The Plutonian Others

(Top illustration: metaphorical reaper Others riding Ice Spiders, by Jon Howe, for 2020 aSoIaF Calendar)

For the first time in years I touch upon the Others, a subject I sidelined. But as I have been working on drafts for other essay, I keep bumping into them, and for those drafts to work, I cannot but expand on them, and thus write an article on them. Meanwhile, season 8 of the show was about to start, and this generated several discussions between myself, the Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire on the nature of the Others, and ultimately the decision to write an analysis and formulate a proposal about them.

There are several sources that can shed a light on this, some more trustworthy than others, while some conflict with one another: the books (including peripheral ones set in Planetos), George’s own words in interviews and to illustrators who had to draw them, prior writing of George that falls outside the Planetos universe, and the show. For example Tom Patterson helped to illustrate the graphic novels of a Song of Ice and Fire. And he says that “[Martin] spoke a lot about what [the Others] were not, but what they were was harder to put into words.” And well, we have to do the same to start out with: clarify what they are not. And when we do that, it becomes instantly clear which source is the least reliable, but alas also the best well known one: the show Game of Thrones.

The show gave us men of icy substance, initially with a strange type of language of their own in S3 when they attack the Night’s Watch, but have remained mum ever since. The show also “revealed” in S4 that the White Walkers took human babies and when the Night King touched them with his finger at his “ice palace” they became ice-babies, who supposedly grow up into White Walkers or short WWs (the WeeWees). In S6 the show expands on this through a flashback that Bran sees while he’s being trained by the three-eyed-raven: the Night King was once a human himself, a man, tied to a weirwood tree, by Children of the Forest. They stuck a dragonstone into his heart to make him their minion to drive the First Men off as they threatened the peaceful existence of the Children and he became the icy Night’s King. So, basically, according to the show all the White Walkers, including the Night King, are humans tansformed into ice. Flesh-made-into-ice so to speak. But the portrayal of the White Walkers after George was not part of the writing team anymore is highly questionable. Many readers speculated along the lines of what the show ended up doing. But there are serious problems with this explanation, whether it is argued by readers or the main writers of the show, D&D. For all we know, D&D scoured the internet for fan theories to explain the “making of” and went with a theory that gained traction, thereby amplifying it, without there actually being a thorough re-examination of it.

So, we deconstruct the portrayal of the White Walkers as depicted on the show and point out differences. These have major implications both on the origin story of the Others, what they are, and what narrative role they serve in the books. We rely on book information we have, George’s own words about the Others as well as Benioff’s and Weiss’s. We examine their physical description, using text from the books, but also George’s words on them to illustrators. With that evidence we offer a speculation on this particular lifeform, using scientific knowledge insofar it is supported by text and fits symbolically and is supported by parallels.

This article is not written just by myself, but is a joint effort that came into being with the help of The Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire. We are the “three-headed ice dragon”.

As this is a long essay, this index may help navigate to the different sections:

Night King or Night’s King

The first issue is that there is no Night King as leader for the Others in the books, nor was he the first White Walker. In the books the Night’s King (different title) was indeed a man, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to be specific. Old Nan and maester Yandel have this to say about the Night’s King.

The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. (aSoS, Bran IV)

The oldest of these tales concern the legendary Night’s King, the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, who was alleged to have bedded a sorceress pale as a corpse and declared himself a king. For thirteen years the Night’s King and his “corpse queen” ruled together, before King of Winter, Brandon the Breaker, (in alliance, it is said, with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Joramun) brought them down. Thereafter, he obliterated the Night’s King’s very name from memory. (tWoIaF – the Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)

Clearly the Night’s King of the books cannot be the Night King of the show, nor could he be the beginning of the Others, as he existed when there was already a Wall and a Night’s Watch, a structure and a force specifically created before his existence to deal with the threat of the Others, after the Long Night. The Night’s King was not a White Walker, not an Other, let alone King of the Others, and he did not live during the Long Night. Think of him as a type of Craster as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort.

George Martin himself has made it quite clear that the two should not be confused with one another.

As for the Night’s King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have. (So Spake Martin on Maegor III and the Night’s King)

You might argue, “Yes I know all that. That does not disprove there once might have been a man who ended up as the First White Walker and who makes all the other Weewees – an Adam-WeeWee.” Indeed, that alone does not disprove it. But then Benioff and Weiss have this to say about the Night King in a 2019 EW interview (thank you Lolligag for posting a link to this interview during a discussion at westeros.org).

EW asked GoT showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss what inspired them to add the character to their HBO hit series.

“It was almost logical as you went back in time, as you create the prehistory for all this,” Weiss said. “We’ve seen what the White Walkers do, we’ve seen how they perpetuate themselves and created the wights. If you’re going backwards, well, they made these things … so what made them? We always liked the implication that they weren’t some kind of cosmic evil that had been around since the beginning to time but that the White Walkers had a history — that something that seems legendary and mythological and permanent wasn’t. They had a historical cause that was comprehensible like the way the wars on screen we’re seeing unfold are comprehensible. They’re the result of people, or beings, with motivations we can understand.” […] “And once you go back into that flashback scene, that required a person there — and that was Vlad, who for a long time was our best stuntman,” Benioff added. (Game of Thrones runners explain why they created the Night King, EW, by James Hibber, March 26 2019)

Their statements heavily indicate they themselves decided to insert a person and character as leader and creator of the Weewees in order make him something with motives that viewers can easily recognize and relate to. Unfortunately it also turns the Weewees into soldiers of a Big Bad Villain that Doctor Who or Marvel heroes can neutralize and then it is game over (at least for the Night King and his army). While it seems to make the leader of the Weewees more complex on an individual basis, and can be quite entertaining, it simplifies the threat, one that has a loophole. The anticlimatic ending of the threat by the end of episode 3 of season 8 shows how problematic this choice truly was.

George’s Night’s King is that historical Big Villain. He allied with the Others and became quite formidable, but an alliance between the King-Beyond-the-Wall Joramun and the Stark King at the time managed to kill him. They did not succeed in ridding Westeros of the Others though. That threat survived to return in the current timeline of the books.

The show’s Night King is a major step away from Lovecraftian horror (a major inspiration for George). Lovecraft might have created a pantheon of big bads, but they were a cosmic ever-existing evil that has an alien disregard for human life (like insects are disinterested about us). Without a Night King, you get a natural threat that is insolvable, comparable to a virus or bacteria. Yes, we might find a vaccine or antibiotic for them, but we cannot completely eradicate it. There is always a risk for a flare that may become an epidemy, even if you take safety and hygiene precautions. And while vaccination nearly managed to push back polio and measles to small pockets of the world, anti-vaccine beliefs allowed such diseases to gain a foothold once more. These threats may not have complex emotional and cognitive motivations behind their actions, but are still incredibly scary, exactly because there is no easy solution.

So, when George RR Martin decided to write a world in which exists a threat to humanity, would he have gone with an Adam-Other who is the Big Bad or a Lovecraftian timeless cosmic hivelike threat that cannot truly be eradicated, when he already has human characters such as Euron who he can turn into a powerful villain? George’s implementation of a historical Night’s King being taken out as the Big Bad and the Others surviving heavily indicates that the Others are a Lovecraftian threat.

Skroth

Though it is not directly stated in the books that the Others are a separate species, there are indications to argue they are. One of those is the fact that they speak an unknown language that sounds like the cracking of ice and their laughter sounds as sharp as icicles.

The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking. […] Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (aGoT, Prologue)

This is unique from any known humanoid species in the books. For each species, George made sure that either their sound or their language coincide with their nature or way of life.

The Others also have their own language, one that Will does not know. We can conclude though that it is not the Old Tongue that free folk and giants speak. Will may not be able to speak the Old Tongue, but he has been a brother of the Night’s Watch for four years and is a veteran of one hundred ranges, often hunting wildling raiders. Will would recognize the Old Tongue if it was spoken.

Children of the Forest speak their own True Tongue (or Truth Tongue?). The language needs to be sung, as it sings a song of earth, which is why Bran starts to refer to them as Singers (of the Forest). Maester Yandel refers to the legend of Brandon the Builder learning the speech of the Singers, and that it sounds “like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water.” Bran too compares the song of the True Tongue as “pure as winter air“.

Speech and language is an easy tool to help an audience or reader to recognize whether humanoid characters are a different species than humans. Speech is dependent on the vocal cords and the physionomy of the soundbox used to manipulate harmony and pitch of the soundwave. Other species would have a different physionomy and therefore sound and talk quite differently in a manner that humans cannot. For example, Tad Williams features child-sized creatures called ghants in his series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (an epic fantasy series that inspired George). Even if you do not know what they look like, their strange buzzing click-language would alert you of them being an entirely different species.

Initially a language was indeed developed for the show’s pilot by David Peterson. It was called Skroth.

David Peterson, the language consultant who developed Dothraki and Valyrian for the show, also created a spoken language for White Walkers that the showrunners intended to include in the pilot. It’s called Skroth, and probably won’t end up being used even if White Walkers do one day speak. “It was actually going to be for the very first scene of the show where the White Walker comes and cuts that guy’s head off. There are parts where you hear them kind of grumble and vocalize; it was going to be for that,” Peterson explains to Zap2it at San Diego Comic-Con. “I think ultimately they decided they didn’t want them actually saying stuff and even subtitle it. That might have been a little corny, honestly, for the opening scene of the show.” Skroth sounded “pretty scratchy,” Peterson explains, because he used audio modification to “give it a particular sound.” (Screenertv, “‘Game of Thrones’ language creator explains why White Walkers don’t speak”, Terri Schwartz)

While they did not use the Skroth concept in the pilot, there was an attempt in the finale of season 2 to introduce Skroth for the White Walkers. When the army of the dead attacked the Fist and Sam hides behind a rock, one of the WWs makes a high scratchy sound to signal the army to shamble on. This was developed by Peter Brown according to Benioff in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Peter Brown, our sound designer, is our hero because he finally came up with the ice-cracking chatter we had in our heads when we imagined the White Walkers speaking Skroth. (Entertainment Weekly, ‘Game of Thrones: How producers pulled of ‘Blackwater’, by James Hibberd, May 27 2012)

Since then, the WWs haven’t made a peep any more, despite them leading an army at Hardhome, into the cave of the Children, and so on. Instead, the wights have become the skratchy screechers, so much that it became a plot point in season 7 during the episode when Jon et all go hunt for a wight north of the Wall. Benioff’s recent explanation is that having the Night King speak would diminish him.

Benioff notes that another common question they get about the character is why doesn’t the Night King ever speak. “What’s he going to say?” Benioff asks. “Anything the Night King says diminishes him.” (EW, GOT showrunners explain why they created the Night King, by James Hibber, March 26 2019)

We argue it goes further than that. Giving the Night King and his icy Weewees a human origin, necessisates them being silent. Once the writers gave them a human origin and therefore basically the same soundbox and vocal cords, having them use Skroth would be confusing to the viewer. For example, in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Cell, people begin to make non-human sounds and it immediately gives the viewer the impression they are possessed or mind controlled by an alien thing. And it might be alright for Star Wars to have all type of aliens speak English, but with the Weewees it would turn them into run-of-the-mill laughable villains.

But George did include a language and speech for them. And he may have a symbolic motivation for this beyond the physical. If you check out the essays of the chthonic cycle, you will find that being silent is one of George’s symbolic ways to indicate a character should be considered a dead man. For example Lady Stoneheart has her vocal chords cut, and at best can only whisper. Ned Stark’s ghoaler in the Black Cells reminds him to be silent. Hence, George’s wights do not speak, because they are dead-dead, despite being animated. Meanwhile talking Others makes them out to be actual living beings, rather than animated, though they are deadly for all other type of life.

All of this further confirms that D&D’s White Walkers are not George’s Others. D&D’s decisions to have White Walkers be silent fits the concept of human origin while preserving their menace. George’s Others speaking an entirely different language with inhuman sounds fits the concept of them being an entirely different species.

Inhuman Humanoids

Other_GoT_illustrated_prologue
A Game of Thrones: illustrated (Bantam Books)

Now, let us inspect the actual appearance of the Others. Like Giants and Children of the Forest, the Others have a humanoid morphology and walk erect. What sets them apart from giants and the Children is how they seem to resemble the height of humans, albeit a tall one.

Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. (aGoT, Prologue)

They are also gaunt and their “flesh” is hard like bone and white as milk. This is quite corpse-like, and yet they are not. While this appearance in the prologue of aGoT does not exclude a potential human origin yet, Samwell’s observation about the Other that he kills in aSoS makes clear that the humanoid form is inhuman, in the sense that the Other is indeed another species and of non-human origin.

On [the horse’s] back was a rider pale as ice. […] The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. (aSoS, Samwell I)

An Other, by Marc SimonettiSam repeats their pale appearance, like ice and white milk. While Will calls them gaunt and tall, Sam instead refers to them as sword-thin. And when we combine both these descriptions, we do not picture humans anymore, but some elongated, thin humanoid figure, which is exactly what Marc Simonetti drew for his illustration of them in the World Book (left illustration).

George said to David Patterson, illustrator of aGoT, the Graphic Novel,

the Others “are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of lifeinhuman, elegant, dangerous.”

Some readers argue that inhuman has two meanings. We can read it to mean non-human or as cruel, callous and inhumane. But with George’s matching words of “a different sort of life” the devil is in the detail and one missing ‘e’. George uses the word inhuman thrice in the books and always to mean non-human: Harrenhal is of inhuman scale reminding Arya of Old Nan’s tales about giants, Sansa’s nightmare of being attacked has people wear monstrous inhuman masks, and Yandel’s World Book refers to the Children of the Forest as inhuman allies. No reader debates over the fact that giants and children of the forest are a different species, but many do about the Others.

To top this, George referenced them as being like the Sidhe, who in our own folklore tend to be pictured as tall, elongated, graceful, but dangerous non-humans going on their Wild Hunt: once again a different humanoid species. So, the Others are a type of Sidhe made of ice, or rather “something like that” (but not really ice). Certainly the description of how they move is George’s attempt to make the connection to Sidhe in the reader’s mind.

Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head, glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was gone. Branches stirred gently in the wind, scratching at one another with wooden fingers. […] Perhaps it had only been a bird, a reflection on the snow, some trick of the moonlight. What had he seen, after all? […] A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. […]  The Other slid forward on silent feet. […]  They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. […] The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

The wights had been slow clumsy things, but the Other was light as snow on the wind. (aSoS, Samwell I)

George could have stopped there, with the Others as icy Sidhe, or Tad Williams’ Norns. But why would he? His dwarfs are real humans. His elves are cat-eyed Children of the Forest. His manticores are insects. His unicorns are goatlike. His dragons have two legs. And his Giants are bearlike. None of his species of legends are a copy of how they are depicted in real world folklore, Middle Earth or even Osten Ard. He gives each his own unique twist.

Plutonians

A startling fact that Samwell notices about the Other and that Coldhands tells Bran is that the Others do not leave an impression on the snow when walking.

Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow. (aSoS, Samwell I)

“The white walkers go lightly on the snow,” the ranger said. “You’ll find no prints to mark their passage.” (aDwD, Bran II)

Samwell’s Other moves gracefully and it is so light-weighted that it does not break the snow beneath its feet. Floating and hover may befit a Sidhe of folklore and other fantasy series, but George does try to create species to still adhere to laws of physics. In other words, gravity is still working on this Other and it has mass.

If you thought George does not care about the laws of physics, let me remind you that he described the Other’s sword-thin shape as well as its inability to leave an impression on the snow in the same paragraph. Their shape is important for byouancy reasons. Think of objects of different types of density you put in a bucket of water. Some sink, some sink only halfway, others float on top. Density is not the sole determinant though. Steel and iron ships can float on water because of their buoyant shape. Given that Will called them tall, and Sam thinks of them as sword-thin, their shape is more comparable to an icicle dropping onto snow.

Furhtermore, George has the mountain clan men who allied with Stannis to save the Ned’s girl wearing snow shoes.

Many of the wolves donned curious footwear. Bear-paws, they called them, queer elongated things made with bent wood and leather strips. Lashed onto the bottoms of their boots, the things somehow allowed them to walk on top of the snow without breaking through the crust and sinking down to their thighs. (aDwD, The Wayward Bride)

Where humans have to wear these bear-paws, the Others do not. The Others do not have a buoyant shape and should leave an imprint in the snow according to the laws of pressure. And yet they do not. So, what is going on here?

The first reflex is to simply wave our hands at this and think “It’s magic.” And most likely it is. Nevertheless, as a thought experiment we considered whether this might be a hint to physical attributes of the Others. If it went nowhere and had no symbolical value and no textual back-up, we would have dropped it. Instead we came across a workable idea that answers a great deal and puts several other non-Other events in a coherent context. For our thought experiment, we played around with the idea that it might be a hint by George that the Others have a density* that is lighter than or equal to the snow they walk on.

* Yes, we recognize that no matter what density the Others have, they still have mass and that gravity and the laws of pressure would still have them leave footprints. Just bear with us for the moment and we will return to this issue, later on.

Theoretically, the Others are made of a substance that has a lighter density than fresh snow. And if they consist of entirely different compounds or elemental substance, then they would have a solid state at other temperatures than lifeforms typically have. What matter can they be made of, if it is not actually ice?

Snow’s density is between 0.1-0.8 g/cm³ (depending on atmospheric pressure), while the density of fresh water as a fluid is 1 g/cm³. The two substances with the lightest density are hydrogen and helium respectively, and both are the most prevalent elements in the universe. Another element we will explore is nitrogen as well as the molecule carbon monoxide.

Helium Hydrogen Nitrogen Carbon Monoxide
Density 0.145 g/cm3 (at mp) 0.0763 g/cm3 (solid) 0.808 g/cm3 (liquid at bp) 0.789 g/cm3, liquid (liquid)
 (Melting point (mp)
0.95 °K (- 272.20 °C or -457.96 °F) 13.99 °K ​(−259.16 °C, ​−434.49 °F) 63.15 °K (-210 °C, -346 °F) 68.13 °K (−205.02 °C, −337.04 °)
Boiling point (bp)
4.222 °K (−268.928 °C , ​−452.070 °F) 20.271 °K ​(−252.879 °C, ​−423.182 °F) 77 °K (−195.795 °C, ​−320.431 °F) 81.6 °K (−191.5 °C, −312.7 °F)

Liquid helium has a density approximating the low end of snow’s scale. One of its possible advantages is that it cannot bind with any other element. It is colorless, tasteless, and inert. Helium is only a warming up exercise to our thought experiment; we do not actually think their body contains helium. When ionised, helium would emit an orange glow, which is unheard of in the tales and encounters with the Others. Instead the color we associate them with is the deep inhuman blue of their eyes.

Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. (aGoT, Prologue)

Helium’s name is derived from the ancient Greek name for the sun helios. And the Others shun the sun.

Samwell to Jon: “They hide from the light of the sun and emerge by night … or else night falls when they emerge.” (aDwD, Jon II)

The old man [Tormund] glanced uneasily toward the trees in their white mantles. “They’re never far, you know. They won’t come out by day, not when that old sun’s shining, but don’t think that means they went away. Shadows never go away. Might be you don’t see them, but they’re always clinging to your heels.” (aDwD, Jon XII)

So, we can eliminate helium. Nevertheless, we can take away a potential idea out of it. Helium can only be a solid, less than 1° K off from the absolute zero point (-273.15 °C). It is called the absolute zero point, because it is the absolute minimal temperature in the universe – atoms stop moving and have zero kinetic energy, and once their kinetic energy is zero they cannot have any lower temperature. It is death of energy. So, symbolically this seems an idea that George might be after and why the Others “bring the cold” with them. If they are made of a substance that requires extreme low temperatures, in order for them to remain solid, it becomes reasonable (in a fantasy way) that they naturally lower the environmental temperature wherever they go following the laws of entropy. Their cold would cause low pressure pockets in the air, and thus snow cloud formation as well as mist (liquid formation of vapor). It explains why they can only ride dead animals, that end up covered in frost, or why Waymar Royce’s sword is covered with frost during his duel and why the cooled metal of the sword becomes brittle and ultimately breaks.

It was cold. Shivering, Will clung more tightly to his perch.[…] The wind had stopped. It was very cold. […] They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … Ser Waymar may have felt the cold that came with them, but he never saw them, never heard them. Will had to call out. It was his duty. And his death, if he did. He shivered, and hugged the tree, and kept the silence. (aGoT, Prologue)

[Waymar’s] blade was white with frost; […] “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy. When the blades touched, the steel shattered.A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. (aGoT, Prologue)

Ice caked his beard all around his mouth. […] He could hardly breathe. Had he gone to sleep? He got to his knees, and something wet and cold touched his nose. Chett looked up. Snow was falling. […] Chett got to his feet. His legs were stiff, and the falling snowflakes turned the distant torches to vague orange glows. He felt as though he were being attacked by a cloud of pale cold bugs. They settled on his shoulders, on his head, they flew at his nose and his eyes. Cursing, he brushed them off. […] The snow was falling so heavily that he got lost among the tents, but finally he spotted the snug little windbreak the fat boy had made for himself between a rock and the raven cages. (aSoS, Prologue)

A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. […] Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. […] Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold.” (aSoS, Samwell I)

Varamyr woke suddenly, violently, his whole body shaking. “Get up,” a voice was screaming, “get up, we have to go. There are hundreds of them.” The snow had covered him with a stiff white blanket. So cold. When he tried to move, he found that his hand was frozen to the ground. He left some skin behind when he tore it loose. “Get up,” she screamed again, “they’re coming.”  (aDwD, Prologue)

But the air was sharp and cold and full of fear. Even Summer was afraid. The fur on his neck was bristling. Shadows stretched against the hillside, black and hungry. All the trees were bowed and twisted by the weight of ice they carried. Some hardly looked like trees at all. Buried from root to crown in frozen snow, they huddled on the hill like giants, monstrous and misshapen creatures hunched against the icy wind. “They are here.” The ranger drew his longsword. […] “Can you feel the cold? There’s something here. Where are they?” (aDwD, Bran II)

“My tongue is too numb to tell. All I can taste is cold.”
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …” (aDwD, Jon VIII)

If even a cold dead ranger like Coldhands can sense a drop in temperature, the Others do bring an extreme cold with him. Val too says the cold of the Others is lower even than winter’s tongue numbing cold – it will hurt to breathe, as Chett experiences at the Fist right before the attack in the prologue of aSoS.

Hydrogen comes close to the same principle of nearing the absolute zero point. Like helium it is colorless and tasteless but when ionised in an electrical field it could have the blueness of the ‘blood’ that Sam recognizes. Now, hydrogen is highly combustible and flammable when it comes into contact with air. But it requires a spark, heat or sunlight to explode. Spontaneous ignition requires 500° C (932° F). So, if the Others’ blood at least contains fluid hydrogen, then it is to be expected that they shun sunlight. This combustability of hydrogen however means that the material their swords and armor is made of is not pure hydrogen: Grenn’s torch does nothing except make a screeching sound.

Get away!” Grenn took a step, thrusting the torch out before him. “Away, or you burn.” He poked at it with the flames.
The Other’s sword gleamed with a faint blue glow. It moved toward Grenn, lightning quick, slashing. When the ice blue blade brushed the flames, a screech stabbed Sam’s ears sharp as a needle. The head of the torch tumbled sideways to vanish beneath a deep drift of snow, the fire snuffed out at once. And all Grenn held was a short wooden stick. He flung it at the Other, cursing, as Small Paul charged in with his axe. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Now, we’re getting “warmer”.(pun intended)

Another element you might think of is nitrogen. Nitrogen’s melting and boiling point is not as low as that of hydrogen and helium, but serves as deadly temperatures. It is slightly denser than hydrogen and helium, but still works for snow. As a gas or liquid it is colorless, and looks like plain water, but anyone who has ever been treated with nitrogen knows that it seems to evaporate in clear white fumes, as Sam describes the Other’s flesh does.

Nitrogen is a basic element in all life on the planet: amino acids (and thus proteins), DNA and RNA contain nitrogen. It is also part of the energy transfer processes within living beings. So, you would expect a lifeform to consist of nitrogen. In its pure form it binds with another nitrogen in a triple bond. After carbonmonoxide this is the strongest molecule bond and the reason why most of the nitrogen on and around earth is encountered in this form. As N2 it is deadly – inhaling it leads to asphyxiation. Hence scientist named it after the Greek word that means “to choke“. In my native language, Dutch, it is called stikstof (translated choke-matter). This should ring a bell as this is one of the two main and common ways the minions of the Others, the wights, attack a target: via strangulation. This standard wight MO of killing is also discussed in Craster’s Black Blooded Curse.

Ser Waymar Royce stood over him. His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye. The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw. […] Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. (aGoT, Prologue)

When [Jon] opened his mouth to scream, the wight jammed its black corpse fingers into Jon’s mouth. Gagging, he tried to shove it off, but the dead man was too heavy. Its hand forced itself farther down his throat, icy cold, choking him. (aGoT, Jon VII)

[…] the wight’s black hands locked beneath his chins. Paul’s fingers were so cold they seemed to burn. They burrowed deep into the soft flesh of Sam’s throat. Run, Gilly, run, he wanted to scream, but when he opened his mouth only a choking sound emerged. (aSoS, Samwell III)

Since wights are the soldiers and weapons of the Others, it seems symbolically sound to have their MO match the ‘nature’ of the Others. Furthermore, not long after the element was discovered by Rutherford, Lavoisier suggested azote as an alternative name to nitrogen. This is another Greek based name that means “no life”.

98% of Pluto‘s surface is solid nitrogen ice. This dwarf planet of our solar system was named after the Greek god of the underworld and the dead, Pluto (an alternative name for Hades). Bingo!

The name choice for this planet could not be more apt with its atmosphere and surface consisting basically of matter that kill Earth life. The same Pluto also contains traces of solid carbon monoxide and methane on its surface and atmosphere. If the Others are a lifeform built from the same solid frozen molecular matter on Pluto, then they basically are Plutonians, or natural born killers. (also see The Fattest Leech’s quotes about Lovecraft’s Deep Ones losing the battle against some Plutonian half-crustaceans conquering the North)

A lifeform cannot be ‘fleshy’ without containing carbon, but those are not necessarily the same organic bonds as our own earth life has. After molecular hydrogen, carbon monoxoide is the second-most common molecule in space, and solid carbon monoxide is a component of comets. Haley’s comet for example consists 15% out of solid carbon monoxide. This is interesting when we consider that many readers have increasingly speculated that there was at least one impact event of either a meteorite or a comet in the history of Planetos. Yes, this is mostly linked with the coming of the dragons around the time of the Breaking of the arm of Dorne, and that they may have come into being as a result of exogenesis, but surely this might also be the source of the lifeform we know as Others at a prior impact even.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a killer gas. Without the ancient Greeks knowing the actual mechanism of death, they used to execute people by shutting them in bathing rooms with smoldering coals. Nazis used it on a large scale during the Holocaust at some extermination camps. It kills life that relies on hemoglobin to transport oxygen via the bloodstream to the various organs, because carbon monoxide is able to bind with hemoglobin as well. In fact, the affinity of hemoglobin to carbon monoxide is 230 times larger than that of oxygen. So, given the chance, the hemoglobin will prefer to bind with carbon monoxide over oxygen. Except, once bound as carboxyhemoglobin the blood cannot release the oxygen to tissue anymore and causes tissue damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly. And since it is an odorless, colorless gass people are rarely aware they are breathing a deadly gas, instead of air.

The first symptoms of such a poisoning can easily be mistaken with the flue – headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. In other words you would feel sick at your bowels. Hmmm, the second area that wights target when they attack are the bowels.

The other wight, the one-handed thing that had once been a ranger named Jafer Flowers, had also been destroyed, cut near to pieces by a dozen swords … but not before it had slain Ser Jaremy Rykker and four other men. Ser Jaremy had finished the job of hacking its head off, yet had died all the same when the headless corpse pulled his own dagger from its sheath and buried it in his bowels. (aGoT, Jon VIII)

Something grabbed hold of him. That was when his shout became a scream. Bran filled a fist with snow and threw it, but the wight did not so much as blink. A black hand fumbled at his face, another at his belly. Its fingers felt like iron. He’s going to pull my guts out. (aDwD, Bran II)

Another symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is how it turns the blood a cherry red: hemoglobin acquires a bright red color when converted into carboxyhemoglobin. This is not so easily visible with a living person suffering from this type of poisoning, but someone who died of carbon monoxide poisoning will look lifelike becacuse of this. Whereas normally an unenbalmed dead person looks bluish and pale. The food industry thus uses carbon monoxide to give meat a healthy looking red color. Now in aGoT’s prologue Will notes a particular bright red color when Waymar is first injured, as red as fire. Blood is not that bright usually, not even the normally oxygenated blood of a vein.

Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red. (aGoT, Prologue)

At the very least, we should investigate whether the sword may be actually crafted from frozen carbon monoxide and methane. In an interview by Robert Shaw after the publication of a Storm of Swords, George says the following about the swords of the Others.

Shaw: Do you know what substance an Other sword is made from.
Martin: Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.

He at least confirmed that it is not like regular ice, but some other kind of substance. If it was made of carbonmonoxide though that would explain its ghostly blue glow or shimmer, its crystalline appearance, yet still reminding us of ice.

In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor. […] the Other’s [sword] danced with pale blue light. (aGoT, Prologue)

The Other’s sword gleamed with a faint blue glow. […] It slid away from Paul’s axe, armor rippling, and its crystal sword twisted and spun and slipped between the iron rings of Paul’s mail, through leather and wool and bone and flesh. It came out his back with a hissssssssssss and Sam heard Paul say, “Oh,” as he lost the axe. Impaled, his blood smoking around the sword, the big man tried to reach his killer with his hands and almost had before he fell. The weight of him tore the strange pale sword from the Other’s grip. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Both methane and carbonmonoxide form a crystalline structure when solid. And methane even has an interesting intermediate solid state called a plastic crystal before being frozen into a solid crystal. As a plastic crystal it would be malleable and thus be shaped at will.

Blue_hazes_over_backlit_Pluto
Departure shot of Pluto by New Horizons, showing Pluto’s atmosphere backlit by the Sun. The blue color is close to what a human eye would have seen, and is caused by layers of haze in the atmosphere. (NASA)

Now the top illustration of this essay is a picture of Pluto backlit by the sun by New Horizons of NASA taken in 2016, so you can see its atmosphere clearly, which has a ghostly pale blueish appearance, exactly as the swords have been described by George. He could not have known from imagery that Pluto’s atmosphere would have looked like this during the writing of any of the books, but he could have guessed it correctly. When carbonmonoxide is in the presence of oxygen (including atmospheric concentrations) it burns with a blue flame. The actual science behind Pluto’s blue atmospheric haze is not due to carbonmonoxide burning, but scattering of light as it hits particles of near 10 nm in its asmophere consisting of majorly nitrogen, methane and carbonmonoxide. But in 1993 scientists already knew the composition of Pluto’s surface. Since nitrogen would only be seen as white fumes when evaporating that would have left George to speculate that carbonmonoxide would be the sole color potential. Hence we have a blue-flaming sword that causes people to bleed bright red.

For an interesting read on what life possibilities there are on cold or hot planets, FictionIsntReal provided this link of Isaac Asimov’s speculations. Certainly in several of his sci-fi stories George has shown to have some basic idea about the biochemical make-up of potential lifeforms in extremely different circumstances than our own. For instance, in Nighflyers of 1980 we have this scene.

