioned the very first time we ever hear of Oberyn?
“That snake of a Dornishman was to blame, that Oberyn Martell. And his maester as well.” (SOS San I)
Regardless, the reference suggests there’s something worth knowing about a maester that’s “related” to Oberyn. Mayhaps Marwyn taught Oberyn something about poison. In any case, the fact that Marwyn makes a throwaway remark about poisoning—
“But say nothing of prophecies or dragons, unless you fancy poison in your porridge.” (FFC S V)
—is hardly inconsistent with the idea that he’s the Dornish uncle of the Red Viper:
“They’re all poisoners, these Dornish.” (DWD tKB)
“Who knows more of poison than the Red Viper of Dorne, after all?” (SOS Ty IX)
But here’s the big giveaway. Marwyn being a Martell perfectly explains something enigmatic he says to Sam:
“Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.” (FFC S V)
Marwyn means exactly what he’s saying here. As a Martell, he has Targaryen blood, just like Aemon, and thus can be trusted “no more than [Aemon] can”.
“The Stubborn Fool”
Earlier I mentioned that Quentyn lighting a candle could be a nod to Marwyn (who famously lit his glass candle) being Quentyn’s uncle. This isn’t the only such hint. Consider the following remark about “the stubborn” trying to light a glass candle:
“The night before an acolyte says his vows, he must stand a vigil in the vault. No lantern is permitted him, no torch, no lamp, no taper . . . only a candle of obsidian. He must spend the night in darkness, unless he can light that candle. Some will try. The foolish and the stubborn, those who have made a study of these so-called higher mysteries.” (FFC Pro)
And what does Selmy tell Dany about Dornishmen as regards Quentyn Martell (and his forebears, which in a sense Marwyn is)?
“Dornishmen are notoriously stubborn, Your Grace. Prince Quentyn’s forebears fought your own for the better part of two hundred years. He will not go without you.” (DWD Dae VIII)
What do Quentyn’s friends say about him?
“Quentyn was our friend, yes. A bit of a fool, you might say, but all dreamers are fools.” (DWD tQH)
Quentyn’s Dornish uncle being the one to light a glass candle thus makes perfect sense.
Arianne’s hair is “black and thick”, like Morgarth’s “thick salt-and-pepper beard” without the salt.
Her “rounded belly” textually rhymes with Marwyn’s “round… belly”. (tSK)
There are two cute hints that Marwyn is a Martell in Arianne’s story. First, she only found Doran’s infamous letter to Quentyn because Doran “left a candle burning” in his solar. (FFC tSK) What ominously sits in Marwyn’s sanctum in Oldtown? A burning glass candle.
Second, we’re told Marwyn…
…was not a man to be refused. (FFC S V)
Much as Arianne is quite evidently not a woman to be “refused”:
When the man refused to answer her, Arianne seized a flagon of red wine and upended it over his head. (FFC PitT)
Arianne is a bit of a wino, just like Elder Brother was:
When [Arianne] required more wine, Timoth would fetch it. (FFC PitT)
When [Arianne and Tyene] were ten Arianne had stolen a flagon of wine, and the two of them had gotten drunk together. (PitT)
Cedra glanced up shyly at his name and almost spilled the wine that she was pouring [for Arianne]. (PitT)
[Arianne] drank a little wine to settle her stomach. (PitT)
She seems to prefer her wine strong and she makes fun of Arys’s low tolerance for alcohol:
[Arys:] “I was drunk when I said that.
[Arianne:] “You’d had three cups of watered wine.” (FFC tSK)
She also tacitly informs us that the Dornish as a whole are a drunken bunch when she says the “Drunken Dornishman” Inn was “aptly named”. (TWOW Ari II) All these nods to addiction are consistent with the ex-drunk Elder Brother and the sourleaf-munching Marwyn being Martells.
Oberyn the Fightin’ Wino
Oberyn’s very different physicality (“tall, slim, graceful”, “slender” etc.) is probably the primary obstacle preventing readers from considering whether the vastly different looking Elder Brother and Marwyn might be Martells. Having shown that Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn resemble other Martells, I’ll leave Oberyn’s “look” (and the salacious explanation for it) for later. Here, I just want to note that Oberyn is every bit the wine-drinking, fighting man Elder Brother once was and Marwyn may still be (albeit with a sourleaf twist):
“Is it Dornish wine you’re drinking?” [said Oberyn.]
“From the Arbor.”
Oberyn made a face. “Red water.”
“I think I may drink some of Lord Redwyne’s grape juice after all.”
“As you like.” Tyrion served him a cup.
The man took a sip, sloshed it about in his mouth, and swallowed. “It will serve, for the moment. I will send you up some strong Dornish wine on the morrow.” He took another sip. (SOS Ty IX)
Tyrion found Prince Oberyn drinking a cup of red wine as he donned his armor. He was attended by four of his younger Dornish lordlings. “Good morrow to you, my lord,” the prince said. “Will you take a cup of wine?”
“Should you be drinking before battle?”
“I always drink before battle.” (SOS Ty X)
Note that Oberyn “always drink[ing] before battle” pretty perfectly prefigures Elder Brother’s conflation of fighting and drinking—
“When I was not fighting, I was drunk. My life was writ in red, in blood and wine.” (FFC B VI)
—not least because Oberyn prefers “strong Dornish wine”, which is explicitly likened to blood:
The wine was Dornish strongwine, dark as blood and sweet as vengeance. (DWD tW)
Tyrion certainly implies Oberyn life is likewise “writ in red” when he thinks…
His tourneys, his battles, his duels, his horses, his carnality… (SOS Ty V)
So does Doran, here:
“My brother loved the fight for its own sake….” (FFC PitT)
Marwyn’s nose betokens he, too, has loved to “fight for its own sake”.
The Green Viper, “Marwyn”, and Making Mock
Speaking of connections between Marwyn and Oberyn, there’s a near-giveaway hint that they’re related in TWOW Alayne I. Sansa walks outside to the sight of knights preparing for the upcoming tourney. We’re told:
At the north end of the yard, three quintains had been set up, and some of the competitors were riding at them. Alayne knew them by their shields; the bells of Belmore, green vipers for the Lynderlys, the red sledge of Breakstone, House Tollett’s black and grey pily.
Isn’t it curious that the sigil of House Lynderly is “green vipers”, which can’t fail to bring to mind “the Red Viper” Oberyn Martell (and perhaps “Lyn” Corbray, avowed slayer of Lewyn Martell), whereas the knight of the adjacent House Belmore is very probably named Marywn:
Ser Marwyn Belmore, a lanky ginger-headed knight who had been Lysa’s captain of guards till Petyr had put Ser Lothor Brune in his place. (FFC San I)
The Not-Red-But-Green Viper and “Marwyn”, side by side! And what does this “Marwyn” do in our story? He whines about Marillion—
“He made mock of me as well,” Ser Marwyn Belmore said. “Ser Ding-Dong, he named me.” (ibid.)
—doing exactly what Oberyn did to Elia’s suitors:
“She was of that age, and her delicate health had never permitted her much travel. I preferred to amuse myself by mocking my sister’s suitors. There was Little Lord Lazyeye, Squire Squishlips, one I named the Whale That Walks, that sort of thing. The only one who was even halfway presentable was young Baelor Hightower. A pretty lad, and my sister was half in love with him until he had the misfortune to fart once in our presence. I promptly named him Baelor Breakwind, and after that Elia couldn’t look at him without laughing. I was a monstrous young fellow, someone should have sliced out my vile tongue.” (SOS Ty X)
It’s no accident that two characters with almost no role in our story are placed side by side while rather blatantly referencing Oberyn (a known Martell) and Marwyn (a secret Martell).
Here’s a little summary of some of what I’ve laid out regarding the Martells.
|Head||“large and square”||“too big for his body”; “mastiff” i.e. square||“overlarge and sort of square”|
|Jaw||“heavy Jaw”||“slab of a jaw”||“heavy jaw”, “too square”|
|Build||“Knight… written in his chest and shoulders”; “tall and straight”||“burly”, which ASOIAF links to a big chest and big shoulders||“heavy in the chest and shoulders”; “dockside thug”; “short and squat”||“short and stocky”; “thickly built”|
|Middle||“round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces”||“too thick about the middle.”||“rounded belly”|
|Hair||“scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw”||“thick salt-and-pepper beard”||“Bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils”||Gravedigger and Quiet Isle references||“black and thick”|
|Hands||“big hands”||“gnarled hands as large as hams”||“biggest hands that Sam had ever seen”||“knuckles dark as cherries and near as big”|
|Nose||“nose veined and red”||“red nose bulbous with broken veins”||“broken more than once”||“too broad”|
|Booze||red wine drunk; now sober||mulled wine, drunk nose||sourleaf; “ale belly”||solace in red wine; “sober”||gout; sweet red wine||lotsa red wine (like Oberyn)|
The Baelor Breakspear Parallels
Now that we’ve compared what we’re told about Elder Brother, Morgarth and Marwyn with what we’re told about Lewyn, Quentyn, Doran, Arianne and Oberyn, let’s turn to the maternal Martell Prince Baelor “Breakspear” Targaryen, from The Hedge Knight, who TWOIAF “codes” as “more Martell than Targaryen”. (TWOIAF) Many of the motifs surrounding Baelor are suspiciously mirrored and reworked by Elder Brother, just as we might expect if the two are secretly cousins, as they are if Elder Brother is Lewyn Martell, who is either the grandson or great-grandson of Prince Maron Martell and Daenerys Targaryen, whereas Baelor was the son of Maron’s sister Mariah Martell and Daenerys’s brother Daeron. Baelor also “rhymes” in certain respects with both Ser Morgarth and Marwyn, which makes sense if Elder Brother Lewyn is now Morgarth and if Marwyn is Lewyn’s brother.
Consider the following litany of similarities, both in-world and textual. (Baelor quotes: tHK, TWOIAF)
- Baelor is a “tall tall prince” with “long, straight legs”; Elder Brother is “straight and tall”. (Lewyn is “tall as a tower.)
- Dunk’s first thought upon seeing Baelor is that “there was a weight to him, a sense of power and certainty”. Despite his height, Baelor is physically thick enough that his adult son Valarr is clearly “slimmer” than Baelor is, despite being “shorter” as well. Clearly, then, Baelor is large. Upon seeing Elder Brother, Brienne’s first thought is that he “moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years” and has about him a definite, literally powerful aura, in that “He looks… like a man made to break bones” and has knight “written in his chest and shoulders”.
- TWOIAF says “Baelor Breakspear was cut down in his prime“; Elder Brother is said to be “in the prime of his years”.
- Baelor is called “Breakspear”. Elder Brother looks “like a man made to break bones“.
- Baelor’s “nose looked as though it had been broken more than once” and he’s called “the prince with the broken nose”. Marwyn’s “nose had been broken more than once”, matching Baelor almost verbatim. Morgarth’s nose is also “broken”: it has “broken veins”.
- Baelor’s hair is “dark and peppered” and he is “clean-shaven”, a funhouse-mirror version of Morgarth with his “thick salt-and-pepper beard” and of Elder Brother with his explicitly shaved scalp that is nonetheless as “as stubbly as his heavy jaw”.
- Just as Baelor does not look like Dunk expects him to look—
He does not look a Targaryen in truth, with that dark hair.
—so Elder Brother does not look like Brienne expects him to look:
“The Elder Brother was not what Brienne had expected. He could hardly be called elder… Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer.”
(Marwyn, of course, defies expectations similarly, looking “more like a dockside thug than a maester”.)
- Despite appearances, Elder Brother is kind. He greets Brienne’s group warmly. He speaks “softly”. Baelor has a similar demeanor. He speaks to Dunk “not unkindly”, and three times “quietly”, recalling the “Quiet Isle”.
- Baelor offers Dunk a drink by the light of a beeswax candle:
Baelor sat reading by the light of beeswax candle. Dunk knelt before him. “Rise,” the prince said. “Would you care for wine?”
Elder Brother unmistakably does the same:
The cave that Brienne and her companions entered had been turned into a warm, snug sanctum. Woolen carpets covered the ground, tapestries the walls. Tall beeswax candles gave more than ample light.…
“You must be thirsty. Please, have some of our sweet cider to wash the dust of travel from your throats.” [Elder Brother] poured for them himself.
(Marwyn is, like Baelor, a reader, and his chamber is unmistakably lit by a very particular kind of “candlelight”.)
- Both Elder Brother and Baelor are known for their “hands”, so to speak: Elder Brother is a healer known for his “healing hands”, while Baelor was known as “open-handed”. Both men take actions embodying the other’s notable hands: Elder Brother is open-handed—he welcomes Brienne, feeds her, and gives her shelter—while Baelor “sent his own maester to tend [the wounded Humfrey Hardyng].” (Marwyn is a maester himself.)
- It’s explicitly said that Baelor is “addressed… as brother” by Maekar. Obviously Elder Brother is addressed as (elder) brother as well.
- Baelor makes Egg ask forgiveness of Dunk:
“My uncle says I must humbly beg your forgiveness for deceiving you.”
Elder Brother implies Sandor “sought forgiveness” of him, and tells Meribald:
“Ser Quincy will ask you for forgiveness.”
- Dunk doesn’t even begin to suspect who the avowedly Martell-looking Baelor is until it’s spelled out for him, just as Dunk’s descendant Brienne doesn’t grok that Elder Brother is Lewyn.
It’s apparent that some of the best hints of an in-world parallel between Baelor and Elder Brother consist in mostly/purely textual parallels. Taken as a whole, these parallels are too much to be certain coincidence.
To wit, the fare served at Elder Brother’s table is “plain, but very good”, which echoes how Baelor’s garb is described here:
Though he was dressed very plainly, in green doublet, brown mantle, and scuffed boots, there was a weight to him, a sense of power and certainty.
Baelor dressing “very plainly” yet having “a weight to him, a sense of power and certainty” seems, in turn, to “rhyme” with Elder Brother’s foregrounded, “strange but simple” furniture:
The furnishings were strange but simple…. All were made from driftwood, oddly shaped pieces cunningly joined together and polished till they shone a deep gold in the candlelight. (FFC B VI)
When we compare that description with this one of Baelor’s garb the next day—
Sunlight flashed golden off the shoulder clasp that held his cloak and the slim coronet about his temples, but otherwise he dressed far more simply than most of the other lords.
