This essay contains minor spoilers for The Winds of Winter
Artwork by Narwen Illustrations
“It is an easy thing for a prince to call the spears, but in the end the children pay the price. For their sake, the wise prince will wage no war without good cause, nor any war he cannot hope to win.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
From his vantage point overlooking the Water Gardens, Doran Martell looked at the children at play in the pool below. To his side lay a letter from King’s Landing informing the Prince of Dorne that his brother was dead at the hands of Gregor Clegane. All around him, overripe blood oranges ominously fell from trees, giving off a sickly-sweet odor as they split open upon impact. While Doran watched, Dorne was angry — angry at the recent death of Oberyn Martell, angry at the murders of Elia Martell and her children at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. Doran Martell knew all this, and yet from all appearances, he did nothing.
The reality, though, could not have been more different. Doran Martell was doing something to avenge his lost loved ones, but the prince could not seek the immediate vengeance that his family and countrymen wanted. The Prince knew that if Dorne went to war against the Iron Throne, they would lose, and if they lost, it would be the children who would suffer.
However, events had finally shaped up to the point where Doran Martell felt that he had his chance to truly strike a blow for vengeance all the while avoiding deaths like those of his sister and her children so many years before.
A History of Violence
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It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads. (ASOS, Tyrion X)
The root of the Doran’s need for vengeance lay in a spurned betrothal, a marriage and the actions of a brutal lord that occurred nearly twenty years before the start of the story.
Marriages had been the rise and fall of many individuals and houses in Westeros. Dorne had joined the Seven Kingdoms after nearly two hundred years of independence due to the marriage between Mariah Martell and Daeron II Targaryen. Some one hundred and ten years later, the Targaryens and the Martells joined their houses together in marriage again. Rhaegar Targaryen married Elia of Dorne in 280 AC, and this union ostensibly brought the Targaryens and Martells into close alliance. However, there was one man who saw only insult in the match.
Before Elia and Rhaegar were ever betrothed, Lord Tywin Lannister had sought to present his daughter Cersei as consort to Rhaegar. Unfortunately, the Mad King rebuffed Tywin’s proposal, and chose to marry the Crown Prince to Elia of Dorne instead. Tywin likely took the spurning of Cersei and the union between Elia and Rhaegar as a personal affront to his and his family’s pride and honor. So when Robert’s Rebellion erupted a few year later, the Mad King consequentially forced Elia of Dorne to remain in King’s Landing as a virtual hostage to Dorne’s good behavior.
Near the end of the war, Tywin Lannister marched on King’s Landing, feigned support for the Mad King and gained entry into the city. Once he had entry, Tywin’s soldiers sacked the city. As the sack commenced around the city, Tywin dispatched Ser Amory Lorch and Ser Gregor Clegane to the Red Keep to track down Elia and her children. When they arrived, they murdered Elia’s children, and then Gregor Clegane raped Elia Martell and smashed her head in.
As horrific as this act was, it’s very possible that this act was even more horrifying than a simple, senseless atrocity. As discussed in the aforementioned essay on Tywin’s deeply personal reasons that anchored his actions, it’s likely that Tywin Lannister himself gave the order to rape and murder Elia Martell as payment for the slights that House Lannister suffered when Elia was betrothed to Rhaegar instead of Cersei. Years later, Oberyn Martell recounted to Tyrion his (and perhaps Doran’s) opinion that Tywin Lannister ordered the rape and murder of Elia:
“Well, Prince Rhaegar married Elia of Dorne, not Cersei Lannister of Casterly Rock. So it would seem your mother won that tilt.”
“She thought so,” Prince Oberyn agreed, “but your father is not a man to forget such slights. He taught that lesson to Lord and Lady Tarbeck once, and to the Reynes of Castamere. And at King’s Landing, he taught it to my sister.” (ASOS, Tyrion X)
The Sack of King’s Landing all but ended the reign of the Targaryens. It did not however end the discord between the new regime and the Martells. As much as Tywin Lannister and Robert Baratheon thought that the war was over, many in Dorne believed otherwise. Oberyn Martell attempted to raise Dorne against the victors of Robert’s Rebellion. Fortunately, Jon Arryn momentarily pacified the Dornish:
“Is it true [Oberyn] tried to raise Dorne for Viserys?”
“No one speaks of it, but yes. Ravens flew and riders rode, with what secret messages I never knew. Jon Arryn sailed to Sunspear to return Prince Lewyn’s bones, sat down with Prince Doran, and ended all the talk of war.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
Thereafter, Dorne fell into uneasy peace with the new Baratheon regime. The crimes against Elia Martell and her children, however, remained present with Doran Martell.
Doran Martell’s Original Plan for Vengeance
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“What is our heart’s desire?”
“Vengeance.” His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening. “Justice.” Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers, and whispered, “Fire and blood.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Where Westeros had largely forgotten about the crimes committed against the Martells during Robert’s Rebellion, Doran Martell had not. The deaths of Elia and her children weighed heavily on the prince. Dorne needed justice, but there was a problem. There was no law court in Westeros that would convict Robert Baratheon, Tywin Lannister or their henchmen of Elia and her children’s murder. Moreover, Dorne could not easily rise in just rebellion against the new regime. Where leaders such as Robb Stark and Jon Arryn could call their banners and allies to march against those who perpetrated injustice, Dorne was poorly populated with no natural allies. Thus, Doran Martell had to work towards a third way — one that compensated for Dorne’s traditional and present weaknesses.
The first part of the plan was to secure allies. Alone, the Martells did not have the numbers to bring the ‘usurper’ and his allies down:
“My mother taught me long ago that only madmen fight wars they cannot win. Yet this peace is fragile . . . as fragile as your princess.” (AFFC, The Soiled Knight)
Doran Martell recognized that he needed support from other players in the realm if his scheme was to have any chance of success:
“Dorne is the least populous of the Seven Kingdoms. It pleased the Young Dragon to make all our armies larger when he wrote that book of his, so as to make his conquest that much more glorious, and it has pleased us to water the seed he planted and let our foes think us more powerful than we are, but a princess ought to know the truth. Valor is a poor substitute for numbers. Dorne cannot hope to win a war against the Iron Throne, not alone.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
However, if Doran could find allies and more importantly a unifying force to unite the realm’s discontents, he could gain his vengeance. And so, he focused his efforts on finding that unifying force: the Targaryens.