“Jupiter,” the xenotech announced loudly, “is a gas giant in the same solar system as Old Earth. Didn’t know that, did you?” […] “Listen, I’m talking to you. They were on the verge of exploring this Jupiter when the stardrive was discovered, oh, way back. After that, course, no one bothered with gas giants. Just slip into drive and find the habitable worlds, settle them, ignore the comets and the rocks and the gas giants—there’s another star just a few light years away, and it has more habitable planets. But there were people who thought those Jupiters might have life, you know. Do you see?” […]
Christopheris looked annoyed. “If there is intelligent life on the gas giants, it shows no interest in leaving them,” he snapped. “All of the sentient species we have met up to now have originated on worlds similar to Earth, and most of them are oxygen breathers. Unless you’re suggesting that the volcryn are from a gas giant?”
The xenotech pushed herself up to a sitting position and smiled conspiratorially. “Not the volcryn,” she said. “Royd Eris. Crack that forward bulkhead in the lounge, and watch the methane and ammonia come smoking out.” Her hand made a sensuous waving motion through the air, and she convulsed with giddy laughter. (Nightflyers)

And in The Plague Star of Tuf Voyaging, George includes a silicone rock-like spider.

There was a black blob of some sort, floating in the air ahead of him. […] The dark blob was small and round, barely the size of a man’s fist. Nevis kept about a meter’s distance from it, and studied it. Another creature – as damned ugly as the one that had dined on Jefru Lion too, but weirder. It was brown and lumpy, and its hide looked like it was made of rocks. It looked almost like it was a rock, in fact; Nevis only knew it was alive because it had a mouth – a wet black hole in the rocky skin. Inside, the mouth was all moist and green and moving, and he could make out teeth, or what looked like teeth, except they looked metallic. He thought he saw a triple set of them, half-concealed by rubbery green flesh that pulsed slowly, steadily.
The weirdest thing was how incredibly still it was. At first, Nevis thought it was hovering in the air somehow. But then he came a little closer and saw that he’d been wrong. It was suspended in the center of an incredibly fine web, the strands so very thin they were all but invisible. In fact, the ends of them were invisible. Nevis could make out the thickest parts near the nexus where the creature sat pulsing, but the webbing seemed to get thinner and thinner as it spread, and you couldn’t see where it attached to wall or floor or ceiling at all, no matter how hard you looked.
A spider, then. A weird one. The rocky appearance made him think it was some kind of silicon-based life. He’d heard of that, here and there. It was real god-damned rare. So he had some kind of silicon-spider here. Big deal. (Tuf Voyaging, The Plague Star, 1985)

George never goes into a scientific essay on these other-type-of-lifeforms even in his sci-fi. He is not a biochemist like Asimov, nor a physicist, and he will not write a story-debate about the boiling temperature of water in vacuum as Asimov. But he does know his Asimov. And in a fantasy series he does not even have to elaborate on the biochemistry of a species, since that world does not even have characters that are biochemists. However, that does not mean that George has no preconceived concept of what the Others are chemically. Unlike our sciency-like thought experiment, George does not have to reverse-engineer it. He is the gardener god who decides and sprinkle hints without us having a clue. You may think, “Yeah, that’s all well and good, but that’s sci-fi and this is fantasy!” Except George fudges the genre lines, mixes genres, and (re)uses his prior material, including ideas from sci-fi short stories often. Nor does he care about “definitions” of what is proper fantasy and proper sci-fi. Here is a summary of George’s own introduction words on the matter in Dreamsongs Part 2. We will pick out the most important quotes in answer to the “But it’s fantasy!” argument.

Motor cars or horses, tricorns or togas, ray-guns or six-shooters, none of it matters, so long as the people remain. Sometimes we get so busy drawing boundaries and making labels that we lose track of that truth. Casablanca put it most succinctly. ‘It’s till the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die.’ […] We can make up all the definitions of science fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s still the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself. The rest, my friends, is furniture. […] The Furniture Rule, I call it. Forget the definitions. Furniture Rules. (George RR Martin, introduction of the “heart in conflict” section of part 2 of Dreamsongs)

The point is that horror, sci-fi ideas and the fantastical have all fused in George’s minds, and to him it’s all ‘weird stuff’. He has read and written all of these stories with their typical appropriate furniture. But they eventually all fuse in some way. His space stories involve horror. His fantasy is grounded and riddled with suggestion of interbreeding and alien stuff and maesters studying the high iron content of dragon bones. But the horror as part of the story is always present, as fear is one damn good human emotion.

Which brings us close to the next section of this essay. Something may have jumped out at you in that description of the silicone-spider: it appeared to hover. It did not actually hover, but it only appeared to do so. It hovered, because the web is actually physically attached to the silicone spider and its threads get so nano-thin that the ends of the web are invisible to the naked eye. The seed ship that cloned this silicone lifeform from its database as a biological defense mechanism against unwanted intruders names it a ‘walking web’. (Hey a WW!) It does walk, and when it does, the invisible ends of the web leave tiny holes in the metal walls of the hallways of the ship. And this provides alternative ways than ‘It’s magic!’ on why the Others do not leave visible footsteps in the fresh snow. Maybe they have invisible webbing beneath their feet that work like bear-paws. Maybe they can alter their solid status into that of a plasma or even gas when they approach. We do not know.

Another glaring notion is the fact that these walking webs are spiders, and the Others are legendary linked to a spider species – Ice Spiders.

 

Ice Spiders

Not all lifeforms are dependant on hemoglobin. For example photosinthezising plants, such as trees, are not affected by carbon monoxide. And certain animal families rely on hemocyanin instead to bind oxygen. These are molluscs (snails), crustaceans and arthropods. Hemoglobin is more efficient than hemocyanin in normal conditions for oxygen transportation with blood, which is why every vertebrate uses this type of bloodcell. But in cold environments with low oxygen pressure, the hemocyanin method is the most efficient. One of the crucial differences between hemoglobin and hemocyanin is the metal atom the proteins are bound with. Hemoglobin is bound with iron and locked in a bloodcell, giving the cell its characteristic red color. Hemocyanin proteins are bound with two copper atoms, however, and flow freely in the ‘blood’ unbound to a cell. The copper makes the hemocyanin molecule in the hemolymph fluid look blue! Creatures that thus rely on hemocyanin are “blue blooded“, though the fluid is not considered to be true blood.

hemocyanin
(left) the hemocyanin molecule; (right) horseshoe crab “blood”

This explains why the protein is called cyanin. It derives of the word cyan, which is a blue-green hue and the word means aqua or water in Ancient Greek. This blue color is exactly what Samwell notices to be the color of the Other’s blood when he kills him. (painkillerjane69 pointed this out two years ago in a comment of the Varys essay, the Silk Route; @ixchelayida on twitter.. Thank you.)

And then [Sam] was stumbling forward, falling more than running, really, closing his eyes and shoving the dagger blindly out before him with both hands. He heard a crack, like the sound ice makes when it breaks beneath a man’s foot, and then a screech so shrill and sharp that he went staggering backward with his hands over his muffled ears, and fell hard on his arse.
When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked.
Sam rolled onto his side, eyes wide as the Other shrank and puddled, dissolving away. In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too. Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold.”
“Obsidian.” Sam struggled to his knees. “Dragonglass, they call it. Dragonglass. Dragon glass.” He giggled, and cried, and doubled over to heave his courage out onto the snow. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Notice how its milk-white flesh and bones melt and evaporate into a fine white mist. This effect suggests that our guess about nitrogen may be right. What the dragonglass basically seemed to do here is break the magic that enables the Others to maintain their ultracold temperature to keep gases such as those of Pluto in a solid state. However, once they are incapable of doing that, the environmental temperature would quickly liquidify and boil the substances, so that they react with one another and the environment to form water.

And having this or a similar type of blue blood might actually be the reason why they hate iron.

Old Nan nodded. “In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles went click click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Yes, the fact that George compared them to Sithe, and the Sithe usually hate iron in folklore, might be enough reason. And yet, Waymar’s steel (containing iron) was futile against the Other he fought. The Other was wary at first, but over time seemed persuaded that Royce’s blade could not harm him. Notice how in Old Nan’s quote this purported hatred of iron is in the same line as hating hot blood of people who can endure the sun and the warmth of fire. It is weird that Old Nan asserts the Others hate iron, when the metal that the First Men wielded before the coming of the Andals and thus during the Long Night was bronze. The sole iron that the First Men could have wielded were weapons crafted from an iron-nickel-meteor. It is unlikely that there were many of those going around. So, either Old Nan does not know what she is talking about (and that is unlikely – though she’s wrong about giants), or she is right. And if she is right, then the sole iron that the Others could hate is the iron in the hemoglobin of red hot blood.  And as beings relying on hemocyanin (or something akin to it), their preferred habitat would be cold, darkness and around copper.

Now, you might argue that plain iced water or hydrogen may serve for the blood of the Others, but there is some serious issue with both of them. Water cannot remain a fluid under the extremely cold body temperatures that the Others evidently must maintain. Once you straightforwardly introduce oxygen to liquified hydrogen you either end up having water that will freeze or a potential combustion of the hydrogen if it is gaseous. And to force the hydrogen to release the oxygen to tissue you require electrolysis. Therefore, hydrogen cannot be used directly to bind with oxygen. Something else, inside the liquid stream of hydrogen needs to bind with oxygen – the hemocyanin.

The biggest hint that George gives us to consider this type of blood system are the ice spiders, for most spiders use this oxygen transport method, of which the tarantula is a typical example mentioned for this.

“One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Yet there are other tales—harder to credit and yet more central to the old histories—about creatures known as the Others. According to these tales, they came from the frozen Land of Always Winter, bringing the cold and darkness with them as they sought to extinguish all light and warmth. The tales go on to say they rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead, resurrected to serve them, just as they resurrected dead men to fight on their behalf. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)

Spiders and other exoskeletal species can use hemocyanin, because their respitory system does not need to rely on hemoglobin to exchange oxygen for carbondioxide as vertebrates do. Insects and arachnids exchange oxygen for carbondioxide in the separate trachea system of the book lungs. All their “blood” needs to do is spread the oxygen to tissue. Since hemocyanin is reluctant to bind with oxygen, it therefore will easily release it, even if bound as carbonmonoxide.

And since both spider and Others have hemolymph for blood, George mentioned the ice spiders as a direct parallel to the operational body functions of the Others in aGoT. George reinforces this link of the Others and Ice Spiders through both Lord Varys, the Qartheen and the Undying. In what follows we discuss some of George’s spiders and some of the most relevant summarized anologies.

Varys the Spider

Silk-wearing Varys was explored in detail in the essays for both the mythological spider introduction and the silk route. However, there the focus lay heavily on leukism. Here we will focus on the physical aspects of spiders that are far more relevant for the Others’ nature. There is his glaring story on how he he became a eunuch in Myr.

“I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Here, George linked Varys the Spider to a blue flame and a language he did not understand. Many readers have speculated whether this blue flame and voice may be related to the Others. We do not know. But at the very least George set up a parallel here between spiders and the substance that causes flames to turn blue – carbonmonoxide – and some force or being that speaks a strange language.

Twice George has Varys squeal and moan about the sight of his own blood, when he cuts himself to a Valyrian dagger – or should we say dragonsteel, the potential steel that could harm an Other? – and when Jaime nicks his throat (Samwell stuck the dragonstone dagger into the Other’s throat). Despite being metaphorically blue-blooded, Varys is still human and thus his blood is red, containing hemoglobin with iron. One could say that Varys hates the sight of iron.

Varys lifted the knife with exaggerated delicacy and ran a thumb along its edge. Blood welled, and he let out a squeal and dropped the dagger back on the table. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

“Yes . . . well . . . if you would . . . remove the blade . . . yes, gently, as it please my lord, gently, oh, I’m pricked . . .” The eunuch touched his neck and gaped at the blood on his fingers. “I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood.” (aFfC, Jaime I)

In the Silk Route essay about Varys it was argued how Kevan’s observations prove that Varys is truly pale-faced beneath his usual powder, for Kevan’s assumption that Varys is wearing powder on his hands in the epilogue is wrong. As smart as Varys is, he would not touch the crossbow he uses to make Cersei suspect the Tyrells or Tyrion of the murder on Kevan Lannister with powdered hands. It would leave traceable evidence to him on the crossbow. And this paleness of course is yet another thing that Varys has in common with the Others. Further indications lead us to believe that Varys prefers to shun the sun of a potential condition called leukism.

Another possible hint towards a parallel for Varys with the Others is how he tends to wear lavender as both color and perfume. Varys is the sole character associated with lavender in particular actually. Historically, people believed lavender warded against the black plague, and thus this flower became heavily associated to gravesites (corpses and the dead). Ned Stark alludes to this association for Varys when he thinks Varys smells as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.

The purple dyes he wears are begotten through sea snails, either from Braavos or Tyrosh. Tyrion compares him to a cold and slimy slug. Snails also use hemocyanin to transport oxygen instead of hemoglobin, exactly like spiders.

Varys is often featured in poison plots, which seems to fit as some spiders inject venom to paralize their prey. In the conversation that Arya happens to spy upon between Varys and Illyrio in aGoT, the latter suggests Varys could get rid of Ned Stark the Hand as he has dealt with another Hand before. Certainly upon first read of the books, most readers suspect Illyrio believes that Varys killed Jon Arryn. Pycelle suggests to Ned Stark that it may have been Varys who possibly poisoned Jon Arynn.

“I have heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon.”
Pycelle stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It is said. Women, cravens … and eunuchs.” He cleared his throat and spat a thick glob of phlegm onto the rushes. Above them, a raven cawed loudly in the rookery. “The Lord Varys was born a slave in Lys, did you know? Put not your trust in spiders, my lord.” (aGoT, Eddard V)

Of course, we learn in aSoS, that Lysa Arryn poisoned Jon Arryn at Littlefinger’s suggestion to then accuse the Lannisters of the crime in a secret letter to Ned and Catelyn. Pycelle points the finger at Varys, not because he actually suspects Varys, but hopes to steer any suspicion away from Cersei Lannister. The sole actual poison plot that Varys had a role in during the series is his proposal to use the Tears of Lys for Dany.

“By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death to draw a blade. […]” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now, poison … the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.” (aGoT, Eddard VIII)

But even in that plot, which he has executed, he also has Illlyrio send the remedy – a letter to Jorah Mormont to warn him of the intended assassination. It seems unspider-like for Varys, to never actually use poison, except in George’s short story of 1974 This Tower of Ashes the male of the spider species in that story has no venom, only a deadly bite.

Lady Lysa Arryn

In the series of aSoIaF, it are the female ice spiders who do the poisoning. With the Jon Arryn plot that was Lysa, who ended up a jumping ice spider widow (though she did not jump voluntarily).

[Catelyn’s] sister was two years the younger, yet she looked older now. Shorter than Catelyn, Lysa had grown thick of body, pale and puffy of face. She had the blue eyes of the Tullys, but hers were pale and watery, never still. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

Lysa, freshly scrubbed and garbed in cream velvet with a rope of sapphires and moonstones around her milk-white neck, was holding court on the terrace overlooking the scene of the combat, surrounded by her knights, retainers, and lords high and low. Most of them still hoped to wed her, bed her, and rule the Vale of Arryn by her side. From what Catelyn had seen during her stay at the Eyrie, it was a vain hope. (aGoT, Catelyn VII)

Lysa changed since Catelyn last saw her sister. She has grown pale, bloated and her eyes are now a pale watery blue. Her graceful figure has become a bloated belly, reminding us of Shelob. She wears cream (white) or blue velvets, reminding us of the larger types of spiders with velvet furry hair. She wears jewelry that remind us of the sapphire blue eyes of the Others or linked to milk-white and icy moons, amidst blue veined marble and blue silk.

The High Hall of the Arryns was long and austere, with a forbidding coldness to its walls of blue-veined white marble, but the faces around him had been colder by far. (aGoT, Tyrion V)

Sansa walked down the blue silk carpet between rows of fluted pillars slim as lances. The floors and walls of the High Hall were made of milk-white marble veined with blue. Shafts of pale daylight slanted down through narrow arched windows along the eastern wall. Between the windows were torches, mounted in high iron sconces, but none of them was lit. Her footsteps fell softly on the carpet. Outside the wind blew cold and lonely. Amidst so much white marble even the sunlight looked chilly, somehow . . . though not half so chilly as her aunt. Lady Lysa had dressed in a gown of cream-colored velvet and a necklace of sapphires and moon-stones. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

And Sansa notices that despite the sweet perfume scents that Lysa wears, beneath it is a sour milk smell.

Should we remind you of the Tully colours, red and blue? Where initially, Lysa lived south, red and hot blooded, she became icy pale blue blooded and is only featured as such in the Eyrie. On the other hand, Catelyn lived in the icy North for over a decade, growing more like Northerners than she even suspected, but ends up as the fiery Fire wight Lady Stoneheart.

The Milk-Men of Qarth

The same Silk Route essay investigated Qarth and uncovered parallels between Xaro, Qarth, the Qaathi and Varys, and ultimately the tall white spiders and the Others. The Qaathi and descendant Qartheen are tall and pale. The Dothraki refer to them as milk men. The men wear beaded silk skirts, which remind of spider silk glands. While the city has plazas and seems airy, it is mostly reminiscint of an Italian city where the citizens can shun the sun, and children wear colorful sunblock covering their skin.

The Qartheen are descendants of the prior Qaathi kingdom, with Qarth the sole remaining remnant. Dany visits and rests at one of the former Qaathi cities Vaes Tolorro, which means ‘City of Bones in the Red Waste. It is chalk white and compared to be as pale as the moon. It also is a maze of narrow alleys and the houses are windowless, indicating the Qaathi shunned the sun. Another Qaathi city that Dany did not visit was once called Qolahn. The Dothraki renamed it Vaes Qosar or ‘City of Spiders‘.

Where Ned Stark believed Varys to wear perfume to mask a foul smell, Jorah Mormont expresses a similar sentiment for the entire city of Qarth.

“I would not linger here long, my queen. I mislike the very smell of this place.”
Dany smiled. “Perhaps it’s the camels you’re smelling. The Qartheen themselves seem sweet enough to my nose.”
Sweet smells are sometimes used to cover foul ones.” (aCoK, Danaerys III)

And pretty much every faction of Qarth is implicated to using poison. We get the mention that the Pureborn are famed for offering poisoned wine in a scene where Rhaegal mislikes the wine that Xaro offers Dany while riding a palanquin. The pomegranate taste and the fact that Dany does not get ill from it show that the wine is only poisoned in a metaphorical sense – the topic of discussion is Xaro’s offer of marriage where he hopes to get a dragon out of it.

He also gave her a wing of his palace with several scrying elements (such as pool and tower), with only one being related to spiders – a warlock’s maze. The palace of the Undying is a warlock’s maze. A spider’s web can be called a maze. And at the heart of a maze waits the spider to catch its prey.

web_maze

In this city of splendors, Dany had expected the House of the Undying Ones to be the most splendid of all, but she emerged from her palanquin to behold a grey and ancient ruin. Long and low, without towers or windows, it coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. No other buildings stood near. Black tiles covered the palace roof, many fallen or broken; the mortar between the stones was dry and crumbling. She understood now why Xaro Xhoan Daxos called it the Palace of Dust. Even Drogon seemed disquieted by the sight of it. The black dragon hissed, smoke seeping out between his sharp teeth.

It is important here to note that there are NO towers here, nor windows. Towers are basically the stone equivalent to trees. However, the maze is built in a grove, like spiders use branches to weave a web, but the maze itself is not part of the trees. Nevertheless, the dream poison that the warlocks use is made of trees with inky blue leaves and black bark. The blue (!) drink is called the Shade of the Evening. Since Others are also called shadows and only operate when the sun is gone, you could call the Others “Shades of the Evening”.

The trees remind many a reader of the weirwoods, and thus many readers suspect the Qartheen trees may be some corrupted version. We will not go that far. We will point out that the color of the leaves fit a certain blood color. Blue for spider types and red for the CotF and any other mammal. Weirwoods have red leaves and bleed red treesap, representing red blood and the red fire of iron. So, these trees are each other’s opposites, as much as spiderblood and fireblood are.

Golden blood

Since we mention tree leaves being the color of blood, you may wonder “Well, what about trees with golden leaves?” (Ser Jaemes, Knight of the Broken Hearted asked)

For half a moon, they rode through the Forest of Qohor, where the leaves made a golden canopy high above them, and the trunks of the trees were as wide as city gates. There were great elk in that wood, and spotted tigers, and lemurs with silver fur and huge purple eyes, but all fled before the approach of the khalasar and Dany got no glimpse of them.  (aGoT, Danaerys III)

Notice that it is in this forest that  the Little Valyrians live – lemurs with silver fur and purple eyes. And in Dany’s very first chapter, we learn that both Viserys and her consider their blood to be golden blood.

The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men. (aGoT, Danaerys I)

More, there is a bloodtype amongst real world humans that goes by the name of “golden blood” too. You probably know the following human blood types for transfusion: A, B, AB or O. These are the labels of the antigen protein on the outside of the red bloodcell (hemoglobin) that identify the type to our guardian white bloodcells. For example, if you have bloodtype A and you get a transfusion of bloodtype B, those white bloodcells will attack the B bloodtype. AB blood has both antigens, and O-blood has neither. On top of that, bloodcells also carry the antigen RhD protein. People who have it are +, those who do not are -. Because of this people with O negative blood are considered universal donors for the other seven types. With no A, no B and no RhD white bloodcells will never flag attack on it. But this oversimplifies the RhD. There are 61 potential proteins for the RhD system. Golden blood is Rh-null blood: it does not have any of the 61 Rh-proteins and can be used as universal donor for other people with rare Rh-blood. Until 1961 scientists believed an embryo would die in utero if it had such a bloodtype. But then an Aboriginal Australian woman was identified to have it. It is so rare, that only 43 people on the globe are known to have it at present. So it is worth its weight in gold. The problem for Rh-null bloodtypes is that they must be their own blood-donor.

So, when George likens Targaryen blood to golden blood that must be preserved and only cautiously shared, he borrows from this real world meaning. And he associated Valyrians via the lemurs with a forest of a golden canopy. But there are other golden trees, such as the Goldenheart tree of the Summer Islands. Their bows are made of this wood, but it only grows on two of the islands and to export it is forbidden by the princes of the Summer Islands. Lemurs can also be found on the Summer Islands, though we do not know what they look like. Are the Summer Islanders, golden blooded? Perhaps not. But those we meet may be considered golden hearted.

This brings is us to the heart of the matter: pale blue lipped Pyat Pree and the Undying. The name for the Undying makes for an excellent parallel to the Others too. Others do not die, unless wounded by dragonstone or -steel. We jump right ahead to Dany’s actual meeting with the real Undying ones.

Through the indigo murk, she could make out the wizened features of the Undying One to her right, an old old man, wrinkled and hairless. His flesh was a ripe violet-blue, his lips and nails bluer still, so dark they were almost black. Even the whites of his eyes were blue. They stared unseeing at the ancient woman on the opposite side of the table, whose gown of pale silk had rotted on her body. One withered breast was left bare in the Qartheen manner, to show a pointed blue nipple hard as leather. She is not breathing. Dany listened to the silence. None of them are breathing, and they do not move, and those eyes see nothing. Could it be that the Undying Ones were dead? (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

The Undying are blue, nor do they breathe. They do not require much oxygen. And now we come to the heart of the parallel that George set up between Qarth, Varys and the Ice Spiders of the Others.

Above it floated a human heart, swollen and blue with corruption, yet still alive. It beat, a deep ponderous throb of sound, and each pulse sent out a wash of indigo light. The figures around the table were no more than blue shadows. As Dany walked to the empty chair at the foot of the table, they did not stir, nor speak, nor turn to face her. There was no sound but the slow, deep beat of the rotting heart.

Red hearts (and a body depending on hemoglobin in the blood) pump oxygen- and iron-rich blood out to the rest of the body through sealed veins, and then after oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide, the blood is sucked back into the heart via the arteries. It is a closed circulatory system. This Undying heart does no such thing. It only pumps copper-rich and oxygen-poor hemolymph freely out into the room. None of the blood is sucked back in. This is an open circulatory system, and it is exactly how a spider heart operates. Hemolymph fluid is a combination of both hemocyanin and the other fluids. It is pumped out by the heart freely without the body having an ability to send or guide it to a particular area. The fluid fills all the interior of the blood holding body and surrounds all cells. And only when the heart relaxes the “blood” will settle back in the heart via open ended pores (rather osmotic).

Spider_internal_anatomy-en
Diagram of the internal anatomy of a female two-lunged spider. (Wikipedia)

The spider heart is situated at the top of the body, above the digestive system. Compare this with George’s idea of a heart of the Undying floating above and a paralised Dany being the meal about to be digested by the Undying.

[…] a scream of fury cut the indigo air, and suddenly the visions were gone, ripped away, and Dany’s gasp turned to horror. The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . .Then indigo turned to orange, and whispers turned to screams. (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

George wrote the Undying as behaving as well as internally survive like a spider. The Undying here are not the Others, nor do they operate on behalf of them, just themselves. But they serve as a parallel to the biological hemolymph nature of the Others.

In the 1974 This Tower of Ashes (a reading on youtube by Kerby Hayborn) we find a proto-version of what was about to befall Dany in the House of the Undying. Self-exiled John Bowen survives on a colonized planet by hunting for the poison of dreamspiders in the forest. The poison is used as an illegal dream drug in the city of Port Jameson. These white jumping spiders are nocturnal, dangerous predators. The strands of their web are as thick as a finger or a cable. Larger webs can cross an entire chasm. Instead of eating the males, the females mate for life with a male in a specialised partnership. The male – approximating the size of a large pumpkin – spins the web and guards the catches. He has no venom, but a bite dangerous and sizeable enough to kill. The female – the size of a fist – prowls in the trees and jumps down from the canopy to inject her prey with venom, before taking them to cache in the web. The poison causes dreams and feelings of ecstacy and John Bowen imagines that the prey probably enjoys it all because of the poison’s effect, even if it was eaten alive.

Upon first read, the short story may be confusing. John Bowen misremembers several events wrongly, and his cat Squirrel turns out to be a white eight legged creature, even though we got a full description of color and type of tail far earlier. In between, John tells us the story of an incident with dreamspiders, which he appears to have survived despite being stung in the neck by a female dreamspider of unsafe size. Upon further reading, and if you as reader are brave enough to face the horror, you realize that John Bowen is kept alive and being eaten by a dreamspider since the start of the short story. He is paralized and hallucinating fantastical ego-boosting visions and memories because of the effect the venom has, while being nibbled at. He simply never realizes it, nor does he want to, for to face the reality of what is happening to him is too horrific. Nearly the same thing happened to Dany.

Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them . . . (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

The difference is that John Bowen is doomed, while Dany is saved by Drogon, whose bones are abnormally rich with iron. He attacks the Undying heart and saves Dany from being a spidermeal. Interesting in the proto-version is that John actually saw a large winged unknown creature right before the incident, except it cannot help him because it was already caught in the web.

Crowfood’s Daughter has indepedently and simultaneously been working on the blood biology side of dragons. Tyrion reads how dragonbones are black because of its high iron content. In a twitter thread she speculated that if the bones are rich with iron then likely so is their dragonblood, for the primary site for the creation of bloodcells and hemoglobin is within the bonemarrow. As a consequence dragon’s blood will have a very high concentration of oxygen. In high concentrations, oxygen is flammable. So, Crowfood’s Daughter has come across the opposite principle for the fire side. It is all about the blood, or rather the difference between a blood circulation system like that of a spider for the ice side or like that of superhemoglobin for the fire side.

The Spiderblood versus Dragonblood dichotomy is repeated on a racial scale for the Qaathi in the World Book. Before the Dothraki came and destroyed all of their city states, but one, the Qaathi warred with the Sarnori or the Tagaez Fen (or Tall Men). They are tall, brown of skin and have hair and eyes as dark as the night. They are linked to the Qaathi because they are tall and wear spider silk, not as allies but as enemies of Spiderblood. They are said to have ridden coal-black mares and bloodred horses. In the Silk Route essay it is noted that the color combination of these horses matches the Targaryen sigil of black and red, as well as the Targaryen words, “Fire and Blood”. The Sarnori therefore represent a variation of the Dragonblood side, having the dark pigment related to iron and thus iron-rich hemogoblin. But in order to avoid mistakes, we shall call them Fireblooded. For a long time, the Fireblood won, pushing the Spiderblooded Qaathi out of the Grasslands, south into what become the Red Waste. But then the Dothraki arrived and destroyed every Sarnori city-state save one – Saath – during the Century of Blood as well as the later Qaathi cities in the Red Waste save one – Qarth.

Far in the north of Essos, Saath is held on life support by the Ibbinese and Lorath. The Fireblood side does not fare well in the cold and icy north, for their circulatory system is malladapted to it. Meanwhile the descendants of the Qaathi, the Spiderblood side of this Essosi tale, managed to survive the desert that is the Red Waste and thrive in Qarth, despite the hot climate and the sun, using archictectural tricks and sunblock to remain cool and out of the sun, exactly as real world spiders manage. Despite the fact that the hemocyanin system is more efficient in a cold oxygen-poor environment, spiders can be found in deserts and tropical climates.

This war between Spiderblood and Fireblood at the Grasslands is not the first of them. The world book also tells of the lost city Lyber, prior to the Sarnori-Qaathi wars. In that city acolytes of a spider goddess and a serpent god fought an endless bloody war. Once again Ice versus Fire, represented as Spider versus Serpent (or Wyrm, Wyvern and eventually Dragon). The surprise here is how the spiderside has a goddess, instead of a god. Most of these spider parallels we have seen so far are littered with people and creatures that are male, not female. Only one female Undying was truly described to us for example. The only near equivalent to a conceptual spider goddess that we have is Night’s King wife – the Corpse Queen.

The World Book claims the Corpse Queen was a sorceress and pale as a corpse. This does not mean she was in fact a corpse. It simply links her to a Spiderblooded type. She is said to have possessed sorcery and since she was a Corpse Queen, this sorcery potentially may have been her ability to raise and command the dead as wights. In order to do this, she must have been like the Others. And in Old Nan’s tale to Bran, she is described as having skin as white as the moon, eyes like blue stars and skin as cold as ice. If this is true, she was in fact an Other.

Spiderants

In GRRM’s 1973 Slide Show (transcribed on Fattest Leech’s blog), Becker is a funds recruiter for SPACE starcruisers. He was once a commander on the Starwind exploring other planetary constellations, but was ‘demoted’ to raise funds for the exploring programs instead by depicting slideshows of some of the discoveries, including those he was part of. One of those planets dubbed Anthill is where humanity made their first contact with another sentient race, the spiderants, who “grow” cities (rather than build) from some type of plant. They look like four feet ants. However they do not have an exoskeleton, are intelligent and possess a type of esthetical culture, sing to the sun at dawn daily, and fly on domesticated airborn manta-ray type of looking plant. The spider-part of their name is based on how the cities and infrastructures of their cities are like a web, glowing at night.