—it’s tough to escape the impression that GRRM is subtly linking Elder Brother to this Martell-Targaryen prince: Both scenes involve gold reflecting a light source, something being explicitly joined/held together, and a certain belying simplicity.
As previously discussed, the verbiage “oddly shaped” (which describes the wood from which Elder Brother’s highlighted furniture is crafted) has only a couple analogues in the canon, two of which prove quite curious. First, there’s a pair of “oddly misshapen” dragon skulls which happen to be compared with mastiffs—
The most recent were also the smallest; a matched pair no bigger than mastiff’s skulls, and oddly misshapen, all that remained of the last two hatchlings born on Dragonstone. (GOT Ty II)
—thus recalling the misshapen skull (see: “His head was too big for his body”) of Archmaester Marwyn, who is called “the Mastiff” and whom I am arguing is (a) Elder Brother’s elder brother and (b) a Martell possessing the “blood of the dragon”. Second, there’s Bloodraven’s “odd-shaped… wine-stain” birthmark—
Across his cheek and chin spread a wine-stain birthmark that was supposed to resemble a red raven, though Dunk only saw an odd-shaped blotch of discolored skin. (tSS)
—which is redolent of (a) Elder Brother (the owner of the “oddly shaped” furniture) saying his “life was writ in red, in blood and wine” and (b) Marwyn’s sourleaf-stained teeth. Bloodraven himself is a non-Targaryen with “dragon’s blood”, like the Martells. Bloodraven once disguised himself as a hedge knight to infiltrate a tournament hosted by a former Master of Coin at a white castle, which just so happens to be exactly what I’m arguing Elder Brother Lewyn is doing now in the guise of Ser Morgarth the Merry.
Maekar Targaryen, Maternal Martell
Like his brother Baelor Breakspear, Maekar Targaryen was Mariah Martell’s son and the nephew of both Prince Maron Martell and Daenerys Targaryen, who were either grandparents or great-grandparents to Lewyn’s generation of Martells. Like Baelor, Maekar exemplifies the fact that the Martells aren’t all or even usually “lithe” like Oberyn and the salty Dornishmen in general. He also shows that they’re not all tall like Baelor and Oberyn, either. As previously noted, Maekar is called “stocky”, “thickly built and powerful”, while Quentyn, who “looks like” Doran, is verbatim “thickly built” and “stocky”. The match gives us every reason to suspect other Martells might take after Maekar (and/or his brother Baelor) in some respects.
A careful reading of The Hedge Knight hints that Maekar might in fact look like a Martell to Dunk. Consider how Dunk first sees Maekar:
“—more concerned if they were your sons, I’ll wager,” an angry man was saying as Dunk approached.
His straight hair and square-cut beard were so fair they seemed white in the dimness of the hall, but as he got closer he saw that they were in truth a pale silvery color touched with gold.
To us, Maekar’s hair color may be a giveaway that he’s a Targaryen. And a quick, blithe reading of the description of Maekar shortly after that (from Dunk’s POV) seems to indicate that this is what Dunk thinks, too:
Thickly built and powerful, the prince—he was surely a prince—wore a leather brigandine covered with silver studs beneath a heavy black cloak trimmed with ermine.
“Surely a prince”? Surely, then, Dunk knows Maekar is a Targaryen, right? There’s just one problem. Mere moments later, after it dawns on him that Maekar’s interlocutor is Baelor Targaryen, he thinks the following:
Belatedly he recalled that the stocky man with the silver beard had addressed Prince Baelor as brother.
He is blood of the dragon as well, damn me for a fool. He could only be Prince Maekar, the youngest of King Daeron’s four sons.
Wait, what? Dunk identified Maekar as a prince right away, and a Targaryen prince is by definition “blood of the dragon”, right? So why is Dunk damning himself for a fool? Might this be because Dunk first thought Maekar (who is the son of Mariah Martell, remember) was actually one of Maekar’s first cousins: a son of Mariah’s brother Prince Maron Martell and Maron’s consort Daenerys Targaryen and thus a Prince, indeed? A Prince of Dorne?
I suspect the textual weirdness and Dunk’s in-world confusion is there to impart a lesson to the reader: in ASOIAF, we’ll meet Martell princes who are “angry”, “stocky”, “thickly built and powerful”, like Maekar. And lo! Elder Brother has “Knight… written in his chest and shoulders” and lived an angry life “writ in red”; “Ser Morgarth” is “burly”; and Marwyn is “short and squat”, “heavy in the chest and shoulders” with “a bull’s neck”, and looks “as if he were about to tear off someone’s head”, which certainly sounds angry, as does his “brow beetl[ing]” (per the “scowling or sullen” sense of “beetle-browed”). Maekar-ish fits of anger are also a good way to get one’s nose broken, like Marwyn’s.
The Lessons of Baelor and Maekar
As we’ve seen, it’s impossible to read about the maternal Martells Baelor and Maekar and think any of them are “lithe” like the salty Dornishmen or “slim” and “graceful” like Oberyn. (SOS Ty V) Clearly both were big, powerful men. Given that the present Martells descend from Baelor and Maekar’s mother’s brother coupling with Baelor and Maekar’s father’s sister, and given the likewise “thickly built” physiques of Quentyn and thus Doran, it seems that Oberyn is something of an exception, and that most Martells have “thick”, “powerful” bodies, just as Marwyn and Morgarth/Elder Brother do.
Note, too, that while Baelor was thought to look like his Martell mother, Dunk doesn’t say that he is olive-skinned. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t; POVs omit details we think they “should” mention all the time—welcome to dramatic fiction—and olive skin can be subtle. That said, it seems likely that Dunk’s silence means that Baelor didn’t have olive skin, despite being “more Martell than Targaryen” and just as Martell as the proper “Martells” of his generation, if only because shortly before meeting Baelor Dunk comments on someone else’s “olive skin” and Dornish look:
The puppeteer who worked the dragon was good to watch too; a tall drink of water, with the olive skin and black hair of Dorne. (tHK)
If this reading is correct, Baelor’s not-olive skin imparts the same kind of lesson as the one demonstrated by Baelor and Maekar’s physiques: not all “Martells” will be “olive-skinned”. Again, this makes sense given that the Martells were co-founded by an Andal and have been forced to constantly make marriages of alliance with far flung, non-“salty” houses.
(For what it’s worth, I suspect that several generations ago the Martells were no longer particularly olive-skinned. I suspect that Doran’s mother was preceded in rule by her father, who married a woman of considerable Rhoynish blood. I suspect that woman gave birth to Doran’s mother but died sometime thereafter, and that Doran’s mother’s father remarried a less Rhoynish woman, who birthed Marwyn and Lewyn. But normal variance could also explain things.)
Ser Uthor Underleaf As Martell-Connector
Note: Even more than my arguments thus far, this section presupposes that GRRM has intentionally constructed ASOIAF as a kind of coded document which everywhere bursts with secrets, if only we know how to read it, in the conscious spirit of Joyce’s Ulysses or Nabokov’s Pale Fire. (It’s thus no idle homage that Riverrun is called Riverrun [a la Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake] or that “pale fire” is repeatedly seen in dreams and visions in ASOIAF [supernatural communication via dreams being a theme in Pale Fire] or that the decidedly morbid Dolorous Edd is so named [“Dolores Shade” of Nabokov’s Lolita being wordplay on the etymologically similar “dolorous”].)
I believe the descriptions of Ser Uthor Underleaf of The Mystery Knight constitute a kind of textual “hub” or “signpost” of Martell-associated motifs, implicitly verifying the linkage between (a) the “secret” Martells Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn and (b) known Martells like Oberyn, Obara and Meria Martell. What do I mean?
Here’s our main description of Ser Uthor:
“Indeed, ser,” said one of their companions on the bench, a sallow man, saturnine, clad in grey and green. His eyes were small and shrewd, set close together beneath thin arching brows. A neat black beard framed his mouth, to make up for his receding hair.
Uthor is “sallow”. So was Princess Meria Martell, who reigned in Sunspear at the time of Aegon’s conquest:
Meria Martell… was very fat, blind, and almost bald, her skin sallow and sagging. (TWOIAF)
Sallow complexions are classically associated with jaundice, which goes hand in hand with alcoholism (a la Elder Brother), but also with gout, a la Doran. This connection to gout and thus Doran is driven home by Uthor being “saturnine”, inasmuch as it’s virtually certain that Doran suffers from “saturnine gout” resulting from the use of lead acetate in his wine.
Ser Uthor being “saturnine” also recalls Oberyn Martell—
Beneath, [Oberyn’s] face was lined and saturnine, with thin arched brows above large eyes as black and shiny as pools of coal oil. (SOS Ty V)
—whose “thin arched brows” just so happen to be the sole analogue in the canon to Uthor’s “thin arching brows”. (SOS Ty V) (Saturnine gout sufferer Doran’s brother Oberyn being called “saturnine” in the first place is GRRM winking at us, telling us that he uses words to make connections just like this.) Uthor’s black hair is “receding”, which reworks this verbiage about Oberyn’s “lustrous black hair that receded from his brow”.
Uthor’s eyes are “set close together”, just as Obara Sand is twice said to have “close-set eyes”. (FFC CotG; DWD tW) More on Obara below.
If we infer from Uthor’s references to various known Martells that he’s a kind of reservoir of Martell motifs, his “shrewd” eyes seem to affirm that the shrewd-eyed Elder Brother is a Martell. That they’re “small” doesn’t just hint that Elder Brother—like ravens and the people of Sunspear—has “small black eyes”, as previously noted. It now seems to augur that Oberyn’s “large” eyes and Arianne’s “big” eyes are atypical—which makes sense if Oberyn gets his large eyes from his father and if Arianne didn’t happen to inherit her big eyes from Doran.
Grey and Green, White-Cloaked, Silent Sentinel-Soldiers
What about Uthor wearing “grey and green”? That has nothing to do with House Martell, surely. Actually, those colors are constantly paired (16 times!) with “grey-green sentinel trees”, which are in turn constantly paired with (16 more times!) with “soldier pines”. As previously discussed, Arianne sees…
soldier pines that stood as tall and straight as a tower (WOW Ar II)
—a phrase which perfectly combines Elder Brother being “straight and tall” with Lewyn being “tall as a tower”. She then references the “silent trees”, nodding to Quiet Isle’s vows of silence. Why does GRRM use grey-green sentinel trees to connect Uthor’s colors to the “tall and straight as a tower” soldier pines? Or to put it another way, why are the soldier pines which sound so much like Elder Brother and Lewyn associated with sentinel trees? Because “sentinels” are guards, as in Kingsguards. To hammer the point, we read about white-cloaked soldier pines and sentinel trees:
Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak the soldier pines and sentinels in white. (DWD B III)
What was Lewyn, as a Kingsguard, if not a “sentinel in white”? ADWD ultimately conflates sentinels and soldier pines completely, lest we get hung up on the distinction:
A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom. (DWD GiW)
Those sentinel trees, by the way, are the very first thing ASOIAF calls “stubborn”:
This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. (GOT C I)
And what does Selmy say about Dornishmen, specifically as regards a Martell?
“Dornishmen are notoriously stubborn, Your Grace. Prince Quentyn’s forebears fought your own for the better part of two hundred years. He will not go without you.” (DWD Dae VIII)
Notice the rhyme: stubborn Quentyn is surrounded by Yronwoods, the stubborn sentinels by “ironwoods”.
Uthor, Baelor and Elder Brother
A second description of Ser Uthor—
Underleaf’s garments were of good cloth, clean and well cared for, but simply cut. A silver clasp in the shape of a snail fastened his cloak.
—likewise bolsters my earlier analysis. As a whole, it blatantly echoes this description of the maternal Martell Baelor Breakspear—
Sunlight flashed golden off the shoulder clasp that held his cloak and the slim coronet about his temples, but otherwise he dressed far more simply than most of the other lords.
—a passage we already saw connected to Elder Brother. Note, too, how Uthor’s clothing being “simply cut” but “of good cloth” rhymes with the food served at the table of the Baelor-esque Elder Brother, i.e. Lewyn Martell:
The food was plain, but very good;
Lest there be any doubt that the connections I’ve drawn are real, compare Uthor here (and note who he talks about)—
Ser Uthor seated himself and stretched his legs out. “Prince Baelor was well loved.”
—with “Prince Baelor” himself, here:
Even seated, he looked to be a head taller than the other, to judge from the long straight legs stretched out before him.
To be absolutely clear: my broad point is not that Uthor is related to the Martells, in-world. It’s that textually, he links the known Martells Meria, Oberyn, Doran, and Obara to the secret Martell Elder Brother Lewyn by embodying traits possessed by each of them and by simultaneously referencing both the half-Martell Baelor and Quiet Isle.
Brown and Dun (Again) and Hemp.
This phenomenon goes beyond Uthor’s personal physical traits. His “dun-colored” tourney tent, staked to the ground with “hempen ropes”, reminds us of Sunspear (“brown and dun”) and its “dun-colored Sandship”, and also the brothers of the Quiet Isle, whose robes are “brown-and-dun” and presumably tied with the same “hempen ropes” we see various other holy brothers’ robes tied with, thus further underscoring the connection between the Martells and the Quiet Isle. (FFG CotG; Jai I; B VI; COK Ty V)
Uthor arrogantly boasts of his prowess—
“I am a tourney knight, the best that you are ever like to meet.”
“The best?” His arrogance made Dunk angry.
—in a way that recalls Oberyn’s arrogance shortly before he dies:
Prince Oberyn was unimpressed. “I have killed large men before. The trick is to get them off their feet. Once they go down, they’re dead.” The Dornishman sounded so blithely confident that Tyrion felt almost reassured…
“You are going to fight that?” Ellaria Sand said in a hushed voice.
“I am going to kill that,” her lover replied carelessly. (SOS Ty X)
Uthor’s knowing, amused demeanor—
The Snail looked amused.
