July 04, 2011

The Merchant's Man

Quentyn Martell (copyright by FFG)
Two Dornishmen are in the harbor of Volantis, trying to hire a smuggler to get them to Meereen. They pose as a merchant and his servant. The servant, watching his “master” conduct the negotiations, is Quentyn Martell. The Dornish have tried to find a ship for some time now, with little success, so they try to stick with the lowlife at hand. The “merchant” is Ser Gerris Drinkwater. They tell the smuggler that they want to sell Dornish wines in Meereen, since their own vintage is so bad, but the smuggler doesn’t really believe them. In the end, they settle for thrice the price of a normal voyage and part ways. 

As the two Dornish make back for the great inn called the “Merchant’s House”, they reflect on their previous journey. When they left Dorne, they were six, but now three of them are dead: Cletus Yronwood, Maester Kedry and William Wells were killed by corsairs on the voyage to Volantis, leaving only Drinkwater, Quentyn and Ser Archibald Yronwood. They want to propose a marriage between Daenerys and Quentyn. From the smuggler, they have learned that Astapor and Yunkai are in open war, and that Meereen is expected to be sucked into it soon. 

As they make their way through Volantis, the city is shown. It is very big, covering the extensive mouth of the Rhoyne, and full of ships. The weather is terrible, hot and humid, and the city is full of slaves. Only one in five people is a freeman. All slaves in Volantis have a tattoo in their face, marking them for what they are: bedslave, fighting slave, worker – for all there is a different tattoo. On their way to the Merchant’s House, Gerry Drinkwater and Quentyn Martell soon dismiss the thought of really using the smuggler, not trusting him. Since there are no other ships, it leaves only the long and perilous way over the Demon Road or defeat and return to Dorne for them, neither prospect really making Quentyn enthusiastic. 

We get a bit of back-story for Quentyn as he muses about his problems with girls, being teased by Drinkwater. He is no good looking man, with a square jaw, high temple and small of stature. The first girls interested in him, two twins in Yronwood, were lowborn, so he didn’t make out with them despite their interest. He never found another girl to be comfortable with, but the witted little Alys Yronwood, only twelve years old, trailed him back in the castle and proposed to marry her when she was older. But before something could come out of it, he was summoned to the Water Gardens, where Doran Martell told him about the Targaryens and gave him the job to go to Meereen and court Daenerys, the “most beautiful woman in the world”, which is the part Quentyn is not really eager to do since he fears she will reject him. 

There is also some additional explanation given about Volantis. The city is ruled by three triarchs who are elected for one-year-terms by the wealthy citizens. These triarchs are divided into two factions, the elephants and the tigers. The old core of Volantis, founded by Valyria as a military outpost, is surrounded by a ridiculously thick wall still standing and used for a traditional cart race to celebrate its founding. Everyone who counts as something in Volantis doesn’t walk through the big city, but goes by cart. Most carts, called hathays, are pulled by small elephants and very big and comfortable. 

When the party arrives at the Merchant’s House, they run into some sellswords from the free company “Windblown” who tries to hire them for the anticipated war against Meereen. The Dornishmen decline and meet with Archibald Yronwood, who stayed behind, to think of their options. Running out of them, Ser Gerry Drinkwater proposes an idea of how they could reach Meereen, warning Quentyn that it would be “not honorable”. With this, the chapter ends. 

The first chapter for Quentyn Martell provides us with some information about his party as well as about the city of Volantis and the ongoing war. Let’s start with the latter. Many free companies are currently hiring personnel to go into war on the side of Yunkai, who everyone expects to be on the winning side. The anxiousness of all sailors to go to Meereen suggests that Dany has no fleet whatsoever and that the city will be closed off soon (which is right). Volantis itself is not yet engaged, but since everywhere sellswords are hired for Yunkai, her disposition is clear. Regarding the nature of the city, this doesn’t come as a surprise. 

In all the Free Cities, one central trait attributed to Daenerys is her freeing the slaves, which has disturbed the slave trade in its foundations. Most of the Free Cities rely on this trade and the institution of slavery, however, which makes them natural enemies of Daenerys. The is enclosed by enemies on either side, and she has no means of leaving Meereen. Volantis especially can’t like her or her rule, since 80% of her population consists of slaves. The city is full of ships, however, so the potential for use is there. 

Quentyn’s party, at last, is full of naivety. In the beginning, they did the thing as a big adventure. The fun got out of it for Quentyn and Archibald at least when half their group was slain by corsairs, including his close friend Cletus Yronwood and Maester Kedry, who was their source of information about the Free Cities and would certainly have helped them along the way. Gerris Drinkwater is the only one of them still behaving like they were in a big adventure story. That doesn’t mean that Quentyn would be a wise man, however. He is full of self-doubts and has a strange and unpractical seriousness about him. When Gerris in the end proposes a way that’s “not honorable”, which clearly is hiring with the Windblown and then defecting, it shows a dangerous trait about Quentyn: he thinks of himself as a noble man who stands on moral high ground. That was the recipe for downfall throughout the whole series, and Quentyn Martell doesn’t make an exception her. His later demise is set in his very first chapter.

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