Before King’s Landing fell, a pregnant Rhaella Targaryen, her son Viserys and Ser Willem Darry took ship for Dragonstone. On Dragonstone, Rhaella gave birth to a daughter Daenerys but died from complications from the pregnancy. Sensing that Viserys and Daenerys were endangered, Ser Willem Darry sailed from Dragonstone for Braavos with the children in tow.
Thus, the two Targaryens survived and could serve as a unifying force for the realm’s discontents:
“The realm will rise for its rightful king. Tyrell, Redwyne, Darry, Greyjoy, they have no more love for the Usurper than I do.” (AGOT, Daenerys I)
So, a few years after Robert’s Rebellion, Oberyn Martell secretly traveled to Braavos to meet with Dorne’s best chance at finding the means for their vengeance: the suviving Targaryens. In Braavos, Oberyn Martell met with Ser Willem Darry to discuss a secret alliance between Dorne and the exiled Targaryens. Together, they forged a secret pact. Year later, Quentyn Martell presented the pact to Daenerys Targaryen:
“It is a secret pact,” Dany said, “made in Braavos when I was just a little girl. Ser Willem Darry signed for us, the man who spirited my brother and myself away from Dragonstone before the Usurper’s men could take us. Prince Oberyn Martell signed for Dorne, with the Sealord of Braavos as witness.” She handed the parchment to Ser Barristan, so he might read it for himself. “The alliance is to be sealed by a marriage, it says. In return for Dorne’s help overthrowing the Usurper, my brother Viserys is to take Prince Doran’s daughter Arianne for his queen.” (ADWD, Daenerys VII)
In essence, the document sealed a betrothal between the last surviving male-line Targaryen Viserys and Doran’s daughter, Arianne Martell. Through this betrothal and eventual marriage, the Targaryens would be poised to sit the Iron Throne once again with a Dornish Queen. However, a simple Dornish-Targaryen alliance would not be enough to defeat the Lannisters.
There were others in the realm who were unhappy with Robert Baratheon’s reign. If Doran and Oberyn could secretly secure these lords into a backing a Targaryen restoration, the Targaryens would have the strength to prosecute a war against the Iron Throne as well as secure the peace afterwards. Fittingly, the Martells seemed to focus their alliance-building on one of the strongest houses of Westeros: House Tyrell. The Tyrells could call up the greatest land army in Westeros, and the Redwyne Fleet was the second largest fleet in Westeros. Historically, the Tyrells had stayed loyal to the Targaryens and had besieged Storm’s End on behalf of Aerys.
Seemingly, Doran and Oberyn were working to cultivate a potential alliance with the Tyrells ahead of the expected return of the Targaryens. From A Storm of Swords, we know that Oberyn Martell was cordial with Willas Tyrell, the heir to Highgarden:
“I had a letter from Willas not half a year past. We share an interest in fine horseflesh. He has never borne me any ill will for what happened in the lists. I struck his breastplate clean, but his foot caught in a stirrup as he fell and his horse came down on top of him. I sent a maester to him afterward, but it was all he could do to save the boy’s leg.” (ASOS, Tyrion V)
The possibility exists that all of the correspondence between Oberyn and Willas was more than simple cordiality. Perhaps, Oberyn’s friendly overtures were intended to be early alliance-crafting ahead of the return of Viserys Targaryen.
Whatever the case, the Targaryen portion of Doran’s conspiracy would take years to materialize, and events in those years would shatter Doran Martell’s initial plan.
Everything Goes Wrong
Artwork by Kara Zisa
“We princes make our careful plans, and the gods smash them all awry.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
By the start of events from A Game of Thrones, Prince Doran Martell was playing a dangerous game. On one hand, he was awaiting Viserys to come into his majority and return to Westeros. On the other, he needed to appear loyal to the Iron Throne so as not to jump-start a premature war. In between this tension, lay Dorne, and Dorne was increasingly unhappy.
Prince Doran Martell had kept his marriage pact secret from all save his brother Oberyn and eventually his son Quentyn. No one else — to include his daughter Arianne and his brother’s bastard daughters — knew about the pact, and this led to dissension in Dorne:
Dorne was an angry and divided land, and Prince Doran’s hold on it was not as firm as it might be. Many of his own lords thought him weak and would have welcomed open war with the Lannisters and the boy king on the Iron Throne. (ADWD, The Watcher)
The choice to keep the pact secret had significant consequences outside of Dorne too. The Prince of Dorne could not be seen to be openly aid Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen until they arrived back in Westeros. However, the second order effect of this decision was that the last Targaryens were left in Essos to fend for themselves. After years of wandering without aid, the two Targaryens finally found themselves in the house of Illyrio Mopatis — a man who had his own conspiracy in mind for brother and sister. Worse still, Daenerys Targaryen was sold by Illyrio Mopatis to Khal Drogo, and later Viserys Targaryen died at the hands of the same khal.
Without Viserys Targaryen, Doran and Oberyn’s secret pact was thrown into doubt. Though Doran’s caution in not appearing disloyal to the Iron Throne while secretly plotting for a Targaryen restoration was wise on the surface, the drawbacks of providing no aid to the Targaryens was apparent in Viserys’ death. The pact had specified that Viserys would marry Arianne; without Viserys, how would the pact be fulfilled?
Back in Westeros, Doran Martell’s position was also becoming tenuous. At some point after events from A Game of Thrones, Doran Martell called his banners. Desperate to keep Dorne from swearing to Renly or Stannis Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister successfully arranged for a betrothal between Myrcella Baratheon and Trystane Martell. Additionally, Tyrion requested that Dornish troops mass at the Prince’s Pass and the Boneway to threaten the Baratheon Brothers’ southern flank. Still keeping his true intentions under wraps, Doran Martell agreed to the match and the army deployments — as soon as Myrcella was in Dorne.