The prince’s eyes were dark with amusement.
Marwyn and Uthor
“Get out of my sight. This good knight and I have matters to discuss.” [Uthor said.]
Will wasted no time in scrambling from the tent. “Have a seat,” Ser Uthor said politely. “Will you take wine?”
—reworks two motifs from Marwyn Martell’s story: First, Marwyn ordering Sam and Alleras in to his chambers—
“Get in here, Slayer,” growled the man in the doorway. “And you, Sphinx. Now.”
—and second, how Marywn…
“…is not a man who believes in wasting time.” (FFC S V)
Uthor’s invitation to sit and drink recalls Elder Brother Lewyn offering Brienne cider as she sits with him in his cottage, while it plays with Baelor offering Dunk wine after telling him to rise:
Dunk knelt before him. “Rise,” the prince said. “Would you care for wine?”
Uthor on Gallant Princes
Quentyn attempts some “gallantry” (pointedly recalling Meribald’s reference to a “gallant prince” and Sansa calling Morgarth “gallant”)—
“My marriage need not be the end of all your hopes. I know why you are here.”
“For you,” said Quentyn, all awkward gallantry. (DWD Dae VIII)
—for which Uthor happens to have the perfect reply:
Ser Uthor laughed. “Is that gallantry I smell, or just stupidity? (tMK)
The name “Uthor Underleaf”, by the way, has some interesting Martell-ish resonances which are consistent with the idea that Uthor is a walking code identifying Elder Brother, Morgarth and Marwyn as Martells. There are two other Uthors in the canon. One is, like Marwyn, a maester. His sole appearance is in reference to a situation—
“Ramsay killed him. A sickness of the bowels, Maester Uthor says, but I say poison.” (DWD R III)
—paralleling that which many suspect is afflicting Tywin when Tyrion kills him: i.e. a poisoning of the bowels we’re nudged to believe was Oberyn’s doing.
The other Uthor is shoehorned into a discussion of the founder of the Citadel, which Oberyn attended and where his daughter “Alleras” is an acolyte in their uncle Marwyn’s service:
The origins of the Citadel are almost as mysterious as those of the Hightower itself. Most credit its founding to the second son of Uthor of the High Tower… (TWOIAF)
What else does TWOIAF tell us about second sons founding things? That Oberyn rode with the Second Sons “before founding his own [free] company.”
The word “Underleaf” naturally reminds us of the idiom “turning over a new leaf”, which refers to beginning anew, fresh. This is, of course, exactly what Elder Brother Lewyn Martell did after “dying” at the Ruby Ford.
“Underleaf” is also a real world noun. It refers to a certain kind of “leaf” found on plants called “liverworts”, a fact which suggests my reading of Uthor is correct in two respects. First, the “leaves” of a liverwort are not true leaves: they just look like leaves, much as Uthor is probably not a Martell, but rather someone who shares Martell motifs. Second, “liverworts” were named because they were believed to cure diseases of the liver. So what? So, where do you think “sallow” Meria Martell, “the Yellow Toad of Dorne”, got her name? From her yellow skin. Why do people develop jaundiced yellow skin? Because of liver disease. Which comes from drinking too much, like Elder Brother, Oberyn and Arianne. Let’s also mention: toads are thought to cause (ahem) “worts”. So to speak.
Lest you don’t think GRRM knows this, “liverwort” makes an appearance in TWOIAF in TWOW, where it’s listed along with lungwort and hornwort. It just so happens to be part of Arianne Martell’s second POV chapter (where it’s part of a very elaborate, not-yet-discussed parallel to Quiet Isle which once again hints at the Martell living there).
“Underleaf” Cider Apples
There’s more in the name “Underleaf”, though. It has a second, archaic meaning:
- (obsolete) A prolific kind of cider apple. (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/underleaf)
Underleafs were cider apples! As in the very apples we see Oberyn’s daughter “Alleras” shoot in the AFFC Prologue, before s/he drinks “fearsomely strong cider” and leads Sam to Marwyn. Any reference to apples, of course, conjures the idiom “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree”, a reference to the similarities children bear to their parents, and thus to family trees and lineage: just the things Uthor helps us expose.
“Uthor Underleaf”, indeed.
(By the way, the fact that Uthor is the “Snail Knight” doesn’t hurt my case. “Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” is one version of an elementally famous nursery rhyme line, “frog” being Quentyn’s Martells nickname and Dog wagging his tail repeatedly on and around Quiet Isle. That said, Uthor’s Snail epithet tells us something juicier about Martell secrets. But that’s a story for another day.)
Obara of Oldtown
Let’s talk about Obara, whose eyes are “close-set”, much as Uthor’s eyes are “set close together.” I believe it’s fairly obvious that she was sired by Marywn, not Oberyn.
The repeated emphasis on her rat-brown hair—
Obara was the eldest Sand Snake, a big-boned woman near to thirty, with the close-set eyes and rat-brown hair of the Oldtown whore who’d birthed her. (FFC CotG)
Obara, rusted nails and boiled leather, with her angry, close-set eyes and rat-brown hair. (DWD tW)
—recalls Barbrey Dustin’s rant in which she calls maesters “grey rats” and talks of them fathering bastards:
” Walys Flowers had… an archmaester of the Citadel for a father, it was rumored. The grey rats are not as chaste as they would have us believe. Oldtown maesters are the worst of all.” (DWD PoW)
Surely these words have some dramatic payoff. How “chaste” is “Oldtown maester” Marwyn? Not very, judging by the lascivious way he talks about prophecy:
“Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is . . . and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams.” (FFC S V)
Actually, Barbrey’s monologue encodes the idea that Marwyn is exactly the sort of not-so-chaste, bastard-spawning “Oldtown maester” she is talking about, in that the very next sentence—
“Oldtown maesters are the worst of all. Once [Walys] forged his chain, his secret father and his friends wasted no time dispatching him to Winterfell…” (DWD Pow)
—directly recalls what “Alleras” says about Oldtown Maester Marwyn:
“The Mage is not a man who believes in wasting time.” (FFC S V)
With his thick, squat body, his “slab of a jaw” and his oversized skull, Marwyn is surely as “big-boned” as Obara (albeit shorter, which I’ll discuss below), whereas Oberyn is “slim” and “slender”. (SOS Ty V; IX) At present Marwyn is old enough that “bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils”, whereas Oberyn was probably 12 years old and living in Sunspear when Obara was conceived in Oldtown. (I’ll discuss the timeline shortly.)
Eight more clues convince me Obara is Marwyn’s daughter, not Oberyn’s (and that Hotah likely knows this).
First, Obara has distinctly “close-set” eyes. Hotah thinking…
All of Prince Oberyn’s daughters have his viper eyes, Hotah realized suddenly. The color does not matter.
…has never really jibed with Obara’s eyes being so clearly detailed in a way that doesn’t sound anything like Oberyn’s nor her supposed sisters, color aside. Oberyn’s eyes are “large… pools of coal oil”. Tyene’s eyes are called “deep blue pools” just before Hotah has his epiphany. Surely eyes that are “deep pools” are not small, so viper eyes seem to entail both size and liquidity. There’s no mention of either as regards Obara, but Nym’s eyes are “large and lustrous”, which sounds like much the same thing. (Lustrous implies a shine, which comports with the liquid quality of Oberyn’s and Tyene’s eyes.) What’s more, a literal viper’s eyes are the opposite of “close-set”. To the contrary, they’re set very far apart relative to human eyes. I suspect Hotah knows the truth of Obara’s paternity, and that his epiphany after seeing first Obara, then Oberyn’s actual daughters Nymeria and Tyene, is a subtle allusion to this (and to another family secret I’ll discuss later).
Second, Obara’s eyes are “angry”. While we are told naught of Marwyn’s eyes, we are told that his “brow beetled”. This can have several meanings. Per dictionary.com, one of them is that he was “scowling or sullen”, an impression easily conveyed by someone with “angry” eyes. And indeed, look what Obara does, just like “dad”:
[Obara]… sat there sullen and scowling, neither smiling nor speaking. (DWD tW)
Third, Obara is called “prickly” and “hot-tempered”. (FFC CotG) Certainly the Red Viper lives for vengeance, so this could fit. In truth, though, Oberyn’s demeanor is general calm and smirking. His flaws are arrogance, over-confidence, and vanity more than “seeing red” in the heat of the moment. Indeed, he attempts to goad The Mountain into losing his temper. Marwyn, on the other hand, wears an obvious badge of being a “prickly, hot-tempered” sort of man: his oft-broken nose suggests he’s been punched in the face many times, which is just the sort of thing that somehow befalls “prickly, hot-tempered” people.
Fourth, a bit of whimsical wordplay. Consider: We’re told “Obara bristled“, while Marwyn’s “Bristly white hair sprouted” and his (“bristly”?) “brow beetled”. (DWD tW; FFC S V)
Fifth, (and here things get real) Obara’s mother explicitly doubted that Oberyn was her father:
“‘She is a girl,’ she said, ‘and I do not think that she is yours. I had a thousand other men.'” (FFC CotG)
Sixth, Obara’s mother is an “Oldtown whore”. Marwyn literally “kept company with whores” —
The Mage was not like other maesters. People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards… (FFC Prologue)
—and hung out not just in “brothels”, but, we’re told in the same breath, in “rat pits”:
Men spoke of seeing [Marwyn] down in the undercity, in rat pits and black brothels…
Rat pits, as in Obara’s repeatedly “rat brown” hair.
Seventh, Arianne says Obara is “so fierce”. (DWD tW) While Oberyn is also “so fierce”, what else are fierce according to our text? (FFC CotG) Mastiffs—
“Gallant, that son of mine, and fierce as a mastiff.” (COK B II)
—like Marwyn “the mastiff”, who “looked more like a mastiff than a maester”. (FFC S V; Pro) (Note another reference to “gallant”, the word Sansa applies to Morgarth, who I believe is Marwyn the Mastiff’s brother Lewyn.)
Finally, Oberyn’s and Obara’s very names suggest that he adopted her. GRRM loves Shakespeare, and “Oberon” is the King of Faeries in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Much of the drama revolves around Oberon wanting to raise a “changeling” stolen from his true parents as his own son in order to make the boy his “henchman”. Sounds a lot Oberyn and Obara, doesn’t it?
The one detail about Obara that makes her seem more Oberyn’s daughter than Marwyn’s is the fact that she is explicitly “long-legged”. Oberyn is “tall, slim” and takes notably “long strides”, implying he has long legs, whereas Marwyn is “short and squat”. (FFC CotG; SOS Ty V, X) That said, the text just so happens to give us an example of a Martell whose height is attributed entirely to her mother—
Where the Sand Snakes were tall, Arianne took after her mother, who stood but five foot two. (CotG)
—so despite her height and long legs, I am confident Obara is Marwyn’s daughter by a long-legged whore.
Obara and the Martell Timeline
A look at the timeline doesn’t rule out the possibility that Oberyn sired Obara, but it does show that Oberyn was very young when Obara was conceived. Obara is 28 in very early 300 AC, per the AFFC Appendix. (AFFC actually begins in late 299, with Obara’s first appearance likely taking place c. “January” 300. I am assuming the beginning of her story is the reference point for the appendix.) At the absolute latest, then, she was born c. early “January” 272 and conceived c. “April” 271. On the other hand, if she turned 28 back in late “January” of 299 (such that she is almost 29 when we meet her), she was conceived c. “April” 270. The evidence suggests Oberyn was only 11 and 12 at those times. How so?
Doran is “two-and-fifty” at the outset of AFFC, c. “January” 300. He casually states that there are “ten years between [he and Oberyn]”, which doubles down on Tyrion thinking Oberyn is “ten years too young” to be Doran in ASOS Ty V. (FFC CotG) Thus one might posit that Doran was born in mid-247, and Oberyn in mid-257, which would mean Oberyn was at minimum almost 13 when Obara was conceived. That’s what most folks seem to do. So what’s the problem?
The problem is Oberyn’s statement that he was (only) “oh, fourteen, fifteen, thereabouts” in 273 AC. (SOS Ty V) If Oberyn is really almost exactly 10 years younger than Doran—a dubious notion many assume without comment—then regardless of exactly when Doran was born between January 247 and January 248, we would expect Oberyn to instead say he was “fifteen, sixteen” in 273, given that almost every possible birthday per Oberyn being exactly 10 years younger than Doran would see him as 15 turning 16 that year. Yet for some reason GRRM decided to have Oberyn say he was a year younger.
We can happily marry everything we’re told per the following scenario, which merely assumes Doran and Tyrion are (gasp!) rounding-off when they say Oberyn is “ten years” younger than Doran: (a) Doran was born in very late 247 or in early “January” 248, and (b) Oberyn is close to 10½ years Doran’s junior, having been born c. April/May/June 258. This would mean Oberyn was 14 turning 15 in mid-273, perfectly matching what he tells Tyrion. It would also mean Oberyn was less than 13 years-old when Obara was conceived between April 270 and April 271. Yes, this is still old enough for a precocious boy to father a child, but it’s also young enough to invite suspicion, especially given the way the “obvious” timeframe suggested by “ten years” and “two-and-fifty” encourages us to think Oberyn was a year or so older at the time.
My best guess is this: Sometime in mid-late 270—perhaps for his 12th birthday—Oberyn visited his Uncle Marwyn in Oldtown. Marwyn decided to make a man of his nephew, while partaking of the same “Oldtown whore” himself. (I suspect he may well have been a “regular” who had and would continue to develop a relationship with the woman.) When Obara was born, Marwyn’s vow of celibacy made it at best highly problematic for him to claim her as his own—and in any case there is no DNA testing in Westeros. At a certain point, Oberyn decided to step in and “do the right thing” on behalf of his uncle. Obara’s mother drank herself to death—perhaps as much because the wrong man took her daughter as anything else: a man she did not love or know as she did Marwyn.
The Dwarf Brother Signpost
I believe Uthor Underleaf is just one of many characters whose descriptions are largely contrived in order to link together traits possessed by various public and/or secret Martells. Another such “signpost” is Brienne’s dwarf holy brother, whose description connects Marwyn, Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth, while suggesting they are “all” (i.e. both) Martells.