The spiderants of Slide Show are almost written the opposite of the Others. They look like insects but in reality are not. They seem to be benevolent bio-engineers and worship the sun. The pets they grow and ride are actually plants and thus it harms noone. Meanwhile the Others shun the sun, only grow ice and ride dead animals. And while the Others look humanoid their mind and blood circulation system is likely to be more insectlike.

The Manticore

This insect-like being having humanoid features is repeated with the manticore. It is a scorpion-like insect of the Jade Sea, found mostly on Manticore Island, with a stinging tail and seemingly a human face. Its exoskeleton is deceptive as it appears jewel-like and its fast working venom induces a heart attack (unless Oberon Martell tampers with it). After the House of the Undying, Pyat Pree hires the Sorrowful Men to assassinate Dany with a manticore.

A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face. Dany took it almost by reflex. The box was carved wood, its mother-of-pearl lid inlaid with jasper and chalcedony. “You are too generous.” She opened it. Within was a glittering green scarab carved from onyx and emerald. […] As she reached inside the box, the man said, “I am so sorry,” but she hardly heard. The scarab unfolded with a hiss. Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. […] Ser Jorah slammed past her, and Dany stumbled to one knee. She heard the hiss again. The old man drove the butt of his staff into the ground, […] “He was a Sorrowful Man. There was a manticore in that jewel box he gave me.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

And it is right after the failed assassination attempt with the manticore that Jhogo, one of Dany’s bloodriders, says this peculiar line.

Aggo kicked his staff away and Jhogo seized him round the shoulders, forced him to his knees, and pressed a dagger to his throat. “Khaleesi, we saw him strike you. Would you see the color of his blood?” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

You know you remember that line, as the expression is so unique. You know you’ve read over it several times, never thinking it has a broader context. But now you have a context – the blood of insects and spiders and Others. Cheeky George!

Like spiders, most scorpions have hemocyanin, and George reminds us that manticores are spiderlike when Tyrion has Podrick name the families based on sigiles.

“Three black spiders?”
“They’re scorpions, ser. House Qorgyle of Sandstone, three scorpions black on red.” (aSoS, Tyrion V)

We also have a human character in the books that has the manticore for a sigil, Ser Amory Lorch, the ruthless landed knight who butchered Rhaegar’s daughter Rhaenys Targaryen during the sack of King’s Landing and attacked Arya, Yoren and the band of boys recruited for the Night’s Watch at the holdfast in the Riverlands.

He was a stout man with a manticore on his shield, and ornate scrollwork crawling across his steel breastplate. Through the open visor of his helm, a face pale and piggy peered up. “Ser Amory Lorch, bannerman to Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock, the Hand of the King. The true king, Joffrey.” He had a high, thin voice. “In his name, I command you to open these gates.”

He is pale faced and his high, thin voice indicates that Amory has a low level of testosterone, which would make him prone to having weight issues (like Varys). It suggests that the male spiderlike characters are but soldiers, unqualified to mate.

Amory takes no prisoners, only kills mindlessly, friend and foe, and does not even bother to bury his own fallen me, not unlike the Others. He only differs in that he uses fire as a weapon as well and cannot raise the dead.

“Storm the walls and kill them all,” Ser Amory said in a bored voice. […] The night rang to the clash of steel and the cries of the wounded and dying. For a moment Arya stood uncertain, not knowing which way to go. Death was all around her. (aCoK, Arya IV)

When they finally summoned the nerve to steal back into the ruins the next night, nothing remained but blackened stones, the hollow shells of houses, and corpses. […] They found the gates broken down, the walls partly demolished, and the inside strewn with the unburied dead. One look was enough for Gendry. “They’re killed, every one,” he said. […] Ser Amory Lorch had given no more thought to burying his own dead than to those he had murdered […]. (aCoK, Arya V)

More than Varys, Xaro and the Pureborn, Amory is as monstrous as the Undying. He looks human, but whatever lies behind that human face is a killer who has no regard whatsoever for life. The sole personal thing we know of Ser Amory is that he is partial to tarts. Basically, Ser Amory Lorch is void, a killer machine – a psychopath who gets more emotional over food than a picture of a cute kitten.

Spider Crabs

We get another spider reference at the Sisters in the first chapter of Davos in aDwD, after Salladhor Saan put Davos in a dingy nearby. Davos gets taken to Lord Godric Borrel and is offered sisterstew.

“There’s three kinds of crabs in there. Red crabs and spider crabs and conquerors. I won’t eat spider crab, except in sister’s stew. Makes me feel half a cannibal.” His lordship gestured at the banner hanging above the cold black hearth. A spider crab was embroidered there, white on a grey-green field. (aDwD, Davos I)

Many crab species as crustaceans also rely on hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin. The three kind of crabs in sister’s stew that Borrel talks about serve as a parallel to the three dangers in the series. The red crabs are the  false Lannister kings, and more generally, the petty squabbles of humans over power. We know this is partially throne related as the third type of crab is called conquerer, or the dragons with their dragonriders having dragonblood. The second threat are the white spiderlike Others symbolised by the spider crabs that aside from the Fingers can also be found in the Shivering Sea.

In the chapter, Davos and Godric Borrel discuss Cersei Lannister being the regent. But earlier on Lord Borrel also mentions a witty remark about a sloe-eyed-maid, which is a ship that Dany tried to hire in Qarth in aCoK. After it harbored at Pentos, it ended up being lured to its doom on the cliffs by the Sistermen using a false night lamp. The spices aboard the ship end up in the sister’s stew. With the sloe-eyed-maid come the tales about the conquering dragon queen. If Lord Godric Borrel has heard tales of Dany from a ship crashing on his rocks that has sailed all the way from Qarth to Pentos and then was on its way to Braavos, then no doubt he has tales too of ships that sailed from Eastwatch. After all, Alisser Thorne was already sent to King’s Landing by ship via Eastwatch with a wight’s hand by the end of aGoT, which is not an unlikely source of information, since inspecting hands and fingers is a recurring theme in the chapter. Lord Godric inspects Davos’s hand to make sure he is the Onion Knight, and Davos notes the webbing mark on both Lord Godric and one of his granddaughters.

He was an ugly man, big and fleshy, with an oarsman’s thick shoulders and no neck. Coarse grey stubble, going white in patches, covered his cheeks and chin. Above a massive shelf of brow he was bald. His nose was lumpy and red with broken veins, his lips thick, and he had a sort of webbing between the three middle fingers of his right hand. Davos had heard that some of the lords of the Three Sisters had webbed hands and feet, but he had always put that down as just another sailor’s story. […] The woman brought them a fresh loaf of bread, still hot from the oven. When Davos saw her hand, he stared. Lord Godric did not fail to make note of it. “Aye, she has the mark. Like all Borrells, for five thousand years. My daughter’s daughter. Not the one who makes the stew.” (aDwD, Davos I)

The only tale in the books that potentially points to the origin of the Borrel webbing mark is that of Nimble Dick about squishers. Nimble Dick’s real name is Dick Crabb who claims to be a descendant of Ser Clarence Crabb. Of interest for this essay is the parallel between both chapters. In one, Davos notices the webbing of the Borrels between their fingers over eating crab stew, while a crab tells tales of water-dwelling monsters with webs between their fingers in the other.

Speculation over the connection between the Squishers and the Borrels are not our concern here, but the potential tie to spiders instead. Crabs are crustaceans, which are mostly aquatic animals, while arachnids are mostly terrestrial. Both crustaceans and arachnids are subgroups of the arthropod animal group, having both an exoskeleton as well as hemocyanin reliance in common. But each survive in another environment and evolve into a different shape as they adapted to it. Crabs are not spiders, but their cousins. As a consequence the same thing would be true for the white spiderlike Others and the fish-belly white Squishers, and this evolutionary tie is represented by referring to white crabs as spider crabs, which is the Borrel sigil. Where spiders build mazes and silk webs to catch their prey, the Borrels lure their prey at night into the trap that are the Fingers with a night lamp and cliffs, hence they webbing between their fingers. And of course, it brings those Walking Webs of the Plague Star back to mind. And as with Varys, the Qartheen and Lysa Arryn we get a “this smells” allusion by George: Sisterton and Godric Borrel are “fishy”.

“Then you are in the wrong place, with the wrong lord.” Lord Godric seemed amused. “This is Sisterton, on Sweetsister.”
“I know it is.” There was nothing sweet about Sisterton, though. It was a vile town, a sty, small and mean and rank with the odors of pig shit and rotting fish. (aDwD, Davos I)

An honourable mention goes to Biter, who stinks of bad cheese. We meet him first on the road to the Riverlands in Arya’s chapter. He is one of the dangerous captives that Yoren keeps caged, together with Rorge and Jaqen H’ghar. He hisses like a manticore. He is bald like Varys and Xaro, has eyes like nothing human, pointed teeth like a squisher and milk-white flesh. He has no webbing though, lacking the cunning and wit to set traps. He is but a simple being who eats people. The latter reminds us of the deadly bite of the male dreamspider.

. . . and Biter crashed into her, shrieking. He fell on her like an avalanche of wet wool and milk-white flesh, lifting her off her feet and slamming her down into the ground. […] She had only her hands to fight him off, but when she slammed a fist into his face it was like punching a ball of wet white dough. He hissed at her. […] He was crushing her, smothering her. […] Biter’s mouth gaped open, impossibly wide. She saw his teeth, yellow and crooked, filed into points. When they closed on the soft meat of her cheek, she hardly felt it. […] Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. (aFfC, Brienne VII)

Roose Bolton

The bolt-on theory has been around for some time. The mentioning of Roose Bolton here is not this though. We do not believe that Roose Bolton is an actual Other, nor an immortal. But he seems to have been set up to have parallels with them and other spider-characters. Therefore, the first relevant quote about Roose in this essay is how Jaime considers Roose’s voice to be spider soft.

Roose Bolton’s eyes were paler than stone, darker than milk, and his voice was spider soft. (aSoS, Jaime V)

Roose always played the long game, watching and waiting in the shadows for Robb Stark to make a mistake, as well as thinning out the levies of other Northern lords by putting them in the most dangerous positions in the battlefield and sending Glover and Manderly to Duskendale, while his son did the dirty work for him up North. Arya may have heard and seen crucial information that alert the reader to Roose’s decision to kill wolves, but she is not politically conscious yet. Jaime is the first POV to realize what Roose may be up to, during the conversatoin over dinner, and therefore recognizes him as a spider who has spun his trap.

One of the most noticeable feature of Roose Bolton are his eyes. Catelyn thinks they are pale, almost without color. Theon compares them to ice or chips of dirty ice, as well as two white moons. Roose’s eyes therefore are not literal Others’ eyes – those are a deep blue – but only a metaphorical reminder of them when we throw pale, ice, moon and milk together to describe the same thing. George also has Theon wonder what Roose’s tears would feel like on his cheeks.

Reek wondered if Roose Bolton ever cried. If so, do the tears feel cold upon his cheeks? (aDwD, Reek II)

This is an allusion to a much repeated phrase in the series of it being so cold that tears freeze on cheeks or even over the eyes itself. Chett’s tears freeze to his cheeks at the onset of the attack on the Fist in the Prologue, Sam’s during his escape to Craster’s from the Fist, as well as when he has to fight wighted Small Paul. In a snowstorm on the way to the cave with Coldhands, Bran’s tears do the same, as do Hodor’s. Jon thinks of tears freezing upon cheeks when the Free Folk hostages surrender to him. The Wull uses it as a phrase for why he and his men joined Stannis against Roose Bolton. But Old Nan was the first to use the phrase to Bran when she tells tales of the Others.

“The Others,” Old Nan agreed. “Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. […] Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Of course, when Theon thinks of Roose’s, he is not wondering what winter would do to Roose’s tears, but whether Roose’s body temperature is so cold that his tears would freeze. Assuming that the Others must maintain a body temperature lower than -200 °C in order remain in a solid state, Theon’s musings are a strong allusion to this.

Another noteworthy musing by Theon about Roose’s eyes is how empty they look.

Bolton’s pale eyes looked empty in the moonlight, as if there were no one behind them at all. (aDwD, Reek III)

This is analogues to the proposal of Others as insect-like minds behind the humanoid face. Even if they are intelligent, they have no personality, no emotions, nothing human-like. Not having much of a personality or emotions is also exemplified in Roose’s facial features. Both Arya and Theon consider him to be plain and ordinary looking.

It was almost evenfall when the new master of Harrenhal arrived. He had a plain face, beardless and ordinary, notable only for his queer pale eyes. Neither plump, thin, nor muscular, he wore black ringmail and a spotted pink cloak. (aCoK, Arya IX)

[Roose Bolton’s] face was clean-shaved, smooth-skinned, ordinary, not handsome but not quite plain. Though Roose had been in battles, he bore no scars. Though well past forty, he was as yet unwrinkled, with scarce a line to tell of the passage of time. His lips were so thin that when he pressed them together they seemed to vanish altogether. There was an agelessness about him, a stillness; on Roose Bolton’s face, rage and joy looked much the same. (aDwD, Reek II)

Despite the Others being so inhuman, different and otherworldly to both Will and Samwell, Will is the sole POV witness who sees several Others at once at close proximity, and therefore should be capable of noting individual differences in expression between them – signs of individual personality. But Will remarks on the opposite really – he calls them ‘twins’ to the first one and to each other. Their faces therefore lack dinstinguishable characterization or personality, much like Roose. He even refers to them as faceless.

They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, […] (aGoT, Prologue)

Lady Dustin gives an explanation for Roose’s ageless appearance to Theon and the reader: he has no feelings.

“Roose has no feelings, you see. […] He does not love, he does not hate, he does not grieve.” (aDwD, The Prince of Winterfell)

There is a real world phenomenon that George applies here on Roose. Psychopaths tend to have little to no wrinkles or grey hair. They age well, if they leave substance or food abuse well alone, and might easily look ten or even twenty years younger than they truly are. This is because they do not experience stress or anything more than superficial emotions. So, when George has Lady Dustin declare the man has no feelings, that is the explanation why Roose seems to lack any signs of aging, and therefore lack of notable personality. It are after all our laughing lines and our frowns that give us visible “character”.

If Roose Bolton serves as a parallel to the Others, we can then conclude that the Others do not love nor grieve either. The Others may speak their own language, but they sing no songs of mourning or love. Most noteworthy of all the emotions the Others would not feel is hatred. They do not hate Bran, Bloodraven, greenseers or humans. They do not do what they do out of hatred, revenge or pay-back. The conflict is impersonal to them and they do what they do simply because it is their nature and the opportunity presents itself. We are not saying they lack motivation, just that it is not an emotional one.

Despite the fact that Roose Bolton has no profound feelings, he is not a robot either. Lady Dustin also points out to Theon that he sees other humans as plaything to divert him.

I think he would be pleased if the fat man attempted some betrayal. It would amuse him. […] This is a game to him, mildly diverting. Some men hunt, some hawk, some tumble dice. Roose plays with men.” (aDwD, The Prince of Winterfell)

And certainly Dustin’s words put to mind the game the Other plays with Waymar Royce when he duels him, mocks Royce, and they all laugh as they butcher him in the end.

Roose Bolton lay abed, naked. Leeches clung to the inside of his arms and legs and dotted his pallid chest, long translucent things that turned a glistening pink as they fed. (aCoK, Arya X)

When we think of Roose as a spider-parallel to the Others, it gives the leeching a deeper layered meaning. Varys the Spider hates the sight of his own red blood. The underlying psychological reason is how the red blood conflicts with his self-identity as a spider, for it ought to be blue. Roose cites Hyppocratic beliefs of humours when he advocates leeching, but when we look at it from a spider angle, we realize that as a human his body makes red blood daily, and only the leeches can help him get rid of it.

“Frequent leechings are the secret of a long life. A man must purge himself of bad blood.” (aCoK, Arya IX)

Lord Bolton sighed. “His blood is bad. He needs to be leeched. The leeches suck away the bad blood, all the rage and pain. No man can think so full of anger. Ramsay, though … his tainted blood would poison even leeches, I fear.”  (aDwD, Reek III)

With the red human blood also come the hormones that signal emotions. Whether Roose started to self-medicate with leeches because of unwanted emotions first or hating the idea of red blood and discovering peace of mind is a chicken-and-egg question. The result is that over time he has become to physically and emotionally resemble an Other more and more, and blames the bad (=red) blood, for that is all leeches suck.

Now, while Roose Bolton is some icy lord with a spider voice, Ramsay is quite another creature. Yes, they share the same ghost grey eyes, but Ramsay has a far more fiery nature. And when Ramsay fantasises aloud about setting Barrowton afire (as he did with Winterfell), Roose is greatly displeased and expresses doubt how Ramsay could be his son.

Ramsay seethed. “All she does is spit on me. The day will come when I’ll set her precious wooden town afire. Let her spit on that, see if it puts out the flames.”
Roose made a face, as if the ale he was sipping had suddenly gone sour. “There are times you make me wonder if you truly are my seed.” (aDwD, Reek III)

It is not just the dumb violence that apalls Roose, but his sourness is set against the use of flame and fire.

In Ramsay we see a strange mixture of the icy paleness struggle with that of the fiery red blood. His face is said to be pink and blotchy, almost as if his skin is part ice, part fire; as if the red blood is trying to conquer the icy side.

[Ramsay’s] skin was pink and blotchy, his nose broad, his mouth small, his hair long and dark and dry. His lips were wide and meaty, but the thing men noticed first about him were his eyes. He had his lord father’s eyes—small, close-set, queerly pale. (aDwD, Reek I)

This is even reflected in father’s and son’s attire with a subtle nod. While the Bolton’s sigil colour is pink – dilluted red blood – and Roose wears grey plated armour, Ramsay prefers black and very much attempts to redden the pink with his clothing and a garnet earring (garnet being a bastard ruby). Black and red are “fire and blood” colors, not icy ones. Ramsay even rides a red stallion with a fiery temper that loves to kick people, and Ramsay called him Blood.

Ramsay was clad in black and pink—black boots, black belt and scabbard, black leather jerkin over a pink velvet doublet slashed with dark red satin. In his right ear gleamed a garnet cut in the shape of a drop of blood. (aDwD, Reek I)

His lordship [Ramsay] himself rode Blood, a red stallion with a temper to match his own. He was laughing. […] [Reek] led Blood off toward the stables, hopping aside when the stallion tried to kick him. (aDwD, Reek III)

You may argue that Roose’s attire also has plenty of red in it (blood-red leather, red silk), except it is not actually Roose wearing it. It is a ruse.

Back where the press was thickest at the center of the column rode a man armored in dark grey plate over a quilted tunic of blood-red leather. His rondels were wrought in the shape of human heads, with open mouths that shrieked in agony. From his shoulders streamed a pink woolen cloak embroidered with droplets of blood. Long streamers of red silk fluttered from the top of his closed helm. […] An enclosed wagon groaned along behind him, drawn by six heavy draft horses and defended by crossbowmen, front and rear. Curtains of dark blue velvet concealed the wagon’s occupants from watching eyes.  […] When the rider in the dark armor removed his helm, however, the face beneath was not one that Reek knew. Ramsay’s smile curdled at the sight, and anger flashed across his face. “What is this, some mockery?”
“Just caution,” whispered Roose Bolton, as he emerged from behind the curtains of the enclosed wagon. (aDwD, Reek II)

Instead of wearing the heavily red-coded attire, Roose sat in a wagon behind a blue velvet curtain. Given a choice, Roose prefers blue over red. At the most Roose suffers the pink cloak with blood droplets. And as Ramsay is set against his father more and more, Roose’s son becomes more fire. And that both these very destructive men, in their own way will clash is certain.

Reek saw the way Ramsay’s mouth twisted, the spittle glistening between his lips. He feared he might leap the table with his dagger in his hand. Instead he flushed red, turned his pale eyes from his father’s paler ones, and went to find the keys. (aDwD, Reek III)

If you expand that though, whomever of these two survives to face Stannis, Jon Snow, or Rickon Stark with Sansa and the Vale army, the Boltons ultimately still represent the “dirty ice” side of the North, using dishonourable methods, lies and skin stealing to gain dominion over the North and declare themselves Kings of Winter. And just like the Starks are not allies of the Others, nor are the Boltons, the Borrels, the Qartheen, or Varys. They are microcosmos rivalries of ice and fire within families, regions, continents, and so on. But we can learn a great deal about the Others indirectly through them.

As with Varys, Lysa Arryn and the Qartheen, once again the Boltons are tied to smelly business – Reek. The original Reek was a manservant at the Dreadfort before he was gifted to Ramsay. He seemed to be born with a bad smell, though he bathed as often as he could, drenched himself in the prior Lady Bolton’s perfume and once even tried to drink the perfume. After, the original is killed, Ramsay pretends to be Reek and makes sure not to bathe to mimic his former servant. Eventually Theon is reekified instead, also smelling badly, having to sleep with the dogs.

Fire Spiders and Ice Dragons

For the final section we bring you the Spotted Spider of House Webber of Coldmoat, Rohanne Webber or the Red Widow. At first glance, you may end up just piling her on the heap of ice spider characters in the books. Her castle has the word cold in it. She is rumored to have poisoned her three to four husbands, hence the variation on the black widow spider.

Ser Eustace to Dunk: “The woman has a spider’s heart. She murdered three of her husbands. And all her brothers died in swaddling clothes. Five, there were. Or six, mayhaps, I don’t recall. They stood between her and the castle.”

Egg to Dunk: “You’d best not take any food or drink at Coldmoat, ser. The Red Widow poisoned all her husbands.” […] “Four,” said Egg, “but no children. Whenever she gives birth, a demon comes by night to carry off the issue.” (The Sworn Sword)

Sounds like a good and proper evil ice spider. Except those tales of her are twisted truths, or as Bennis explains to Dunk, “There’s truths and truths, lunk. Some don’t serve.” As you know, from the trail of the red stallion, when something is called ‘red’, they are not exactly who they say they are or who others claim them to be. And so it is with these witchy poisoner tales. Her first husband was twelve and died in battle, squiring for her father. At the age of thirteen she was wed to her second husband of fifty-four, who died of a chill. Her baby son born half a year later had been too weak. The third husband choked on a chicken bone and the fourth husband died of the Great Spring Sickness that killed millions of people (including King Daeron and his grandson Prince Valarr).

Dunk imagined her to be an older woman near her menopause, because of these tales. Instead she is but a young woman of twenty-five, as petite as a Child, with hair kissed by fire.

If Dunk was shy an inch of seven feet, the archer was shy an inch of five. He could have spanned her waist with his two hands. Her red hair was bound up in a braid so long it brushed past her thighs, and she had a dimpled chin, a snub nose, and a light spray of freckles across her cheeks. […] Dunk looked from one lady to the other. “You are the Red Widow?” he heard himself blurt out. […] Dunk could feel her fingers through the silk. Her hand was freckled, too. I’ll bet she’s freckled all over. His mouth was oddly dry. (The Sworn Sword)

She does however lay out a spider trap early on in the stoy: a dam.

Behind the dam the flow was creeping up the banks and spilling off into a ditch that had been cut through Lady Webber’s fields. Dunk stood in his stirrups for a better look. The glint of sun on water betrayed a score of lesser channels, running off in all directions like a spider’s web. (The Sworn Sword)

A trap not to kill husbands, but to catch herself one, as well as be rid of an unwanted suitor who cockblocks the others. After the death of her fourth husband, her father wished she would marry his castellan Longinch. She refused. Her father then decreed in his will that if she remained unwed on the second anniversary of his death, Coldmoat and its lands would pass to her father’s cousin instead. He also charged Longinch to protect Rohanne from unworthy suitors, and Longinch expanded this to mean all suitors. By the time Rohanne lays her trap of webbed water, she only has one moon left before her father’s cousin becomes its master. Her choice, for that purpose, was Ser Eustace Osgrey, an old knight, who she hopes to antagonize enough to fight Longinch. And due to his age, she no doubt expected him to not last decades beyond their marriage. Luckily for the both of them, Dunk ends up fighting Longinch and kills him.

818px-House_WebberRohanne Webber is not ice nor nocturnal at all during the story. She behaves very much the opposite – a fiery red spider. Aside from being a redhead with freckles, her banner is a black field, a silver web and a red-white spotted spider in the heart of it. The color scheme of red, black and silver is that of the Targaryens and the dragonblood. It is not the cream velvet, milk-white and sapphire blue of the Others and ice spiders. We even get the reference of an iron spider.

From every turret and spire the black banners of Webber hung heavy, each emblazoned with a spotted spider upon a silvery web.[…] The drifting smoke made it hard to tell how far off they were, until her banner bearer pushed through the ragged gray curtain. His staff was crowned by an iron spider painted white and red, with the black banner of the Webbers hanging listlessly beneath. (The Sworn Sword)

When Rohanne herself appears at the dam, in armor, for the confrontation, this color scheme is repeated. She rides a coal-black mare, decked on in strands of silver silk. At the end of the story, she also has a blood bay called Flame to gift to Dunk. A blood bay and a coal-black mare are described in the same wording as the Sarnori ones.

Only then did Lady Rohanne herself appear, astride a coal-black mare decked out in strands of silverly silk, like unto a spider’s web. The Widow’s cloak was made of the same stuff. It billowed from her shoulders and her wrists, as light as air.

“A big courser, with some Dornish sand steed for endurance.” She pointed to the stall across from Thunder’s. “A horse like her.” She was a blood bay with a bright eye and a long fiery mane. […] “I call her Flame, but you may name her as you please. Call her Amends, if you like.” (The Sworn Sword)

When Dunk visits her as envoy to broker a peace between Eustace and her over the built dam, Rohanne sends Dunk back to the landed knight with the threat of ‘fire and sword’.

“Tell Ser Eustace to bring me Bennis of the Brown Shield by the morrow, else I will come for him myself with fire and sword. Do you understand me? Fire and sword! ” (The Sworn Sword)

Swords are made of steel, of iron. And both iron and swords imply red blood. Later, it seems as if she had Wat’s Wood puto flame. All that is left is charcoal and ash. And far earlier on in the story, we also learn that Wat’s Wood once extended as far as Coldmoat at her side of the Chequiy water, but Rohanne’s spiders cleared all the trees on her side of the river. This red fiery spider does not plant trees. So, it is rather awkward that Dunk tells the smallfolk on Eustace’s land that “there are no dragons in this, black or red“. Rohanne may not have a drop of Valyrian blood in her, but her words, the color scheme and her not planting trees, make her look more like a dragon than a spider, let alone an ice spider.

As for Coldmoat, the Webbers were NOT the original masters of it, but Eustace’s ancestors: for a thousand years, until Maegor the Cruel took it from them, because the Osgreys opposed his law to disarm the Faith.

“For a thousand years before the Conquest, we were the Marshalls of the Northmarch. A score of lesser lordlings did us fealty, and a hundred landed knights. We had four castles then, and watchtowers on the hills to warn of the coming of our enemies. Coldmoat was the greatest of our seats. Lord Perwyn Osgrey raised it. Perwyn the Proud, they called him.” (The Sworn Sword)

With the Osgreys having been marshalls of the Northmarch for a thousand years, they come off as a lower status version of the Starks in the Reach (despite their lion sigil, despite its colors of yellow and green).

How does a fire spider work if spiders are blue blooded? Well, the world book tells us the actual spotted spiders can be found in Sothoryoys. This continent has a sweltering tropical climate and thus is naturally far richer in oxygen than oceans and cold low pressure regions. The spotted spiders therefore may have evolved in such a manner that they have hemoglobin, which is a far more efficient way to bind with oxygen in a hot climate. They thus would be red blooded, and thus fire-and-iron spiders, which is what Rohanne Webber comes to represent for the main part.

Rohanne seems an anomaly in comparison to the other icy spider characters, but without a fire spider, readers could mistake the dragons opposing the Others as the universal rescue and aid against them. In the Sworn Sword, George highlights that both ice and fire are two sides of the same destructive coin. A generation long winter is deadly, but so is a long crippling drought where a tiny spark can set a whole wood ablaze.

If a common dragon can be equated with a fire spider, then Others could be equated with ice dragons. The World Book relates how some people claim to have seen ice dragons.

These colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky. Whereas common dragons (if any dragon can truly be said to be common) breathe flame, ice dragons supposedly breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat. […] As ice dragons supposedly melt when slain, no actual proof of their existence has ever been found. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Shivering Sea)

The show has given us an ice dragon (dead Viserion). There is a children’s book of George called the Ice Dragon and the back cover’s synopsis tries to make out as if it is set in Westeros and the North. But George himself said on his Not a Blog that the story was written before the world of Ice and Fire existed, and that the Ice Dragon short story is not set in Westeros or Planetos. The publication of Fire and Blood assured readers that none of Dany’s dragons will be flying north of the Wall, since Alysanne’s dragon refused or could not fly across the Wall when she visited Castle Black. We do not know whether ice dragons truly exist on Planetos, and we doubt George will ever feature an actual ice dragon. They just seem to serve as a mythological parallel to the Others themselves. We may, however, see an icy dragon character.

As with Varys and other spidery characters, Rohanne Webber is more than a fire spider alone. She may act the antagonist, but is likely as innocent of burning Wat’s Wood as she is of poisoning her husbands. Her sought-out confrontation is something she sets-up to benefit both Ser Eustace as herself, and she actually aims to forge a peace through marriage. Longinch guarded her every move too well for his own gain and prejudices were so against her that she required a ruse without Longinch suspecting anything. Even as she rode to the dam on a coal-black mare under a fire spider banner, she still wore armor that made her look more like a forest child bedecked in leaves.

Conclusion aka TL;TR

Well, that was long, and we have not yet covered the Long Night, ice magic, whether there is a relation between the Children of the Forest or not. But we hope it covers extensive food for thought, some more tinfoil than others.

So, to recap. Forget pretty much all of what the show depicted as Others. The White Walkers are most definitely not the Others. The likelihood that the Others have some Adam-Other comparable to the show’s Night King are close to zero, for it takes away the sole Lovecraftian threat in the series in the current timeline that George has set up. If there is some boss force for the Others, whether that is a blue flame or a Spider Goddess, then it will likely be nigh indestructable and will remain in the Heart of the Lands of Always Winter.

Though the Others are only featured in two chapters in two different POVs across the currently published books of the series, George gives us several clues that the Others are an inhuman species of their own, with their own language and own soundbox. George likens them to Sidhe, and on the surface that seems to be true.

But taking a physical approach to the tidbit clues George gives us in those scenes, we dare to propose that the Others are not just made of ice or iced flesh, but that George has them made out of Plutonion matter: solid nitrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and liquid hydrogen. They require such a low body temperature to remain solid that this could explain how the Others manage to affect the environment (the cold, the snow). Pluto also thematically fits with deadly reapers of the Underworld building their army to expand their dominion beyond the Heart of the Lands of Always Winter. Not so coincidentally, Jon Howe painted the Others as reapers with a scythe in his ice spider illustration for the 2020 calendar.

The description of the bones and flesh match that of nitrogen, which is a chemical element that leads to suffocation and named after the Greek word “to choke”, one of the two main methods the Others’ minion, the wights, use to kill someone. Meanwhile the glow of the sword and the deep inhuman blue of their eyes matches the spectrogafic color that carbon monoxide produces, echoed in Varys’s blue flame. Waymar bleeding blood as bright as fire from the wound inflicted by the Other’s sword can be considered a hint of the blood having bonded with CO. Once the ice-magic spell is broken though, and body temperature cannot be maintained anymore, these chemicals would end up reacting to form water and vapor with the oxygen in the air. Hydrogen explains the need of the Others’ to avoid flames and sun, for this chemical is highly explosive then.