So far Doran Martell had done no more than call his banners. Once Myrcella was safe in Braavos, he had pledged to move his strength to the high passes, where the threat might make some of the Marcher lords rethink their loyalties and give Stannis pause about marching north. It was purely a feint, however. The Martells would not commit to actual battle unless Dorne itself was attacked. (ACOK, Tyrion IX)
When Myrcella arrived in Sunspear, Doran dutifully moved his army into the passes. In deploying his armies, Dorne appeared loyal to the Iron Throne, but the reality was different. Doran Martell now had cover for pre-positioning two armies ready to strike north for King’s Landing when the moment struck. However, events at home and abroad would significantly delay the march to King’s Landing.
Everything Keeps Going Wrong
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“Are you hungry, my prince?”“I have hungered for a long time. Though not for food. Pray tell me, when will the justice be served?” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
Following Stannis Baratheon’s decisive defeat on the Blackwater, Oberyn Martell journeyed north to King’s Landing. Ostensibly there to attend Joffrey’s wedding celebration, Oberyn had secret orders from Doran:
“‘Take the measure of this boy king and his council, and make note of their strengths and weaknesses,’ I told him, on the terrace. We were eating oranges. ‘Find us friends, if there are any to be found. Learn what you can of Elia’s end, but see that you do not provoke Lord Tywin unduly,’ those were my words to him.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Many fans have wondered about Oberyn and Doran’s relationship. Doran characterizes his relationship with Oberyn thusly:
“Oberyn was ever the viper. Deadly, dangerous, unpredictable. No man dared tread on him. I was the grass. Pleasant, complaisant, sweet-smelling, swaying with every breeze. Who fears to walk upon the grass? But it is the grass that hides the viper from his enemies and shelters him until he strikes.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
This single paragraph has spawned much discussion and theorizing, but as we’ll see when we progress through this analysis, it may be much more straightforward than our theories postulate. Doran Martell consistently appeared to appease the Lannisters and give the appearance of loyalty to the Iron Throne. His purpose was to provide political cover for his burgeoning Targaryen conspiracy.
Meanwhile, Oberyn’s purpose was to be the viper — the active agent of the conspiracy. His part was to build the secret alliances (as we potentially saw with the Tyrells) as well as to craft the covert Dornish-Targaryen pact When the Targaryens arrived, I think it’s likely that Oberyn’s role would have been to serve as a commander of Dornish troops.
Unfortunately for both Doran and Oberyn, the Red Viper would never get his chance to lead the Dornish armies. Oberyn was not content to play the part of passive observer when he arrived in King’s Landing. Consumed with a desire for vengeance, Oberyn Martell superseded his instructions and sought an early vengeance against Tywin Lannister and Ser Gregor Clegane. Tyrion’s trial towards the end of A Storm of Swords provided an opportunity for Oberyn to attempt to kill the Mountain. Oberyn Martell died fighting the Mountain as Tyrion’s champion, but before he died, Gregor Clegane announced to the world that he had murdered Elia’s children, raped her and then killed her.
Though the Mountain had admitted his complicity in the murders and rape, the cost had been dreadful. Oberyn was now dead, and his death placed a bulls-eye on Doran Martell’s back in two key ways:
- Externally, Oberyn antagonistic behavior in King’s Landing presented the appearance that Dorne was openly working against the Lannisters. If Dorne entered the crosshairs of the Lannisters before the Targaryens could arrive from Essos, all of Doran’s planning would be for naught.
- Internally, the ripple-effects of Oberyn’s death reverberated across Dorne. Where Dorne had settled into an uneasy calm in the years following Robert’s Rebellion, the death of Oberyn reignited the passions of the Dornish against the Lannisters and the Iron Throne.
Doran was caught in the middle of these rising tensions and would need to figure out a way to keep Dorne from drifting into premature war with the Iron Throne, but Doran believed he needed only a little more time. Unbeknownst to the Iron Throne or Dorne, Doran was finally moving to secretly secure the means by which he could achieve his vengeance.
Viserys Targaryen had died on the Dothraki Sea, but Daenerys Targaryen lived on. Following the death of Viserys Targaryen and then Khal Drogo, Daenerys Targaryen became the most eligible bachelorette in Essos. Even better, she had miraculously birthed three dragons and then gained an army of sellswords and Unsullied in Slaver’s Bay. In Daenerys, Doran Martell saw someone who possessed the means to his vengeance. So, he dispatched his son Quentyn to Meereen in hopes that the dragon queen would fulfill the secret marriage pact, bring her army and dragons to Westeros and topple the Lannister-Baratheon regime in King’s Landing. Events in Dorne, though, would complicate his scheme yet again.
The Sand Snakes Make It Worse
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Many of his own lords thought him weak and would have welcomed open war with the Lannisters and the boy king on the Iron Throne. Chief amongst those were the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of the prince’s late brother Oberyn, the Red Viper. (ADWD, The Watcher)
The death of Oberyn Martell had sent Dorne back into a war frenzy, and this anger endangered Doran Martell’s delicate plans. At the tip of that unrest lay the Sand Snakes. The bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell, the Sand Snakes demanded that Doran act and act now. As such, Obara, Nymeria and Tyene Sand would be a thorn to Doran Martell’s slow plan for vengeance.
George RR Martin gives our first introduction to the Sand Snakes in dramatic, deliberate fashion. As we discussed in the introduction, A Feast for Crows opens the reader to Dorne as Doran Martell watches the children at play in the Water Gardens. That tranquility was interrupted when Obara Sand arrived.
Obara Sand had found out that her father was dead, and this tragedy sent Obara into a rage. She demanded that Doran Martell give her and her sister Nymeria command of the two Dornish armies blocking the Prince’s Pass and the Boneway. In command of those armies, the Sand Snakes would march for two targets: King’s Landing and Oldtown:
“Let me avenge my father. You have a host in the Prince’s Pass. Lord Yronwood has another in the Boneway. Grant me the one and Nym the other. Let her ride the kingsroad, whilst I turn the marcher lords out of their castles and hook round to march on Oldtown.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Obara never intended to hold Oldtown though. She simply wanted to sack the city.