Here he is:
Not until he hopped off the bench did Brienne realize that the speaker was a dwarf. The little man was not quite five feet tall. His nose was veined and bulbous, his teeth red from sourleaf, and he was dressed in the brown roughspun robes of a holy brother, with the iron hammer of the Smith dangling down about his thick neck.
“Keep your seat,” she said. “I can stand as well as you.”
“Aye, but my head is not so apt to knock upon the ceiling.” The dwarf’s speech was coarse but courteous. Brienne could see the crown of his scalp where he had shaved it. Many holy brothers wore such tonsures. (FFC B II)
The dwarf’s “veined and bulbous” nose combines words used to describe the noses of Ser Morgarth—
a red nose bulbous with broken veins
—and Elder Brother—
his nose veined and red
—who are one and the same.
The dwarf is a “holy brother” like Elder Brother, and his tonsure and shaved scalp are called out, as are Elder Brother’s—
Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw.
—while his “coarse but courteous” speech parallels Morgarth’s manner, right down to both men’s first word being “Aye”:
“Aye,” said [Morgarth]…. “You left out that part, m’lord.” (FFC Ala II)
“M’lord” is inherently courteous, but also lowborn, “coarse” speech. (Lewyn, like Sandor, knows how to sound common, unlike Theon.) Lest we miss the parallel to Morgarth, the dwarf likewise calls Brienne “m’lady”.
The dwarf’s teeth are “red from sourleaf” like Marwyn’s—
sourleaf had stained [Marwyn’s] teeth a mottled red…
—and later he smiles a “red smile” like Marwyn:
Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth.
The spotlight on the holy dwarf’s neck and necklace—
…the iron hammer of the Smith dangling down about his thick neck.
—likewise parallels the one on Marwyn’s:
Marwyn wore a chain of many metals around his bull’s neck.
Meanwhile, the “iron hammer of the Smith” hanging from the dwarf’s neck recalls the same thing hanging from the neck of the eldest survivor of the Brave Companions’ rape of a septry in ASOS:
The eight brown brothers watched with resignation. They were all that remained, explained the eldest, who wore a small iron hammer on a thong about his neck to signify his devotion to the Smith.
In turn, almost every motif in said survivor’s description of his septry—
“Before the war we were four-and-forty, and this was a prosperous place. We had a dozen milk cows and a bull, a hundred beehives, a vineyard and an apple arbor. (SOS Ary VII)
—just so happens to be reworked on Quiet Isle, which has an Elder Brother of “four-and-forty name days”, a “dozen” mules, “milk cows”, cottages that “looked like beehives”, a “summer arbor” where the “grapes are small and tart, but make a drinkable wine”, and “apple trees”. It’s even said to be “prosperous”:
Even from shore [Quiet Isle’s] prosperity was apparent. (FFC B VI)
The dwarf’s necklace thus points to the “eldest brother” massacre survivor who in turn points to Quiet Isle and its Elder Brother.
Later in Brienne’s chat with the impossibly evocative dwarf, there’s another cute reference to Ser Morgarth which further ties in to Elder Brother:
True to her word, Brienne bought [the dwarf] his bowl of hot crab stew . . . and some hot fresh bread and a cup of wine as well. As he ate it, standing by her side, she mulled what he had told her.
Keeping in mind GRRM’s love of wordplay, here’s how we meet Ser Morgarth:
Alayne found [Petyr] seated by a crackling fire, drinking hot mulled wine with three men she did not know. (FFC Ala II)
Glorious stuff, and not just the “mulled” doubled entendre. Sansa meets Morgarth by a “crackling” fire and his wine is “hot”. The dwarf holy brother eats “hot crab stew”, which implies cracking crab claws, as embodied by “Crackclaw Point”, where Brienne travels thanks to the dwarf’s advice. Cracking. Crackling, get it? Further, Brienne gives the dwarf “hot fresh bread” which recalls the “crusty bread still warm from the ovens” served by Elder Brother, who also serves… wait for it… “a thick stew of crabs, mussels, and… fish.” (FFC B VI)
As for the fact that the dwarf is a dwarf, that allows GRRM to write…
The little man was not quite five feet tall.
…which connects him almost verbatim to House Martell via Doran’s maester:
Caleotte was no more than five feet tall and bald as an egg. (FFC CotG)
It may mean more, too, but that’s a story for a later day.
The Dwarf Brother & Dontos
GRRM has Brienne describe Dontos’s nose to the contrived dwarf in terms—
“Did this fool have a red nose, full of broken veins?“
—that recall what was just said about the dwarf, i.e.:
His nose was veined and bulbous, his teeth red from sourleaf…
So is GRRM just a lazy, redundant writer, with all these motifs meaningless? No way. It’s part of the same puzzle. Recall that Dornishmen are tagged as “stubborn”, which together with this passage about lighting glass candles—
He must spend the night in darkness, unless he can light that candle. Some will try. The foolish and the stubborn, those who have made a study of these so-called higher mysteries.
—suggests that Marwyn the glass-candle-lighter is a stubborn Dornishman? Look who else persists: “the foolish”. And here we have a drunken “fool” with a “red nose” that’s “broken” in its way that sounds like the Martell-referencing dwarf’s nose, which is paired with the dwarf’s sourleaf-stained teeth, whereas Marwyn is a glass-candle-lighter (and thus a figurative “fool”) with a “broken” nose who is addicted to red-staining sourleaf.
And remember this line and its suggestion that Ser Morgarth the Merry is the “shrewd-eyed” Elder Brother in disguise?
“She likes to play the merry fool, but underneath she’s shrewder than her father.”
Fool fits right in to the hint: Randa…
…likes to play the merry [as in Ser Morgarth] fool [like the drunk Dontos, ‘this fool’ with ‘a red nose, full of broken veins’], but underneath she’s shrewder [like ‘shrewd-eyed’ Elder Brother AKA Ser Morgarth who has a ‘red nose bulbous with broken veins’, because he was a drunken knight like Dontos]…
Other Such Signposts
There’s actually a slew of characters who embody traits possessed by Marwyn and/or Lewyn and/or known Martells in order to wink at what’s really going on with House Martell (while paradoxically also “running interference” for the very same connections they bridge when you know who’s being connected). I’ll dig into a few of them, and hopefully redeem some of GRRM’s seemingly oddly repetitive physical descriptions for you.
Torghen Flint was half a head shorter but must weigh twice as much—a stout gruff man with gnarled, red-knuckled hands as big as hams, leaning heavily on a blackthorn cane as he limped across the ice.
—perfectly combine Doran’s big, red knuckles—
…the prince raised a hand, its knuckles red and swollen. (FFC tSK)
Prince Doran raised a hand. His knuckles were as dark as cherries and near as big. (DWD tW)
—with Ser Morgarth’s…
gnarled hands as large as hams (FFC Al II)
…to suggest that Morgarth is related to Doran, who like Torghen walked with a cane:
[Doran] had still walked, albeit slowly, leaning on a stick and grimacing with every step. (CotG)
Meanwhile, Torghen’s “blackthorn cane” refers to Taena Merryweatherr (who I will show in a future chapter is Oberyn’s bastard daughter and a mole for Doran, one of his “friends at court”). How does it do that? Blackthorn is also called sloe, and Taena is called a “sloe-eyed beauty”. (FFC C III)
Torghen being “gruff” recalls de facto Martell Areo Hotah’s “gruff, deep voice”. (PitT) His short, “stout” build sounds like “short and squat” Marwyn, not least because “Kegs” the black brother is “stout”, squat Marwyn has a “rock-hard ale belly”, and kegs and ale imply one another. (SOS J VII) The verbiage “a head shorter” recalls maternal Martell Baelor Breakspear being “a head taller” than Maekar. (tHK)
Bronze Yohn Royce
Yohn Royce’s description similarly combines and reworks motifs related to known and secret Martells, beginning here:
The Lord of Runestone stood as tall as the Hound… (FFC Ala I)
…just as Arianne says Prince Lewyn, who as Elder Brother heals said Hound…
…was as tall as a tower… (FFC tSK)
Similarly, part of Elder Brother’s description—
Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw. He looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal them…
—apes both the form (“Though…”) and content of Yohn’s description:
Though his hair was grey and his face lined, Lord Yohn still looked as though he could break most younger men like twigs in those huge gnarled hands.
Yohn’s “huge gnarled hands” in turn ape Morgarth’s “gnarled hands as large as hams”, while his “lined” face recalls Oberyn’s “lined” face.
Having thus used Yohn to tie together Lewyn, Elder Brother, Morgarth and Oberyn, GRRM gives Yohn eyebrows—
Bronze Yohn had slate-grey eyes, half-hidden beneath the bushiest eyebrows she had ever seen. (FFC Ala I)
—which point to Marwyn in two ways. First, Marwyn’s “brow beetled”.
- beetle-browed adj having bushy or overhanging eyebrows
Second, Marwyn’s hands parallel the form of Yohn having “the bushiest eyebrows she had ever seen”:
He had the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen. (FFC S V)
Finally, Yohn has a “seamed and solemn face”. Quentyn is “solemn” and de facto Martell Areo Hotah has a “seamed” face, even as Hotah’s “gruff, deep voice” recalls both Yohn’s “booming” voice and Yohn’s cousin Nestor being “gruff”. (DWD Dae VII; WOW Ari II; FFC PitT; SOS San VII)
The way Yohn is described thus invites us to grok that Marwyn and Morgarth/Elder Brother are in various ways related to Lewyn, Oberyn, Quentyn and (in a sense) Hotah.
Walder Frey (Yup.)
Walder is “half-blind and gouty”. “Gouty” is verbatim what Oberyn calls Doran. Meria Martell was “blind”, and “half-blind” is how Dany remembers Ser Willem Darry at the House of the Red Door. (SOS Epi, Ty V; AWOIAF; GOT D I) While this is not the place for a detailed argument, it’s my belief that Dany’s memories of Ser Willem are actually a conflation of several people from Doran’s court, including Doran’s “old blind seneschal Ricasso”, before he went completely blind. (FFC CotG) These are all known Martells (and an associate), of course. How does Walder point to a “secret” Martell?
bald head, spotted with age, thrust out from his scrawny shoulders on a long pink neck (SOS C VI)
…much as secret Martell Marwyn’s head “thrust forward from his shoulders”. (FFC S V) “Spotted” Lord Frey’s “pink neck” recalls Marwyn’s associate “Spotted Pate” thinking about “pink-necked novices”, which in turn recalls the “novices” surrounding Cersei in ADWD’s Epilogue, one of whom, I will later argue, is a disguised Tyene Martell. (FFC Pro, J V)
Skahaz has a “beetled brow”; Marwyn’s “brow beetled”. Skahaz has “small [black] eyes” with “heavy bags” under them, recalling the “small black Dornish eyes” of Sunspear and the “heavy bags” under Doran’s eyes. He also has a “big nose” like Morgarth’s “bulbous” nose and a ceremonially shaved head like Elder Brother’s tonsure. (DWD Dae I; FFC tSK, CotG, Ala II, B VI)
Shahaz has an “angry face” and eyes that “brimmed with fury”, recalling how Obara “had an angry mannish look to her” and “angry” eyes. (DWD Dae I, V; FFC CotG, DWD tW) Shahaz’s eyes are also called “black pools” and his skin is “oily”, recalling and reworking Oberyn’s “eyes as black and shiny as pools of coal oil.” (DWD QG) It’s also noted that his skin “looked more yellow than the usual amber of Ghiscari”, which recalls The Yellow Toad of Dorne, Meria Martell, who I am certain for a slew of reasons was so named because of her jaundiced, yellow skin.
Axell Florent & The Martells
Aside from his big Florent ears, Axell Florent is an amazing reservoir of Martell motifs.
Axell Florent’s “nose was broad” like Quentyn’s “too broad” nose. He is “a stout man” with “short legs and a thick chest”, much as Quentyn is “short-legged and stocky, thickly built”. He’s “homely”, as Quentyn is “plain-faced,… not the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster.” (The terms homely and plain-faced are both applied to Marwyn’s protege Mirri Maz Duur, validating this link.) The fact that “coarse hair covered [Axell’s] cheeks and jowls” both winks at “the stubble on [Quentyn’s] cheeks and chin” and jibes with Elder Brother Lewyn’s notably “stubbly… heavy jaw”. (DWD J IX, MM, tDK; FFC B VI)
Making Axell a “keg of man” with a “barrel-chest” winks at (a) Marwyn’s “ale belly” and “heavy… chest”, and (b) Lewyn/Morgarth being “burly” (barrel-y?), a term ADWD specifies as entailing a big chest: “he was bigger across the chest, burlier…”. Axell’s eyes are “close-set” like Obara’s, and “hostile”, recalling the “hostility” of the Dornish eyes of Sunspear. His “bandy legs” recall the “bandy-legged little brother” on Marwyn’s little brother Lewyn’s Quiet Isle. Axell’s “brow beetled”; Marwyn’s “brow beetled”. It’s said of both Axell and Marwyn, verbatim: “hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils”. (COK Dav I; SOS Dav II, IV; FFC S V, CotG, tSK, B VI)
When we first see Aenys Frey—
A grey stooped giant of a man with watery red eyes and huge gnarled hands… (COK A X)
—he reminds us of (a) the greying Morgarth-Lewyn, who has “gnarled hands as large as hams”, (b) Elder Brother Lewyn, who stands among the “stooped” brothers of Quiet Isle, and (c) Marwyn, whose posture could be called stooped, who has huge hands and who we’ve seen looks like a man-sized giant. (FFC Ala II; B VI)
When we meet Aenys again his “eyes close-set above a pointed nose” combine Obara’s “close-set” eyes and Oberyn’s “sharply pointed” nose. His “rat’s tail” beard echoes Obara’s “rat-brown hair”, but it’s said to “sprout” like (Obara’s father) Marwyn’s ear and nose hair “sprouted”. (DWD PoW; FFC CotG, S V)
This is just a sample of how the books—especially AFFC and ADWD—reuse physical descriptions as a kind of coded message to careful readers auguring the relationship between House Martell and Elder Brother/Morgarth and Marwyn. (On a more mundane level, this has the effect of “running interference” for the mysteries of the identities of characters like Elder Brother and Marwyn.)