The biological approach makes us realize that the legend about the ice spiders likely serves as a hint and metaphor of the Others’ mental, emotional and biological nature. The Others bleed blue blood, or rather the hemocyanin protein  (or similar alternative without denaturating – thank you Lady Dayne) in liquid hydrogen (rather than water). The copper binds oxygen, whereas hemoglobin uses iron. “Hemocyanin’s” performance is overall not as efficient as hemoglobin in normal conditions, but it does far better than the latter in cold and low-oxygen environments and is failproof against carbon monoxide. This type of untrue blood is typical for anthropods – including arachnids and crustaceans. Others having blood like spiders explains why they are said to hate iron and red blood, despite the fact that humans fought mainly with weaponry made from bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) in the age of the Long Night.

We consistently meet references and allusions to blue hemocyanin blood with ice spider-like characters,  such as blue veins, blue hearts pumping blue stuff freely into a room (aside from pale milk-white skin). We even have a scene in the House of the Undying that copies the inside anatomy of a spider, with a heart floating above the dinner table where Dany is about to be digested in a dreamspider way. Meanhile fire or dragonlike characters are typically associated with black iron and coal, red blood and flames. This is even true for the thematic scheme with the weirwood trees and the trees that are used to make Shade of the Evening. Ice  versus fire are thus also ‘blue’ versus ‘red’ (blood), copper/bronze versus iron, spiders versus snakes/wyverns/dragons.* There is the occasional anomaly where George writes a fire spider, but a fire spider is just a wordplay for a dragonlike character who has no dragonlord blood. Likewise an ice dragon is an ice spider and therefore an Other.

* For their own arc and purpose in the story, it is not so much the appearance that matters for these spider-characters, but how stinky they are and whether they try to mask the smell with flowers or perfume.

Mentally and emotionally, the humanoid looking Others being ice spiders, makes them an inhuman species that is far removed from our human understanding. Trying to figure out their motives for rounding up an army of wights to overrun all of Westeros, whether during the Long Night or in the current timeline is as futile as contemplating the motives of a hive of ants. Through a character parallel such as Roose Bolton we can conclude their do not love, grieve or hate. Hence, hatred for mankind does not motivate them. At best they see humans and other hot blooded mammals as a diversion.

Hence, there is nothing human whatsoever about the Others. They are not made from matter the way any other life is on Planetos, but more like what life would be like on Pluto, if it had life. They do not have the same blood circulation system as most life has on Planetos, but at best share something similar with insects, arachnids, mollusks and crustaceans. They have no human or even mammalian motivations or emotions. They are comparable to intelligent insects that only have a humanoid shape.

The Spider’s Origin, Part I

The Silk Route

 

In the introduction I pointed out how Arachne’s spider-myth is an origin myth and that Ovid’s version includes Arachne’s ancestry in a manner that should perk our interest about Varys’s. Using the very first description we have about Varys in Catelyn’s chapter in King’s Landing, I argued that we ought to investigate the Planetos Silk Route.

 

The actual real-world historical “silk route” was both a maritime as well as an overland route. It originated with the Chinese seeking to trade with the Central Eurasian communities that were renowned for their horse breeding. The Chinese mined jade, lapis lazuli and spinel (if rose tinted it was called Ballas ruby). Around 2000 BC a steppe route to trade jade and minerals for horses came about. Over time, the Chinese began to carve their jade adopting Scythian art. Cultivated silk went also westward, while gold went eastward. By the middle ages, after the collapse of Byzantium, the Arabs controlled much of the caravan routes all the way to Moorish Spain. The Middle East was the midway trade hub. Spices, incense, glass, wood and certain foodware traveled east and from China and India came silk, lacquer and porcelain to the Mediterranean. By then the overland caravans used camels to carry the loads while traversing the various deserts. If religion was cited for popes and kings as reasons to set up crusades, its riches were the lure to sign up. Control of the mediterranean gateway and route sparked the more baser desire. When that ultimately failed, seamanship had vastly improved and European kingdoms sought sailing routes to trade with India, China and Japan directly.

On Planetos there was once a Silk Road.

The Steel Road (so named for all the battles it has seen) and the Stone Road both originate in Vaes Dothrak, the former running almost due east beneath the highest peaks, the latter curving southeast to join the old Silk Road at the ruins of Yinishar (called Vaes Jini by the horselords) before beginning its climb [into the Bone Mountains].  (tWoIaF, The Bones and Beyond)

According to the Wiki of Ice and Fire, it ran from Yinishar through the Bone Moutains to Shamyriana. From Yinishar two other routes go eastward: one along the shores of the inland saltwater Poison Sea and edges of the Red Waste into Lhazar and another passes north of Lhazar into former Ghiscari territory. Eventually both end up in Mereen. While caravans may still travel these roads either to cross the Bone Mountains or take the Stone Road to Vaes Dothrak, it is clear that aside from the Lhazarene cities all the other cultures and cities once there were either destroyed by the Doom or the Century of Blood in which the Dothraki gained dominion over the grasslands, making it an uncultured wasteland. So, the Silk Road fell out of use as a major trade route between the far east and the Free Cities and Slaver’s Bay of Essos. Instead, the silk route is mostly a maritime one. Silk can be traded for in various ports and islands of Essos – Naath, Qarth, and Asshai. To a lesser extent there is a connection with the Sarnori as well. I will investigate the parallels and reverse parallels that spring from these locations, especially in regard to Varys.

Note: I often refer to symbolic interpretations with the colored coat of horses in this essay, which are based and expand George’s parallel use of horses in relation to those who ride them. For the basic fundamental idea I refer and advize the themed esays of The Trail of the Red Stallion, in particular Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet as background reading.

Index

  1. Naath
    1. Naathi Bedslaves
    2. The Unsullied: Purest Creatures
    3. Concealer
  2. Sarnori
    1. Spider Silk
    2. Tagaez Fen
    3. Saath
  3. Qarth
    1. White As Milk
    2. Qartheen Slaves
    3. Sorrowful Man
    4. Xaro Xhoan Daxos
  4. Grasslands
    1. Grassroot Civilisations
    2. Lyber and the Spider Goddess
  5. Asshai by the Shadows
    1. Red Silk for a Black Cloak
    2. Asshai Citizens
    3. From a Colony to a Port
  6. Summary and Conclusion (tltr)

Naath

The silk route to Naath poses a literary problem: (1) butterflies are not predatory as spiders and (2) Naathi silk is becoming a rarity. The chances that Varys’s silk is Naathi silk are slim.

Such [corsair] raids have become so frequent since the Century of Blood that the Peaceful People have largely abandoned their own shores, moving inland to the hills and forests, where it is harder for the slavers to find them. Thus the fine handicrafts, shimmering silks, and delicate spiced wines of the Isle of Butterflies are seen less and less in the markets of the Seven Kingdoms and the Nine Free Cities. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Naathi Bedslaves

There is however, much less of a literary issue for a slave connection. Naathi are the most favored slaves for being so docile.

The Peaceful People always bring good prices, it is said, for they are as clever as they are gentle, fair to look upon, and quick to learn obedience. (tWoIaF – Beyonde the Free Cities: Naath)

The Peaceful People, [Missandei’s] folk were called. All agreed that they made the best slaves. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Pycelle claims Varys was born a slave in Lys, implying his mother must have been a slave, already. Most readers speculate his mother would have been a bedslave. I’ll bet though that you just never considered that she might be Naathi. The world book reveals that one pillow house in Lys is famed for their Naathi bedslaves.

It is reported that one pillow house on Lys is famed for its Naathi girls, who are clad in diaphanous silken gowns and adorned with gaily painted butterfly wings. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Illyrio mentioned to Tyrion how Varys hid and stayed ahead from slavers in Pentos.

“I met him not long after he arrived, one step ahead of the slavers. By day he slept in the sewers, by night he prowled the rooftops like a cat.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

Since the peace treaty between Braavos and Pentos, slavery is officially forbidden in Pentos (though the servants are bought as slaves elsewhere), and yet we have slavers prowling the streets. Of course laws will never stop poaching slavers from abducting street urchins, but in the way Illyrio mentions it, he implies that he himself never seemed in any danger of that, but Varys in particular. Varys remained out of sight to them, only coming out at night and even then staying on the rooftops. Is something distinctively recognizable about him from a distance, marking him a slaver target? Like a distinct skin tone?

Add Varys’s behavior of perfect servitude to members of the small council, lords and ladies, and members of the royal court.

“Oh, your poor hands. Have you burned yourself, sweet lady? The fingers are so delicate … Our good Maester Pycelle makes a marvelous salve, shall I send for a jar?” […] Varys bobbed his head. “I was grievous sad to hear about your son. And him so young. The gods are cruel.” […] “Good lady,” Varys said with great solicitude. “There are men in the Free Cities with wondrous healing powers. Say only the word, and I will send for one for your dear Bran.” (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

For a literary parallel it does not really matter that this behavior is only part of his mummer’s repertoire to lull people into underestimating him, even when they distrust him, not when George uses symbolism and parallels in an actual mummer’s act, such as

  • Penny and Groat on their dog and pig at the Purple Wedding
  • Penny and Tyrion in Daznak’s Pit
  • The play and rehearsal scenes in Arya’s tWoW excerpt chapter Mercy.

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The Unsullied: Purest Creatures

At this point, you might be ready to point out to me that Varys does kill Pycelle by bashing his head in and fires arrows at close range into Kevan Lannister’s chest, all the while plotting war, and how that certainly is not the Naathi way.

The Peaceful People, the Naathi are called by seafarers, for they will not fight even in defense of their homes and persons. The Naathi do not kill, not even beasts of the field and wood; they eat fruit, not flesh, and make music, not war. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Point granted, but Missandei’s Naathi brothers Mossador and Marselen are Unsullied. In order to become Unsullied, they killed a puppy and a slave’s newborn child. Mossador’s and Marselen’s training and experiences since childhood hardened and desensitized them.

The obvious parallel between Unsullied and Varys is the fact that they are eunuchs, who were castrated “root and stem”.

“In Yunkai and Meereen, eunuchs are often made by removing a boy’s testicles, but leaving the penis. Such a creature is infertile, yet often still capable of erection. Only trouble can come of this. We remove the penis as well, leaving nothing. The Unsullied are the purest creatures on the earth.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

“He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a long hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem, chanting all the while.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Vary’s wording is not simply a euphemism for the removal of both testicles and penis, but also an expression that implies his ancestral stem and cultural roots were cut away from him, which may have changed him so profoundly he may not share his ancestry’s cultural beliefs, even if he may still have the servile nature. Just like Mossador and Marselen, Varys may have roots to Naath, but can plan, act and behave in a manner that would sadden his hypothetical Naathi ancestors. If Missandei’s brothers have killed, then so could a Naathi eunuch in King’s Landing.

That George wants us to make a transference parallel between Unsullied and Varys, because of that complete castration, becomes obvious when we compare what happened to the remains. Varys’s sorcerer burnt his parts as an offering on a brazier, while the Unsullied burn their manhoods themselves on an altar to a goddess called the Lady of Spears.

“I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Grey Worm looked troubled. “The goddess is called by many names. She is the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle, the Mother of Hosts, but her true name belongs only to these poor ones who have burned their manhoods upon her altar. […] (aDwD, Daenerys VI)

The Burning of Male Parts

A third surprising scene that parallels Varys’s description of burning his manhood on the brazier is set in Qarth. Upon the return to Xaro’s Palace, after her unsuccesful appeal to the Pureborn, Daenerys puts on a “loose robe of purple silk” and charrs pieces of chopped snake above a brazier to feed it to her dragons.

In the quiet of her chambers, Dany stripped off her finery and donned a loose robe of purple silk. Her dragons were hungry, so she chopped up a snake and charred the pieces over a brazier. They are growing, she realized as she watched them snap and squabble over the blackened flesh. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

While it is not an actual offering of a chopped penis to a god or demon, “one-eyed snake” is slang for penis. George could have used any type of meat for Dany to chop up and charr. Instead he picked the one animal that resembles a penis. Meanwhile Dany’s dragons can be either feared as demons or worshipped and given offerings like gods.

If we are indeed to make a connection between this scene of Dany feeding her dragons, Varys’s castration and the Unsullied burning their manhoods on the altar, this suggest burned offerings of a penis helps the god/demon in the blue flame and Lady of Spears grow bigger. Someone who burns his cut penis on an altar sacrifices his potential descendants, sacrifices all his sons.

Even though he never sacrifices his privates, Craster does offer all of his newborn sons to his “gods”. Craster helped the Others grow in numbers and power. Likewise Stannis sacrifices his seed and thus his potential sons to the shadow, instead of descendants. And of course Dany’s sacrifice of her son and Drogo helps birth the dragons, which are her “gods” so to speak. Take not of the fact that Mirri Maz Duur’s ritual left Drogo impotent.

The birth had left her too raw and torn to take him inside of her, as she would have wanted, but Doreah had taught her other ways. Dany used her hands, her mouth, her breasts. She raked him with her nails and covered him with kisses and whispered and prayed and told him stories, and by the end she had bathed him with her tears. Yet Drogo did not feel, or speak, or rise.  (aGot? Daenerys IX)

At heart the male sacrifice of descendants seems to be the necessary ingredient to empower magical creatures or spirits. The Unsullied and Craster show that it matters little whether the descendants that are sacrificed are of royal blood or not. And Varys and Dany show it does not even have to be a voluntary sacrifice, but works under duress just as well. The most important resulting question then with Varys’s burning of his manly parts is which power it awoke or helped to grow. And could the blue flames be an indication this sorcerer aimed to stir or help the Others grow?

There is also a reverse parallel between the castration of Varys and Unsullied. The sorcerer who cut Varys regarded the boy as a waste product. Varys could die for all he cared. He was only insterested in Varys’s manhood and his ritual. Varys’s survival and becoming the Spider, was a by-product of the experience.

“Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

But the slavers of Astapor are only interested in the castrated boys, while the testicles and penis are the waste product. It are the Unsullied themselves who burn their parts on an altar to a warrior goddess.

Athena, Lady of Spears

Athena_Giustiniani

The Unsullied’s goddess goes by the epithets of Lady of Spears, Bride of the Battle, or Mother of Hosts. At least two of those are references to the Greek “virgin” goddess Athena. She was a goddess of war. Not the “savage” type like that of Ares dictated by bloodlust, violence and slaughter. No, her war was disciplined and strategic, not unlike the disciplined lockstep legions of Old Ghis.

[…] The Unsullied have something better than strength, tell her. They have discipline. We fight in the fashion of the Old Empire, yes. They are the lockstep legions of Old Ghis come again, absolutely obedient, absolutely loyal, and utterly without fear.”(aSoS, Daenerys II)

And, aside from her helmet, one of Athena’s famous attributes is the spear. It is this Greek Lady of Spears who competed with Arachne. (See image left: Athena Giustiniani Roman copy of a Greek statue of Pallas Athena with helmet and speaer)

As much as Varys and the Unsullied share a similar experience of pain and loss, the aftermath is so different that in some ways they become almost the opposite of one another. Varys is extremely sensitive to the sight of blood and pain, especially his own.

Varys lifted the knife with exaggerated delicacy and ran a thumb along its edge. Blood welled, and he let out a squeal and dropped the dagger back on the table.
“Careful,” Catelyn told him, “it’s sharp.”
“Nothing holds an edge like Valyrian steel,” Littlefinger said as Varys sucked at his bleeding thumb and looked at Catelyn with sullen admonition. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

“Ser Jaime?” Varys panted. “You frightened me.”
“I meant to.” When he twisted the dagger, a trickle of blood ran down the blade. “I was thinking you might help me pluck my brother from his cell before Ser Ilyn lops his head off. It is an ugly head, I grant you, but he only has the one.”
“Yes . . . well . . . if you would . . . remove the blade . . . yes, gently, as it please my lord, gently, oh, I’m pricked . . .” The eunuch touched his neck and gaped at the blood on his fingers. “I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood.” (aFfC, Jaime I)

Unsullied are given a daily drink to make them insensitive to pain. Kraznys can slice off a nipple and the Unsullied (a Lyseni one) does not even flinch.

The wine of courage,” was the answer Kraznys gave her. “It is no true wine at all, but made from deadly nightshade, bloodfly larva, black lotus root, and many secret things. They drink it with every meal from the day they are cut, and with each passing year feel less and less. It makes them fearless in battle. Nor can they be tortured.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Courage is a trait that Varys argues he does not have to Eddard and to Tyrion. Jaime only has to draw a bit of blood to make Varys comply in rescuing Tyrion even though Varys helped Tyrion in looking guilty of the murder of Joffrey.

Neither Varys nor Unsullied can rape anyone by penetration, but the Unsullied do not plunder nor steal, while Varys survives for years as a thief, even was the prince of thieves* in Myr.

* The prince of thieves of course is also a title and reference to a Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner.

“[…] Plunder interests them no more than rape. […] The Unsullied are not permitted to steal. […] Other slaves may steal and hoard up silver in hopes of buying freedom, but an Unsullied would not take it if the little mare offered it as a gift.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

“To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

“In Myr he was a prince of thieves, until a rival thief informed on him.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

And yet, like Unsullied, Varys evolves into a eunuch who does not take gold, silver and gems, but is interested only in secrets. The prince of thieves became a fence, then a blackmailer and eventually a spymaster.

“[In Pentos] Varys spied on lesser thieves and took their takings. I offered my help to their victims, promising to recover their valuables for a fee. Soon every man who had suffered a loss knew to come to me, whilst city’s footpads and cutpurses sought out Varys … half to slit his throat, the other half to sell him what they’d stolen. We both grew rich, and richer still when Varys trained his mice. […] We left the gold and gems for common thieves. Instead our mice stole letters, ledgers, chartslater, they would read them and leave them where they lay. Secrets are worth more than silver or sapphires, Varys claimed. ” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

And so despite having to survive in a completely different manner than the Unsullied, his fears and low treshhold for pain, Varys too became a pure creature who is not interested in plunder or rape.

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Concealer

The big elephant in the room would be the distinct physical features of Naathi. They have round flat faces, dusky skin, and large soft amber eyes, often flecked with gold.

The people native to the island are a beautiful and gentle race, with round flat faces, dusky skin, and large, soft amber eyes, oft flecked with gold. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Surely, someone would have noticed if Varys had dusky skin, right? Or would they? We do not explicitly know …

  • the color of Varys’s eyes. No POV has ever revealed it to us. We can presume that his eyes are unlikely to be amber, flecked with gold, because such eye color would have been remarked on, as much as when he would have had purple eyes. Of course, if Varys has a mixed ethnical parentage, then he could still have a Naathi mother and yet not display amber eyes.
  • his hair color, since he is bald.
  • his tan or natural complexion, since he powders his face and hands. (It can be logically deduced though as we shall see in the Qartheen section)

The man who stepped through the door was plump, perfumed, powdered, and as hairless as an egg. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

His hand left powder stains on Ned’s sleeve,[…] (aGoT, Eddard IV)

Readers speculate that Varys shaves his head to hide the natural color of his hair, but he can just be naturally bald. What is definitely suspect is the powdering of both face AND hands. Powder is used to conceal the true complexion, either to bronze it, or to make the skin tone a shade paler. That is why it is called “concealer”. Varys conceals his natural skin tone.

Incidentally or not so incidentally, we have a round face description for Varys. We just are not certain whether it would still be a round face if Varys were slimmer. And maybe his plumpness is a type of concealment too: Westerosi would assume his face is round because of his plumpness, and never consider his round face may be the features he was born with.

A round scarred face and a stubble of dark beard showed under his steel cap, […] (aGoT, Arya III)

Obviously, my point is that we cannot ascertain nor exclude any distinguishable ethnic features (for now). Beneath the powder and the baldness, a mixture of all kinds of origins may be lurking – Naathi, Dothraki, Ghiscari, Lhazarene, …. We know Varys conceals features and thus we must work with literary parallels, symbolically related clues and hints to speculate what his origins may be.

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Sarnori

spidersilk
Cape of 1 million golden orb spider silk, natural hue
Spider Silk

If butterfly silk does seem a miss-match for spiders, then why not search for a people with spider silk? And in fact such a thing existed on Planetos:  the riders of the Sarnori of old wore spider silk.

Their riders wore steel and spider silk and rode coal-black mares, whilst the greatest of their warriors went to battle in scythed chariots pulled by teams of bloodred horses (oft driven by their wives or daughters, for it was the custom amongst the Sarnori for men and women to make war together). (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

So, spider silk is indeed a thing*! Or rather it was. At the very least it seems to confirm the validity in exploring the silk route for the Spiders’ origin.

*In 2009 a real world manufactured spider silk cloth was exhibited in museums. More in this article with pictures of the result.

Coal-Black and Bloodred Horses

Notice how we get two types of colored horses mentioned in the quote about the Sarnori riders. These horses and their colors are not simply mentioned for an individual rider, but for its people, and the color division is heavily implied to be criss-crossed by gender. The men ride the black mares, while the women drive the chariots pulled by bloodred horses. The savvy reader might notice how George does not just say black and red, but coal-black and bloodred. Unless mined, coal is charcoal, which is manufactured by burning wood. In other words, those coal-black mares are associated with “fire”, while “blood” hardly needs any further explanation. We have the color scheme of the Targaryen sigil here  – black and red – and the words of House Targaryen, “fire and blood“.

Combined with spider-silk, we thus have an association between spiders and House Targaryen. However, I must point out that this association as used in the description about the Sarnori is symbolic, for the Sarnori most certainly do not look like Valyrians.

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Tagaez Fen

The Sarnori are brown of skin, and have black hair and black eyes, matching the coat color of the coal-black mares.

Long of limb and brown of skin they were, like the Zoqora, though their hair and eyes were black as night. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

How the concealment of Varys’s features might disguise Naathi ancestry, applies just as well for Sarnori. The Sarnori features are not out of the range of possibilities. Beneath the powder and bald head may lurk brown skin and black hair. And without the rest, very dark eyes might not startle any Westerosi. That leaves us Sarnori’s long limbs. Once again, we have no explicit description of the Spider’s height. His height is only relayed to us relative in comparison to other characters.

“Wine,” a voice answered. It was not the rat-faced man; this gaoler was stouter, shorter, though he wore the same leather half cape and spiked steel cap. “Drink, Lord Eddard.” He thrust a wineskin into Ned’s hands. The voice was strangely familiar, yet it took Ned Stark a moment to place it. “Varys?” (aGoT, Eddard XXV)

Arya saw Varys the eunuch gliding among the lords in soft slippers and a patterned damask robe, and she thought the short man with the silvery cape and pointed beard might be the one who had once fought a duel for Mother. (aGoT, Arya V)

Varys is smaller than Eddard’s regular rat-faced gaoler (and we don’t know how tall that one is). But Varys is not “short”. Arya uses “short” for Littlefinger and thus her lack of height mention for Varys implies he appears to be of “normal” height to her. If I were to ask you how tall Varys may or not be, you will probably answer “average” or slightly smaller than average.

Gendry’s Benefactor

Tobho Mott describes the man who paid for Gendry’s apprenticeship, and many readers presume that this mysterious man is Varys in disguise.

“He was stout, round of shoulder, not so tall as you. Brown beard, but there was a bit of red in it, I’ll swear. He wore a rich cloak, that I do remember, heavy purple velvet worked with silver threads, but the hood shadowed his face and I never did see him clear.” (aGoT, Eddard VI)

Varys is stout and round of shoulder, and he may wear a false beard for disguise, as he does for the Rugen gaoler disguise (different color here). When Varys ventures outside of the Red Keep, he often uses a cloak or robe with hood or cowl to hide his face. The rich, purple cloak seems to be the element that makes it certain in many readers’ minds, for readers associate Varys with purple clothing. But so would characters in King’s Landing who know Varys. If say Janos Slynt or a knight of the Red Keep were to venture in Steel Street or Tobho’s shop and would see this stout, round shouldered man with rich, purple cloak, they would likely assume it is Varys, without ever needing to see his face. So, the purple cloak ruins the success of the disguise.

Either this msytery man was not Varys, or George made a mistake. George could have thought to use the purple cloak as a hint for readers to help us identify the mystery man to be Varys, but never realized that this would make him recognizable to in-world characters. So, yes, I mention this description, though with the added warning that it may not be Varys.

If this man was indeed Varys, then we have our third relative measurement of his height: not as tall as Ned Stark. Catelyn mentions Ned was smaller than his late brother Brandon Stark. This mistakenly leads to the conclusion by readers that Ned Stark was at best average. But Tobho Mott uses the words “not as tall as you”, implying that Tobho regards Ned Stark a tall man, even though he is not one of the notorious giants. Otherwise Tobho would have said, “smaller than you”. Ned considers the Baratheon brothers as giant-tall, and thus exceptionally tall. Robert is 6 ft 6. Ned also has to be able to wield the greatsword Ice easily. At the start of the series the adolescent Robb of fourteen is not yet as tall as Ice, but afterwards he catches up fast. This suggests that Ice is at least 5 ft 2 (160 cm), likely making Ned 5 ft 11- 6 ft (180-183 cm), which is as tall as the average Belgian or Dutch men, who hold the two largest averages for men in the world according to nationality since 2016. So, Lord Varys is likely about 5 ft 8 tall (175 cm).*

*For archived height discussions of characters this might be a fun read: height hierarchy.

Average height is not what we would picture for a Sarnori who are said to be tall, and proudly called themselves Tagaez Fen, which means “Tall Men”.

Westeros remembers [Qaathi’s] conquerors as the Sarnori, for at its height their great kingdom included all the lands watered by the Sarne and its vassals, and the three great lakes that were all that remained of the shrinking Silver Sea. They called themselves the Tall Men (in their own tongue the Tagaez Fen)

Height varies. Around 60-80 % of height is hereditary (depending on “race”), and 20-40 % is determined by environmental factors (nutrients). A person’s height is inherited from both parents. Simply put, with a mixed ethnical heritage with different averages in height, the child would be taller than the parent with the smallest ethnic average, but smaller than parent with the tallest ethnic average. So, if for example Varys were to have a Sarnori father who bedded his Naathi bedslave mother in Lys, then Varys can certainly end up being only average in height.

Let us also not forget the impact Varys’s living conditions would have had on his ability to grow. Diet during childhood and youth heavily influences the ability of an individual to reach his or hers genetic height potential. Children who have been malnourished, knew hunger and had a poor one-sided diet for a while, will never grow into their full potential adult height.

Proteins and Growth

Proteins are essential nutrients for physical growth, muscle building and maintenance. There are various types of proteins that our digestion breaks down into amino acids essential to make sure our body cells lilterally do not collapse. We can only acquire them through food. Not every food source is an adequate provider for those different proteins. On top of that, certain porteins are only present in a limited amount.

The diet that provides an optimal amount of the four most limited proteins in food is one that consists of meat and nuts, which is exactly the diet that hunters and gatherers rely on. If you rely on cereals and grains (staples) like a farmer, you will need fruit and fresh vegetables with that. Staples are rich in sugars to provide energy for immediate use or storage (fat), but as a mono-diet it hampers muscle build up and growth. This is the reason why average height collapsed when people shifted from hunting and gathering to farming, and did not pick up again in the second half of the 20th century.

So, when Varys had to survive on the scraps that he could steal in the streets of Myr and Pentos as a child, he was bound to lack the necessary amount of proteins to grow into his maximal height potential. Meat would only be occasionally on his menu, and of the lean variety. Fresh fruit and vegetables would have been something he rarely – if ever – ate.

This lack of acquiring the necessary variation of proteins through food is aggrevated for Varys due to his castration. As a eunuch he had reduced testosterone production, while this hormone promotes protein synthesis necessary for growth in children.

We can therefore be almost certain that Varys is not as tall as his genetics otherwise may allow him to be. At least one parent of Varys who never knew food shortage or lack of variation would certainly be a tall woman or man. Hence, Varys’s average height does not exclude Sarnori ancestry for Varys, or any other ancestry of tall people, certainly if he has mixed heritage. Once again, George made sure that we cannot ascertain Varys’s ancestry through his physical height.

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Saath

With the Naathi I mentioned that one of the symbolical issues for Naathi silk was that it is not common at the markets anymore. With the Sarnori it is even worse: the number of Sarnori is in decline. Their last remaining city, Saath, only exists by the grace and help of Ib and Lorath.

Let it suffice to say that of all the proud Sarnori cities, only Saath remains unruined today, and that port city is a sad place, much diminished from what it once was, surviving largely because of support from Ib and Lorath (whose colony of Morosh is nearby). Only in Saath do men still name themselves Tagaez Fen; fewer than twenty thousand remain, when once the Tall Men numbered in the millions. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: The Grasslands)

More, the book series itself does not mention Saath or one Sarnori. Whenever a group of slaves, merchants or sailors in ports are described, there is not one Sarnori, while even Ibbinese and brindle-skinned men are mentioned (different species of humans). Without the World Book, we would not even know the Sarnori existed or ever existed. That tells us two things:

  • Sarnoris do not sail, nor do others sail to Saath to trade. There is a better chance that silk comes from Naath, than it coming from Saath.
  • If no Sarnori is mentioned as a character in the series, then they are irrelevant to the ancestry of a character within the story in a physical way.

We can thus safely conclude that Varys has no actual Sarnori ancestry. This does not mean that this section was fruitless. Sarnori are not the sole tall people in the books. And I want you to keep the mention of spider-silk in the back of your mind for the area where it appeared. As the Sarnori were not the sole people whose origin are the Grasslands.

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Qarth

Varys’s silk is far more likely to originate from is Qarth, a city that Varys’s partner in crime, Illyrio, trades with often. The Qartheen Xaro even sails to Mereen on a “silken cloud”.

Many ships of Westeros had sailed as far as Qarth to trade for spices and silk, but he dared to go farther, reaching the fabled lands of Yi Ti and Leng, whose wealth doubled that of House Velaryon in a single voyage. Nine great voyages were made upon the Sea Snake, and on the last, Corlys filled the ship’s hold with gold and bought twenty more ships at Qarth, loading them with spices, elephants, and the finest silk. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings, Jaehaerys I)

[Xaro] had come from Qarth upon the galleas Silken Cloud with thirteen galleys sailing attendance, his fleet an answered prayer. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

If in the past, Yinishar was the Essosi Constantinople of the overland caravan route, Qarth has become the Constantinople of the maritime route. We have the mention of spices, silk, but also jade for the sea.

Of the Qaathi cities, only Qarth remains, dreaming of past glories beside the jealously guarded Jade Gates, which link the Summer and Jade seas. […] Forced to look instead to the sea, the Pureborn who ruled Qarth swiftly constructed a fleet and took control of the Jade Gates—the strait between Qarth and Great Moraq, which joins the Summer Sea to the Jade Sea. With the Valyrian fleet destroyed, and Volantis’s attention turned west, there were none to oppose them as they established control over the most direct route between east and west, and so gained immeasurably in both trade and levied tolls for safe passage.  (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

In that sense, Qarth may not be the city where silk actually originates from, but it is the city to trade for it by people in Essos and Westeros west of Qarth. When it takes months of sea-voyage to trade for certain goods, then the trade city is as good as “origin”. The turkey (bird) is a Central American bird that did not exist as a species on other continents. It was imported into Europe via Turkey, by turkey merchants, a reference that was shortened into turkey. So, a bird of Central American origin was instead called after its trading origin. Likewise Westerosi would tend to refer to silk imported via Qarth as Qartheen silk, even though it is most likely produced and woven somewhere else. To complete the picture of Qarth as an equivalent to the Constantinopel of silk trade, Qartheen ride camels, instead of horses, which is very suggestive of the silk route concept and its caravans.