“And how could you hope to hold Oldtown?”“It will be enough to sack it.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Sacking Oldtown, though, provided no benefit for Dorne; it would only satiate Obara’s “need” for vengeance. To her, sacking the city and ending the lives of thousands of people would give her closure for her father’s death. However, there was an even more personal motivation at work in Obara’s scheme. Obara was fathered on an Oldtown prostitute, and as a result, Obara hated the city:
“Obara would have me go to war.”Nym laughed. “Yes, she wants to set the torch to Oldtown. She hates that city as much as our little sister loves it.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
To Doran, Obara’s plan was folly. As we find out later in A Feast for Crows, the Hightowers had a significant military presence in and around the Oldtown that could defend the city from Dornish assault. Moreover, a Dornish army marching on King’s Landing would run into tens of thousands of Lannister and Tyrell soldiers standing athwart their path to the city.
Doran could not give his assent to the plan anyways as a war with the Hightowers, Tyrells and Lannisters at this stage would endanger his Targaryen conspiracy. So, he simply told Obara that he would “think on it.” Angry, Obara departed the Water Gardens for Sunspear. Doran Martell knew that Obara would stir up war fervor in Sunspear. So the prince decided to move his court from the Water Gardens back to Sunspear in hopes of quelling the unrest with his presence. Along the way, he was met by a second Sand Snake: Nymeria Sand.
Lady Nymeria had been fathered on a Volantene noblewoman. Thus, she possessed more courtly manners than those of Obara. When she caught up to Doran’s entourage as they journeyed back to Sunspear, she politely advocated war with the Lannisters, but her methods were a bit more subtle than those of her sister.
Lady Nymeria’s plan was not to invade the Reach or King’s Landing. Instead, Nym believed that simple murder would suffice. In her mind, Tywin, Cersei and Jaime’s deaths would wash out Elia and her children’s murders, but only the boy-king Tommen’s death would cleanse her father’s death:
“Four lives will suffice for me. Lord Tywin’s golden twins, as payment for Elia’s children. The old lion, for Elia herself. And last of all the little king, for my father.“The boy has never wronged us.”“The boy is a bastard born of treason, incest, and adultery, if Lord Stannis can be believed. Only royal blood can wash out my father’s murder.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Once again, Doran Martell, still desperate to ensure that his own conspiracy remained in play, demurred Nymeria’s murder suggestion, but there was one final Sand Snake who brought yet another plan to exact vengeance for Oberyn.
After Nymeria departed, Doran’s party caught sight of Sunspear and entered a city in near-riot conditions. The Dornish had been whipped into a fury by Obara and Nymeria Sand and called for immediate war with the Iron Throne:
“Doran!” called some highborn voice. “To the spears! To spears! Vengeance for the Viper! War! War! To the spears!” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
When the prince was finally able to make his way inside his castle in Sunspear, the final Sand Snake awaited him. Tyene Sand had been born to a septa mother and had adapted her mother’s religious attire but perhaps not the principles of the Faith of the Seven.
The ride from the Water Gardens to Sunspear had been exhausting to Prince Doran, but he took an audience with Tyene in hopes of dealing with that unpleasantness before retiring. Tyene outwardly presented herself as an innocent, but when Doran spoke with Tyene, he found that her desire was similar to her sisters: vengeance:
Prince Doran sighed. “Obara cries to me for war. Nym will be content with murder. And you?”“War,” said Tyene, “though not my sister’s war. Dornishmen fight best at home, so I say let us hone our spears and wait. When the Lannisters and the Tyrells come down on us, we shall bleed them in the passes and bury them beneath the blowing sands, as we have a hundred times before.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Tyene wanted war in Dorne — a war that the Dornish had successfully prosecuted many times in the past. However, she had a somewhat intelligent means of forcing the Lannisters to invade Dorne: crown Myrcella as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. As we’ll discuss in more detail in the next section, Dornish inheritance law was unique to Westeros. Simply-put: the eldest son or daughter would inherit from their father or mother. As Myrcella was older than Tommen, she was the heir to the Iron Throne by Dornish Law.
However, Doran Martell could not agree to Tyene’s scheme or any other scheme that did not involve a Targaryen restoration. Tyene’s plan, like her sisters’ schemes, endangered Doran’s conspiracy at the precise moment when Doran’s Quentyn plot was in motion. So, Doran Martell rebuffed Tyene Sand as he had with her sisters, but that was not the full extent of the action he took. When Tyene cleared the room, the prince brought Areo Hotah close to him and ordered that his captain of the guards imprison every Sand Snake within his reach.
As explosive as this action was, it was a wise choice by Doran Martell with positive ramifications internally within Dorne and externally with the Iron Throne. The Sand Snakes could not be trusted not to act violently, and Doran desperately needed to continue to appear loyal to the Iron Throne. Though a deeply unpopular move, the imprisonment of the Sand Snakes had returned Dorne to a more peaceful state:
The Red Viper’s death had inflamed the Dornish even more, though the streets had quieted a bit since Prince Doran had confined the Sand Snakes to a tower. (AFFC, The Soiled Knight)
More importantly, by confining his nieces, Doran Martell was able to project loyalty to the Lannisters back in King’s Landing:
“Prince Doran has taken his brother’s unruly bastards into custody, yet Sunspear still seethes.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
However, the true masterstroke came when Doran used the imprisonment of the Sand Snakes and the unrest in Dorne as a bargaining chip to force Cersei Lannister to send Gregor Clegane’s head back to Dorne. In this way, Doran Martell would be able to further pacify Dorne internally until Daenerys and Quentyn returned. Though annoyed, Cersei agreed — though she had ulterior motives for agreeing:
“I am sending Balon Swann to Sunspear, to deliver him the head of Gregor Clegane.” Ser Balon would have another task as well, but that part was best left unsaid. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
With the Sand Snakes imprisoned and the Mountain’s head on its way back from King’s Landing, Doran Martell might have believed that he had bought enough time for his Targaryen conspiracy to come into fruition. His daughter would nearly prove otherwise.