The Name “Morgarth”
The name “Morgarth” is loaded. It’s my belief that Ser Byron (Morgarth’s fellow hedge knight) is a clear shout out to Lord Byron, the poet. I’m inclined to agree with /u/elpadrinonegro that Sers Byron, Morgarth and Shadrich collectively reference the so-called Cockney School of English writers with whom Byron was associated, a group derided for their ostensibly loutish style by classist, elitist literary snobs. (Thus both Shadrich and Alayne refers to the trio as “louts”.) “Morgarth” references Moorgate, birthplace of Cockney School-er John Keats, and the “hunter” Ser Shadrich (who has a fox-face like “heigh-ho”-singing Tom O’ Sevens) references Cockney School writer Leigh Hunt.
But why Morgarth rather than, say, Morgat? Because a “garth” is a term associated with the cloister of a monastery, as in monks, as in the holy brothers of Quiet Isle. “Morgarth” is Elder Brother Lewyn: a “dead” monk. Or better still, a Martell monk: Mors Martell was the co-founder of House Nymeros-Martell.
“MorgArth” may also play with “Dead Arthur”, as in Lewyn’s Kingsguard brother, Arthur Dayne. “Morgarth” also combines part of Arthur’s name with Mor-as-in-Mors Martell. Interestingly, the name Mordane does the same thing. Both names may allude to the enduring alliance of the Martells and Daynes. Finally, it may (also?) be playing with Arthurian legend (as ASOAIF itself is) as it blends the names Arthur (as in King Arthur) and Morgan (as in Morgan le Fay/Morgana), which is obviously entirely consistent with “Morgarth” being one of the Kingsguards, ASOIAF’s equivalent to the Knights of the Round Table. This makes sense since Quiet Isle itself seems an analogue to Arthur’s Avalon.
When Brienne’s party arrives on Quiet Isle, a man called Brother Narbert greets them but balks at a woman’s presence on island. “Narbert” is a pretty clear reference to “Narberth Castle”, a famous, real-life Welsh fortress that so happens to figure prominently in The Mabinogion, “the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain” which so happen to contain an early version of the King Arthur stories, thus again suggesting a connection between Quiet Isle and the Kingsguard, not least because the oldest extant manuscript thereof is known as The White Book(!!) of Rhydderch. (wikipedia) This also tells us we’re on the right track in identifying Elder Brother as Lewyn, inasmuch as the name Lewyn is clearly derived from the Welsh name Llywelyn.
There’s also another Narbert in ASOIAF: Narbert Grandison, one of the flawed knights Stannis leaves with Queen Selyse in ADWD. It so happens Harlan Grandison was the knight Jaime Lannister replaced in Aerys’s Kingsguard. Is Narbert Grandison Harlan’s literal brother? Might “Brother Narbert” be one of Harlan’s “dead” Kingsguard “brothers”? Perhaps the firm, dutiful Jon Darry?
Lewyn’s “Death” and Life
Having hopefully convinced you that Elder Brother and Morgarth are both the “late” Lewyn Martell, let’s turn to how Lewyn came to be where he is. Lyn Corbray supposedly killed a badly wounded Lewyn at the Trident, which flows to Quiet Isle:
Petyr said that Prince Lewyn had been sorely wounded by the time the tide of battle swept him to his final dance with Lady Forlorn, but added, “That’s not a point you’ll want to raise with Corbray, though. Those who do are soon given the chance to ask Martell himself the truth of it, down in the halls of hell.” (FFC Al I)
This passage contains four hints that Lewyn is Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth. First, it establishes that the story of Lewyn’s death is hazy.
Second, it sarcastically alludes to the prospect of Sansa talking to “Martell himself”—something she ironically does soon thereafter, when she unwittingly greets him in his “Ser Morgarth” guise.
Third, Sansa thinks of Lewyn’s death as a figurative “dance”, only to soon thereafter literally dance with none other than Morgarth-Lewyn. (TWOW Alayne)
Fourth and most important, we’re told “the tide of battle swept” Lewyn to his death. I think this wording alludes to Lewyn floating down the Trident to Quiet Isle, where he later became Elder Brother. Why do I think so? Elder Brother Lewyn alters the details of his death to make him seem to have been “no one”, but his story not only jibes with Petyr’s account of Lewyn’s death and its implication that Corbray fought dishonorably (inasmuch as Elder Brother says he “died” when he was struck from behind after being shot twice), it even states that he was “washed up on the tide” onto Quiet Isle:
“When I died in the Battle of the Trident. I fought for Prince Rhaegar, though he never knew my name. I could not tell you why, save that the lord I served served a lord who served a lord who had decided to support the dragon rather than the stag. Had he decided elsewise, I might have been on the other side of the river. The battle was a bloody thing. The singers would have us believe it was all Rhaegar and Robert struggling in the stream for a woman both of them claimed to love, but I assure you, other men were fighting too, and I was one. I took an arrow through the thigh and another through the foot, and my horse was killed from under me, yet I fought on. I can still remember how desperate I was to find another horse, for I had no coin to buy one, and without a horse I would no longer be a knight. That was all that I was thinking of, if truth be told. I never saw the blow that felled me. I heard hooves behind my back and thought, a horse! but before I could turn something slammed into my head and knocked me back into the river, where by rights I should have drowned.
“Instead I woke here, upon the Quiet Isle. The Elder Brother told me I had washed up on the tide, naked as my name day. I can only think that someone found me in the shallows, stripped me of my armor, boots, and breeches, and pushed me back out into the deeper water. The river did the rest. We are all born naked, so I suppose it was only fitting that I come into my second life the same way. I spent the next ten years in silence.” (FFC B VI)
Elder Brother begins by matter of factly referring to his death, saying “When I died”. This is a key moment in ASOIAF: it shows us that there is public “death”, and then again there is death. The idea that he “was” Lewyn Martell before he “died” is consistent with his casual reference to his death, given Arianne’s maxim:
“Even death is not sacred to a Dornishmen.” (DWD tW)
Notice that Elder Brother also foregrounds the supposed truth of his words (“if truth be told”), which makes perfect dramatic sense if we will later learn that the truth is not being told.
I believe Lewyn not only lies about his former identity but pretends to have been “no one” because he is a Faceless Man or something very much like a Faceless Man, and the Faceless Men must always be “no one”. Why do I think this?
Sidebar: The Faceless Men of Quiet Isle?
The “Neo-Faith” of the sparrows, seemingly embraced by the pro-smallfolk brothers of Quiet Isle, seems oddly similar to the ideology of the Faceless Men. The suffering of the smallfolk of the riverlands is depicted in dramatic terms—
“These are the bones of holy men, murdered for their faith. They served the Seven even unto death. Some starved, some were tortured. Septs have been despoiled, maidens and mothers raped by godless men and demon worshipers. Even silent sisters have been molested. Our Mother Above cries out in her anguish.” (FFC B I)
—redolent of those the Kindly Man uses to talk about the suffering of the slaves of Old Valyria. Might Quiet Isle have some relationship with the House of Black and White, whether an outpost, a faction or a splinter group?
Quiet Isle is isolated, convenient to Braavos, and primarily inhabited by silent monks who are figuratively faceless:
They were clad in the brown-and-dun robes of brothers, with wide bell sleeves and pointed cowls. Two had wound lengths of wool about the lower halves of their faces as well, so all that could be seen of them were their eyes. (FFC B VI)
When Brienne thinks how Elder Brother doesn’t “have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer,” we’re surely invited to think of someone who does, but who instead presides over assassins: the Faceless Man Arya calls the kindly man:
The yellow skull was melting too, and the kindliest old man that she had ever seen was smiling down at her.
When Elder Brother greets Brienne, his choice of words—
“It is always a glad day when our friends Meribald and Dog honor us with another visit,” he announced, before turning to his other guests. “And new faces are always welcome. We see so few of them.”
—would be wryly apt for a Faceless Man, given the collection of faces Arya sees in the vaults below the House of Black and White.
It’s quite interesting that Bloodraven of all people shares the Faceless Man-ish Quiet Isle’s brown-and-dun color scheme—
…he wore dun-colored roughspun and stained brown leather. (tMK)
—when he is glamoured as Ser Maynard Plumm and infiltrating a scheming former Master of Coin’s tournament at a white-walled castle, exactly as the brown-and-dun roughspun-wearing Elder Brother Lewyn is now disguised as Ser Morgarth and infiltrating the tournament held by former Master of Coin Littlefinger at a white-walled castle in the Vale. Moreso because Bran Stark describes the now literally almost faceless Bloodraven in terms—
…tatters of leathery white skin hanging off a yellowed skull. (DWD B III)
…the white wooden worm that grew from the socket where one eye had been. (ibid.)
The pale lord’s voice was dry. (DWD B II)
—that blatantly echo how Arya Stark describes the Faceless Man she calls the kindly man:
The priest lowered his cowl. Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket. “Kiss me, child,” he croaked, in a voice as dry and husky as a death rattle. (FFC Arya I)
“Your Dornishman Did Not Lie”
Back to Elder Brother Lewyn’s story. Elder Brother’s life story is curiously impersonal. He names no names. It’s as if he was “No One. Truly.” But we’ll see that his story, well-filtered for the untruths and exaggerations of a Waif-like “lying game”, easily gels with the idea that he’s Lewyn, the youngest brother of Doran’s mother, the once-ruling Princess of Dorne.
Assuming that Elder Brother is the Dornishman Lewyn Martell, I believe GRRM contrives to have Lewyn’s own words (nominally regarding Timeon the Dornishman) ironically allude to the fact that we can’t take his story at face value:
“Your Dornishman did not lie,” the Elder Brother began, “but I fear you did not understand him.” (FFC B VI)
When Brienne asks Elder Brother…
“Why would you give up knighthood?” (ibid.)
“I never chose it. My father was a knight, and his before him. So were my brothers, every one. I was trained for battle since the day they deemed me old enough to hold a wooden sword.“
—(a) doesn’t unambiguously confirm that he did “give up” his knighthood, and (b) reminds me of nothing so much as what we’re told about Quentyn Martell:
Quentyn had trained with spear and sword and shield since he was old enough to walk, but that meant nothing now. (DWD tDT)
While Elder Brother’s brother Marwyn may have been knighted as a matter of princely course prior to becoming a maester, I suspect Elder Brother’s claim that all his brothers were knights is a cagey reference to Lewyn’s Kingsguard “brothers”, “every one” of whom was a knight—unlike Joffrey’s Kingsguard, which included the unknighted Sandor Clegane, whose acquaintance Elder Brother has lately made.
“Some I Took By Force”
When Elder Brother says…
“I had women too, and there I did disgrace myself, for some I took by force.”
…this might be true in the obvious sense that he sexually assaulted someone. (In a future post I will discuss the identity of his probable victim, if there was one.) However, I suspect his words are more certainly a sly allusion to his role in (a) the abduction of Lyanna Stark, a woman “Known” to be “taken by force”, and/or (b) the forcible seizure of women for Aerys’s pleasure, specifically Ashara Dayne, who was “dishonored” at the Harrenhal Tourney, which Aerys attended, by a man who died in Robert’s Rebellion, which Aerys did.
But Ashara’s daughter had been stillborn, and his fair lady had thrown herself from a tower soon after, mad with grief for the child she had lost, and perhaps for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well. (DWD tKB)
Why in the world would the “good” and “valiant” Lewyn have abetted Aerys raping anyone (or raped anyone himself), especially his Kingsguard brother Arthur Dayne’s sister? And why would he have helped “take” even a willing Lyanna given that Rhaegar was surely thereby dishonoring his wife Elia Martell, i.e. Lewyn’s niece?
First, because Kingsguards simply don’t disobey royal orders. We’re pointedly shown Kingsguards standing stoically by while Aerys rapes Rhaella—
Jaime and Jon Darry had stood at guard outside [Queen Rhaella’s] 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.” (FFC J II)
—and burns Rickard Stark alive, causing Brandon to strangle himself trying to save him:
“As for Lord Rickard, the steel of his breastplate turned cherry-red before the end, and his gold melted off his spurs and dripped down into the fire. I stood at the foot of the Iron Throne in my white armor and white cloak, filling my head with thoughts of Cersei. After, Gerold Hightower himself took me aside and said to me, ‘You swore a vow to guard the king, not to judge him.’ That was the White Bull, loyal to the end and a better man than me, all agree.” (COK C VII)
One of them is Jon Darry, to whom Lewyn is likened even as Jaime tells us both were “good men”:
“I learned from Prince Lewyn of Dorne and Ser Oswell Whent and Ser Jonothor Darry, good men every one.” (SOS Jai VIII)
If a good man like Lewyn felt forced to abet rape—and especially if he delivered his Kingsguard brother’s sister Ashara to Aerys only to see Aerys rape her—might not the resulting self-loathing see him become exactly what the Elder Brother describes himself to have been: “a sad man” whose “life was writ in red, in blood and wine”? Meanwhile, if he hesitated, showed regret, or later helped the pregnant Ashara flee King’s Landing, that could explain some of Aerys’s subsequent suspicion towards Lewyn:
“Somehow [Aerys] had gotten it in his head that Prince Lewyn must have betrayed Rhaegar on the Trident…” (SOS Jai V)
Still, would Lewyn’s vows suffice to keep him loyal while Rhaegar dishonored Elia, Lewyn’s own niece, by “taking” Lyanna? Wouldn’t that have been a step too far, especially if it meant Elia and her children would be dispossessed? Perhaps, if Rhaegar was truly forsaking Elia. But might Lewyn have remained close to Rhaegar—
The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell… (TWOIAF)
—and even helped to take Lyanna “by force” (if that truly happened) because he knew something we don’t: that Rhaegar wasn’t truly dishonoring Elia, because she had been in love with Arthur Dayne for some time—perhaps even since she visited Starfall with Oberyn c. 273—and had been carrying on an affair with him with Rhaegar’s blessing from the first?