White As Milk

Like the Sarnori, the Qartheen are tall. The same arguments about Varys’s relative length and how he may have tall ancestors apply here. Like the Naathi and Sarnori, the Qartheen have a distinctive skin tone, but instead of dusk or dark they are so pale that the Dothraki call them Milk Men.

They were tall pale folk in linen and samite and tiger fur, every one a lord or lady to her eyes. […] Her Dothraki called the Qartheen “Milk Men” for their paleness, […]. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Powder can be used to lighten a dusky complexion, as well as darken pale skin. Pale skin would be distinct enough for slavers to pick Varys as a boy from a distance should he show himself by day, but equally not that distinct for the Pentosi street urchins to be bothered more by his accent and being a eunuch than his skin tone.

“In Pentos his accent marked him, and once he was known for a eunuch he was despised and beaten.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

I mentioned how we may after all deduct and conclude what Varys’s true complexion may be underneath all that powder. In the five books published so far, we have two references that Varys appears pale.

The eunuch was lurking in the dark of a twisting turnpike stair, garbed in a moth-eaten brown robe with a hood that hid the paleness of his face. (aSoS, Tyrion XI)

He stood in a pool of shadow by a bookcase, plump, pale-faced, round-shouldered, clutching a crossbow in soft powdered hands. Silk slippers swaddled his feet. “Varys?” (aDwD, Epilogue)

The question is whether Varys is wearing powder during these “observations”. Kevan claims that Varys’s hands are powdered. But like Sherlock Holmes I ask you, “How does Kevan know this, when Varys stands several feet away from Kevan in a pool of shadow?” Kevan refers to the hands as soft, and yet, at that particular moment, Kevan cannot actually feel how soft Varys’s hands are. Kevan is merely assuming that Varys’s hands are powdered and soft, based on memory and experience, not through any actual observation through the senses. And while those hands will undoubtedly be soft, this is not necessarily true for the powder. In fact, there is a very good reason why Varys would not have powdered his hands: powder stains and leaves traces. This powder staining has been noticed by several POVs, repeatedly. As a trained mummer, Varys would be aware of it himself. Varys would be a fool to leave traces of powder on the crossbow, when he wants to make it look as if the Tyrells or Tyrion killed Kevan in Cersei’s mind.

“I thought the crossbow fitting. You shared so much with Lord Tywin, why not that? Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.” (aDwD, Epilogue)

Whatever Varys is, he is most certainly not a fool!

So, once we combine Varys’s murder purpose in aDwD’s epilogue, the darkness, the distance between Kevan and Varys, Varys holding the murder weapon and the various times we’ve seen and been reminded that powder leaves traces we can logically conclude that Varys was not wearing powder on his hands and face at all when he murdered Pycelle and Kevan. This is the strongest clue that Varys’s natural skin tone is as pale as the powder he uses. Beneath the powder is a pale man, and he conceals it with powder of the same tan, making Kevan assume wrongly that Varys’s hands (and face) are powdered.

How pale is Varys then? In both cases (Tyrion and Kevan) Varys is featured in a dark environment. When he helps Tyrion escape, they are at the levels of the dark cells beneath the Red Keep, at night. On top of that his face is shadowed by a hood. When Kevan describes him in Pycelle’s office, Varys stands in a pool of shadow, again at night. One must be white as milk to appear pale even when hiding in the shadow at night. You can test this in the evening by dousing the lights, allow for your eyes to adjust to darkness and have yourself or a friend stand a few feet away from a mirror. This ultra paleness is probably the reason why even at night, young Varys prowled the roofs of Pentos to stay ahead of slavers, with only the grime and dirt of the sewers to protect him by day.

My deduction that Varys is as pale as a Qartheen leads to two questions:

  1. What can be the possible motive for Varys to conceal his natural paleness with powder that is equally pale? He might just as well not use powder, right?
  2. Can we now throw out dusky Naathi as hypothetical ancestors of Varys?

Half this essay will argue that the answer to both 1 and 2 is “no”.

Now, I could argue that Varys aims to make people believe he only looks pale because of the powder, not his skin, in an attempt to mask his Qartheen origin. Concealer wears off, by wiping sweat off, etc. Just like Kevan, people would not notice any difference and simply continue to assume he is still fully powdered. However, I would find that more of an added benefit that Varys discovered over the years than the actual true reason. Instead I argue that his primary reason is how it serves as a sunblock.

Skin tone is controlled by several genes regarding the production ability of skin cells to produce melanin (protecting our skin against UV’s destructive rays) as well as the type of melanin. As a result a child tends to be not as dark as the darkest parent, nor as pale as the fairest parent, but something in between that. This common principal is why you might assume that if Varys is as pale as a Qartheen, then we can safely rule out any mix between a Qartheen and a Summer Islander, Dothraki, Sarnori or Naathi, … However, Qartheen being as pale as milk in the climate they live for the past centuries, despite wearing robes that expose one breast and showing no sign of tanning, suggests that what causes them to remain so pale is either albinism or leukism. Upon investigation, most clues point to leukism, in particular a dominant genetic form. And this would mask once again any ancestral mixture of ethnicities.

Albinism

Albinism is caused by reduced production of melanin. If there is still some production it is called hypomelanism. When there is no production of melanin whatosever it is called amenalism. Various known mutations exist with varying impact on the affected parts of the body. Ocular albinism only affects the eyes (and/or inner ears), but not the hair, nor skin. Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) affects skin, hair and eyes in variable degrees for different subtypes. One of those is temperature sensitive, allowing cool regions of the body to produce melanin normally, and thus certain OCA albinos can have dark hair (example: siamese cats). In other words, visible related features can vary along a spectrum, nor is albinism necessarily absolute.

  • Skin (OCA-types): translucent pink (because of underlying blood vessels) or porcelain pale. Less severe forms allow for tanning, freckles or moles. And one type allows for skin pigmentation from infancy onwards.
  • Hair (OCA-types): translucent white, silver, pale blond, golden, strawberry blonde, red or even brown
  • Eyes: commonly blue, true violet, but also grey, green and hazel, and red when amenalistic.

What causes eye color in general? The iris (what we see as the colored section of the eyeball), exists of two layers:

  • The stroma has anterior and posterior cells and is interlaced with blood vessels. The front of the stroma never has any pigment. The posterior of the stroma may have melanin granula, from yellow-brown to brown.
  • The pigment epitheleum is an opaque layer of two cells thick behind the stroma, packed with large melanocytes of black melanin. It serves as a black screen to prevent light from falling onto the retina, except for the light that passes through the pupil behind the iris.

THERE ARE NO BLUE, GREEN, PURPLE OR GREY PIGMENTS in the iris! These eye-colors are structural colors, brought about by the scattering and interference of light as it hits gass molecules or translucent fluids or solids: the Tyndall effect for blue, purple and green, and Mie scattering for grey. These are similar mechanics that make the sky and oceans look blue, green or grey depending on the density, moisture of the medium and the wavelength of visible light that manages to reach our sight first. The largeness of the molecules of a medium in comparison to wavelength determines what color of light will be scattered. Shortest wavelengths of light are first violet and then blue. In order for eyes to be “true violet” the molecules of the collagen within the stroma must be smaller than 450 nm. Then blue can pass and be absorbed by the black eptiheleum and only the violet will be scattered. 

The reason that in extremer forms of albinism people have “red eyes” has to do with reduced pigment epitheleum. As mentioned, normally the epitheleum is a double layer of two cells, both with black pigment. In the case of albinism only one layer of cells has black pigment or even neither has. The epitheleum is not 100 % opaque anymore, and thus light other than the one passing the pupil drops onto the retina, and then is reflected back out of the iris. For the person having albinism this will blur their vision, and people observing the eyes of the albino will see the blood in their iris. Even in these amenalistic cases light will still be scattered by the translucent stroma, and thus the person will have at least partially blue eyes.

I am not the first reader to notice how the range of phenotype traits of hypomenalistic albinism match the “typical” appearance of Valyrians and Targaryens, or Daynes for that matter. Since various forms of albinism came about spontaneously and independently in different regions of the real world, it would explain why non-Valyrians such as the Daynes and the Hightowers display a similar phenotype. The temperature sensitive partial albinism would match the description of Ashara Dayne having pale skin, purple eyes and brown hair. Both are families of First Men descent, as are the Blackwoods (who do not display the features, but may be genetic carriers). Brynden Rivers, a confirmed amenalistic albino, was a child of Missy Blackwood and Aegon IV Targaryen.

Most forms of albinism are recessive: both parents have to be carriers of the albino gene, in order for the child to have the features (phenotype). The Targaryens preferring incestuous relationships fits with a recessive phenotype. The Daynes and Hightowers, Missy Blackwood as mother of Bloodraven or Betha Blackwood as mother of the children of Aegon V can be used to argument that certain families of the First Men are carriers of another recessive form of albinism. Notice too how the Targaryens, Velaryons, the Daynes, Hightowers, Lyseni and even the Valyrians at the Valyrian peninsula lived or live on islands or isolated peninsula. These locations are prone to genetic drift: a phenomenon where a recessive genotype can become so widespread among the local population that it becomes a typical phenotype. (Credit to The Weirwoods Eyes for the latter observation)

I will list and debunk some of the counter-arguments against Valyrian traits being recessive albinism.

  1. Solely Bloodraven is recognized as an “albino” by other in-world characters. Surely, if the characters can recognize that he is an albino, then why would they not say this of Targaryens, Daynes or Hightowers? However, in Brynden Rivers’ case we are talking of an amenalistic form of albinism: absolute. People forget too easily that there are various mutations and effects, and even the same type can vary in effect per individual. When hypomenalistic the features can express themselves on a spectrum range, including one that solely affects the eyes and nothing else, or allows for a degree of tanning (even that of Egg’s), or allow for dark hair.
  2. Aside from maester Aemon, we have never heard of any Valyrian having issues with their eyesight or hearing, which is tied to albinism in the real world, even in hypomenalistic types. Aemon’s blindess is accounted for by his age, not albinism. However, this real world argument conveniently forgets that Bloodraven, a confirmed amenalistic albino, does not have acuity issues either, on the contrary. His red eyes lacking any pigment should blur his sight, and yet he is famed for his abilities with the bow. If Brynden Rivers of all people can see sharply, then the whole eyesight issue related to real world albinism is a moot point for albinism in the series.

I certainly think the proposal that the Valyrian phenotype is a benign fantasy hypomelanistic albinism, where eyesight or hearing is unaffected, and that varies upon a spectrum is a valid one.*

* The Fattest Leech has posted a nice list about Targaryens with a non-Targaryen mother in this westeros.org thread. In how far the Targaryen family tree can rudimentary come about as phenotype if recessive, I explain in this post in the same thread.

Leukism

Leukism or leucism (from Greek “leukos”, which means “white”) is a condition where the coat, hair, feathers and skin lack the pigment production cells (albinos have the cells, but either do not or only partially produce melanin). Leukism only affects skin and coat, not the eyes. Skin and coat are formed from the neural crest during development, while eye tissue is formed from the neural tube. And the genetic mutation causing leukism affects the neural crest, not the neural tube. So, while leukists have skin comparable to an amenalistic albino, they have normal colored eyes: brown, dark or green eyes. Real world examples are white lions, white doves, white tigers, and true white horses.

Just as with albinism there are partial variants with only localized absence of pigment cells, resulting in patches, or piebald. A tuxedo cat, spotted doves, or a piebald horse are common examples. In the real world only piebald is known to occur within humans: piebaldism and Waardenburg syndrome (often accompanied with partial or complete deafness). The individual would sport a white front lock of hair (such as the late Indira Ghandi), and/or visible patches of white or pink skin against normal darker skin. Complete leukism in humans is not described in scientific literature so far. Which is an oddity as leukism and piebald is all caused by a regular occuring random mutation on a gene that we share with pretty much any mammal.

Most of the leukism variants, whether piebald or complete are autosomal dominant, meaning that it will express itself physically if only one parent passes it on, irrespective if the child is male or female. The known variants (complete or partial) with housecats, horses and people are all dominant. An exception are white lions and white tigers, which is recessive. Of interest is the dominant white leukism with horses. They have a true white coat (no pigment cells) and brown eyes (pigmented). Their skin is non-pigmented as well, appearing pink because of the capillaries beneath the skin. The mutation can appear spontaneously in all type of breeds. The name already implies that it is a dominant gene (W). Twenty mutations of the relevant KIT-gene are currently known to cause dominant white. Many of these mutations are nonsense mutations: some DNA code ends up wrongly translated into a halt-whatever-you’re-doing signal in the messenger RNA. As a result such mutations make a homozygous (WW) embryo non-viable. It will die at such an early stage of gestation that it will be reabsorbed rather than aborted. With such a variant only a Ww embryo can grow into a foal. But other type of mutations that cause dominant white may allow for a viable homozygous “true white” horse. 

DominantWhiteHorsesD
Dominant White horse with milk white coat and brown eyes (Leukism)

There are several examples of leukistic animals in the series: the white hart that Robert and Joffrey hunt, the white lion that Drogo hunts down and the white ravens are the first to come to mind.

A white hart had been sighted in the kingswood, and Lord Renly and Ser Barristan had joined the king to hunt it, along with Prince Joffrey, Sandor Clegane, Balon Swann, and half the court. (aGoT, Eddard XI)

“I had a dream that Joffrey would be the one to take the white hart,” she said. […] White harts were supposed to be very rare and magical, and in her heart she knew her gallant prince was worthier than his drunken father. (aGoT, Sansa III)

Drogo would take his bloodriders and ride in search of hrakkar, the great white lion of the plains. […] The brazier was cold again by the time Khal Drogo returned. Cohollo was leading a packhorse behind him, with the carcass of a great white lion slung across its back. Above, the stars were coming out. The khal laughed as he swung down off his stallion and showed her the scars on his leg where the hrakkar had raked him through his leggings. “I shall make you a cloak of its skin, moon of my life,” he swore. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

“Ah, here is Pylos with the bird.” Shireen gave a cry of delight. Even Cressen had to admit the bird made an impressive sight, white as snow and larger than any hawk, with the bright black eyes that meant it was no mere albino, but a truebred white raven of the Citadel. (aCoK, Prologue)

At the very least they prove that George knows, recognizes and features leukism in the series (as he does in other stories of his work).

There does not appear to be a typical eye-color or hair color related to a form of albinism for the Qartheen. Their paleness is purely skin related. So, a form of fantasy leukism may account for their pale white skin. This would explain why no tanning is in evidence (neither on individual basis, nor across the centuries of generations) despite the climate and sparse dress. Certainly as a fantasy element, George could perfectly elect to create people on Planetos that are the “true white horses” amongst humans.

Hypothetically a complete leukism mutation such as Dominant White should be possible with humans. However, if a hypothetical human being were to have Dominant White leukism similar to a true white horse in the real world then he would have white or silver hair (the coat), normal colored eyes of the possible range, and porcelain pink skin, not actual milk-white skin. The Dominant White horse has a white coat and pink skin, not a white skin. The skin beneath the tuxedo of your housecat (piebald leukism) is a healthy pink. In the aSoIaF case of fantasy human leukism, I propose that George made the skin white while the hair and eyes are unaffected.

It is quite a jump to go from “George features leukistic mammals and birds” to “and also leukistic humans”, let alone “Qartheen in particular”. I cannot expect anyone, including myself, to consider such a thing without providing “evidence” for it. And of course, since this is not a real world where we can test the skin cells or genes of any book character, but a fictional fantasy world in timesetting with minimal understanding of science written by a mystery author who will not give us straightforward world-building answers the “evidence” will be literary allusions and parallels.

Firstly, we should ask ourselves whether there are other examples where George applies a coat pattern of a domesticated animal breed physically onto a race of people, and not necessarily leukism.

  • Black mares and Sarnori who are black-haired, black-eyed and brown skinned.
  • The brindle-skinned men of Sothoryos, another species of men whose skin is brindled like a dog’s coat may be brindled.

The Sothoryi are big-boned creatures, massively muscled, with long arms, sloped foreheads, huge square teeth, heavy jaws, and coarse black hair. Their broad, flat noses suggest snouts, and their thick skins are brindled in patterns of brown and white that seem more hoglike than human. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

Pale Qartheen, black Summer Islanders, copper-skinned Dothraki, Tyroshi with blue beards, Lamb Men, Jogos Nhai, sullen Braavosi, brindle-skinned half-men from the jungles of Sothoros—from the ends of the world they came to die in Daznak’s Pit. (aDwD – Daenerys IX)

Brindled Half-Man

The brindle-skin reference applies to Tyrion. The quote itself uses the phrase “brindle-skinned half-men.” Half-man is what the clans of the Mountains of the Moon call Tyrion. Now, Tyrion may not have visible brindled skin, but his hair is brindled. If horses can represent their riders or aspects of a character, we could also consider traits of a character into a horse context. In this case, Tyrion’s brindled hair could be applied onto the coat of a hypothetical horse. Brindling with horses is not a genetic trait, but believed to be the result of spontaneous chimerism*: the clumping together of two pre-embryonic fertilized eggs (fraternal twins) resulting in a mish-mash of DNA that develops into one individual (see also House Blackfyre, the penultimate section about Maelys Blackfyre). This would be one of the snippets of literary parallel evidence that Tyrion is a chimera. And though Tyrion’s skin may not be visibly brindled to the naked eye, his skin would be brindled with the DNA of fraternal twins. 

*A certain brindle coat amongst horses has been proven to be hereditary, and thus not due to chimerism, but this is very recent evidence of only as late as 2016, and thus unknown to George RR Martin at the time of writing the first five books of the series.

If Qartheen are Dominant White leukists in the fantasy form I propose, the dominancy of it would explain why the descendants of kings and queens of Qarth insist on being regarded as Pureborn.

Descendants of the ancient kings and queens of Qarth, the Pureborn commanded the Civic Guard and the fleet of ornate galleys that ruled the straits between the seas. […] The merchant princes, grown vastly rich off the trade between the seas, were divided into three jealous factions: the Ancient Guild of Spicers, the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and the Thirteen, to which Xaro belonged. Each vied with the others for dominance, and all three contended endlessly with the Pureborn.  (aCoK, Daenerys III)

The Pureborn of Qarth are the descendants of the kings and queens of Qarth – royalty in other words. The word “pureborn” is loaded with meaning, beyond “I’m Royal blood” or “trueborn” – it is used as a qualifier on racial purity and thus implies that other milk-white Qharteen are “impure”. The Qartheen are not the sole obsessed with the purity of blood. The dragonlords of Old Valyria were, including Targaryens, as well as the nobility of Lys.

The blood of Valyria still runs strong in Lys, where even the smallfolk oft boast pale skin, silver-gold hair, and the purple, lilac, and pale blue eyes of the dragonlords of old. The Lysene nobility values purity of blood above all and have produced many famous (and infamous) beauties. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: The Quarrelsome Daughters, Myr, Lys and Tyrosh)

And yet only the Qartheen make a point of it to use a title to indicate purity of blood, whereas the dragonlords and the nobles of Lys do not. Why? People tend to go by appearances. If someone with Valyrian features hatches an egg or becomes a dragonrider they are considered pure of blood, regardless whether they are trueborn or not. Precluding the Dance of the Dragons, the “greens” supporting Queen Allicent Hightower and her sons use this argument to predict that Rhaenyra’s sons (who do not have Valyrian features) will not be able to hatch their dragon eggs. With their non-existent genetic knowledge, they go by “if he/she looks and flies like a Targ, they’re pureborn,” and if not, they are impure. Going by appearances only works (well half of the time), because the Valyrian genotype is recessive, and thus is a rare phenotype. Children of mixed pairings with slaves and commoners from other regions of the world do not tend to sport Valyrian looks and thus are visibly “impure”. But if the Qartheen’s feature of being white as milk is dominant then the sons of royalty, merchants, spicers, pirates, courtesans, bedslaves and the kitchen slave will be white as milk too, no matter it their mother or father is Qaathi, Dothraki, Ghiscari, Lhazareen, Naathi or of the Summer Islands.

Notice that when Dany passes through the streets she considers every man and woman lining up the streets or the balconies looking like a lord or lady.

The Qartheen lined the streets and watched from delicate balconies that looked too frail to support their weight. They were tall pale folk in linen and samite and tiger fur, every one a lord or lady to her eyes. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

When “purity” is not visibly discernable in a society clinging to a stratification according to birth, while commoners can be as rich or richer than royalty, the latter must resort to the verbal claim by calling themselves Pureborn. It is all that is left to them to maintain a line of separation between themselves, other nobles, rich commoners and slaves fathered by Qartheen. This is not unlike Dany’s brother Viserys who must beg while in exile but verbally insists on being called the true king of Westeros, even though everything he owns is gifted to him.

Now, we can return to the question that started all this talk of albinism and leukism: if Varys is pale as a Qartheen, can he have a Naathi mother or grandmother? Well, yes, he can if Qartheen paleness is dominant leukism. A child of a Naathi bedslave in Lys and Qartheen trader visiting the pillow house would not have a lovely bronzed shade between dusk and white, but be as pale as milk too. Dominant white leukism might betray a Qartheen ancestry, but equally hides and disguises every other ancestry. So, Varys’s powder conceals his natural skin tone, which turns out to be as pale as the powder, but then his natural skin tone conceals every other possible genetic ancestry other than the Qartheen one.

Via Dany’s handmaiden Doreah we know that Qartheen traders do visit the pleasure houses of Lys.

A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came from the moon,” blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel over the fire. […] Magister Illyrio had found her in a pleasure house in Lys. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

By now, you might consider the idea of Qartheen being a population of leukists that pass on their dominant white-skinned gene in analogy of horses as diverting. But you may want to remind me that Qartheen ride camels, not horses. Well, it would be glaringly obvious if Qartheen rode”true white horses”. As Dominant Whites, the Qartheen themselves are the horses already. Without camels we lose the “silk route” Constantinople symbolism for the city. And finally, at Yunkai, an actual white camel is featured. Yunkai lies along the silk trade route and is a trade partner of Qarth.

The envoys from Yunkai arrived as the sun was going down; fifty men on magnificent black horses and one on a great white camel. (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

This leukistic camel was likely a trade gift from the Qartheen, since Qartheen are the ones only riding camels, while the Yunkai tend to ride horses.

You may also agree with my point that it is unlikely that Varys powdered his hands to commit the murder of Kevan with a crossbow, and therefore he is truly a very pale man. But are there clues to actually link Varys’s paleness to leukism? Well, there are. Consider the mention of spotted spiders in Sothoryos.

[…], and spotted spiders weave their webs amongst the great trees. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

The whole line about these spotted spiders applies metaphorically to Varys weaving webs between the family trees of the great houses in Westeros. But that metaphor would work just as well if the spiders were not spotted. So, the spiders having spots is significant by itself. And since Varys is the sole character called The Spider, the spots tell us something about Varys, but what? Is it entirely metaphorical in the sense of “a spider does not lose his spots” or is it a physical clue about the Spider?

George has several characters called “spotted” for their physical features. Sylva Santagar for example is called “Spotted Sylva” for her freckles, which is another genetic skin trait related to melanin overproduction. People with freckles do not lack pigment cells in their skin. It is a trait where skin cells overproduce melanin, but the cells are unevenly distributed. The main point here is not that “spotted” = “freckles”, since it is unlikely that Varys powders his face and hands merely out of vanity over freckles, but that George uses “spotted” in relation to physical features. Freckles are but one example, but it could also apply for piebaldism.

Note that Sylva’s friends also pretend they call her Spotted Sylva for her “origin”, House Spotswood, and thus the spotting of the spiders weaving in the woods is a clue to Varys’s ancestry. This most certainly is not a reference to Varys having Sothoryi origin, since we are told the women can only breed with males of their own species. This only leaves spotted spiders as a reference to leukism and  piebald (which is most certainly dominant).

Spotted Spider of House Webber

Above I interpreted Spotted Spiders of Sothoryos exclusively how it could fit Spider Varys. However, it may not be a reference to Varys at all, but to an entirely different historical character – Rohanne Webber who appears in the story The Sworn Sword of the Dunk & Egg novellas. The sigil of house Webber is a black field with a spotted spider in a silver web. Rohanne Webber was nicknamed the Red Widow for the many husbands that died, since she was 10. She had red hair and freckles (like Spotted Sylva). And in the novella The Sworn Sword, her soldiers and knights are generally referred to as “spiders”. Eventually, she married six times and only had surviving children with her last husband, Gerold Lannister. Her children with Gerold were the twins Tywald and Tion Lannister, Tytos and Jason. Tytos fathered Tywin, Kevan, Genna, Tygett and Gerion Lannister, while Jason fathered Joanna Lannister, Stafford and Damon.

Freckled Rohanne Webber of the Reach House Webber with the Spotted Spider sigil is thus the grandmother of Tywin, Kevan and Genna Lannister, and the great-grandmother of Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion on both the paternal and maternal side, as well as the great-grandmother of Lancel, missing Tyrek and long haired Daven Lannister on the paternal side.

If we combine this with the brindle-skinned half-men of Sothoryos and how they are tied to Tyrion’s chimerism, then it is far more likely that the Spotted Spider reference in the World Book alludes to House Webber and how Rohanne managed to have woven a web so wide that she has descendants in the Riverlands, marrying into House Frey, great-great grandchildren on the throne (Joffrey and Tommen) and a great-great-granddaughter betrothed to Trystane Martell, a prince of Dorne, than the Spotted Spiders being a reference to Varys.

Another hint for it is Daenerys voyage into the Red Waste, which is what is left of the Qaathi kingdom of city-states, aside from Qarth. Now first notice that when she travels into this ancient kingdom, she does this as bald as Varys, and she wears the pelt of the leukistic white lion, slain in the Dothraki Sea by Drogo.

Her hair had burned away in Drogo’s pyre, so her handmaids garbed her in the skin of the hrakkar Drogo had slain, the white lion of the Dothraki sea. Its fearsome head made a hood to cover her naked scalp, its pelt a cloak that flowed across her shoulders and down her back. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

The white lion is an appropriate leukistic animal for Dany, as the mutation that causes lions to be white is recessive, just as the Valyrian features are recessive, in contrast to the proposed Dominant White of the Qaathi.

Following the comet, Dany’s khalasar ride into the Red Waste until they come across Vaes Tolorro, one of the Qaathi cities sacked by Dothraki. Its every wall and building is white as the moon, windowless, and it seems as if these people never knew color.

Dany was about to command them to make camp when her outriders came racing back at a gallop. “A city, Khaleesi,” they cried. “A city pale as the moon and lovely as a maid. An hour’s ride, no more.” […] When the city appeared before her, its walls and towers shimmering white behind a veil of heat, it looked so beautiful that Dany was certain it must be a mirage. […] How long the city had been deserted she could not know, but the white walls, so beautiful from afar, were cracked and crumbling when seen up close. Inside was a maze of narrow crooked alleys. The buildings pressed close, their facades blank, chalky, windowless. Everything was white, as if the people who lived here had known nothing of color. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

So, in a sense we go from a leukistic lion, to a leukistic city, ending with Dany meeting three (leukistic) Qartheen. The description of the city itself is as befitting of the Qartheen mentality as it is of Varys with his chalked or “powdered” hands and “facade”: crooked, nothing but a beautiful mirage in motivation, until you look closer and the deception cracks and crumbles.

Finally, there are complete leukistic spiders mentioned in the lore of Westeros: the legendary ice spiders.

The horn blew thrice long, three long blasts means Others. The white walkers of the wood, the cold shadows, the monsters of the tales that made him squeak and tremble as a boy, riding their giant ice-spiders, hungry for blood …  (aSoS, Samwell I)

“[…] Some stories speak of them riding the corpses of dead animals. Bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, it makes no matter, so long as the beast is dead. The one that killed Small Paul was riding a dead horse, so that part’s plainly true. Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don’t know what those are. […]” (aFfC, Samwell I)

The tales go on to say [the Others] rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead, resurrected to serve them, just as they resurrected dead men to fight on their behalf.  (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)

400px-Marc_Simonetti_Ice_Spider_OtherYou might suppose those spiders are wighted giant spiders covered in hoarfrost like the dead horses. But Old Nan, who knows more grains of truth than maesters would give credit, describes them as “pale white” and big. The illustration of the World Book by Marc Simonetti agrees with Old Nan’s description – spiders with actual white skin and hair and black eyes (not blue). “

[…] And the Others smelled the hot blood in [the Last Hero], and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—”(aGoT, Bran IV, Old Nan’s story)

If the Ice Spiders are actually living leukist spiders, then they are a metaphor for Varys, and not just a horror story detail that George put in the books for shuddering effect alone. No wonder Sam would not know what they are, because Sam explaining them would be breaking the 4th wall.

The Others generally do not ride “ice horses”, but wighted ones. The horses do not reflect the physical state of the Others, but “how they ride to power”: the animated dead are their armies. This metaphor can then be transferred to the pale white spiders: the Others ride to power because of Varys. If the ice spiders only serve as a metaphor, then we will never see actual ice spiders, just like we will never see spotted spiders of Sothoryos.

It is noteworthy that the ice spiders are only mentioned in relation to history. The metaphor thus is not about how Varys’s actions to plummet Westeros into war to install his self-chosen Aegon on the throne help the Others. If that were the case, then we also would have Others riding ice lions and ice mockingbirds or ice giants. Can we think of a past event in Varys’s life that might have helped the Others? Well, yes – decades ago, the sorcerer burned Varys’s parts for a demon or being in blue flames. And the eerily similar, but mundane scene of Dany charring a snake on a brazier and feeding it to her dragons in Qarth combined with her noticing how they are growing strongly suggests that is what the ritual accomplishes – it feeds whatever power or magic you give it to. Many have wondered and speculated whether the voice that Varys heard may have been related to the Others. The ice spiders being a metaphor for a leukistic Varys would be evidence for it.

All the leukist animals tell us something about Varys. So why not the actual leukistic spiders too?

  • The white hart is featured at a time when Varys appears to serve Robert Baratheon, a deer stag. On top of that Varys blames Ned Stark for Robert’s death, just as wolves are blamed for devouring the white hart that Robert was hunting.
  • A bald Dany wears the pelt of a white lion (a skinchanger metaphor) at a time Varys pretends to serve the Lannisters and Tyrion in particular. He skinchanged from a white hart into a white lion.
  • White ravens only carry the important messages.
  • White camel at Yunkai with a party trying to dissuade Dany from her conquering war path in Slaver’s Bay and just go to Westeros instead. It is likely a Qartheen trade gift to Yunkai, like Illyrio and Qarth both wish to gift Dany riches to convince her to sail West. Certainly at the time, Varys hoped for the same.
  • Spotted spiders in Selhorys weave their webs between trees, like Varys does between the great houses.
White Dwarf Elephant

In aDwD, Tyrion sees a white dwarf elephant in Selhorys, after he convinced Aegon to go West during a game of cyvasse and before Jorah abducts Tyrion at the brothel. He sees more of these in Volantis. Meanwhile Quentyn Martell observes Old Volantis is full of them.