The Fool’s Plot
Artwork by Magali Villeneuve
Once I crown Myrcella and free the Sand Snakes, all Dorne will rally to my banners. (AFFC, The Queenmaker)
Arianne Martell was Doran Martell’s firstborn child. By Dornish law, she was set to inherit Dorne from her father. However, she suspected that Doran Martell had other inheritance plans. From the exterior, Arianne Martell shared Dorne’s anger over the deaths of Oberyn, Elia, Aegon and Rhaenys. However, her inner thoughts revealed a much more personal motivation at work than simple vengeance. What Arianne truly feared was that Doran Martell planned to name Quentyn, his second-born, as his successor:
“Tell me, Father, when did you decide to disinherit me? Was it the day that Quentyn was born, or the day that I was born? What did I ever do to make you hate me so?” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Arianne had good reason to suspect that Doran Martell was setting her aside in favor of Quentyn. Years before events of the main series, Arianne discovered a letter from her father to Quentyn which seemed to confirm her worst fears:
“I have known the truth since I was four-and-ten, since the day that I went to my father’s solar to give him a good night kiss, and found him gone. My mother had sent for him, I learned later. He’d left a candle burning. When I went to blow it out, I found a letter lying incomplete beside it, a letter to my brother Quentyn, off at Yronwood. My father told Quentyn that he must do all that his maester and his master-at-arms required of him, because ‘one day you will sit where I sit and rule all Dorne, and a ruler must be strong of mind and body.'” (AFFC, The Soiled Knight)
Doran and his maester’s lies to Arianne about Quentyn’s whereabouts only served to strengthen her suspicions:
“Tell me, where is Quentyn now?”
“The prince is with Lord Yronwood’s host in the Boneway,” Ser Arys said cautiously. That was what Sunspear’s ancient castellan had told him, when first he came to Dorne. The maester with the silky beard said the same. (AFFC, The Soiled Knight)
“What of him?”
“Where is he?”
“He is with Lord Yronwood’s host in the Boneway.”
“You do lie well, Father, I will grant you that. You did not so much as blink. Quentyn has gone to Lys.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
The Spider had informers everywhere, even in the halls of Sunspear. “Dorne will bleed if your purpose is discovered,” his father had warned him, as they watched the children frolic in the pools and fountains of the Water Gardens. “What we do is treason, make no mistake. Trust only your companions, and do your best to avoid attracting notice.” (ADWD, The Merchant’s Man)
Moreover, Doran Martell feared that letting Arianne into his plot would mean that the Sand Snakes would know of it:
“If I kept you ignorant too long, it was only to protect you. Arianne, your nature . . . to you, a secret was only a choice tale to whisper to Garin and Tyene in your bed of a night. Garin gossips as only the orphans can, and Tyene keeps nothing from Obara and the Lady Nym. And if they knew . . . Obara is too fond of wine, and Nym is too close to the Fowler twins. And who might the Fowler twins confide in? I could not take the risk.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
To further throw off the realm as to his true intentions, Doran Martell also worked to present matches to Arianne — unappealing ones that she would reject:
“I had to be seen to try to find a consort for you once you’d reached a certain age, else it would have raised suspicions, but I dared not bring you any man you might accept.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Arianne, though, quite understandably thought that her father was trying to marry her off to pave the way for Quentyn’s rule of Dorne:
“I would have wed, and gladly, but the matches that you brought to me were insults. With every one you spit on me. If you ever felt any love for me at all, why offer me to Walder Frey?” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Since Arianne could not know of Doran’s true plans and had seen the terrible matches her father had seemingly pushed on her, she believed for years that Quentyn would steal her birthright with Doran’s blessing. But when the orphans of the Greenblood discovered that Quentyn had departed Dorne and that the Golden Company was massing outside of Volantis, she began to work out a plan to “reclaim” her birthright now. The heiress to the Iron Throne and her White Knight would be her means to do so.
Before Quentyn ever departed Dorne, Arianne had begun to work her charms on the person who would be most susceptible: Arys Oakheart. Ser Arys of the Kingsguard was a good knight, but his vow of chastity was less than resolute. Arianne spent “half a year” seducing Arys. Once that was accomplished, the two became lovers. To Arys, this was a passionate, guilt-producing love affair. To Arianne, Arys was a means of getting to Myrcella Baratheon.
Myrcella Baratheon had departed King’s Landing third in line for the throne by Agnatic Male-Line Primogeniture (after Joffrey and Tommen), but after Joffrey’s death, she was heir to King Tommen. Under Dornish Law, though, Myrcella stood to inherit the throne following Joffrey’s death. At some point after Myrcella’s arrival in Dorne, Arianne realized that this Dornish peculiarity could be a tool to make Myrcella her pawn to “reclaim” her inheritance.
Fittingly, Arianne moved to secure her own inheritance by forming her own conspiracy around the idea that Myrcella should have inherited the Iron Throne by Dornish Law. Besides, Myrcella liked and trusted Arianne:
“Myrcella would want you to be happy, and she is fond of me as well.” (AFFC, The Soiled Knight)
After convincing Ser Arys Oakheart that Myrcella was the better candidate for the Iron Throne, Arianne brought some of her closest friends along with Ser Gerold Dayne into a conspiracy whereby Myrcella would be crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Arianne along with six companions secretly departed Sunspear for a journey that would take them across the deserts of Dorne towards the Greenblood. There, Arianne planned for the party to sail for Hellholt where Myrcella would be crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Arianne believed that Dorne would rally to Myrcella and her rights, and she figured that if she moved far enough away from Sunspear, her father would be unable to stop her. It was a daring move, but it proved foolish in the end.
Everything Always Goes Wrong in Dorne
Artwork by Lady-Voldything
It was my own fault. Arianne had made them part of her plot to steal off with Myrcella Baratheon and crown her queen, an act of rebellion meant to force her father’s hand, but someone’s loose tongue had undone her. The clumsy conspiracy had accomplished nothing, except to cost poor Myrcella part of her face, and Ser Arys Oakheart his life. (TWOW, Arianne I)
Arianne Martell was cunning, intelligent and was acting with the information available to her, and still, everything that she did came to naught. The problem for Arianne was that she hadn’t exactly explained to her party that the queenmaker plot was actually about restoring her birthright. To all but Ser Arys, Arianne framed her plot as a vehicle of vengeance for Oberyn and Elia Martell’s deaths, freedom for the Sand Snakes and war with the Lannisters. One man in particular seemed to fixate on the glory that war would bring.