Consider that Arthur siring Rhaenys would explain Aerys saying Rhaenys “smells Dornish” and increasingly mistrusting Rhaegar, who was allowing himself to be cuckolded. In these circumstances, Elia may have been happy to step aside for Lyanna. Remember: Martell women, like the Dornish generally, are libertines; in Dorne women are men’s equals; and Lewyn “did not feel there was any shame” (for either party!) if a Kingsguard (like Arthur) had a paramour. (DWD tDK)
To be clear: this is just one scenario. Lewyn may well have had other reasons to go along with Aerys and Rhaegar (besides simple duty), but that’s a topic for another day.
In this passage—
“There was a girl I wished to marry, the younger daughter of a petty lord, but I was my father’s thirdborn son and had neither land nor wealth to offer her… only a sword, a horse, a shield.”
—Elder Brother winks at Lewyn’s famous paramour. I’ll discuss her in the future. Suffice to say the Elder Brother is very proficient in the lying game.
“My life was writ in red, in blood and wine.”
I’ve already talked about this line several times. It directly alludes to Elder Brother being a Martell in two ways. First, its unusual tone and verbiage “rhyme” with how Doran receives news of Oberyn’s death:
Death had come to Dorne on raven wings, writ small and sealed with a blob of hard red wax. (FFC CotG)
Second, it also recalls Illyrio’s explanation for the Golden Company breaking its contract with Myr—
“Some contracts are writ in ink, and some in blood.” (DWD Ty II)
—which in turn recalls Lewyn’s nephew Quentyn breaking his contract (writ in ink) with a sellsword company in order to pursue “Fire and Blood”.
He Never Knew My Name
I want to look again at Elder Brother’s tale of the Trident, and this time I want to focus on the extent to which it references and reworks motifs found in Septon Meribald’s denunciation of war in the previous Brienne chapter. Notice how both men’s stories refer to lords not knowing their men’s name, to the desperate need to obtain supplies, to being wounded but fighting on, and to the alienation one feels from the banners one fights under. Here’s Elder Brother:
“I fought for Prince Rhaegar, though he never knew my name. I could not tell you why, save that the lord I served served a lord who served a lord who had decided to support the dragon rather than the stag. Had he decided elsewise, I might have been on the other side of the river. The battle was a bloody thing. The singers would have us believe it was all Rhaegar and Robert struggling in the stream for a woman both of them claimed to love, but I assure you, other men were fighting too, and I was one. I took an arrow through the thigh and another through the foot, and my horse was killed from under me, yet I fought on. I can still remember how desperate I was to find another horse, for I had no coin to buy one, and without a horse I would no longer be a knight.
And here’s Meribald:
“They see the lord who led them there cut down, and some other lord shouts that they are his now. They take a wound, and when that’s still half-healed they take another. …
“If they want new boots or a warmer cloak or maybe a rusted iron halfhelm, they need to take them from a corpse… And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone, that they are fighting beside strangers beneath a banner that they hardly recognize. They don’t know where they are or how to get back home and the lord they’re fighting for does not know their names, yet here he comes, shouting for them to form up, to make a line…, to stand their ground.
I believe the echo helps establish that Elder Brother is Lewyn Martell, because at the beginning of Meribald’s evocative monologue, he says something—
“War seems a fine adventure, the greatest most of them will ever know.” (FFC B V)
—that quite blatantly prefigures the mantra of none other than Lewyn’s nephew Quentyn—
“This will be my grand adventure.” – Quentyn (DWD tDT),
—(who would have been well-served to listen to Lewyn talk of the harsh realities of such “grand adventures”).
7 Washed Up Rubies
Elder Brother says…
“many strange and wondrous things are pushed toward us, to wash up on our shores. Driftwood is the least of it. We have found silver cups and iron pots, sacks of wool and bolts of silk, rusted helms and shining swords . . . aye, and rubies.” (FFC B VI)
Remembering that Elder Brother himself had been pushed to Quiet Isle and (verbatim) “washed up” on its shores, the fact that the rubies are then related to Rhaegar and a set of seven—
That interested Ser Hyle. “Rhaegar’s rubies?”
“It may be. Who can say? The battle was long leagues from here, but the river is tireless and patient. Six have been found. We are all waiting for the seventh.“
—surely begs to be read as an allusion to the Kingsguard, of which Lewyn was a member. The question is: who is “found”, who is missing, and what does that mean?
This is a good place to assert my belief that Rhaegar also survived the Trident, and that Elder Brother Lewyn knows this. Rhaegar’s survival pays-off all the stories of famed men being confused with their armor: Rorge’s masquerade as Sandor Clegane, Garlan Tyrell playing Renly’s Ghost, and especially Ser Artys Arryn being “killed” by Robar Royce only to charge from behind to win victory at the Battle of the Seven Stars. (This story is given a ton of space in TWOIAF: Artys dressed a retainer in his distinctive armor and it was the retainer, not Artys, who Royce killed.) The false death of Ser Artys further parallels our present drama in that the story involves the familiar motif of a Corbray claiming a kill involving Lady Forlorn:
The Corbrays of Heart’s Home have always insisted that it was Ser Jaime Corbray who dealt the mortal blow [to Robar Royce], and for proof they point to Lady Forlorn, reclaimed for House Corbray after the battle. (TWOIAF)
I think Rhaegar faked his death using his own notable, foregrounded armor (that so happens to have spilled the very rubies Elder Brother references). Meribald’s story of “The Old Inn” hints at this. The Inn’s sign was “a three-headed dragon of black iron”. During the Blackfyre Rebellion, loyalist Lord Darry cut up the sign. And then:
“One of the dragon’s heads washed up on the Quiet Isle many years later, though by that time it was red with rust.” (FFC B VII)
That red (i.e. loyalist) Targaryen dragon alludes to Rhaegar surviving the Trident, just as Elder Brother survived to be “washed up” on the Quiet Isle.
Rhaegar surviving along with his loyalist Lewyn, who is both Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth, is consistent with Morgarth’s interest in Sansa, who is not only Rhaegar’s queen Lyanna’s niece but surely referenced in Rhaegar’s literal Song Of Ice And Fire, aka Jenny’s Song. (See /u/cantuse
‘s blog, especially THIS POST.)
It’s not like nobody thinks something like this is going on, in world:
One wine-sodden taleteller even claimed that Rhaegar Targaryen had returned from the dead and was marshaling a vast host of ancient heroes on Dragonstone to reclaim his father’s throne. (GOT B VI)
Not so ancient, and not on Dragonstone, mayhaps.
Butter Cream. Whorls of Gold. Dragon’s Eggs and Disguised Princes with Dragon’s Blood. Turtles. Bonesnappers. Rhoynar Princes. The Dornish.
There’s a certain emphasis on butter churning when Brienne visits Quiet Isle. Upon arriving, she makes note of a butter-churning brother; later she savors the “fresh-churned butter” served at Elder Brother’s table. (FFC B V, VI) While this makes sense given that these are the environs of the fallen House Butterwell, I believe ASOIAF uses the association of Quiet Isle with butter-churning (i.e. the process by which butter is produced from cream) to coyly allude to the presence of Prince Lewyn Martell and his “dragon’s blood”. How so?
First, recall that per The Mystery Knight, the aforementioned House Butterwell was part of a scheme involving (a) a disguised-in-plain-sight “prince” of Targaryen blood who was not a proper Targaryen and (b) a dragon’s egg. Now, consider that the Targaryen-blooded Prince Lewyn, whom I believe is disguised-in-plain-sight as Elder Brother of the butter-churning Quiet Isle, descends from the first Daenerys Targaryen, while “our” Daenerys’s dragon Viserion—the same dragon Lewyn’s nephew Quentyn begins to tame in ADWD—hatches from a dragon’s egg that just so happens to have “scales the color of butter cream”. It’s also “veined with whorls of gold and bronze”, which sounds like Elder Brother’s strange, foregrounded, “deep gold”, driftwood furniture, which being wood is surely “veined” and “whorled” as well. (GOT Dae IX; FFC B VI) Doubly so because when we first see Dany’s eggs…
they shimmered like polished metal in the light of the setting sun… (GOT D II)
…which blatantly prefigures how Elder Brother’s furnishings are…
…polished till they shone a deep gold in the candlelight.
The symmetries are patent: polished metal : polished deep gold :: shimmered : shone :: the light of the setting sun : candlelight.
Recall that we’ve previously linked the description of Elder Brother’s furnishings of “oddly shaped” driftwood to certain descriptions of both the Martell-Targaryen Prince Baelor and Bloodraven, as well as to a pair of “oddly misshapen” dragon skulls which look like mastiffs, thus reminding us of Archmaester Marwyn the Mastiff, whose “head was too big for his body”. To this nexus of kaleidoscoping motifs let’s now add the implication of dragon’s eggs in the description of the mastiff-like dragons skulls, which are said to be…
…all that remained of the last two hatchlings born on Dragonstone. (GOT Ty II)
Now, given especially that driftwood (from which Elder Brother’s curiously dragon’s egg-esque furnishings are made) evidently came from “the river”—
“We prefer to call him Driftwood, as he was found beside the river.” – EB (FFC B VI)
—consider the many “rhymes” between (a) the descriptions of Viserion’s egg—“butter cream”, “veined with whorls of gold and bronze”—with its resonances with Elder Brother’s strange driftwood furniture and (b) the turtles with shells “covered with whorls of gold… and cream” we see swimming in the Rhoyne river amid a slew of Martell-and-Elder-Brother-evoking references to “Rhoynar princes”, the Dornish (who descend from the Rhoynar, who worshipped The Old Man of the River, a divine turtle) and “bonesnappers”, which sound oddly like Elder Brother looking “like a man made to break bones”:
Tyrion had glimpsed a dozen different sorts: large turtles and small ones, flatbacks and red-ears, softshells and bonesnappers, brown turtles, green turtles, black turtles, clawed turtles and horned turtles, turtles whose ridged and patterned shells were covered with whorls of gold and jade and cream. Some were so large they could have borne a man upon their backs. Yandry swore the Rhoynar princes used to ride them across the river. He and his wife were Greenblood born, a pair of Dornish orphans come home to Mother Rhoyne. (DWD Ty IV)
True, the turtle works in some “jade” in between its “gold… and cream”, but Lewyn’s niece has us covered here:
Lady Tyene smiled at that. Her gown was cream and green… (DWD tW)
The image of Oberyn’s daughter Nym riding a “golden sand steed” while wearing…
…a great silk cape of cream and copper that lifted at every gust of wind, and made her look as if she might take flight (FFC CotG)
…further associates the Martells with the (butter) cream, bronze, and gold motifs of Viserion’s egg—copper being a bronze alloy—and the gold and cream turtles, including the Elder Brotherish “bonesnappers”. The fact that she’s mounted and looks “as if she might take flight” underscores the connections, given the above reference to turtle-riding Rhoynar princes, which plainly reminds us of dragon-riding, which is what Quentyn is trying to do with Viserion, whose whorled and veined, gold and butter cream egg connects him to (a) the butter-churning Quiet Isle (located near the lands of House Butterwell, infamous for its role in a scheme involving a dragon’s egg and a dragon-blooded prince in disguise in plain sight) and (b) the “deep gold”, whorled and veined furniture of its Elder Brother, who I believe is none other than Quentyn’s and Nym’s “dead” great-uncle Prince Lewyn Martell.
(There’s a grace note regarding Viserion’s connections with the Martells. Notice what verb is used to describe his fire-breathing when Quentyn is attempting to tame him:
As he dropped his weapon to try and pry apart Viserion’s jaws, flame gouted from the tiger’s mouth. (DWD tDT)
He “gouted” flame, recalling Doran’s gout.)
Tyene Sand, the Stork Novice
I believe Tyene Sand has arrived in King’s Landing and has infiltrated Cersei’s inner sanctum as a novice of the Seven as of the Epilogue of ADWD. This fact, once realized, helps confirm that Lewyn Martell is Elder Brother of Quiet Isle, just as the idea that Lewyn is the Elder Brother supports the idea that Tyene is indeed one of the novices serving Cersei.
I’ll begin by considering in isolation the hypothesis that Tyene is one of the novices attending Cersei.
EDIT 7.8.2020 & 2/15/2021: A qualifying prefatory note: It is also entirely possible that everything I discuss below is written as it is not because Tyene is the specifc novice in question, but rather either to (a) suggest Tyene’s presence as one of the other two novices (one is “dark-haired”, one is “freckled”, but these things could be faked) or (b) to foreshadow how easy it will be for Tyene to take on the role of a novice in Cersei’s inner sanctum when she does get there. Ultimately it amounts to the same thing. END EDIT
Sweet Otherworldly Innocence
We’re told four times that Tyene is “sweet”, twice that she’s “innocent” and once of her “otherworldly innocence”:
Tyene is so sweet and gentle that no man will suspect her. (FFC CotG)
[Tyene]… rose as they entered, dressed in a clinging gown… that made her look as innocent as the Maid herself. (CotG)
…she looked as sweet as summer strawberries.… Tyene had an air of almost otherworldly innocence about her. (CotG)
Tyene had always been the one she loved the most, though; the sweet sister that she never had. (PitT)
Lady Tyene smiled at that. Her gown was cream and green, with long lace sleeves, so modest and so innocent that any man who looked at her might think her the most chaste of maids. (DWD tW)
“Ser Gregor does look lonely,” said Tyene, in her sweet septa’s voice. (tW)
Critically, Hotah calls Tyene “a child-woman”—
Tyene, blue-eyed and blond, a child-woman with her soft hands and little giggles. (DWD tW)
—which indicates she looks much younger than her “three-and-twenty” years. (FFC App) The term “child-woman” is used only one other time in the canon, when it refers to a 16-year-old:
Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child-woman of surpassing loveliness. (GOT E I)
The possibility of a woman Tyene’s age looking much younger is made manifest in The Sworn Sword:
When she smiled, she looked a girl of five-and-ten, not a woman five-and-twenty.