A two-wheeled cart went rumbling past them, pulled by a white dwarf elephant.  (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

Farther on, they fell in behind a smaller elephant, white as old bone and pulling an ornate cart. “Is an oxcart an oxcart without an ox?” Tyrion asked his captor. When that sally got no response, he lapsed back into silence, contemplating the rolling rump of the white dwarf elephant ahead of them. Volantis was overrun with white dwarf elephants. As they drew closer to the Black Wall and the crowded districts near the Long Bridge, they saw a dozen of them. […] For half a heartbeat he thought he glimpsed Illyrio Mopatis, but it was only one of those white dwarf elephants passing the front door.  (aDwD, Tyrion VII)

Real world white elephants are not leukists, but albinos. This is the reason why I did not include it in the above list of leukist animals. Furthermore, while ice spiders, white ravens and white lions and camels are portrayed as large – as big as hounds, larger than normal black ravens and great, respectively – and spotted spiders must be large in order to make such great webs to deserve a mention in the world book about Sothoryos, the white elephants in the books are dwarf elephants. The repeated dwarf mention is thus a link to Tyrion. Other comparisons and mentions imply it is a relevant Tyrion symbol in relation to Illyrio and Old Volantis. So, I will save any meaningul exploration to them for an essay on either Illyrio or Tyrion.

You may argue that complete skin leukists would have to shun the sun. Windowless houses in Vaes Tolorro seem to agree with a lifestyle of avoiding sunlight. And white houses and walls reflect all light away from the house. So, why then do Qartheen children run around naked, and do other Qartheen line the streets and gather on balconies in clothing that leaves them half bare? This is not the type of behavior that fits someone who has no pigment cells to protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet light.

As she rode her silver into the city, small children rushed out to scatter flowers in her path. They wore golden sandals and bright paint, no more.

Notice how the children’s implied naked bodies are “painted”. Paint does not have to be just ornamental, but could act like a sunblock. And I argue that powder may serve Varys for the same purpose.

Then consider the architectural description of Qarth. First there are three city walls.

Three thick walls encircled Qarth, elaborately carved. The outer was red sandstone, thirty feet high and decorated with animals: […] The middle wall, forty feet high, was grey granite alive with scenes of war: […] The innermost wall was fifty feet of black marble, with carvings that made Dany blush until she told herself that she was being a fool. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Different types of material and color reflect and absorb different wavelengths of light as well as radiation that we cannot “see” but feel or be affected by, such as infrared (aka heat) and ultraviolet. Red sandstone reflects red wavelength light and infrared, grey granite reflects most light, while black marble absorbs all light. These walls do not solely function as triple protection against enemies and ornamentation, but are shields against sunlight and sun radiation. First heat is reflected, then the shorter wavelengths are reflected, and finally whatever wavelength manages to still pass is absorbed.

All the colors that had been missing from Vaes Tolorro had found their way to Qarth; buildings crowded about her fantastical as a fever dream in shades of rose, violet, and umber. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Buildings that crowd imply high buildings built close together. The streets would be dappled in shadow most of the day. Rose and violet serve as a shield against violet and ultraviolet light, while umber serves as another heat reflector.

Pyat Pree conducted her little khalasar down the center of a great arcade where the city’s ancient heroes stood thrice life-size on columns of white and green marble. They passed through a bazaar in a cavernous building whose latticework ceiling was home to a thousand gaily colored birds. Trees and flowers bloomed on the terraced walls above the stalls, while below it seemed as if everything the gods had put into the world was for sale.  (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Yes, they have roof gardens and squares with fountains, but these are the ornamentals where the crowds of Qarth do not linger or gather. They line up the narrow streets, buy and haggle in the cavernous bazaar, or gather in the central arcaded plaza. And they travel by palanquins, behind opaque curtains that effectively seal out the heat and sight of the world.

The drapes kept out the dust and heat of the streets, but they could not keep out disappointment. Dany climbed inside wearily, glad for the refuge from the sea of Qartheen eyes.[…] Reclining on cool satin cushions, Xaro Xhoan Daxos poured ruby-red wine into matched goblets of jade and gold, his hands sure and steady despite the sway of the palanquin. […] “Khaleesi,” Aggo called through the drapes as the palanquin jerked to a sudden halt. Dany rolled onto an elbow to lean out. They were on the fringes of the bazaar, the way ahead blocked by a solid wall of people. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

Xaro’s palace matches the description of an Italian palazzo – roomy, airy, wide, but in daylight shadow. Even the pool that Dany bathes in is not touched by sunlight.

She had not expected a palace larger than many a market town. […] Xaro swore that his home could comfortably house all of her people and their horses besides; indeed, it swallowed them. An entire wing was given over to her. She would have her own gardens, a marble bathing pool, a scrying tower and warlock’s maze. […] In her private chambers, the floors were green marble, the walls draped with colorful silk hangings that shimmered with every breath of air. […] When all the men had gone, her handmaids stripped off the travel-stained silks she wore, and Dany padded out to where the marble pool sat in the shade of a portico. The water was deliciously cool, and the pool was stocked with tiny golden fish that nibbled curiously at her skin and made her giggle. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Where Vaes Tolorro shows primitive architectural tactics to hide from the sun, Qarth made an architectural art of it to appear to live out in the open, a feast for eyes, but effectively living in cool shadow. Qarth is like an Italian city, light and airy, yet one is rarely exposed to the sun directly in the narrow shaded streets or beneath the vaulted arcades.

Now consider likewise how Varys traverses the city and keep.  When he is out in the streets, he tends to wear the disguise of a begging brother, with a hood or cowl. He travels in and out the red keep via underground passages. King’s Landing is not built to avoid sunlight, like Qarth. So, he must make due by operating beneath cloaks and shadowed, dark passages, or as a child in Pentos sleep by day in the sewers and only come out at night.

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Qartheen slaves

We could imagine how a Qartheen merchant might have anchored at Lys for trade, and have a night out in the red district, bed a bedslave and father Varys on her. But can Qartheen also end up as slaves? Well, yes. Amongst the 1000 Unsullied (eunuchs) that Daenerys inspects on the Plaza of Pride in Astapor, she sees Dothraki, Lhazarene, Summer Islanders, Ghiscari and pale Qartheen. And a Lyseni gets his nipple cut off.

More than half had the copper skins and almond eyes of Dothraki and Lhazerene, but she saw men of the Free Cities in the ranks as well, along with pale Qartheen, ebon-faced Summer Islanders, and others whose origins she could not guess. And some had skins of the same amber hue as Kraznys mo Nakloz, and the bristly red-black hair that marked the ancient folk of Ghis, who named themselves the harpy’s sons. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Of course, it should be noted that if Qartheen are indeed dominant white leukists, then they may have only gotten their appearance because of a trader fathering a child on a bedslave.

Historically, Qaathi were taken into slavery over the course of the last four centuries. Qarth is the last remaining city of the Qaathi civilisation that arose in the grasslands, far more north and now dominated by the Dothraki. The Qaathi were natives to the grasslands, much like the white lion is. They built towns, occasionally coming into contact and conflict with the Sarnori who built their kingdom around the Silver Sea. More often than not, the Qaathi lost the wars with Sarnori and migrated more south, building new city-states, including Qarth at the Jade Sea. But the southern soil turned to desert, the Red Waste, as they tried to gain a foothold there. The Dothraki mopped up the remainder in the Century of Blood (between 400 and 300 years ago) after the Doom.  Those who survived the Red Waste, were killed, driven off or sold into slavery by the Dothraki. Only Qarth with its triple wall survived and eventually flourished. Vaes Tolorro (“City of Bones”) where Dany shelters early in aCoK is one such sacked Qaathi city. Nearby Dany’s scouting bloodriders come across similarly sacked, but smaller cities, such as Vaes Orvik (“City of the Whip”), alluding to those Qaathi habitants having been whipped into enslavement.

And this is where it becomes very interesting. The Wiki cites GRRM’s A World of Ice and Fire app as a source for a Qaathi city once called Qolahn. The Dothraki renamed it Vaes Qosar, which means – and I kid you not – City of Spiders. While there are several references to spiders in the World Book, most refer to attributes or features. This one though is an origin reference. It is situated in the southern ranges of the Red Waste, north of Qarkash and north west of Qarth. If the Dothraki renamed it, because they conquered it, then we know what happened to the citizens of that city – they were sold into slavery. Does Varys’s ancestor originate from this Vaes Qosar?

WorldofIceandFire

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Sorrowful Man

When Varys murders Kevan Lannister he apologizes profusedly.

The eunuch set the crossbow down. “Ser Kevan. Forgive me if you can. I bear you no ill will. This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children. […] This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes … but you were threatening to undo all the queen’s good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule. […] Are you cold, my lord?” asked Varys. “Do forgive me. The Grand Maester befouled himself in dying, and the stink was so abominable that I thought I might choke. […] I am sorry.” Varys wrung his hands. “You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it.” (aDwD, Epilogue)

“Forgive me, this pains me, forgive me, I am sorry”- Varys sounds like a Sorrowful Man, the assassins in Qarth, who apologize to their victims before killing them.

“Suppose a Sorrowful Man came to my palace one night and killed you as you slept,” said Xaro. The Sorrowful Men were an ancient sacred guild of assassins, so named because they always whispered, “I am so sorry,” to their victims before they killed them. The Qartheen were nothing if not polite. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

While Varys is a sorrowful man when he kills his victim, I in no way try to make the case that Varys is of the guild of Sorrowful Men. I am merely pointing out the striking parallel. The Sorrowful Men and their politeness were born out of the Qartheen belief that this is the civilised way of killing someone. Whatever or whomever Varys is, he most certainly remains polite, empathic and civilised like a Qartheen, even when murdering Kevan Lannister.

In the last section “Now it Ends” of the chthonic cycle essay of the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I mentioned King Pentheus of Thebes who is thorn and shredded by the maenads while spying on them as they mistake him for a boar. Of relevance here is the meaning of the name Pentheus: “Man of Sorrows” or, well a “Sorrowful Man”. The Greek root is the word pénthos for grief, sorrow or mourning. And of course that is exactly the name for Illyrio’s city, Pentos. It is doubtful that George chose this name by coincidence, since this type of grief is caused by the loss of a loved one, which is exactly what Illyio reveals to Tyrion in aDwD. Relevant for this essay and the section, is that Varys spent most of his teen and young adult life in Pentos after escaping Myr, and it is in Pentos that Varys transforms from a common thief into the pure creature of a civilised spymaster who kills his targets politely and apologetically.

If a single tear had been rolling out Varys’s eye like Xaro Xhoan Daxos in aDwD’s epilogue as he speaks to Kevan, the picture of a Qartheen would be complete. And the whole of Varys’s enigmatic behavior, from inaction, betrayals, to helping, combined with his self-proclaimed excuses not to act against injustice or motivations to commit murder are very reminiscint of the same behavior of the Pureborn and Xaro Xhoan Daxos that puzzles Dany so during her stay in Qarth, just as Varys’s behavior and motives puzzle us, the readers. Xaro certainly can do the tear mummery to perfection, so much that George eventually uses the phrase mummer’s tears, which should bring Varys to mind.

The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man.[…] A single perfect tear ran down the cheek of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The master of the Indigo Star was Qartheen, so he wept copiously when asked about Astapor. “The city bleeds. Dead men rot unburied in the streets, each pyramid is an armed camp, and the markets have neither food nor slaves for sale. And the poor children! King Cleaver’s thugs have seized every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied for the trade, though it will be years before they are trained.”  (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

“Shall I ask again?” wondered Xaro. “No, I know that smile. It is a cruel queen who dices with men’s hearts. Humble merchants like myself are no more than stones beneath your jeweled sandals.” A single tear ran slowly down his pale white cheek.
Dany knew him too well to be moved. Qartheen men could weep at will. “Oh, stop that.” […] I know [an enemy] stands before me now, weeping mummer’s tears. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Xaro is not the sole Qartheen weeping tears in front of Dany. The master of the ship Indigo Star weeps as well as he relates what is happening in Astapor. Notice how he laments the “poor children”, like Varys laments little Rhaenys, Robert’s bastard children murdered by the Gold Cloaks, or manipulates Ned Stark over Sansa, or tells Kevan he does it “for the children”.

While Varys does not cry perfect single tears, he washes his hands (from lies and manipulation), and feigns to be close to tears often, and always in relation to the “children”. Of course in feudal Westeros with its macho culture, an actual weeping eunuch would serve his mummer’s purpose less than a near-weeping man.

Rhaenys was a child too. Prince Rhaegar’s daughter. A precious little thing, younger than your girls. She had a small black kitten she called Balerion, did you know? I always wondered what happened to him. Rhaenys liked to pretend he was the true Balerion, the Black Dread of old, but I imagine the Lannisters taught her the difference between a kitten and a dragon quick enough, the day they broke down her door.” Varys gave a long weary sigh, the sigh of a man who carried all the sadness of the world in a sack upon his shoulders. “The High Septon once told me that as we sin, so do we suffer. If that’s true, Lord Eddard, tell me … why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones? Ponder it, if you would, while you wait upon the queen. And spare a thought for this as well: The next visitor who calls on you could bring you bread and cheese and the milk of the poppy for your pain … or he could bring you Sansa’s head. The choice, my dear lord Hand, is entirely yours.” (aGoT, Eddard XV)

The poor child,” murmured Varys. “A love so true and innocent, Your Grace, it would be cruel to deny it … and yet, what can we do? Her father stands condemned.” His soft hands washed each other in a gesture of helpless distress. (aGoT, Sansa IV)

“Your own sweet sister,” Varys said, so grief-stricken he looked close to tears. “It is a hard thing to tell a man, my lord. I was fearful how you might take it. Can you forgive me?” (aCoK, Tyrion II, in response to Varys knowing that Cersei gave Slynt the order to kill Robert’s bastards)

“Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad.” Varys sounded close to tears. (aSoS, Tyrion III)

Aside from pretending to be close to tears, Varys’s birth connection to Lys implies the Tears of Lys, a poison that Varys claims killed Jon Arryn, but he himself proposes as murder weapon to kill Daenerys during the council meeting in aGoT.

Kinder,” Varys said. “Oh, well and truly spoken, Grand Maester. It is so true. Should the gods in their caprice grant Daenerys Targaryen a son, the realm must bleed.” […] “By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death to draw a blade. If I told you what the Dothraki would do to the poor man who used one on a khaleesi, none of you would sleep tonight.” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now, poison … the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.”(aGoT, Eddard VIII)

All of these tears are “fake tears” and “mummer’s tears”. In fact, not only are the tears of Lys false tears, Varys is performing a mummery in that small council meeting. Varys has no intention to have Dany die: with the same karavan bringing the poisonor also arrives a letter for Jorah to stop and reveal the plot. Its sole intent is to provoke Drogo into action. And it would have worked if Drogo had not gotten himself killed by putting mud on a large surface wound.

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Xaro Xhoan Daxos

Speaking of Xaro, …

The bald man with the jewels in his nose answered in the Valyrian of the Free Cities, “I am Xaro Xhoan Daxos of the Thirteen, a merchant prince of Qarth.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Xaro was a languid, elegant man with a bald head and a great beak of a nose crusted with rubies, opals, and flakes of jade. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The jewelry in his beaked nose I will leave for the next essay, but here I want to focus on his baldness. Graned, many characters are bald in this series, and not every balding man is a parallel, stand-in or clue to Varys: Tywin, Stannis, Old Bear Jeor Mormont, his son Jorah Mormont, Pycelle, Aemon Targaryen, many and more. Most of these characters are balding as a result of age or only partially bald and they have otherwise nothing else in common with Varys. But some share more attributes or similarities with Varys other than baldness, and therefore can be considered to be a possible parallel or stand-in.

  • Strong Belwas: bald, beardless, big, eunuch, freed slave.
  • Aegon V (aka Egg): hairless as an egg, his brother Aerion Brightflame threatened to castrate Egg and held a knife to his male parts, Aegon V aimed to reduce the power of the lords of Great House in favor of an absolute monarchy ruling for the common folk, and thus a breakdown of feudal society.
  • Hairless Dany: like Egg, who has parallels with Varys.
    • She wears the skin of the leukistic white lion.
    • Her charring a chopped up snake on a brazier and feeding it to magical creatures, while wearing purple silk.
    • Chooses her dragon over her achieved peace and compromize in Mereen, disappears and chooses “fire and blood” in the grasslands, around the time that Varys commits to Aegon (the mummer’s dragon).

So, let us look at the parallels between Xaro and Varys, aside from baldness.

  • Xaro and Varys speak alike, with self pity and empathy, yet plot ruthlessly.
  • Neither are “pureborn”, yet both are pale as milk.
  • Both men dislike magic and advize Dany and Tyrion respectively against using it.
  • Neither Varys nor Xaro are interested in women for the first is a eunuch and the second is homosexual.

Xaro’s flowery protestations of passion amused her, but his manner was at odds with his words. While Ser Jorah had scarcely been able to keep his eyes from her bare breast when he’d helped her into the palanquin, Xaro hardly deigned to notice it, even in these close confines. And she had seen the beautiful boys who surrounded the merchant prince, flitting through his palace halls in wisps of silk. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

In [Xaro’s] honor Daenerys had donned a Qartheen gown, a sheer confection of violet samite cut so as to leave her left breast bare. Her silver-gold hair brushed lightly over her shoulder, falling almost to her nipple. Half the men in the hall had stolen glances at her, but not Xaro. It was the same in Qarth. She could not sway the merchant prince that way. […] “I may be a young girl, but I am not so foolish as to wed a man who finds a fruit platter more enticing than my breast. I saw which dancers you were watching.”
Xaro wiped away his tear. “The same ones Your Grace was following, I believe. You see, we are alike. […]” (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Varys cites a personal reason to hate and fight Stannis: Stannis consorts with a sorceress and meddles in magic. Meanwhile Xaro time and time again attempts to dissuade Dany from seeking council with the Undying and expresses distrust and dislike of their warlocks, like Pyat Pree.

[…] since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

“The young queen is wise beyond her years,” Xaro Xhoan Daxos murmured down at her from his high saddle. “There is a saying in Qarth. A warlock’s house is built of bones and lies.” […] “Once they were mighty,” Xaro agreed, “but now they are as ludicrous as those feeble old soldiers who boast of their prowess long after strength and skill have left them. They read their crumbling scrolls, drink shade-of-the-evening until their lips turn blue, and hint of dread powers, but they are hollow husks compared to those who went before. Pyat Pree’s gifts will turn to dust in your hands, I warn you.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The merchant prince sat up sharply. “Pyat Pree has blue lips, and it is truly said that blue lips speak only lies. Heed the wisdom of one who loves you. Warlocks are bitter creatures who eat dust and drink of shadows. They will give you naught. They have naught to give.” (aCoK, Daenerys III)

And of course, like Varys, Xaro is not really on Dany’s side. His sole aim to pretend to be her friend and acting like a suitor is because he wants a dragon. One of the reasons that Illyrio and Varys would want Dany to marry Aegon are her dragons. Dragons are a military power as much as a horde of Dothraki are.

A last visual parallel between Xaro and Varys can be found in aDwD, when Xaro is described in similar clothing than Varys’ introduction to the reader.

The pale, lean, hawk-faced man who shared her high table was resplendent in robes of maroon silk and cloth-of-gold, his bald head shining in the torchlight as he devoured a fig with small, precise, elegant bites. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Notice how George puts the spotlight, euhm torchlight, onto Xaro’s bald head.

The differences matter just as much as the anologies. Instead of purple silk “robes” in the above quote, we have maroon – dark, brown red. I will go into the dye use of maroon versus purple in the Part II Color Purple essay. Another, glaring difference is that while Varys is plump, Xaro is slender and lean. This is due to Varys being a eunuch, while Xaro is not.

“The slaves in the spiked bronze hats?” Dany had seen Unsullied guards in the Free Cities, posted at the gates of magisters, archons, and dynasts. “Why should I want Unsullied? They don’t even ride horses, and most of them are fat.”
“The Unsullied you may have seen in Pentos and Myr were household guards. That’s soft service, and eunuchs tend to plumpness in any case. Food is the only vice allowed them.[…]” (aSoS, Daenerys I)

As mentioned in the Tall Men section of the Sarnori, having been castrated, Varys has a reduced production of the hormone testosterone. While in children it promotes protein synthesis and thus growth, in adults testosterone boosts the build-up of muscle, bone-mass and body hair. Men producing higher levels of testosterone grow taller and tend to make muscle mass, and thus be lean and slender. They also grow more cartilege on the nose bridge during puberty, and their previous small, cute noses can grow into a big hawk nose. Men’s noses are bigger than women and have more variations in profile because of this. This is the basic idea behind a “man with a big nose has a big penis”. And thus, Xaro is the vision of what a non-castrated Varys would look like basically. If Varys had not been castrated, he would be lean, slender, tall, sexually active and have a masculine, noteworthy nose. And it is with this non-castrated version of Varys that I rest my case on the numerous hints of Varys having ties to Qarth, other than the place where Illyrio acquires silks for Varys.

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Grasslands

Grassroot civilizations

The Grasslands is the area that is portrayed as the area where civilzation was born, of not just one people, but many.

Beyond the Forest of Qohor, Essos opens up upon a vast expanse of windswept plains, gentle rolling hills, fertile river valleys, great blue lakes, and endless steppes where the grass grows as high as a horse’s head. […] It was here amidst these grasses that civilization was born in the Dawn Age. Ten thousand years ago or more, when Westeros was yet a howling wilderness inhabited only by the giants and children of the forest, the first true towns arose beside the banks of the river Sarne and beside the myriad vassal streams that fed her on her meandering course northward to the Shivering Sea. The histories of those days are lost to us, sad to say, for the kingdoms of the grass came and went in large measure before the race of man became literate. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

Where our primate ancestors lived in the trees of the forests of fruit, it was the move into the plains and steppes that forced primates to walk on their hind legs as well as make tools to defend one self against predators. The latter pushed the evolution of the brain capacity in overdrive, leading to invention after invention. And thus the plains and steppes that lacked natural shelters were the regions where the first settlements were built by humans, even if they were hunter gatherers, such as the huts built with mammoth bones in the Ukraine during the Upper Paleolithic (15000 years ago).

The area of the Grasslands on Planetos seems to have functioned as a similar type of accelerator for cultures to develop. Not only is it the origin region of the Sarnori and the Qaathi, but the maesters also speculate that the First Men and Andals may have originated from this region before they migrated westward.

Some maesters believe that the First Men originated here before beginning the long westward migration that took them across the Arm of Dorne to Westeros. The Andals, too, may have arisen in the fertile fields south of the Silver Sea. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

The Qartheen claim that civilisation began with them. Meanwhile, the Sarnori claim descent of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands around the Silver Sea at the heart of the grasslands from a floating palace making its way around the shores. The Fisher Queens were sought out as wise women by kings and lords of other people for counsel.

The Fisher Queens were wise and benevolent and favored of the gods, we are told, and kings and lords and wise men sought the floating palace for their counsel. Beyond their domains, however, other peoples rose and fell and fought, struggling for a place in the sun. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

The son of the last Fisher Queen, Huzhor Amai, wed a woman of each of the three people – the Zoqora, Gipps and Cymmeri – surrounding the Silver Sea and bound them to him to become the Sarnori.

In the Sarnori section, I mentioned how their riders wore spider silk, but also stipulated that it is very unlikely that Varys actually has a Sarnori origin. Meanwhile, the literary hints and clues heavily favor a Qaathi origin for Varys instead. Aside from both people being “tall men”, they share the Grasslands as origin region where both initially established their kingdoms and fought each other, before the Dothraki conquered the Grasslands. The Qaathi migrated more south, until they reached the southern seas and established Qarth. Both people were largely conquered and destroyed by the Dothraki in the same Century of Blood, until each people only had one city left. And it is in this last remaining bastion that their fates reversed: Saath is a pitiful city depending on the generosity and help of Ib and Lothar, while Qarth is a rich jewel of a city along the Jade Sea. Hence, the spider-silk reference with the Sarnori does not imply a literal Sarnori origin for Varys, but is a Grassroot clue to the region of origin of the Qartheen civilisation with multiple ties to Varys.

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Lyber and the Spider Goddess

It is in this cradle of civilisations that we come across another spider reference other than spider silk: the lost city Lyber of an unnamed culture who revered a spider goddess.

We hear as well of the lost city Lyber, where acolytes of a spider goddess and a serpent god fought an endless, bloody war. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

This is the closest allusion to the Greek Arachne, who is often portrayed as a goddess in fantasy games. It makes sense to put such a reverence in the region from which civilisation originated, since “weaving” (the spider’s activity) is considered to be one of those fundamental cultural hallmark activities of a civilisation. If farming and husbandry renders people independent from gathering and hunting their food, the ability to weave ends the need to hunt furs and skins for clothing. The more cultures separate themselves of natural habitat, the more civilised they will claim themselves to be. Both Athena and her weaving rival Arachne represented this cultural milestone for the Greeks.

Arachne is not the sole ‘spider goddess’ in ancient civilisations. Near Mexico City thousands of tourists visit the mighty pre-Colombian site of Teotihuacan, known for its multiple pyramid complexes, with the moon and sun pyramids as the largest ones. Another famous temple there, the third largest pyramid, is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Though the origin of the feathered serpent likely comes from the older Olmec culture, the Teotihuacan temple (150-200 AD) has the earliest classic depictions of the feathered serpent as we see in later cities across all of Meso-America. Because it became such a widespread god, known as Quetzalcoatl with the Aztecs and Kukulcan with the Yucatec Mayans, most people assume that he was the primary deity of Teotihuacan.

He was not. The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan was the primary deity (see top image of this essay). She is depicted on murals in the living quarters of the highest status people, but also featured in the Temple of the Jaguars, Temple of Agriculture, on pottery and even the back of mirrors, and there is a statue of her that once stood at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon. She simply is not as infamous with us modern people, because she was not as popular or widespread after Teotihuacan’s downfall in the 6th century.

Water flows from her hands. She wears a headdress with an owl mask, a nose pendant with three to five spider fangs and her retinue in the tree growing behind or above hers are little birds, spiders and butterflies. Thsoe should ring a bell when it comes to Varys who uses little birds for spies, is nicknamed the spider, and both spiders and butterflies weave silk.

The archeologist Karl Taube dubbed her the “Teotihuacan Spider Woman”. Especially spiders are often associated with her: they scurry in the background, over her dress, or if she holds a shield a spider-web is depicted on them. Since both the spider and owl were regarded as creatures of the darkness, she was most likely a chthonic underworld goddess, who simultaneously lies at the base of creation and civilisation, but also war. While there are later war-goddess derivates from her such as the Aztec Cihuacoatl, a major difference between them is that while he Aztecs focus on military glory to hold off an apocalypse, the Teotihuacan depictions give this ‘paradise on earth’  feel.

Peculiar is how both Lyber and Teotihuacan share a bloody feud between a spider goddess and a serpent god. Rich dwellings built near a temple of a certain deity are believed to have been occupied by powerful families or functionaries who held a dual spiritual and political role of importance in Teotihuacan. This is true for both the Great Goddess and Quetzalcoatl.

Even though a city-state, Teotihuacan exerted military control as far as the Mayan Peten region, such as Tikal (Guatemala) and Copan (Honduras). According to an inscription in a monument in Tikal, Spearthrower Owl ascended the throne of an unspecified polity in 374 AD, but presumably Teotihuacan. Notice how this king of Teotihuacan associates himself with the owl, while the Great Goddess has an owl mask in her headdress. Then in 378 AD a military powerful figure called Fire is Born arrives in the Peten area, in Teotihuacan dress, conquers Tikal, killing the king of Tikal. He is believed to have been Spearthrower Owl’s general. In other words, Fire is Born and Teotihuacan committed a military coup in Tikal. And in 379 AD the son of Spearthrower Owl, Curled Nose, ascended the throne of Tikal, while Fire is Born remained the military overlord over the Mayan region. The interesting thing is that the overthrown family who was exiled from Tikal were referred to as the Feathered-Serpent people. After the coup, the Tikalese temple of the Feathered Serpent was burned, its sculptures torn down and a platform was built in front of it to hide its facade. More, around the same time, in the 4th century AD, a platform was also built in front of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan to obscure it from view from the main road as well. So, there was a bloody feud between those who affiliated themselves with the serpent god and those who affiliated with the great goddess, not just in Teotihuacan, but extending as far as Guatemala and Honduras.

It was long believed that Teotihuacan’s downfall was brought on by foreign enemies during a period of drought in the 6th century. Evidence though has shown that while dwellings of the elite and temples were burned and destroyed, no violence was done to the dwellings of the lower classes, suggesting that an internal uprising of the middle class and commoners (a revolution) caused the collapse of Teotihuacan, once the sixth largest city of its era across the globe with its 125,000 citizens. Spider Woman was forgotten and lost the feud of cultural legacy and focus. Instead of striving to create a utopia the apocalyptic war view of domination won out. And the iconographic win of the Feathered Serpent over the Great Goddess after Teotihuacan’s downfall may very well have served as an inspiration for George for Lyber and its bloody feud.

The name Teotihuacan comes to us from the Aztecs who occupied the highlands of central Mexico 1000 years later and is Nahuatl for ‘birthplace of the gods’. We do not know what the citizens called their own city, only that their contemporary Mayans called it ‘place of reeds’, which is likely as generic as our present day ‘The City’ with everyone understanding what city the person refers to in that country: for example New York in the States, Antwerp in Belgium.

We have something similar for Lyber. As it is a lost city and civilisation it is unclear who its citizens were or what they called their city themselves, exactly like Teotihuacan. George likely derived the name Lyber from the Latin “Liber” which means “free” or “the free one”. What are city-states called in Essos even now? Free Cities. So, linguistically the name Lyber suggests the name originates from a much later, possibly Valyrian, era where cities not under direct control of Valyrians were generically called free cities. As they stumbled upon the ruins of a lost, but once huge city with temples depicting  a spider goddess and a serpent god and evidence of internal strife, the discoverers simply called it Lyber as they would call any city-state that was independent of Valyrian rule.

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Asshai by the Shadow

Red Silk for a Black Cloak

We have one book reference that connects silk to Asshai – namely Mance Rayder’s story of the red silken inner lining of his cloak that prompted him to desert the Night’s Watch.

“One day on a ranging we brought down a fine big elk. We were skinning it when the smell of blood drew a shadow-cat out of its lair. I drove it off, but not before it shredded my cloak to ribbons. […]” [The King-Beyond-the-Wall] chuckled. “It shredded my arm and back as well, and I bled worse than the elk. My brothers feared I might die before they got me back to Maester Mullin at the Shadow Tower, so they carried me to a wildling village where we knew an old wisewoman did some healing. She was dead, as it happened, but her daughter saw to me. Cleaned my wounds, sewed me up, and fed me porridge and potions until I was strong enough to ride again. And she sewed up the rents in my cloak as well, with some scarlet silk from Asshai that her grandmother had pulled from the wreck of a cog washed up on the Frozen Shore. It was the greatest treasure she had, and her gift to me.” He swept the cloak back over his shoulders. “But at the Shadow Tower, I was given a new wool cloak from stores, black and black, and trimmed with black, to go with my black breeches and black boots, my black doublet and black mail. The new cloak had no frays nor rips nor tears . . . and most of all, no red. The men of the Night’s Watch dressed in black, Ser Denys Mallister reminded me sternly, as if I had forgotten. My old cloak was fit for burning now, he said. I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.” He closed the clasp and sat back down again. (aSoS, Jon I)

We can almost certainly dismiss Varys as having an Asshai origin – no children are born there. The citizens are all immigrants from somewhere else, so to speak. And while Mance Rayder’s cloak of black with red silk calls forth the colors of House Targaryen, as did the coalblack and bloodred horses of the Sarnori, I would also remind the reader that the color red is associated to false trails in the books. Red silk from Asshai is a false origin lead, though it does seem to alter a person’s mind on what sort of life they will live drastically, and thus destiny.