Ser Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne had been brought into the plot on account of his usefulness as a swordsman. Fittingly, Darkstar believed that there was a much simpler way to jumpstart war with the Lannisters: the sword:
“It occurred to me as I was pissing that this plan of yours may not yield you what you want.”“And what is it I want, ser?”“The Sand Snakes freed. Vengeance for Oberyn and Elia. Do I know the song? You want a little taste of lion blood.”That, and my birthright. I want Sunspear, and my father’s seat. I want Dorne. “I want justice.”“Call it what you will. Crowning the Lannister girl is a hollow gesture. She will never sit the Iron Throne. Nor will you get the war you want. The lion is not so easily provoked.”“The lion’s dead. Who knows which cub the lioness prefers?”“The one in her own den.” Ser Gerold drew his sword. It glimmered in the starlight, sharp as lies. “This is how you start a war. Not with a crown of gold, but with a blade of steel.” (AFFC, The Queenmaker)
Doran Re-Assess His Plot
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
“Lord Tywin is howling down in hell . . . where thousands more will soon be joining him, if your folly turns to war.” Her father grimaced, as if the very word were painful to him. “Is that what you want?” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
The failure of Arianne’s plot had consequences that reverberated from Dorne to King’s Landing. At the center of those consequences was the maiming of Myrcella Baratheon and the death of Ser Arys Oakheart. If the truth of what had happened got out, it would mean war — a war that the Prince of Dorne was loathe to fight without the force multipliers of Daenerys, her dragons and her army. If Doran Martell were to buy time before Quentyn and Daenerys returned to Westeros, he would have to move quickly.
As we discussed previously, Cersei Lannister dispatched Ser Balon Swann to Dorne bearing Gregor Clegane’s skull but also to bring Myrcella back to King’s Landing with Doran and Trystane in tow. The problem was that Balon Swann would see Myrcella and know that something terrible had befallen the girl:
“Soon or late, however, Ser Balon must arrive at Sunspear, and when he does he will expect to see Princess Myrcella . . . and Ser Arys, his Sworn Brother. What shall we tell him, Arianne? Shall I say that Oakheart perished in a hunting accident, or from a tumble down some slippery steps? Perhaps Arys went swimming at the Water Gardens, slipped upon the marble, hit his head, and drowned?” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Reluctantly, Doran Martell had to turn to his daughter Arianne. As we discussed above, Myrcella liked and trusted Arianne. If Arianne were to convince Myrcella to lie to Ser Balon Swann on what actually happened, perhaps war could be temporarily averted.
The problem was Arianne Martell. The Princess still understandably believed that her father planned to disinherit her; so Arianne had no incentive to help him. To further aggravate the situation, Doran had Arianne confined to a silent captivity for several weeks in Sunspear’s Keep. When Doran finally had Arianne brought to him, he must have realized that he had to reveal some of what he was planning to Arianne or she would take no part in helping her father. Fortunately, Arianne realized why she was being released:
He needs me, Arianne realized. That’s why he sent for me.“I could tell Myrcella what to say, but why should I?”A spasm of anger rippled across her father’s face. “I warn you, Arianne, I am out of patience.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
“No,” Arianne said. “Say that he died defending his little princess. Tell Ser Balon that Darkstar tried to kill her and Ser Arys stepped between them and saved her life.” That was how the white knights of the Kingsguard were supposed to die, giving up their own lives for those that they had sworn to protect. “Ser Balon may be suspicious, as you were when the Lannisters killed your sister and her children, but he will have no proof . . .” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
Doran Martell, though, interjected that this plan would not work as Ser Balon Swann would eventually speak with Myrcella and would learn what truly happened.
“. . . until he speaks with Myrcella. Or must that brave child suffer a tragic accident as well? If so, it will mean war. No lie will save Dorne from the queen’s wroth if her daughter should perish whilst in my care.” (AFFC, The Princess in the Tower)
“Prince Doran says nothing of your brother. And Balon Swann writes that Myrcella puts it all on this Gerold Dayne. Darkstar, they call him.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
“No one saw the Mountain die, and no one saw his head removed. That troubles me, I confess, but what could the bitch queen hope to accomplish by deceiving us? If Gregor Clegane is alive, soon or late the truth will out. The man was eight feet tall, there is not another like him in all of Westeros.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
A Feast for Crows closes Dorne with Doran Martell telling Arianne that Quentyn was bound for Meereen to bring back their heart’s desire: “vengeance, justice, fire and blood.” This stirring speech by Doran Martell, however, did not contain details of his plan. Readers would have to wait six years to catch a glimpse of what Doran was planning, and even here, there were significant vagaries in Doran’s plan.
Areo Hotah’s solitary chapter in A Dance with Dragons opens mid-action to Ser Balon Swann presenting the skull of Ser Gregor Clegane to the Dornish Court. Doran, Arianne and some of the most prominent noblemen and women of Dorne were in attendance to bear witness to the event. Also in attendance were the Sand Snakes. At some point after Arianne’s final chapter in A Feast for Crows, Doran ordered the Sand Snakes released from their captivity. Their release and subsequent appearance at Doran’s feast puzzled Areo Hotah, but they were there for a purpose.
Regardless, “all” of Dorne was in attendance for the event, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If the box did not contain Gregor Clegane’s head, Dorne and the Iron Throne would be at war. More immediately, if Gregor’s head was not within the box, the gathering could turn violent. And so, all of Dorne was watching, waiting to see if there would be blood:
A hush had fallen across the hall. Dorne holds its breath. (ADWD, The Watcher)
When the box was presented and revealed to have a giant head within, Doran Martell agreed that it was indeed Gregor Clegane’s head. At last, Gregor Clegane, Tywin Lannister, Amory Lorch and Robert Baratheon were all dead. The justice that Doran Martell desired was satisfied, and there would be no further bloodshed. The trouble was that Doran Martell was not done. Doran had news from the east that he hoped would usher in the true vengeance that he so desired.