With all that in mind, here’s what Kevan’s POV tells us of the novices serving Cersei at the end of ADWD:
The meal was served by three novices, well-scrubbed girls of good birth between the ages of twelve and sixteen. In their soft white woolens, each seemed more innocent and unworldly than the last, yet the High Septon had insisted that no girl spend more than seven days in the queen’s service, lest Cersei corrupt her. They tended the queen’s wardrobe, drew her bath, poured her wine, changed her bedclothes of a morning. One shared the queen’s bed every night, to ascertain she had no other company; the other two slept in an adjoining chamber with the septa who looked over them.
A tall stork of a girl with a pockmarked face escorted him into the royal presence.
Cersei goes on to say of the novices:
“I am well served. The girls are sweet…”
The overlap is obvious: Tyene the “child-woman” is called “sweet” four times, and her “almost otherworldly innocence” comports with how the novices—who appear no more than 16-years-old to him, like the child-woman Lyanna—”each seemed more innocent and unworldly than the last”.
I submit that one of the novices is Tyene: specifically she is the “tall stork of a girl”.
“A Tall Stork Of A Girl” Like Tyene
The structure of the phrase “stork of a girl” recalls the very first reference to Tyene’s father Oberyn Martell in ASOIAF:
“That snake of a Dornishman was to blame, that Oberyn Martell.” (SOS San I)
Storks are known for being “long-legged”/”having long legs”/”having very long legs”/”having long legs”. (wikipedia: stork; freedictionary.com; dictionary.com) Tyene being the “tall stork of a girl” thus makes sense. First, she is tall—
…the Sand Snakes were tall…
—which usually entails long legs. Second, she is Oberyn’s daughter, and Oberyn’s “long strides” imply long legs. Third, her being a “child-woman” is consistent with her have the gangly, long-legged frame of an adolescent. Fourth, her sister Nym is “slender as a willow”, which is consistent with a leggy frame. Fifth, everyone buys the idea that Obara is her sister, and Obara is explicitly “long-legged”. (FFC CotG; C II; SOS Ty X)
Cersei’s novices are called “well-scrubbed”. It just so happens that Tyene’s “sister” Arianne is literally just that:
Arianne found a basin and a flagon of cool water and washed her hands and face, but no amount of scrubbing could cleanse her of her grief. (FFC PitT)
The novices are said to be “of good birth”, which becomes ironic if one of them is Tyene, who is both daughter to a prince (a good birth indeed!) and a bastard (not so much).
There are a couple broader ironies that suggest Tyene is the stork, as well. First, when Cersei schemes with Taena, she complains that Queen Margaery is always surrounded by her cousins, whom she calls…
“Wantons clad in maiden’s white.” (FFC IX)
If I’m right, Tyene the novice is ironically exactly that, a “wanton in maiden’s white”: The novices wear “soft white woolens” while Dornishwomen like Tyene are tagged as “wanton”—
In the Reach men said it was the food that made Dornishmen so hot-tempered and their women so wild and wanton. (tSK)
—as is Tyene’s own half-sister Arianne, a “willful wanton”. (ibid)
Second, we’re oddly told that “One [of the novices] shared the queen’s bed every night”. That is, of course, exactly what Taena was doing until her disappearance. Thus if Tyene is the storky novice and one of Cersei’s bedmates, this banal detail becomes ironic and amusing, both because of the near-homophones “Tyene” and “Taena”, and because of something I will argue in the future: that Taena is one of Doran’s moles at court, Oberyn’s daughter and Tyene’s half-sister.
The Stalking Storks of Quiet Isle
The novice in question being “a stork of a girl” links her to the literal storks that “stalked” the “path of faith” leading to Elder Brother Lewyn Martell’s Quiet Isle:
Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them, and crabs scuttled across the surface of shallow waters. (FFC B VI)
Obviously if you already “know” that Elder Brother is Lewyn Martell, this “coincidence” tends to support the idea that the novice is Tyene. That said, the highlighted motifs work in a couple ways to help confirm that both Elder Brother and the storky novice are Martells.
First, Brienne’s POV connects the tidal pools through which the “storks stalked” to reeds:
The road was prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools… (FFC B V)
This repeats an association found when Arya surveys a similar landscape (and elsewhere):
A slow brown river entered the lagoon from the south, wandering through a wide expanse of reeds, tidal pools, and mudflats. (FFC Ar II)
Brienne’s POV then connects said reeds to willows:
“Beauty,” whispered the willows on the bank, but the reeds said, “freak, freak.” (FFC B VII)
Again, this repeats an association made by Arya (and others, elsewhere) in a similar landscape:
There were a few willows growing along the river’s edge and reed beds in the muddy shallows beyond, but most of the ground hereabouts was painfully open. (SOS A II)
The stalking storks’ shallow tidal pools are thus linked to willows. So what? So, Tyene’s sister Nymeria Sand is “slender as a willow”, which reminds us of…
“…a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools…” (DWD Ty II)
…who was given to Hugor of the Hill by the Maid, to whom Hotah explicitly likens Tyene as he describes Tyene’s eyes as textually identical “deep blue pools”:
[Tyene] rose as they entered, … as innocent as the Maid herself. … [H]er eyes were deep blue pools… (CotG)
Storks, reeds, willows, Tyene’s sister, deep blue pools, the Maid, Tyene: the path of connections is right there. GRRM even makes up a couple battles—
The Battle of the Reeds was a Targaryen victory, but they suffered heavy losses at the Wailing Willows… (TWOIAF)
—to shore up the trickiest step. The Maid-like Tyene with her eyes like “deep blue pools” is the storky novice.
Stalking Storks in Tidal Pools
It goes deeper still. The text calls out the pool-stalking storks’ footprints in the mud—
Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them…
—a mere three sentences before it calls out Septon Meribald’s footprints in the mud, which act like tidal pools:
His footprints filled up with water as soon as he moved on. (FFC B VI)
The storks are thus paralleled to a guy who loves oranges:
“I have a weakness for the orange, I confess.” – Meribald (FFC B V)
As discussed earlier, the motifs of (a) pools, (b) stalking, and (c) oranges just so happen to coalesce when he meet Tyene’s sisters:
“Dorea stalks about knocking oranges off the trees with her morningstar, and Elia and Obella have become the terror of the pools.” (FFC PitT)
As a grace note, the very first reference in ASOIAF to “stalking” like the Quiet Isle’s storks stalk involves Arya’s wolf “Nymeria”—
Nymeria stalked closer on wary feet. (GOT A I)
—who was named after Nymeria of the Rhoynar, the founder of Elder Brother Lewyn’s house for whom Tyene the Stalking Stork Novice’s sister Nymeria was named.
Bonifer Hasty and Tyene
Some will object that calling the novice a “stork” simply suggests she is kin to the pious Ser Bonifer Hasty, “a solemn stork of a man”. They are correct in one narrow sense: the link between the tall pockmarked “stork of a girl” novice and the “stork of a man” Ser Bonifer is an important one. But it’s a metatextual clue, not a matter of in-world physiognomy. It entails Martell secrets I have yet to discuss, so you’ll have to trust me when I say there is a wonderful reason to believe the novice is Tyene precisely because GRRM chose to have her resemble Ser Bonifer.
That said, I can at least note that calling Bonifer the stork “solemn”—
…Ser Bonifer Hasty, a solemn stork of a man prone to salting his speech…. (FFC J III)
—reminds us of Quentyn, who is called solemn twice, which the idiom “salting” reminds us of the nominally “salty Dornish” Martells. (DWD Dae VII; WOW Ari II)
Tyene the stork-y novice’s pockmarks are a disguise. We know Arya’s Blind Beth disguise uses “pox scars”, which are the same thing as “pockmarks”, given that Ilyn Payne is described alternately as “pockmarked” and “pox-scarred.” (DWD tBG; COK San III, VI)
Nevertheless, they remind us of Margaery’s septa, Nysterica, who has…
…a homely pox-scarred face but seemed jolly. (SOS San I)
This is intentional. The question is, what’s being connoted here? The full answer for that will have to wait. If you’re curious, feel free to read a teaser below.
PS: Who Is Septa Nysterica?
Might Nysterica be Tyene’s mother? Are Tyene’s false pockmarks a kind of wink at their relationship? Nysterica certainly seems coded as having some kind of relationship with Dorne. The name Nysterica is somewhat reminscent of Nymeria. Septa “Scolera” has the “olive skin” of a Dornish woman, and her name contains the same E-R syllable and A ending. (DWD C I) A little shuffle gets us close to “Nysterica”:
Is Nysterica therefore Dornish? Or is her name merely an allusion to her working for Doran, even if her lineage lies elsewhere? Is Nysterica one of Doran’s “friends at court… who tell us things we were not meant to know”? (DWD tW)
Regardless of her personal lineage, is she Tyene’s septa mother? Consider: Nysterica comes to King’s Landing from Highgarden, whereas we’re told that…
Arianne Martell had crossed the Mander once, when she had gone with three of the Sand Snakes to visit Tyene’s mother… (FFC tQM)
One Dornish king… crossed the Mander and sacked Highgarden… (TWOIAF)
…thereby suggesting that Arianne’s visit was to Highgarden and thus that Tyene’s mother lived there at the time. Our story hammers the notion of (verbatim) “visiting” Highgarden:
“Sansa, would you like to visit Highgarden?” (SOS San I)
“Shush, child,” the Queen of Thorns said sharply. “Sansa hasn’t even told us that she would like to come for a visit.” (SOS San I)
Only yesterday he brought us word of a Tyrell plot to spirit Sansa Stark off to Highgarden for a ‘visit,’ and there marry her to Lord Mace’s eldest son, Willas.” (SOS Ty III)
Lady Olenna smiled. “I am pleased to say I shall be leaving for Highgarden the day after next. I have had quite enough of this smelly city, thank you. Perhaps you would like to accompany me for a little visit, whilst the men are off having their war? (SOS T VIII)
Surely, then, Arianne, Tyene et al. went to Highgarden when they “crossed the Mander… to visit Tyene’s mother”. The idea that they were visiting Nysterica gets a cute textual boost from the fact that Wendel and Wyman Manderly—as in “crossed the Mander”—are both called “jolly”, like Nysterica. (COK B II; DWD PiW).
True, Doran and Hotah speak of Tyene’s mother having been a septa, in the past tense—
“Your mother was a septa.” – Doran (DWD tW)
Her mother had been a septa, and Tyene had an air of almost otherworldly innocence about her. (iFFC CotG)
—but if Nysterica is undercover, perhaps she’s no longer a “true” septa but rather maintaining a facade to gather information on Dorne’s enemies, first in Highgarden, now in King’s Landing.
Either way, Nysterica could very well be one of Doran’s “friends at court”. She is, after all, “Queen Margaery’s own septa” and privy to many events at court. Could Nysterica’s odd name connote this?
If Nysterica is Tyene’s mother, perhaps her seeming identity is a red herring. What “seeming identity? That of Alys Arryn’s eldest surviving daughter, who was…
…terribly scarred by the same pox that killed her sisters, so she became a septa. (FFC Ala II)
Alys married Elys Waynwood, so it’s a fair bet her septa daughter would be “homely” like Nysterica, since Sansa calls Rolland and Wallace Waynwood “horse-faced and homely” and Catelyn calls Donnel Waynwood “homely”. (TWOW Ala I; GOT C VI) In-world, the name Nysterica could belong to the daughter of Elys and Alys, especially because their son was Denys. While the Waynwoods are not called “jolly”, they do laugh at Randa’s joke, and Rolland…
…made [Sansa] laugh with mocking comments about half the other knights in the hall. His uncle Wallace took a turn as well and tried to do the same… (TWOW Ala I)
I admit I am being a bit disingenuous here: I know who Tyene’s mother is. I have written reams about it, to be posted in the near future. Is it “Nysterica”? We’ll see.
That wraps up my discussion of Tyene being the storky novice, as well as the main body of the first “chapter” in my Secret History of House Martell. Before I move on to the second chapter and a whole new set of outrageous propositions, I want to kinda, sorta come back to the idea that Lewyn is Elder Brother one more time. This time, though, the pace will be a bit different and the focus less direct. This is a post full of loooong quotations which must be not just read but savored, turned over and caressed if it’s going to make any sense. It’s of general interest to anyone interested in GRRM’s writing in general, even if you don’t care about idea that Lewyn is Elder Brother. It’s best enjoyed with a cup of something warm to drink… or perhaps a cold beer if you’re in the southern hemisphere and it’s considerably hotter than the -17 degrees celcius/1 degree farenheit I’m getting set to enjoy tomorrow.
APPENDIX: Crab-Walkin’: Overwhelmingly Parallel Nature Studies
While taking a look at the verbiage surrounding the Quiet Isle’s suspicious storks, which I’ve argued hint (a) that Tyene is the pockmarked storky novice in ADWD’s Epilogue and (b) that Quiet Isle’s Elder Brother is her uncle Lewyn, a strange things happened. The words “crabs scuttled”—
Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them, and crabs scuttled across the surface of shallow waters. (FFC B VI)
—led me to discover a massive parallel between Brienne’s Meribald-guided walk on the dangerous, twisting path of faith and Jon’s Stonesnake-led climb up a dangerous, snaking path towards the wildling watchers… which eventually extended to Arianne’s path through the rainwood as well (and beyond, although I won’t talk about that here). These passages are long and I’ve highlighted lots of stuff, but a deliberate, careful comparative reading will prove eye-opening:
Jon knelt and let the direwolf nuzzle him before they set off. “Stay,” he commanded. “I’ll be back for you.”
Stonesnake took the lead.… By day the mountains were blue-grey, brushed with frost, but once the sun vanished behind the jagged peaks they turned black. Now the rising moon had limned them in white and silver.
The black brothers moved through black shadows amidst black rocks, working their way up a steep, twisting trail as their breath frosted in the black air. Jon felt almost naked without his mail, but he did not miss its weight. This was hard going, and slow. To hurry here was to risk a broken ankle or worse. Stonesnake seemed to know where to put his feet as if by instinct, but Jon needed to be more careful on the broken, uneven ground.