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Asshai Citizens

Even if Asshai silk is a false lead for Varys’s ancestry, my previous speculation about leukism and architectural peculiarities about Vaes Tolorro and Qarth to avoid sunlight may have made you wonder, “What about people of Asshai?” There are Asshai citizens, and Asshai shadowbinders, but not Asshai people. That is perhaps the metaphorical reason why nobody rides horses in Asshai!

An account by Archmaester Marwyn confirms reports that no man rides in Asshai, be he warrior, merchant, or prince. There are no horses in Asshai, no elephants, no mules, no donkeys, no zorses, no camels, no dogs. Such beasts, when brought there by ship, soon die. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

What physical skin issues would lead to people to settle in Asshai in the first place, even though it is so inhospitable to life? Which real world disorder has symptomes and treatments that could be an inspiration for both fire and blood magic, when Asshai was built in an area that is hardly ever touched by direct sunlight?

Travelers tell us that the city is built entirely of black stone: halls, hovels, temples, palaces, streets, walls, bazaars, all. Some say as well that the stone of Asshai has a greasy, unpleasant feel to it, that it seems to drink the light, dimming tapers and torches and hearth fires alike. The nights are very black in Asshai, all agree, and even the brightest days of summer are somehow grey and gloomy. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

Even at the brightest day there is no sun at Asshai, but the sky is grey and gloomy, whether from mist or thick packs of ever present clouds. It is an ideal location for people who wish to avoid the sunlight. The black stone drinks and absorbs the sun, daylight and artificial light. One must be truly motivated to settle here or establish a colony to overcome the drawback of its inhospitability to life: animals die, no ability to grow food. Planetos tends to deal with certain diseases by creating a colony. For example, Chroyane serves as a colony for those with Grey Scale from all over the world and food is delivered to them. Where Chroyane’s isolated colony serves to protect the general populace of any city from contracting Grey Scale, with Asshai it should be a haven protecting those who would suffer horribly in any other parts of the world with normal ligth levels.

Only those people who are extremely light sensitive, even from artificial light would originally see Asshai as a salvation for them. This goes beyond leukism and albinism, though such people might appreciate a few years out of the sun. An extreme form of light sensitivity is associated with Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) or Protoporphyria or other variants of chronic porphyria disorders. It is a metabolism disorder caused by the deficiency of an enzyme in the blood that forms haeme of haemoglobin. As a result a surplus of unbound protoporphyrin and iron circulates through the body, including the skin. Unbound, the first is sensitive to UV-B light (also emitted by artificial or indirect light) and exposure to light sets of a chain reaction of a burning sensation (the nerves) as if being on fire, as well as the formation of lesions and blisters similar to 2nd degree burns.

Before arriving in Asshai, people may  have developed scar tissue on any skin exposed to light, including the face. They would wear veils and masks, both to protect their faces from light as well as hide the lesions and scars.

Those who walk the streets of Asshai are masked and veiled, and have a furtive air about them. Oft as not, they walk alone, or ride in palanquins of ebony and iron, hidden behind dark curtains and born through the dark streets upon the backs of slaves. […] Most sinister of all the sorcerers of Asshai are the shadowbinders, whose lacquered masks hide their faces from the eyes of gods and men. (tWoIaF, The Bones and Beyond – Asshai by the Shadow)

Curious is that maester Yandel claims in the World Book that shadowbinders typically wear lacquered masks. Quaithe of Qarth wears one and is a shadowbinder. But the Red Witch Melisandre “of Asshai” is also a shadowbinder and wears no mask, only a glamor (as of yet unconfirmed in the books, but strongly implied). Why not? Well, Melisandre is described as having red eyes, which is a strong indicator that she has at the very least occular albinism. Her albinism would promote her to seek shelter from the sun, but her skin would not blister or form lesions because of light. She may hide her true age, but there is no need to protect her face from any type of light with a mask.

Finally, shadowbinding is closely tied to blood magic. One of the chronic variants of porphyria is treated by bloodlettings, in order to reduce the surplus of iron. The need for the bloodlettings to alleviate symptoms, even in Asshai, would promote the discovery and experimenting with blood magic in combination with shadow magic.

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From a Colony to a Port

Unfortunately, exactly because of the low levels of light, nothing grows at Asshai but ghost grass and for some reason no animal survives for long. Colonies like these require food deliveries. Chroyane shows that food deliveries can be erratic, however, if they solely depend on the will and humane heart of a ship’s captain or a city’s triarch.

“Hatred does not stir the stone men half so much as hunger.” Haldon Halfmaester had wrapped a yellow scarf around his mouth and nose, muffling his voice. “Nothing any sane man would want to eat grows in these fogs. Thrice each year the triarchs of Volantis send a galley upriver with provisions, but the mercy ships are oft late and sometimes bring more mouths than food.”(aDwD, Tyrion V)

If a colony has something to sell that other people may want then people happily sail to the end of the seas for it. Dragonstone, amber and gold from the mountain range of the Shadow Lands serve excellently, as does practicing of magic.

No children are born here, and thus its populace is entirely dependent on settlers, who have no interest in having a family or farm. Despite it being a large city, the populace is small.

Asshai is a large city, sprawling out for leagues on both banks of the black river Ash. Behind its enormous land walls is ground enough for Volantis, Qarth, and King’s Landing to stand side by side and still have room for Oldtown. […] Yet the population of Asshai is no greater than that of a good-sized market town. By night the streets are deserted, and only one building in ten shows a light. Even at the height of day, there are no crowds to be seen, no tradesmen shouting their wares in noisy markets, no women gossiping at a well. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

Its populace cannot really grow, but it has managed to spark enough interest for individuals of all cultures to settle there temporarily. The safety from sunlight would be a draw for amenalistic albinos and leukists, such as Melisandre. The uncensured teaching of magic without restrictions would draw temporary settlers of people who have no light sensitivity issues themselves. So, one can see how Asshai therefore censures no magical practice and became an attractive colony for people who do not suffer from this allergy to light.

We have met quite a few characters who were trained in Asshai:

  • Mirri Maz Dur of the Lazarene who attempted to save Drogo with a blood magic ritual.
  • Melisandre who was taught shadowbinding, knows the tongue of Asshai and has read the prophecy of Azor Ahai returned there.
  • Quaithe of Qarth, a shadowbinder with lacquered mask, who warns Dany in Qarth and via glass candles (presumed) in Mereen, and who attempts to guide Dany to go to Asshai to learn the “truth”.
  • Maester Marwyn who is one of the few maesters who believes in magic and is skeptical of the anti-magic faction amognst the maesters.

Would it be so farfetched to expect Varys’s sorcerer who cut him stem and root as a child to have studied at Asshai as well? If so, then he “created” what Varys became: plucked him from his destiny with the mummers, made a eunuch of him, let him go to die or survive in the streets of Myr and form a deep hatred against magic, and ultimately the Spider.

Asshai has some type of library of old lore and prophecies. Since people cannot grow anything there and the colonists originally would have risen by people who require to avoid light or remain inside, it is not illogical that with too much time on their hands they wrote and amassed lore that came with the trade winds. If Varys’s sorcerer indeed tried to raise or empower the Others, then Asshai is the most likely place he would have learned much and more about the Long Night, aside from the Citadel of the maesters, the library of Winterfell and Castle Black. Their rolls may even contain references to the infamous ice spiders.

Some speculate that the sorcerer recognized Valyrian traits in Varys when he was with his mummer’s troupe in Myr and therefore performed the castration ritual. However, I suspect it was his paleness that would have caught the sorcerer’s attention.

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Summary and Conclusion (tltr)

In order to verify Varys’s origin it is near impossible to use his physical features. At best we can establish that he has a round face, either because of his plumpness or ethnicity. Using the logic of Sherlock Holmes in aDwD’s epilogue we have a strong indication that Varys has a very pale complexion beneath his powder. He is of average height, but his castration and life as street urchin in his youth may have hampered his growth. We do not know his eye-color, but the lack of remarks on this from POVs indicates they are not of an exceptional or remarkable color. Since he is bald, his hair could have any color.

Our stop-over at Naath taught us that Lys has a pillow house famous for its Naathi bedslaves there and that they  make the best, obedient slaves. We can observe that Varys behaves servile and obediently. On top of that he is extremely sensitive about blood. If the training of Unsullied can turn Naathi boys into men who kill puppies and newborn babies, then Varys’s life experiences can turn him into a man who is willing to murder for his goal. There are several parallels between Unsullied and Varys as well as reverse parallels, but the most noteworthy is the burning of their penis and testicles and thereby sacrifice potential descendants to a demon or god(dess) or magic that indicates this ritual empowers the target power. We even have this parallel when Dany chops up a snake and charrs the pieces on a brazier for her dragons in Qarth.

Traveling to the Grasslands we come across three remarkable spider references:

  • Sarnori riders wore spider-silk.
  • The rivaling kingdom of the Qaathi was pushed southward out of the Grasslands by the Sarnori into the region that became a Red Waste, with only Qarth still standing and even flurishing at the Jade Sea. One of the ruined Qaathi cities was nicknamed “City of Spiders” by the Dothraki.
  • Somewhere in the Grasslands there once was a city-state, now known as Lyber, where a Spider Goddess was revered, but also a Serpent God. The accolytes of these gods held an internal bloody feud that would lie at the basis of the collapse of this lost city. Inspiration for this Lyber’s history is likely real world Meso-American Teotihuacan where political followers of the Great Goddess (who is very much a Spider Woman) and the Feathred Serpent were military rivals at some point. The collapse of that city-state is believed to have been internal revolution from the common class against the elite.

Having three spider references that all relate to origin in an area where several people claim to have invented civilisation is what I consider a jackpot (you need more for a bingo). Spider-silk leads us to the Grasslands where a Spider Goddess was revered by unknown people. The City of Spiders is the strongest geographical indication that part of Varys’s ancestry is Qaathi, or Milk Men, as tall as Sarnori, but pale as milk.

Since George features several leukistic animals in the books, for which we can easily find a link to Varys, I argue that George may actually have made a people in Essos leukists like True White Horses, who carry a Dominant White Gene. Leukism does not affect the color of eyes as albinism would. Circumstantial evidence points to Qaathi and their surviving Qartheen being such leukists. While initially they made cities to hide from the sun, Qarth is a wonder of architecture where people can actually go about half naked in the city without ever fearing the sun, as all important meeting places, markets and streets would be in the shadow most of the day. As a Dominant White gene this form of leukism would mask any other ethnicity mixed into a Qartheen’s ancestry that could otherwise be determined by skin tone. Hence the elite of royal descendance try to distance themselves from the other Qartheen by their title as “Pureborn”, as there would be no other way to discern ethnic purity.

Varys has quite striking parallels with Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Any difference in appearance (nose, weight, height) is due to Varys’s castration. Like Qartheen he prides himself on being polite and civilised, be at the brink of mummer’s tears over the poor children, but is in fact far more ruthless. He murders Kevan much like  an apologetic Sorrowful Man. Not so incidentally, Pentos is Greek for “man of sorrows” or “sorrowful man” and is the city where Varys transformed himself from the prince of thieves hiding from slavers into the spymaster Spider.

Two spider references indicate that Varys himself is a leukist: the piebald Spotted Spiders of Sothyros and the infamous Ice Spiders of the Others. If this interpretation of leukism hints are correct, then the Ice Spiders serve as a metaphor how Varys’s ritual castration and burning of his private parts may have helped the Others. The leukism would be the main reason that Varys wears powder – it primary serves as a sunblock and secondary makes people assume his palenessis is due to powder.

So, I propose that Varys has Qaathi ancestry, either because his grandfather or father was a Qartheen merchant who bedded a woman at Lys, or because they were taken into slavery by the Dothraki. Just like Xaro he is not “pureborn” but instead an ethnic mixture. We cannot exclude him from having Naathi ancestry, because of the leukism.

Beyond this I clarified albinism and how Valyrian traits, the Daynes, Hightowers appear to be independent fantasy mutation types of these. Genetic drift with island populations can explain how such a recessive genotype can become a regular reappearing phenotype. In discussions many fail to account for the various hypomelanistic forms of albinism nor recognize that the argument about acuity is pointless when even an amenalistic albino like Bloodraven can shoot arrows with the sight of a hawk.

In the sidenotes I pointed out that the brindled half-men of Sothoryos are a hint for Tyrion being a chimera twin and mentioned that the many appearances of white dwarf elephants in aDwD tie Tyrion to recessive albinism.

I also propose Asshai was sought out as a refuge colony by people suffering from porphyria (allergy to light). Bloodlettings to alleviate symptoms in that area would have led to the discovery of using blood magic to shadowbind, thereby attracting non sufferers to experiment and learn there. This real world disease would explain the wearing of veils and masks even in an area where the sky is most ofthe time overcast. While Varys certainly could not have an Asshai origin through ancestry, it is not unlikely that the sorcerer who maimed him was trained there in blood magic. His research there about the long night might have prompted the sorcerer to find a perfect victim to empower the Others, thereby setting Varys on his Spider path.

The red thread between Unsullied, Varys, Qarth and Lys is the concept of purity. Kraznys mo Nakloz refers to full castrates as the purest creatures. In Qarth the descendants from Qartheen kings call themselves Pureborn. And in Lys the noble families are invested in pure Valyrian blood. Varys would not be regarded as pure blooded by Lyseni or Qartheen Pureborn. He however evolved into a “puremade” creature, the Spider, who may lurk in the dark, and disguise himself behind layers of ambiguity, but will neither rape nor plunder.

The dominant white leukism could potentially explain Varys’s background. Let’s say that hypothetically a Naathi bedslave slept with a Qartheen merchant. Lyseni aim to breed slaves, especially bedslaves, for beauty. The Lyseni owner might have expected a beautiful ethnic mixture, but to his or her horror instead the child was as pale as his Qartheen father, proving its dominancy over dusky skin. Such a dominant gene could not be tolerated to breed on Lys and thus was sold to a traveling mummer’s troupe. The sorcerer selected Varys for the same reasons – pale as milk skin and nobody would care if the boy would lose his ability to breed. This is of course a pure speculative scenario. We could add even more mixtures in Varys’s ancestry, including Valyrian, but ultimately the Qartheen and leukistic link is the likeliest reason he was sold to serve as a slave away from Lys and why the sorcerer noticed him over any other boy (at least this far west in Essos).

Despite the fact that the link to Qarth is so strong for Varys, I do think that George intends him to be a mixture of many and more people and keep his origin hidden behind layers of ambiguity and disguises, including genetic disguises such as leukism. Ultimately itis this that makes Varys someone “of the people”. It is why the Spider is so strongly linked to the the Grasslands, which is portrayed as a corridor and hotbed of several people that built and destroyed civilisations, era after era.

Qarth serves Varys’s characterization, behavior and self-proclaimed motivation extremely well. At the very least it links Varys to the hypocrisy of those who claim to be civilised. Qartheen regard themselves to be the inventors of civilisation and the most civlised, and yet they declare war on Dany  and help the Yunkai, because she messes up their business interests in slave trade. Qarth has slaves do the menial work. They may treat them kindly. They may not capture slaves like the Dothraki, nor do they train them like the Yunkai, but they buy them and use them. They are the equivalent of the consumers in our western civilised world who pride themselves that all our children have the protected right to get education and seek their own career, but just as well buy clothes from Asian countries where children make them in bondage. Our governments back trade agreements with such countries, even if a dictator or non-democratic government oppresses their people. And just like the Qartheen and Varys many people of our world actually believe we are more civilised. Like Varys they may wash their hands and sound close to tears when they hear or see atrocities somewhere else in the world, but throw up their hands in despair, “What can I alone do against it? I’m just one person,” but just as well would deny refugees from war devestated or extremely poor regions access to safety. Instead every so and so years we vote, to help someone into power we hope or believe might set everything to right, while of course equally we vote for that candidate to serve our own self-interest.

The civilised world funds and backs wars, dictators, oppression and abuse of the common folk. Heck they participate in it. Let us not forget that at the time that George started to publish his series the US had gone to their first war in Iraq, under Bush senior. Europe did nothing while former Yugoslavia tore itself apart, with genocide being committed under the watchful eye of UN blue helmets. While one people in Ruanda macheted millions of the other, the overall international response in the West was ‘pffff, let them kill each other,’ nor did anybody even care about warlord atrocities in Congo. And instead of getting better, it has grown worse the past two decades, and all the while global climate change should be our main social priority.

With Varys, and with Qarth, George reminds us of civilisation’s hypocrisy – pretty empathic words and heartfelt tears, that likely are not even that insincere, but at best followed up with inaction, at worst self-interested war mongering, albeit all very politely. And just once in a while the Western civilisation and Varys save a child’s life.

For more analysis on Qarth and Varys as parallels to the Others via ice spider connections, check out the Plutonian Others.

Lord Varys – Introduction

Lord Varys is an enormously intricate, mostly mysterious character. Readers have divided opinions on his goals, character and origin. It is impossible to encapsulate Varys in one essay. While there are certain good resources out there, most of these merely scratch the surface, and miss out on the load of clues that George has given us, some that are quite surprising and take us across all of Essos. Much of what I will present is new, but certain basic ideas have been floating around. They simply were never tied to Varys before or gotten into as thoroughly. Since some of the investigation and results are quite stunning, I tackle Varys thoroughly, and therefore decided to break it all down in various essays. At least two of those deal with Varys’s origin. Another essay will concentrate on his trickster characteristics to examine his motives and plans. The final one will focus on the role implications and shifts within the ragtag of Exiles.

The story as spelled out to us

Pycelle claims that Varys is from Lys. Illyrio claims he was from Myr but that Varys had to flee Myr because of a rival thief. Tyrion seems to think that Varys originates from Myr as well. Illyrio at least confirms that Varys was a foreigner to Pentos, since the other street boys in Pentos beat and bullied Varys for being a eunuch and having a different accent.

[Pycelle] cleared his throat and spat a thick glob of phlegm onto the rushes. Above them, a raven cawed loudly in the rookery. “The Lord Varys was born a slave in Lys, did you know?” (aGoT, Eddard V)

“Varys came from Myr.”
So he did. I met him not long after he arrived, one step ahead of the slavers. By day he slept in the sewers, by night he prowled the rooftops like a cat. […] In Myr he was a prince of thieves, until a rival thief informed on him. In Pentos his accent marked him, and once he was known for a eunuch he was despised and beaten. (aDwD, Tyrion II)

Both sources also link him to slavery. Pycelle claims he was born as a slave, while Illyrio claims that Varys had managed to ellude slavers who were in pursuit of him. Meanwhile Varys claims to have been part of a Mummer’s Troupe, until a sorcerer bought Varys from his master in Myr. The sorcerer had no further interest in Varys beyond castrating him and burning his manhood, and thus let him go, and Varys survived in Myr until he fled to Pentos.

“I was an orphan boy apprenticed to a traveling folly. Our master owned a fat little cog and we sailed up and down the narrow sea performing in all the Free Cities and from time to time in Oldtown and King’s Landing. One day at Myr, a certain man came to our folly. After the performance, he made an offer for me that my master found too tempting to refuse. […] The mummers had sailed by the time he was done with me. Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die. To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, […] (aCoK, Tyrion X)

How Pycelle ever came to learn that Varys was a slave from Lys is not known, and Pycelle is not alive anymore to reveal this. Still, if we combine the three claims, we can infer that Varys likely was born into slavery in Lys, most probably to a bedslave either in a household of Lys or in a pillow house. A few years later Varys was sold to the traveling folly until his owner sold him to the sorcerer in Myr, and there he was castrated. Still a boy, he fled Myr some years later and soon met and formed a partnership with Illyrio. Years and years go by, and following Maester Yandel’s chronology of Aerys II, it appears that Varys was hired by Aerys II to become his spymaster between 278-280 AC, after Steffon Baratheon’s death.

This is roughly what we can put together for Varys. Everything else is and will remain speculation if and when George either confirms or disproves them in the last two books. But that does not mean some of these theories are without some foundation, or that there cannot be interesting gems found along a spider trail.

The Spider

Catelyn ignored his familiarity. There were more important questions. “So it was the King’s Spider who found me.” […] The title [Lord Varys] was but a courtesy due him as a council member; Varys was lord of nothing but the spiderweb, the master of none but his whisperers. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

The Spider is Varys’s nickname. Catelyn makes the obvious association to a spiderweb, and that in relation to spying and whispers. He has a network of spies. So the spying spider is a role association. It is spelled out for us, and the reason why we barely ever look beyond this meaning for the spy-der.

The second association is more subtextual. Spiders are predators who build sticky traps in which to catch their food, and have fangs that inject venom. So, when we think of spiders, we think of poisonous and fanged creepy crawlies on eight legs with eight eyes, scuttling around in the shadows and dank places giving us the heebie jeebus. George uses this cultural association too in the the books, through the prejudiced opinion and physical responses other characters have when interacting with Varys. For example when Pycelle warns Ned not to trust spiders, he thinks to himself how Varys makes his skin crawl.

“[…] Put not your trust in spiders, my lord.”
That was scarcely anything Ned needed to be told; there was something about Varys that made his flesh crawl. (aGoT, Eddard V)

Certain people (with arachnaphobia) cannot even bear to look at a picture of a spider.

pamhobeteus_purple_birds_spider
A purple tarantula (Pamhoboteus), in Dutch a “bird-spider”

George uses the spider shudder prejudice against Varys to make the first-time reader believe that Littlefinger is more trustworthy in aGoT. The distrust is so strong that even after Littlefinger is shown to be behind the murder of Jon Arryn and a lot of murderous and callous plots, betrays Ned Stark, grooms Sansa for his sexual predation, few readers are ever convinced that Varys does not have equally devious plans in mind. So, when Varys confirms that he intends to plummet the realm into chaos to help Aegon’s conquest, shows he is willing to murder good men for it, we chuckle and think, “I knew all along that we cannot trust Varys as far as we can throw him.” BryndenBFish’s excellent essay on the Mummer’s Folly comes to such a conclusion, making him a puppet master with Aegon just being one of his puppets (albeit his most important puppet).

arachne_gustavedore
Arachne in Purgatory, by Gustave Doré

Still, we ought to take a deeper look into spiders beyond the spelled out spy-derweb, beyond how they make our skin crawl. The next step is to look for stories and myths about spiders as they are part of the collective. The first mythical spider to come to mind is Arachne (‘Spider’), an extremely skilled weaver who denied she had learned her skill from Athena (the patron goddess of weaving). Both Athena and Arachne enter into a contest. Sure that she will win, Athena decrees the loser would have to give up weaving ever after. Arachne proves herself to be better skilled, but events lead to Arachne’s hanging, and Athena turns her into a spider so that she can weave forever more. Yes, the Arachne myth is ancient Greek myth1, but still very much part of the pop-art collective, as Gustave Doré’s illustration (at the top) of her in Dante’s Inferno is an often used picture for albums by (metal) bands.

You might argue, “But Arachne is a woman! Not a man. While Varys is a man.” Indeed, Varys is not a woman, but he is effeminate and a eunuch. Cersei points out to Tyrion how Varys is not guided by his cock like men such as Tyrion tend to, and Pycelle affirms that poison is a “woman’s weapon”, but als that of eunuchs.

“I have heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon.”
Pycelle stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It is said. Women, cravens … and eunuchs.” (aGoT, Eddard V)

“Do you know why Varys is so dangerous?”
“Are we playing at riddles now? No.”
“He doesn’t have a cock.”
Neither do you.” And don’t you just hate that, Cersei?
Perhaps I’m dangerous too. You, on the other hand, are as big a fool as every other man. That worm between your legs does half your thinking.” (aCoK, Tyrion XII)

So, if the characters in the books tell each other to equate Varys with a woman, then so should we, and Arachne can be an applicable myth.

The myth is of interest as an origin  and a trickster myth. Myths can be classified by what they aim to explain: order of the world or life, creation, fickleness of the gods, national or moral superiority to other people or civilisations, morality, but also a location’s name or origin of an animal’s known attributes or skills.

Arachne’s myth explains where spiders come from. And of course, Varys’s origin is a hot subject of speculation. Not only does the myth relate the origin of spiders, but Ovid explicitly tells us Arachne’s lineage in his Metamorphosis.

Arachne’s distinction lay not in her birth or the place that she hailed from but solely her art. Her father, Idmon of Colophon, practised the trade of dyeing wool in Phocaéan purple; her mother was dead but, like her husband, had come from the people. (Metamormphosis, book 6, Arachne, 6-9, Ovid, translation by David Raeburn)

When we then check the first ever description of Varys it becomes near tantalizing.

He wore a vest of woven gold thread over a loose gown of purple silk, and on his feet were pointed slippers of soft velvet. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

Certainly the words weaving, thread and silk connect to spiders. The threads that spiders produce with their glands are silk. A weaving contest between goddess and human is the plot’s subject of the Arachne myth.

Purple in particular is tied to Arachne’s lineage: the color that first comes to mind when we think of Varys. More, while Athena and Arachne weave in shades with such a subtle variation of hues like the eye cannot tell where one color of the rainbow fades into another, both gold and purple are the colors singled out in Ovid’s telling of the contest.

Webs were woven in threads of Tyrian purple dye and of lighter, more delicate, perceptibly merging shades. […] Their patterns were also shot with flexible threads of gold, as they each spun out an old tale in the west of their separate looms. (Metamormphosis, book 6, Arachne, 61-70, Ovid, translation by David Raeburn)

I cannot but wonder whether Varys’s purple silks hint to his origin, his ancestry. But which “thread” to follow? The silk route or the color purple? And if the latter, do we look for a source of the dye, or another association in-world to purple? Since we are considering a spider, perhaps it is best to explore the entire webbing, for his origin may very well be a mixture of several corners of Planetos.

Varys Web

  • The Spider’s origin:
    • Part I – The Silk Route: Using the origin locations of silk, I discuss Varys’s physical features, using parallels and information we have been given about Naath, Qarth and the Grasslands. It highlights the parallel between Varys and the Unsullied, proposes that Qartheen are a leukist race, and how this impacts Varys’s story.
    • Part II – The Color Purple: This essay goes into purple flowers, poison, perfume, eye color, dyes and purple dragonblood. We travel to Lys, Myr, Tyrosh and Braavos.
  • The Spider Trickster: Arachne but several other mythical or legendary spiders are tricksters. This essay delves into various types of tricksters and how Varys matches a specific type.
  • The Spider’s Ragtag Role: incorporates what we learned of the above and how it relates to Aegon.

Notes

  1. Actually it is a classical Roman myth set in Greece. The oldest source for the Arachne myth is Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

House Blackfyre

The elephant in the room for a series of essays on the rag-tag members of Aegon’s team is House Blackfyre. Just the history of House Blackfyre is an essay all by itself. So, that is what this essay is for – the historical story of House Blackfyre, based on the information from the World Book, the Dunk & Egg stories and aSoIaF series. And I recommend Lost Melnibonian’s thread the Blackfyre where he has compiled sources in chronological order of publication. With all things Blackfyre compiled some mysteries and certain consistencies come to the forefront. The answers to these are my personal speculation (in italics) based on the scant evidence and hints there are.

  • Prelude to Daemon Blackfyre (135 – 172 AC): Aegon IV’s life in chronological order that leads up to Daemon’s birth. Theory proposal that in 161 AC a near scandal situation developed, and that as a result of it Baelor locked his sisters up and sent Aegon on an officious exile to Braavos without end date to keep him away from Naerys, Baelor’s sisters and his own son.
  • Founding of House Blackfyre (172 – 182 AC): Summary of King Aegon IV’s reign leading to the founding of House Blackfyre, and Daemon’s children by Rohanne of Tyrosh. Proposes that Aegon’s hatred for Dorne and Baelor the Blessed compelled him to keep the sword Blackfyre out of his grandson Baelor’s hands and therefore gave it to Daemon.
  • The First Blackfyre Rebellion (196 AC): Summary of the rebellion and its result. Proposes that Daemon Blackfyre and Bittersteel came into evidence that convinced them that Daeron the Good was not the son of King Aegon IV.
  • House Blackfyre in Tyrosh (196 – 211 AC): Speculation on what life would have been like for Rohanne and her children, the likeliest marriage agreements made for Daemon’s daughters, and Bittersteel’s activities as a sellsword. Proposes that Daario Naharis at least ought to be considered as a possible descendant through the female line of House Blackfyre.
  • The Second Blackfyre Rebellion (211 AC): Proposes that Bittersteel did work and supported Daemon II’s claim, carrying the sword Blackfyre with him to gather exiled lords to the Blackfyre cause. Lord Gormond Peake used Bittersteel’s absence from Tyrosh to start a rebellion with Daemon II on his own terms. Speculates that the homosexual Daemon II had no issue, but neither did his younger brothers yet.
  • Court of King’s Landing: Kiera, Daemon II and freak-deaths (197 – 222 AC): Highlights the strangeness of Valarr and Daeron the Drunken having been wed to Kiera of Tyrosh, suspicious freak-deaths of heirs, Aerion Brightflame’s exile and what he was up to in Essos, while Daemon II was a hostage in King’s Landing.
  • The Golden Company (since 212 AC): About Free Companies, size, reputation, discipline, and the claim that the Golden Company sacked Qohor.
  • The Third Blackfyre Rebellion (219 AC): summary of the events and the proposal that Aerion Brightflame slew Haegon Blackfyre after he surrendered Blackfyre.
  • Jumpîng the Line (233 AC): Points out that Aenys Blackfyre tried to sneak ahead of his already crowned nephew Daemon III when writing his claim to the Grand Council called after the death of Maekar I killed in a rebellion by House Peake. This establishes a pattern that when House Peake is involved, it is against or without Bittersteel’s support.
  • The Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion (236 AC): summary of the rebellion, the speculation that more Blackfyres than Daemon III died then, and what Bittersteel left as legacy after he died.
  • The Last Blackfyres (after 258 AC): a closer look at Maelys “the Monstrous” Blackfyre and his cousin Daemon Blackfyre and my theory that Maelys is one of Daemon I’s youngest unnamed sons. I assess the implications of Maelys Blackfyre having sacked Tyrosh for Blackfyre descendants of the female line.
  • Literary Purpose: why I think George has constructed the history of House Blackfyre.

The Prelude to Daemon Blackfyre (135 – 172 AC)

Daemon Blackfyre’s father, King Aegon IV Targaryen, was not in the line of succession for the Iron Throne when he was born in 135 AC. His uncle King Aegon III was a boy of fifteen, struggling with his regents. With his second wife, Daenaera Valeryon, King Aegon III had two sons and three daughters. Both sons became kings: Daeron The Young Dragon (b. in 143 AC) who conquered Dorne, and Baelor the Blessed (b. in 144 AC) who built the Great Sept in King’s Landing. Aegon’s father served as Hand to his brother and his nephews.