After Gregor’s head was presented, the Dornish began to feast with Ser Balon Swann and his entourage. During the feast, Balon Swann proposed that Myrcella Baratheon return to King’s Landing to be reunited with his mother. Trystane Martell was invited to come to court as well:
“Her Grace informed me that I might be called upon to escort her daughter back to King’s Landing. King Tommen has been pining for his sister and would like Princess Myrcella to return to court for a short visit. Prince Trystane would be welcome in King’s Landing as well,” said Balon Swann. “King Tommen would wish to meet him, I am sure. His Grace has so few companions near his own age.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
Doran Martell, ever hoping to appear harmless to the Lannisters, gave his approval to the idea:
“The bonds formed in boyhood can last a man for life,” said Prince Doran. “When Trystane and Myrcella wed, he and Tommen will be as brothers. Queen Cersei has the right of it. The boys should meet, become friends. Dorne will miss him, to be sure, but it is past time Trystane saw something of the world beyond the walls of Sunspear.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
Next, Doran Martell talked about the matter of the Dornish small council seat with Balon Swann. Doran Martell saw the “need” for the Dornish seat to be filled at court. However, Doran proposed that they take the sea route to King’s Landing as Doran did not know if he had the “strength” to make the journey to King’s Landing by land.
Balon Swann nervously demurred Doran’s suggestion, citing pirates and bad seas, and Doran Martell pleasantly agreed to take the land route. After stating that the party would depart for the Water Gardens the next day and explaining the peacefulness of the Water Gardens to Ser Balon, Doran asked his daughter, the Sand Snakes, Ellaria Sand and Areo Hotah to see him to bed. There, Doran Martell would initiate his plan for vengeance.
To the Spears
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Now another comes to make a war, and my brother will be her king and consort. King Quentyn. Why did that sound so silly? (TWOW, Arianne I)
Arguably, Doran Martell’s every conspiracy, every move that he made had ended in failure. His plot to marry Viserys to Arianne had died on the Dothraki Sea, his brother had been brutally killed in King’s Landing, Arianne had nearly started a war that Doran could not win and Dorne was increasingly against him. However bad these events were for Doran Martell, he believed at last that he was winning. In his mind, events were finally moving in his favor. And so, it’s in that closing pages of “The Watcher” that Doran Martell began his fateful, opening moves to achieve his vengeance, unaware that everything was about to go horribly wrong.
Once safely away from Balon Swann, Doran Martell revealed some of what was truly going on to his inner circle. However, he did not reveal all that he was planning and all that was occurring. That was reserved only for himself and for daughter Arianne. Though loathe to reveal the full extent of what was happening in front of the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand, Doran had to start sending the pieces of his conspiracy into motion now.
Before Doran could deploy his agents, he had to deal with his brother’s paramour. Ellaria Sand was a woman who wanted it all to end. She had witnessed the death of Oberyn at King’s Landing. So, she had a close-view of what vengeance actually entailed. After Lady Nym called Gregor Clegane’s head a “start”, Ellaria Sand pleaded with Doran Martell not to take the route of vengeance:
“Oberyn wanted vengeance for Elia. Now the three of you want vengeance for him. I have four daughters, I remind you. Your sisters. My Elia is fourteen, almost a woman. Obella is twelve, on the brink of maidenhood. They worship you, as Dorea and Loreza worship them. If you should die, must El and Obella seek vengeance for you, then Dorea and Loree for them? Is that how it goes, round and round forever? I ask again, where does it end?” (ADWD, The Watcher)
Though sympathetic, Doran Martell could not allow Ellaria to interfere with his carefully-woven conspiracy. So, he sent her on her way, promising her that no harm would come to her or her children. It was different story for the rest of his family.
With Ellaria gone, Doran Martell began to set his conspiracy into motion. First, Doran and Arianne informed the Sand Snakes that Myrcella would report that the tragedy of Arys Oakheart’s death and Myrcella’s maiming was all the fault of Darkstar. The Prince of Dorne knew that the code of chivalry ran especially strong in the kingsguard. So, he expected that Balon Swann would want to right the wrong of Myrcella’s maiming by seeking for Darkstar.
In that light, Doran Martell prepared to give his first command to the Sand Snakes, but first Doran had to know that he had the loyalty of his brother’s daughters. So, he forced the Sand Snakes to swear on their father’s grave that they would serve Doran in Oberyn’s place.
“The question is, can I trust his daughters to serve me in his place? You are my brother’s daughters and I love you, but I have learned I cannot trust you. I want your oath. Will you swear to serve me, to do as I command?”
“If we must,” said Lady Nym.
“Then swear it now, upon your father’s grave.”
Obara’s face darkened. “If you were not my uncle – ”
“I am your uncle. And your prince. Swear, or go.”
“I swear,” said Tyene. “On my father’s grave.”
“I swear,” said Lady Nym. “By Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne, and a better man than you.”
“Aye,” said Obara. “Me as well. By Father. I swear.”
Satisfied, Doran Martell relayed a crucial piece of intelligence he received from his friends at King’s Landing:
“Dorne still has friends at court. Friends who tell us things we were not meant to know. This invitation Cersei sent us is a ruse. Trystane is never meant to reach King’s Landing. On the road back, somewhere in the kingswood, Ser Balon’s party will be attacked by outlaws, and my son will die. I am asked to court only so that I may witness this attack with my own eyes and thereby absolve the queen of any blame. Oh, and these outlaws? They will be shouting, ‘Halfman, Halfman,’ as they attack. Ser Balon may even catch a quick glimpse of the Imp, though no one else will.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
While I have ideas on who exactly was Doran’s friend at court was, for the moment, I think it’s important to understand why Doran Martel chose to reveal this information to the Sand Snakes. He needed the Sand Snakes, and he needed them to believe that he was actively working towards similar purposes. Thus, Doran Martell gave his orders to the Sand Snakes and seemingly leveraged the intelligence about Cersei’s planned ambush to bind them to his will.