The Skirling Pass was really a series of passes, a long twisting course that went up around a succession of icy wind-carved peaks and down through hidden valleys that seldom saw the sun. …Tumbled shelves of rock often overhung the trail, fringed with hanging icicles that looked like long white teeth from a distance.
Yet even so, Jon Snow was not sorry he had come. There were wonders here as well. He had seen sunlight flashing on icy thin waterfalls as they plunged over the lips of sheer stone cliffs, and a mountain meadow full of autumn wildflowers, blue coldsnaps and bright scarlet frostfires and stands of piper’s grass in russet and gold. He had peered down ravines so deep and black they seemed certain to end in some hell, and he had ridden his garron over a wind-eaten bridge of natural stone with nothing but sky to either side. Eagles nested in the heights and came down to hunt the valleys, circling effortlessly on great blue-grey wings that seemed almost part of the sky. Once he had watched a shadowcat stalk a ram, flowing down the mountainside like liquid smoke until it was ready to pounce.
Now it is our turn to pounce. He wished he could move as sure and silent as that shadowcat, and kill as quickly. Longclaw was sheathed across his back, but he might not have room to use it. He carried dirk and dagger for closer work. They will have weapons as well, and I am not armored. He wondered who would prove the shadowcat by night’s end, and who the ram.
For a long way they stayed to the trail, following its twists and turns as it snaked along the side of the mountain, upward, ever upward. Sometimes the mountain folded back on itself and they lost sight of the fire, but soon or late it would always reappear. The path Stonesnake chose would never have served for the horses. In places Jon had to put his back to the cold stone and shuffle along sideways like a crab, inch by inch. Even where the track widened it was treacherous; there were cracks big enough to swallow a man’s leg, rubble to stumble over, hollow places where the water pooled by day and froze hard by night. One step and then another, Jon told himself. One step and then another, and I will not fall. (COK J VI)
Brienne’s walk on the path of faith reworks a ton of these motifs, forming a wonderful rhyme to Jon’s climb. We’ll see that both vignettes manage to somehow feature:
- an obedient canid (Dog replacing Ghost)
- an explicitly dangerous, twisting path that doubles back away from its destination, requiring a guru-guide’s lead to navigate it safely
- cyclical pools of water (tide pools vs. freezing/thawing pools)
- an explosion of color-focused natural beauty, including sunlight reflecting on water/ice
- pointed allusions to falling from the safety of the path into hell
- the explicit impossibility of riding horses
- of all things, a crab’s method of locomotion.
Jon’s stalking shadowcat is matched by Quiet Isle’s stalking storks. Jon’s doubts about “who would prove the shadowcat… and who the ram” and thoughts of the battle to come are reworked by Dog’s battle with a crab.
The rest is patent, is you read carefully:
“If you would sleep beneath a roof tonight, you must climb off your horses and cross the mud with me. The path of faith, we call it. Only the faithful may cross safely. The wicked are swallowed by the quicksands, or drowned when the tide comes rushing in. None of you are wicked, I hope? Even so, I would be careful where I set my feet. Walk only where I walk, and you shall reach the other side.”
The path of faith was a crooked one, Brienne could not help but note. Though the island seemed to rise to the northeast of where they left the shore, Septon Meribald did not make directly for it. Instead, he started due east, toward the deeper waters of the bay, which shimmered blue and silver in the distance. The soft brown mud squished up between his toes. As he walked he paused from time to time, to probe ahead with his quarterstaff. Dog stayed near his heels, sniffing at every rock, shell, and clump of seaweed. For once he did not bound ahead or stray.
Brienne followed, taking care to keep close to the line of prints left by the dog, the donkey, and the holy man. Then came Podrick, and last of all Ser Hyle. A hundred yards out, Meribald turned abruptly toward the south, so his back was almost to the septry. He proceeded in that direction for another hundred yards, leading them between two shallow tidal pools. Dog stuck his nose in one and yelped when a crab pinched it with his claw. A brief but furious struggle ensued before the dog came trotting back, wet and mud-spattered, with the crab between his jaws. …
The flats shimmered wetly all about them, mottled in half a hundred hues. The mud was such a dark brown it appeared almost black, but there were swathes of golden sand as well, upthrust rocks both grey and red, and tangles of black and green seaweed. Storks stalked through the tidal pools and left their footprints all around them, and crabs scuttled across the surface of shallow waters. The air smelled of brine and rot, and the ground sucked at their feet and let them go only reluctantly, with a pop and a squelchy sigh. Septon Meribald turned and turned again and yet again. By the time the ground grew firmer and began to rise beneath the feet, they had walked at least a mile and a half. (FFC B VI)
There’s even a nod to climbing at the end, for good measure.
What’s the point of this connection? I believe it’s all about encoding the fact that both these stories have a hidden connection to Dorne and the Martells. Setting aside the precise identity of Stonesnake, he “smells Dornish”, to quote Aerys II. His contrived name, “Stonesnake”, blatantly evokes Oberyn’s “Sand Snakes” and Dorne. “Stone” replaces “Sand” a la “stony” versus “sandy” Dornishmen, while Cersei tells us…
All Dornishmen were snakes… (DWD C I)
Stonesnake’s Dornish-ness is driven home by his exit:
…[Jon] watched Stonesnake vanish over a snow-covered ridge, a tiny black bug crawling across a rippling expanse of white.
Arya tells us “scorpions” are “bugs”—
…atop their battlements the rows of wood-and-iron scorpions looked as small as the bugs for which they were named. (COK Ary VI)
—thus (a) further connecting Stonesnake with Quiet Isle’s scuttling crabs (because crabs and scorpions are both arthropods) and (b) further suggesting that Stonesnake is Dornish, per the heavy associations of Dorne (and snakes) with scorpions:
… Joffrey received… a red gold brooch wrought in the shape of a scorpion from the Dornishman, Prince Oberyn (SOS San IV)
“Dorne is sand and scorpions, and bleak red mountains baking in the sun.” (DWD Dae VII)
[Dunk] would not leave his old friend to the snakes and scorpions and sand dogs [in Dorne]. (tSS)
…there was naught to be found [in Dorne] but snakes, scorpions, and sand. (TWOIAF)
Once we even “see” a stone snake next to a blatantly shoehorned scorpion reference (plus verbiage—”twisty alleys” and colorful colors—reminiscent of Jon’s picturesque winding climb)
Children wandered the twisty alleys and found old bronze coins and bits of purple glass and stone flagons with handles carved like snakes. One woman was stung by a red scorpion, but hers was the only death. (COK Dae I)
If there is thus a Dornish presence on Jon’s trek in the person of Stonesnake, it makes sense that there’s a Dornish presence near Brienne’s walk. It’s not Meribald. That would be too easy, just as it would be too easy if Stonesnake were Lewyn Martell, as some have argued. ASOIAF rhymes, it doesn’t carbon-copy, and thus Brienne’s journey yields up Elder Brother Lewyn (while pointing to Tyene the stork).
ASOIAF gradually opens up about its secrets, though. Thus in TWOW Arianne II, we read about another analogously colorful, tricksy journey, which for self-evident reasons (namely: it’s Arianne Martell’s POV!) is consistent with the idea that Brienne’s path led to Lewyn Martell:
Dusk found them on the fringes of the rainwood, a wet green world where brooks and rivers ran through dark forests and the ground was made of mud and rotting leaves. Huge willows grew along the watercourses, larger than any that Arianne had ever seen, their great trunks as gnarled and twisted as an old man’s face and festooned with beards of silvery moss. Trees pressed close on every side, shutting out the sun; hemlock and red cedars, white oaks, soldier pines that stood as tall and straight as towers, colossal sentinels, big-leaf maples, redwoods, wormtrees, even here and there a wild weirwood. Underneath their tangled branches ferns and flowers grew in profusion; sword ferns, lady ferns, bellflowers and piper’s lace, evening stars and poison kisses, liverwort, lungwort, hornwort. Mushrooms sprouted down amongst the tree roots, and from their trunks as well, pale spotted hands that caught the rain. Other trees were furred with moss, green or grey or red-tailed, and once a vivid purple. Lichens covered every rock and stone. Toadstools festered besides rotting logs. The very air seemed green. …
The going was much slower here than it had been in Dorne. Instead of proper roads, they rode down crookback slashes that snaked this way and that, through clefts in huge moss-covered rocks and down deep ravines choked with blackberry brambles. Sometimes the track petered out entirely, sinking into bogs or vanishing amongst the ferns, leaving Arianne and her companions to find their own way amongst the silent trees. The rain still fell, soft and steady. The sound of moisture dripping off the leaves was all around them, and every mile or so the music of another little waterfall would call to them.
The wood was full of caves as well. That first night they took shelter in one of them, to get out of the wet. In Dorne they had often travelled after dark, when the moonlight turned the blowing sands to silver, but the rainwood was too full of bogs, ravines, and sinkholes, and black as pitch beneath the trees, where the moon was just a memory.
The cave proved much deeper than any of them had suspected. Beyond the stony mouth where her company had made their camp and hobbled their horses, a series of twisty passageways led down and down, with black holes snaking off to either side. Further in, the walls opened up again, and the searchers found themselves in a vast limestone cavern, larger than the great hall of a castle. Their shouts disturbed a nest of bats, who flapped about them noisily, but only distant echoes shouted back. A slow circuit of the hall revealed three further passages, one so small that it would have required them to proceed on hands and knees. …
The passageway Arianne had chosen for herself turned steep and wet within a hundred feet. The footing grew uncertain. Once she slipped, and had to catch herself to keep from sliding. More than once she considered turning back, but she could see Ser Daemon’s torch ahead and hear him calling for Elia, so she pressed on. …
The other searchers had found Elia, as she and Daemon learned after they made their way back up the slippery slope to the last hall. Their passageway led down to a still black pool, where they discovered the girl up to her waist in water, catching blind white fish with her bare hands, her torch burning red and smoky in the sand where she had planted it.
There’s way too much interreferentiality here to discuss everything. If you go back and slowly re-read the Jon passage and the Brienne passage, the density of “rhyming” is stunning.
- Again, we see a switchback trail “that snaked this way and that”, specific hazards, a profusion of colors, lots of water (including a “pool”), and the reflection of celestial light.
- “Twisty passageways” lead “down and down”, as against Jon’s “twisting trails” that “snaked… upward, ever upward.”
- We see a passage that would require “hands and knees”, as Jon’s path required shuffling “sideways like a crab”.
- The trees “shutting out the sun” recall “hidden valleys that seldom saw the sun” and the sun “vanish[ing] behind jagged peaks”.
- The “mud and rotting leaves”, “fester[ing]” toadstools and “rotting logs” call back to the muddy path of faith’s “brine and rot”.
- Arianne’s “bogs, ravines, and sinkholes” in the “black as pitch” rainwood and her “deep ravines choked with blackberry brambles” sound like Jon’s “ravines so deep and black they seemed certain to end in some hell”
- The threat of “sinking into bogs” recalls Meribald warning Brienne that “the wicked are swallowed by the quicksands”.
It’s telling that it’s in this loaded passage that’s connected in so many ways to Brienne’s path to Elder Brother’s Quiet Isle that we find an already-analyzed reference to Lewyn being Elder Brother (i.e. the bits about “soldier pines that stood as tall and straight as towers”, sentinels, and “silent trees”).
It’s also telling that we see “blackberry brambles”, which evoke graves and hence the Quiet Isle with its graveyard, given that in The Sworn Sword, Ser Eustace’s boys are buried “down in the blackberries”:
“They died good deaths, fighting bravely for the king,” Ser Eustace told Dunk, “and I brought them home and buried them among the blackberries.” His wife was buried there as well.
Arianne’s path “peter[ing] out entirely” and “sinking into bogs or vanishing amongst the ferns” rhymes perfectly with an earlier passage from Brienne’s journey to Quiet Isle, in which Brienne’s road was “prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools”. The surrounding prose overflows with motifs found in Arianne’s and/or Jon’s journeys:
The steep hills, black bogs, and piney woods of Crackclaw Point were nowhere to be found this side of Maidenpool. The lands they traveled through were low and wet, a wilderness of sandy dunes and salt marshes beneath a vast blue-grey vault of sky. Instead they struck off toward the northwest, following the shore of the Bay of Crabs on a crooked track so small that it did not appear on either of Ser Hyle’s precious sheepskin maps. The road was prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools, only to appear again a mile farther on; without Meribald, Brienne knew, they surely would have lost their way. The ground was often soft, so in places the septon would walk ahead, tapping with his quarterstaff to make certain of the footing. There were no trees for leagues around, just sea and sky and sand.
No land could have been more different from Tarth, with its mountains and waterfalls, its high meadows and shadowed vales, yet this place had its own beauty, Brienne thought. They crossed a dozen slow-flowing streams alive with frogs and crickets, watched terns floating high above the bay, heard the sandpipers calling from amongst the dunes. Once a fox crossed their path, and set Meribald’s dog to barking wildly. (FFC B V)
Recall that Jon’s climb similarly featured a soaring bird, a “mountain meadow” and “hidden valleys that seldom saw the sun”. The fact that Brienne’s high mountain meadows and “shadowed vales” are just memories only underscores that an intentional textual connection is being drawn: GRRM contrived to duplicate elements that he couldn’t write as literally present in the Riverlands.
Meanwhile, Brienne’s “piney woods” prefigure Arianne’s symbolically-loaded pine trees, and her “dozens of slow-flowing streams” prefigure Arianne’s “brooks and rivers”. Brienne’s fox setting Dog to barking recalls Arianne’s party disturbing the bats, causing them to flap about “noisily”. The line, “Yet this place had its own beauty” recalls this slice of Jon’s journey:
Yet even so, Jon Snow was not sorry he had come. There were wonders here as well.
Clearly, then, Arianne Martell’s journey rhymes with Brienne’s—and with Jon’s climb with the Dornishman Stonesnake as well. The kaleidoscoping motifs only strengthen my conviction that the Elder Brother of Quiet Isle is Arianne’s great-uncle Lewyn Martell.
End of Appendix to Chapter 1
Next time: Oberyn’s father. Elia’s father. Septas Scolera, Unella and Moelle.
UPDATE: You can read Chapter 2 right now, HERE.