Doran’s first task went to Obara Sand. Her task was straightforward: accompany Areo Hotah and Ser Balon Swann to High Hermitage to hunt down Darkstar:
“We will travel to the Water Gardens, where he will hear Myrcella’s story and send a raven to his queen. The girl will ask him to hunt down the man who hurt her. If he is the man I judge, Swann will not be able to refuse. Obara, you will lead him to High Hermitage to beard Darkstar in his den.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
While Obara’s task was simple, there was likely another motivation at work. Obara was the loudest and least subtle of the Sand Snakes. She was also the angriest and most likely to commit acts of violence which would upset Doran’s carefully-laid plans. Getting her far from Sunspear and even farther away from King’s Landing ensured that Obara would not jumpstart a popular rebellion in Dorne or a premature war with the Iron Throne. Thus, Obara’s impact would be relatively contained to an isolated location in Dorne instead of King’s Landing where he was sending the other two Sand Snakes.
With the Dornish seat of the small council vacant and Cersei Lannister requesting that Doran himself fill it, Doran Martell realized that he had an opportunity to plant an agent of his conspiracy into the inner corridors of power. However, Doran himself would not make the journey to King’s Landing. Much as he did with Oberyn, Doran decided to dispatch someone to serve in his place in the small council. Lady Nym was given that task as well as ordered to escort Myrcella back to King’s Landing:
“The time is not yet come for Dorne to openly defy the Iron Throne, so we must needs return Myrcella to her mother, but I will not be accompanying her. That task will be yours, Nymeria. The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
What’s striking about Doran Martell’s command to Nymeria was how similar it was to the instruction the prince gave to Oberyn:
“‘Take the measure of this boy king and his council, and make note of their strengths and weaknesses,’ I told him, on the terrace. We were eating oranges. ‘Find us friends, if there are any to be found.” (AFFC, The Captain of the Guards)
Would Lady Nym truly be a passive observer in King’s Landing or would she go beyond what Doran told her, much as her father did? We’ll address that question in greater depth in the concluding part of this series.
Finally, Tyene was also being sent to King’s Landing, but she was going to the city clandestinely. While Nym would sit in the Red Keep and serve as Doran’s agent in the small council, Tyene was being sent to infiltrate the Faith Militant:
“And what of me?” asked Tyene.“Your mother was a septa. Oberyn once told me that she read to you in the cradle from the Seven-Pointed Star. I want you in King’s Landing too, but on the other hill. The Swords and the Stars have been re-formed, and this new High Septon is not the puppet that the others were. Try and get close to him.”“Why not? White suits my coloring. I look so … pure.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
We’ll deal more intensely with the reformation of the Faith Militant in Part 10, but for now, the Faith had taken on a greater prominence in King’s Landing and were quickly becoming the strongest power within the city itself. Tyene’s presence near the High Sparrow ensured that Doran might have inside knowledge of what the Faith was planning. Moreover, Tyene might be able to influence the High Sparrow to look favorably upon Daenerys and Quentyn when they arrived from Essos.
With their tasks given, Doran Martell dismissed the Sand Snakes to their missions, but Doran had news — news he dared not share in front of the Sand Snakes; “Daenerys” was on the move:
“That last part, about the message. Have you had tidings?”Prince Doran shared his secret smile with her. “From Lys. A great fleet has put in there to take on water. Volantene ships chiefly, carrying an army. No word as to who they are, or where they might be bound. There was talk of elephants.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
“Do you think that Quentyn will be with them?”“He could be. Or not. We will know by where they land if Westeros is indeed their destination.” (ADWD, The Watcher)
From Doran Martell’s perspective, this was the potential culmination of everything he had planned and re-planned for. Daenerys and Quentyn were possibly on their way back from Essos at the precise moment when the Lannisters were at their lowest ebb. With Daenerys would come dragons, an army and a chance for vengeance.
That appearance of success could not be further from the truth.
Artwork by Marc Fishman
“Where are the dragons?” Doran asked. “Where is Daenerys?” and Arianne knew that he was really saying, “Where is my son?” (TWOW, Arianne I)
Unbeknownst to Doran Martell, Daenerys and Quentyn were not on their way back to Dorne. Another dragon had sailed from Essos, but not the one that Doran hoped for. Quentyn Martell had sailed for Daenerys and found only failure in his mission. He had lost friends and his innocence only to have Daenerys spurn his offer for marriage. By the end, Quentyn, himself, came to bitterly question his father’s plans:
The dragons, Prince Quentyn thought. Yes. We came for the dragons. He felt as though he might be sick. What am I doing here? Father, why? (ADWD, The Dragontamer)
However, Quentyn could not disappoint his father. He had been instructed to return with Daenerys and her dragons. If Quentyn could not return with Daenerys, he would settle for a dragon. Thus, Quentyn’s arc ended as the boy attempted to steal a dragon and horrifically gained the fire and blood that his father so desired.
If we return to our introduction of the overripe blood oranges falling around Doran, we start to see that this was not mere atmospherics on GRRM’s part. The blood oranges can be seen as a metaphor for Doran’s multiple conspiracies. The prince had waited too long and his plans were overripe, rotting.
In The Winds of Winter, the secret smile that Doran Martell gave to Arianne will sour as he sorrowfully realizes that Quentyn has not returned, and his Targaryen conspiracy is in ruins. However, a new dragon, another conspiracy will rise from the ashes of his dead conspiracies, and the prince will grapple with a question: dragon or war?
Thanks for reading! I invite you to follow me on twitter at @BryndenBFish. Additionally, I invite you to follow the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire twitter, facebook and tumblr to stay abreast of all that we’re doing!
Next Up: Dragon or War?
- The Meereenese Blot’s “Water Garden and Blood Oranges” series.
- Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson’s “Politics of Dorne”
- Westeros.org’s Trial by Folly: The Arianne Martell Re-Read Project
- Stefan Sasse’s convincing take on who betrayed Ariane’s plot (It’s Spotted Sylva)