Prince Aegon’s brother Aemon was born a year after him (136 AC), while their sister Naerys was born in 138 AC. They nearly all grew up without a mother, as Larra Rogare packed her bags in 139 AC and returned to Lys, where she died in 145 AC. Even as a child and youth, Aegon gave his father great trouble. In 149 AC, he lost his virginity to twenty-four year old Lady Falene Stokeworth. The affair went unnoticed for two years, until in 151 AC a kingsguard found them abed. Prince Viserys married Falena to his master-at-arms Lucas Lothston and persuaded his brother, King Aegon III to name Lothson Lord of Harrenhal, making Aegon a frequent visitor at Harrenhal until 153 AC.

Prince Aemon and Princess Naerys were good children and fond of each other’s company. Naerys was so pious she could have been a septa. Perhaps hoping that marriage to such a sister would settle Aegon down, Prince Viserys wed Naerys to Aegon in 153 AC. Singers sing how Aemon and Naerys wept during the wedding ceremony. Histories say that Aemon and Aegon quarreled at the feast, and that Naerys wept during the bedding. Aemon joined the kingsguard that same year. After giving Aegon a son in Daeron, with great difficulty, towards the end of that year, Naerys had done her duty to him as wife and begged to live as sister and brother without sharing a bed. Neither two desired or loved one another and the maester had warned Naerys that another pregnancy might kill her. But Aegon refused.

Prince Viserys’s hope was for naught. Near Fairmarktet in 155 AC, Prince Aegon’s horse threw a shoe and his wandering lusty eye fell on the wife of the local blacksmith – Megette. He bought her for seven dragons and, wary of his father, installed her in a house of King’s Landing. He “wed” her in a secret ceremony with a mummer playing the septon. Prince Aegon had four daughters with her in four years, until Viserys put an end to it in 159 AC. The Hand sent Megette back to her husband and gave the daughters to the Faith.

Crown Prince Daeron became king at the age of fourteen in 157 AC. Despite advice against it, King Daeron I had his mind set on conquering Dorne. While Prince Viserys led King’s Landing as Hand, young King Daeron,  his cousin Aemon the Dragonknight and Prince Aegon conquered Dorne overland and Alyn Velaryon by sea. By 158 AC, the Prince of Dorne and two score Dornish lords had bent the knee to King Daeron and handed hostages over. Prince Aegon escorted the hostages to King’s Landing, keeping one for himself in his own chambers – Lady Cassella Vaith.

King Daeron’s eldest sister Daena, born in 145 AC, was Prince Aegon’s female counterpart – wilfull and wild. She grew up into a beauty fast. Apparently, Prince Viserys had not yet learned from his mistake with his own children, and Daena was wed to her pious brother Baelor in 160 AC. Baelor refused to bed her though.

After Sunspear’s surrender, the Targaryens finally rulled all of Westeros south of the Wall… for a fortnight. King Daeron I had left Lyonel Tyrell to oversee Dorne, but he was killed in a trap and this sparked an uprising. In the following three years, King Daeron I lost 50,000 men as he tried to hold it. And when he met the enemy under a peace banner in 161 AC, the Young Dragon was murdered and Aemon “the Dragonknight” captured and imprisoned by House Wyl. All the Dornish hostages in King’s Landing were to be killed, and Prince Aegon bored with his “hostage” returned Cassella to her place with the other prisoners. Fourteen hostages awaited their execution in the dungeons. But Daeron’s younger brother, King Baelor, pardoned them all, ignoring the outcry against it by his council and people, and took them back to Dorne and Sunspear.

He negotiated a peace with the Prince of Dorne. Both agreed that Prince Viserys’s only grandson, and thus Prince Aegon’s only son, would wed Maron Martell’s sister Mariah when both were of age. Next, he walked to House Wyl in the Boneway to retrieve Aemon from his cage. In the succesful attempt, Baelor was bitten a dozen times by snakes, and a naked Aemon carried a comatose king to Blackhaven of House Dondarrion, where Baelor needed half a year to recover before he could journey to King’s Landing. There he sent Prince Aegon to Braavos on a diplomatic mission, for in the same year, Princess Naerys had almost died in the childbirth of stillborn twins. He had the High Septon annull his marriage to his sister-wife Daena, swore the celibacy vows of a septon, and locked his three sisters away in the Maidenvault to ensure their virtue.

After 161 AC, we know little of Prince Aegon’s life, except that he had a ten year long affair with Bellegere Otherys. No more pregnancies are mentioned for Princess Naerys until 172 AC. Meanwhile, as King Baelor had agreed with the Prince of Dorne, Prince Aegon’s son Daeron was wed to Mariah Martell. Their first son was born in 170 AC, and named after the King, Baelor. Daena “the Defiant” escaped the Maidenvault three times, disguised as a servant or one of the smallfolk. According to an SSM to the illustrator Amoka, Three Maidens in the Tower, she escaped once through “the connivance of her cousin, Prince Aegon”. And towards the end of 170 AC, she gave to birth a child she named Daemon, refusing to give up the name of the father.

However, one of those natural children came from a woman not accounted his mistress: Princess Daena, the Defiant. Daemon was the name Daena gave to this child, […]. Daemon Waters was his full name when he was born in 170 AC. At that time, Daena refused to name the father, but even then Aegon’s involvement was suspected. (tWoIaF, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV)

King Baelor went into a fasting fit, living on water and minimal bread, as he had done for a month when Naerys’s life was in peril in 161 AC. On the 41st day of his fasting in 171 AC he collapsed and died.

It is unclear how long Prince Aegon was away on this diplomatic mission to Braavos. While it is mentioned that the Black Pearl sailed on different ports in those ten years, and had a lover in each port, the mysterious absence of records of other mistresses until 170 AC for Prince Aegon seems more than odd. After all, at some point he had a wife and two mistresses all at once. Perhaps wrongly, we assume that Prince Aegon was in King’s Landing for most of the years between 161 and 170 AC, because Daena ended up birthing his bastard son Daemon Waters. But what if Prince Aegon was presumed and supposed to be in Braavos?

When did Aegon help Daena the Defiant escape? Was it in 170 AC, when Daena ended up pregnant by him, meeting Aegon incognito outside of the Red Keep? Still, Aegon might also have gotten into the Maidenvault, via the tunnels. What if Baelor first locked up his sisters, fearing for their virtue with Prince Aegon around, and Aegon helped Daena escape in 161 AC? If Baelor could not even protect his sisters from his lecherous cousin Aegon, after locking them away, King Baelor would have had no other recourse but to send him abroad. Naerys’s near escape from death during childbirth would have been the straw on a camel’s back. It would explain, why Baelor fasted for a month – not only to pray that Naerys would live, but that his sister Daena would not end up scandalously pregnant in 161 AC already. A mission to Braavos without an end date would also keep the father away from having an immoral influence on his son Daeron. It was never officially declared an exile, to save face for Aegon’s father Viserys.

The last scenario would explain Baelor’s choices and actions in 161 AC, how Aegon is only known to have a Braavosi mistress for a decade, and no stories of Naerys lingering near death after failed deliveries for eleven years. Prince Aegon would have taken it very personal, because it was personal – his only son promised and wed to a Dornish princess after her fellow Dornishmen murdered King Daeron I, being sent away from Westeros altogether, his beautiful cousins locked away, and his father not standing up to it. And the year that Aegon’s own son fathers a half Dornish son with Dornish features on Mariah Martell, Prince Aegon begets Daena with a child like a big “Fuck you!” to King Baelor.

Whatever the series of events were both in 161 AC and 170 AC, if on the one hand Daena’s bastard caused Baelor’s death and set Daena and her sisters free from the vault, it also sabotaged her claim to the Iron Throne. Having lived in isolation for a decade the three sisters had no powerful allies to back their claim to the Iron Throne. Daena the Defiant had proved herself wild, unmanageable and wanton. And if one wants to dismiss the claim of the eldest sister, one can hardly make her younger sister, Queen of Westeros. So, the precedent of the Great Council of 101 was cited as was the Dance of the Dragons, and Baelor’s uncle Prince Viserys was crowned King Viserys II. It would be the father of Daena’s bastard son who would reap the benefits, for he now was heir to the Iron Throne, Prince of Dragonstone, having to fear no rival, as his younger brother Aemon was a kingsguard. Just imagine how it would have stung when Daena Targaryen was permitted to be in male company again, only to have Prince Aegon become entranced with one of her ladies in waiting, sixteen-year-old Barba Bracken.

In 172 AC, King Viserys II died under suspicious circumstances, from a sudden illness. His eldest son, Prince Aegon was crowned King Aegon IV. It is more than possible that Aegon was behind the death of his own father. If he was a resident in Braavos for such a long time, Aegon certainly knew how to request a death from the Faceless Men. The Tears of Lys could have caused the sudden illness of King Viserys II. Free from restraint, or so he thought, King Aegon IV appoints Lord Bracken as his Hand and takes Lady Barba openly as his mistress. Queen Naerys was to perform her wifely duty again, and she gave birth to fraternal twins. While the son died, the daughter Daenerys survived, but Naerys lingered near death, yet again. Not a fortnight after, Barba gave birth to a bastard son Aegor Rivers, and Barba’s father talked openly of King Aegon IV wedding Lady Barba. Queen Naerys recovered, however, and both Crown Prince Daeron and the Dragonknight forced Aegon to send his mistress and bastard son away. Aemon would again prove an opponent against Aegon’s intentions for one of his mistresses, when he jousts as a mystery knight “The Knight of Tears” at a tourney in which King Aegon IV had forbidden his brother to ride. Winning the tourney, Aemon crowned his sister Naerys “Queen of Love and Beauty”, preventing Aegon to crown his mistress as such. So, King Aegon IV soon learned even kings meet with opposition.

Founding of House Blackfyre (182 AC)

Aegon’s bastard son Daemon Waters was born in 170 AC, the same year that Mariah Martell birthed Aegon’s grandson Baelor Targaryen. The first had nothing but Targaryen blood in his veins, the other was half Dornish. Daemon looked all Targaryen too: silver hair, purple eyes. Baelor looked all Dornish: dark hair and dark eyes. And yet, the first was a bastard, the second was destined to be king. And if initially, King Aegon IV could not blame his son, Crown Prince Daeron, for King Baelor wedding Dearon to Mariah Martell, he would soon learn that Daeron sympathized with Dorne.

In 174 AC, Aegon IV was set on launching an unprovoked war against Dorne. Where his personal enemy, Baelor had brokered peace and forgiven Dorne’s uprising and murder of King Daeron I, King Aegon IV wanted to finish what King Daeron I had started, and likely avenge his murder too. Crown Prince Daeron strongly opposed it, basically “supporting the enemy”. Really, when maester Yandel starts to speculate on cause and effect, he seems to put the cart before the horse, by claiming that Aegon sought war with Dorne to make Daeron powerless. Despite, Daeron’s protests, King Aegon IV went on ahead, building a huge fleet and “wood-and-iron” dragons that could shoot wildfire. But the fleet was lost in a storm and the “dragons” burned in the Kingswood, long before they could reach the Boneway, along with hundreds of men.

With the king and crown prince quarreling over Dorne, Aegon threatened to name one of his bastards heir, instead of Dearon. It is around this time that, seemingly out of nowhere, after twenty one years of marriage, Ser Morgil Hastwyck accused Queen Naerys of adultery and treason. Kaeth’s Lives of Four Kings claims that Aegon IV himself had instigated Ser Morgil to accuse Naerys, linking it to the quarrel between father and son over Dorne. King Aegon denied it at the time, but Lord Bracken had already planted the seed for the idea of getting rid of Naerys. Accusing Queen Naerys of adultery would solve King Aegon’s issues:

  • The freedom to wed a wife of his own choice.
  • No more pious bleating
  • Disown his son who opposes him politically and his mistresses
  • Disown his half-Dornish grandson and deprive Dorne of having a Queen of Westeros.
  • Be rid of the Lord Commander of the kingsguard, his own brother, Aemon “the Dragonknight”.

The Dragonknight championed for Queen Naerys in the trial by combat and slew Ser Morgil. The plan had failed. To make matter worse, Aegon’s own mistress, Lady Melissa Blackwood, was friends with Queen Naerys, Aemon and Daeron in the five years she lived at court from 172 to 177 AC.

Not accusations ended the life of Aegon’s siblings, but duty. Lady Barba and her father had groomed the younger Bethany Bracken to catch Aegon’s eye when the king visited his bastard son Aegor Rivers, later to be known as Bittersteel. The plan worked and Aegon took Bethany as his mistress and sent Missy Blackwood and her three children (one of them Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers) by him back to Blackhaven. Not enjoying his embraces, Bethany turned to a knight of the Kingsguard, Ser Terrence Toyne. After fiding them abed in 178 AC; King Aegon IV had both of them executed (and Bethany’s father). In revenge, Toyne’s brothers attempted to assassinate Aegon. The Dragonknight died saving his brother’s unworthy life. And the year after, Queen Naerys died in childbirth, along with the child.

Daeron fathered three more sons on Mariah Martell. These three might have appeased King Aegon IV some – they had light silvery hair and purple eyes at least. Still the promising grandson, Baelor, would have remained a Dornish thorn in Aegon’s eye. Baelor was smart, generous, fair and proved to have an aptitude for swords and the lists, as much as Daemon Waters seemed to be a promising warrior in the making. It is as if Aegon used Daemon as a competitor against Baelor, rather than Daeron.

Raised at the Red Keep, this handsome youth was given the instruction of the wisest maesters and the best masters-at-arms at court, including Ser Quentyn Ball, the fiery knight called Fireball. (tWoIaF, the Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV)

blackfyre_by_velvet_engine
by Velvet Engine

In 182 AC, Daemon won a squire’s tourney, a victory that Aegon IV used to dub Daemon Waters a knight, though Daemon was only twelve. Hence Daemon is on record as the youngest boy ever knighted. The king knighted Daemon with Aegon the Conquerer’s sword Blackfyre, the ancestral Targaryen sword of Valyrian steel that was handed from king to the next king. King Aegon IV went even a step further then. He legitimized Daemon and gave him the sword of kings. Hence, Daemon changed his name from Waters to Blackfyre, after the sword, and thus the Targaryen Cadet branch, House Blackfyre, was born.

King Aegon knighted Daemon in his twelfth year when he won a squires’ tourney (thereby making him the youngest knight ever made in the time of the Targaryens, surpassing Maegor I) and shocked his court, kin, and council by bestowing upon him the sword of Aegon the Conqueror, Blackfyre, as well as lands and other honors. Daemon took the name Blackfyre thereafter. (tWoIaF, the Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV)

For his sigil, Daemon reversed the colors of House Targaryen – a three-headed black dragon on a red field. The words of House Blackfyre are at present unknown!!!1 The Blackfyre lands with the right to build a castle were situated along the Blackwater Rush. Beyond that, Aegon IV arranged a betrothal for Daemon to Rohanne, the daughter of the Archon of Tyrosh.

Despite Aemon’s and Naerys’s deaths in service of him, Aegon IV referred to Daeron’s alleged illegitimacy in less than veiled terms, often threatening to disinherit him, and choose Daemon as heir instead. Though Aegon IV never actually disowned Daeron. While Yandel and others speculate over the reason why King Aegon IV did not disown Daeron, I will speculate why King Aegon IV threatened to disown Daeron. The simplest reason is pure selfishness, as a type of blackmail, reminding Daeron not to oppose the king with each new mistress or whatever other selfish thing he planned. He started the rumors that led to the accusation against his sister-wife Queen Naerys mainly for the same reason. While Daeron argued over plenty of things with the king, he does not seem to have bothered in meddling with his father’s mistresses anymore after Queen Naerys’s death. I do not think King Aegon IV believed his own allegations against Naerys. His ego would not allow the actual possibility that his wife and brother made a cuckold of him. Ultimately, King Aegon IV never disowned Daeron, because he never really had any intention of doing so. It was simply a threat to keep Dearon on a leash.

Why then did he give the sword Blackfyre to Daemon? The answer to that would be Baelor Targaryen, named after that “wretched” king Baelor who “exiled” Aegon to Braavos for years. By gifting it to Daemon, he kept it out of Baelor’s half Dornish hands. King Aegon IV could hardly give the Conquerer’s sword away to a bastard, hence he legitimized Daemon. Vanity and hatred for Dorne was the motivator, where Aegon IV did not so much favor Daemon over Daeron, but Daemon over Baelor.

Three years after Aegon IV’s death, Baelor proved his tourney prowess at the age of seventeen over Daemon Blackfyre at the 187 AC wedding tourney of Princess Daenerys Targaryen to the Prince of Dorne, Maron Martell, by winning it. This is how Baelor earned himself the nickname “Breakspear”. No doubt, King Aegon IV would have rolled over in his grave (if he ever would have had one – Targaryen burrial is burning the remains on a pyre).

Daeron II made sure the betrothal of Daemon and Rohanne was honored. Daemon married Rohanne at the age of 14 in 184 AC.

[Dearon II] paid the dowry that Aegon had promised to the Archon of Tyrosh, thereby seeing his half brother Daemon Blackfyre wed to Rohanne of Tyrosh as Aegon had desired, for all that Ser Daemon was only four-and-ten. […] (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II)

Daemon Blackfyre and Rohanne of Tyrosh had seven sons and at least two daughters. Their eldest children were twin sons, Aemon and Aegon, born in the same year of their marriage. The twins died in the Battle of Redgrass Field towards the end 196 AC, at age twelve. The third son, Daemon II, claimed he was only seven when he and his family fled to Tyrosh after the battle, and was twenty two during the events of the Mystery Knight in 211 AC. So, he was born in 189 AC. Four more younger sons were born between 190 and 196 AC, before the First Blackfyre Rebellion: Haegon, Aenys and two unnamed sons. Calla Blackfyre was the eldest of the daughters, at some point old enough to arrange a betrothal. As there is a gap of five years in age between the firstborn twins and Daemon II, she and at least one sister would have been born between 185 AC and 189 AC.

This gives us these estimated birth dates for Daemon’s children:

  • b. 184 AC: the twins Aegon and Aemon Blackfyre
  • b. 185/187 AC: Calla Blackfyre
  • b. 186/188 AC: at least one more daughter
  • b. 189 AC: Daemon II Blackfyre
  • b. 190/193 AC: Haegon I Blackfyre
  • b. 191/194 AC: Aenys Blackfyre
  • b. 192/196 AC: two more unnamed sons, and it cannot be ruled out they were twins

The First Blackfyre Rebellion (196 AC)

King Daeron II tried to preserve the peace as best as he could, with his legitimized half-brothers, the lords and Dorne. But many sycophants had profited from Aegon’s unworthy rule and others thirsted for war with Dorne. They had no use of a diplomatic king such as Dearon II “the Good”, let alone one who had such close peaceful ties with Dorne. They wanted a warrior king, like Daemon Blackfyre who sported all of the Valyrian looks, over-romanticising the love between Daeron’s sister Daenerys and Daemon Blackfyre and thus her political marriage to the Prince of Dorne, Maron Martell, as an insult and slight to Daemon. For years they hoped to move Daemon Blackfyre into rebellion. One of them was the Great Bastard, Aegor “Bittsersteel” Rivers, two years younger than Daemon Blackfyre. After agreeing to wed his eldest daughter Calla to Bittersteel, Daemon finally planned his coup towards the end of 195 AC.

Whatever the case may be, Aegor Rivers soon began to press Daemon Blackfyre to proclaim for the throne, and all the more so after Daemon agreed to wed his eldest daughter, Calla, to Aegor. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II)

King Daeron II discovered Daemon’s intentions and sent the Kingsguard to arrest him, but Daemon fled the Red Keep. Daemon’s backers ended up accusing King Daeron of acting against Daemon out of fear, while others repeated the rumor that Daeron was Falseborn. Eearly 196 AC, the rebels declared Daeron the bastard and Daemon the trueborn son of Daena and Aegon. The war was fought in the Vale, the westerlands, the riverlands and elsewhere. It all ended at Redgrass Field near the end of 196 AC, where Daemon and his eldest sons, the twins Aegon and Aemon (age 12) died, Bittersteel dueled Bloodraven, and Baelor Breakspear smashed the rearguard of the rebel army against his brother Maekar’s shieldwall. Baelor’s hammer and anvil tactic earned him the position of Hand of the King.

“Daemon was the Warrior himself that day. No man could stand before him. He broke Lord Arryn’s van to pieces and slew the Knight of Ninestars and Wild Wyl Waynwood before coming up against Ser Gwayne Corbray of the Kingsguard. For near an hour they danced together on their horses, wheeling and circling and slashing as men died all around them. It’s said that whenever Blackfyre and Lady Forlorn clashed, you could hear the sound for a league around. It was half a song and half a scream, they say. But when at last the Lady faltered, Blackfyre clove through Ser Gwayne’s helm and left him blind and bleeding. Daemon dismounted to see that his fallen foe was not trampled, and commanded Redtusk to carry him back to the maesters in the rear. And there was his mortal error, for the Raven’s Teeth had gained the top of Weeping Ridge, and Bloodraven saw his half brother’s royal standard three hundred yards away, and Daemon and his sons beneath it. He slew Aegon first, the elder of the twins, for he knew that Daemon would never leave the boy whilst warmth lingered in his body, though white shafts fell like rain. Nor did he, though seven arrows pierced him, driven as much by sorcery as by Bloodraven’s bow. Young Aemon took up Blackfyre when the blade slipped from his dying father’s fingers, so Bloodraven slew him, too, the younger of the twins. Thus perished the black dragon and his sons.” (The Sworn Sword)

Maester Yandel speculates on the possible reasons that finally prompted Daemon I Blackfyre to rebel:

  • Love for Daenerys Targaryen and his resentment of her being wed to the Prince of Dorne, though the rebellion did not take place until eight years after her marriage, and both Daenerys and Daemon seemed to have happy and fruitful marriages.
  • Bittersteel filling Daemon’s mind with poison, citing Bittersteel’s rivalry and hatred for Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers over Shiera Seastar. The actual evidence we have about Bittersteel’s character is that he very much respects the feudal Westerosi rules of succession and is immensely loyal to House Blackfyre throughout his life.  

The one option that Yandel never utters, but the most logical one is that Daemon came to actually believe that Daeron II Targaryen was Aemon’s son, because he and Bittersteel came into evidence of a reliable witness account. Naerys’s piousness and Aemon’s heroism does not mean there was not a moment of weakness, shortly after Naerys’s marriage to their elder brother Aegon while Aemon attempted to comfort her, before he became a kingsguard. The one-time might have prompted Aemon to become a kingsguard. No matter how pious and dutiful either two were, they were human. Aegon IV hit on the truth by accident, one that he himself did not believe. It is not as if the result of a trial by combat is actual evidence of innocense. If Daeron II was the Dragonknight’s son, it does not make Daemon I Blackfyre any less bastardborn, but he at least would have been Aegon IV’s son, and King Aegon IV legitimized him.

Of course maester Yandel can never actually propose this option, since Robert Baratheon’s grandmother is a Targaryen descendant of Daeron the Good. Yandel has an agenda and his life to protect. But we as readers can consider the possibilities he must censure: that despite rumors Daemon Blackfyre remained unconvinced and unmoved for years, until he and Aegor Rivers came into evidence that convinced them that Daeron the Good was not Aegon IV’s son. The selfish motives of the sycophant lords of Aegon IV and Aegon IV himself, the war motives of Marcher Lords such as House Peake, the goodness of Daeron as king, the piousness of Naerys and the heroism of the Dragonknight, the enmity between Aegor Rivers and Brynden Rivers are nothing more than a lot of trees to obscure the forest – that there was truth in the accusation of Naerys and that House Blackfyre and Bittersteel were convinced of this, just like Stannis Baratheon believes that Cersei’s children on the Iron Throne are not Robert’s children, but Jaime’s. In the case of Cersei’s children, we know that Stannis is correct.  

House Blackfyre in Tyrosh (196 – 211 AC)

Daemon’s widow Rohanne fled with her surviving children and Bittersteel to Tyrosh.

[…]Daemon Blackfyre’s surviving sons fled to Tyrosh, their mother’s home, and with them went Bittersteel. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II)

We know almost next to nothing about their lives in Tyrosh until 211 AC when Daemon II attempts to start a Second Blackfyre Rebellion. This is of course, because maester Yandel is not writing a history for House Blackfyre in Tyrosh. He writes a history that is relevant for Westeros about the Targaryen kings and what problems and threats House Targyaren had to overcome. For fifteen years, history and the aSoIaF series remains silent about House Blackfyre and Bittersteel, except for three slight mentions that “Bittersteel gathered exiled lords and knights” with which he formed the Golden Company in 212 AC, after the Second Blackfyre Rebellion failed.

No matter how throwaway, obscure and little these tidbits are, they give crucial information about House Blackfyre living as refugees and exiles in Tyrosh and what Aegor Rivers aimed to accomplish. These lead to a conclusion that actually contradicts the in-world conclusion by Yandel in the World Book and characters in the Mystery Knight about the Second Blackfyre Rebellion.

The first concrete tidbit of information is that Daemon’s widow, Rohanne of Tyrosh, was the daughter of the Archon. The position of an archon is not a hereditary function transferred from father to son, though it may be a function for life. It would require lobbying, not unlike what we see in our modern political system. It is not totally the same, as only a conclave of the wealthiest and noblest elects the Archon amongst themselves. So, it requires blood, wealth, promises and marriage ties to get to the top of the Tyroshi power pyramid. And since it is not hereditary, an Archon and his family would spread their wealth and marriage ties in order to remain influential withinthe conclave. As Tyrosh is not a kingdom with extensive lands to farm, but a city, the nobility’s wealth would be funneled into and be dependent on merchant business, ships, and trade, like we see with Illyrio, a magister of Pentos.

We do not know whether Rohanne’s father was still Archon in 196-197 AC. Doran Martell though confirms that the Archon of Tyrosh in 300 AC is still the same Archon that Viserys and Dany resided with, as Arianne was supposed to serve as cupbearer there. And after the Tyrant of Tyrosh, a self-crowned merchant prince, was killed, the previous Archon was reinstalled into power. So, Rohanne’s father likely still was the Archon. Even if not, Rohanne would still have one of the wealthiest and noblest families of Tyrosh to seek shelter with, nor would they turn her out since she and her children were kin (unlike Dany and Viserys).

Daemon I Blackfyre agreed to wed Calla Blackfyre to Aegor Rivers, aka a betrothal. Calla could not have been born before 185 AC and therefore would only have been eleven at the most when her family fled Westeros, younger even at the time that Daemon agreed for Bittersteel to become his brother-in-law, before the rebellion. Therefore the marriage would have happened in Tyrosh. Though, no source confirms that Bittersteel actually married Calla or had children with her, Aegor Rivers was tied to House Blackfyre and its cause for the rest of his exiled life. He lived, fought and died for that family from 196 AC until 241 AC. It would require suspension of disbelief for Bittersteel remaining this loyal to a family if Rohanne broke the marriage agreement. Furthermore, House Blackfyre needed a male Westorsi kingmaker figure to lead the family. A man like Bittersteel would think for House Blackfyre and would have prevented another Tyroshi adult patriarch from using Daemon’s children completely for their own personal Tyroshi interests. So, we can conclude that Aegor Rivers became part of the Blackfyre family through marriage with Calla Blackfyre.

George has refrained of bedding any character in the series before the year they turn thirteen. The earliest possible year for Calla would be 198 AC. Veering into the imaginative, we can see how such a wedding of the Archon’s granddaughter to Aegor Rivers was the excellent feast to invite important families and make introductions, and/or for Rohanne’s father to give Calla (and thus House Blackfyre) a mansion for a wedding gift, thereby making House Blackfyre established residents of Tyrosh. Amongst these introductions would have been promising cousins or sons or daughters of wealthy contacts or allies withinthe conclave as possible groom or bride for Daemon’s others daughters and surviving sons, respectively.  f course, these introductions would serve the interests of Rohanne’s father or family more than House Blackfyre. Fundamentally, House Blackfyre’s aim is to return to Westeros and claim the Iron Throne, not getting a son to be elected as Archon or settle a political feud between two families. Even if Rohanne’s own father was obviously interested in gaining some foothold into royalty in Westeros, this would be more of an extra expansion on the side. The main political and financial roots of Rohanne’s family are invested in Tyrosh, not Westeros.

Daemon’s daughters are the easiest to give up for that purpose. Rohanne and Bittersteel can ask dowries for them. House Blackfyre gain family ties with other noble families in Tyrosh, or strengthen the tie with Rohanne’s own family. And Rohanne’s Tyroshi family is happy too, as their own political and business interests are served. Meanwhile Tyroshi merchant princes and ambitious nobelmen hoping to be Archon one day would find “princesses” with Valyrian dragonlord blood in their veins most interesting, if not for themselves, their sons or brothers.

Alternatively House Blackfyre could have married Daemon’s other daugther(s) to exiled lords who fled along with them, but that would not advance the family’s survival in Tyrosh. The assets of both House Blackfyre as well as those exiled lords are land and castles in Westeros. As exiles in Tyrosh they have no access to them and thus have no material assets at all. They are noble or royal beggers. Aside from Aegor Rivers himself, we never hear of any exiled lord or knight who remains attached to House Blackfyre in Essos. And thus I think it unlikely that beside Calla, another daughter was wed to landless exiled lords.

It would not be impossible for a family brought up amongst Targaryens to consider marrying one of the daughters to a younger brother. But then they would lose out on making allies, either in Tyrosh or Westeros. Lord Bloodraven’s remark to Duncan the Tall in the Mystery Knight about the possibility that if he were to kill Daemon II either his younger brothers or even his sisters could be used by Bittersteel to rally a rebellion behind (see the Second Blackfyre Rebellion section), suggests that the sisters were not wed to their younger brothers. But I could be wrong, and if Daemon had three daughters George can go with Calla married to the exiled knight Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers, another married to a Tyroshi merchant prince and a third married to a younger brother.

The earliest speculative year that the second eldest daughter could have been wed at thirteen would be 199 AC, but Rohanne and Aegor Rivers may both have wanted to wait a few years for them to find eligible and worthy grooms. So, they likely were wed out in the first five years after 200 AC.

We are also told by Illyrio that House Blackfyre only went extinct in the male line.

Illyrio brushed away the objection as if it were a fly. “Black or red, a dragon is still a dragon. “When Maelys the Monstrous died upon the Stepstones, it was the end of the male line of House Blackfyre.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

In other words, there still are descendants of House Blackfyre through the female line. None of them would carry the name Blackfyre, but they would have the blood. While the “female line” can cover Blackfyre issue from any daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, certainly some of those may be descendants of both Daemon I Blackfyre and Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers through Calla Blackfyre, whose children would also marry into the Tyroshi nobility, for after all Calla and her children never returned to Westeros. The same is true for Calla’s sister(s) and their children.

Thus Tyroshi characters with a Tyroshi last name and deep blue eyes that seem purple in certain circumstances in the present timeline of the series are of particular interest. Only those born to nobility or wealthy long-standing middle class families have an actual family name. Commoners and slaves do not, not in Westeros (unless acknowledged bastards, which is rare for bastards born on commoners), nor in Essos. Daario Naharis is such a character². His Tyroshi last name tells us that he is noble born and his eyes appear purple when he changes his attire and dye from indigo blue to purple. So,  he is certainly a character under consideration of being a descendant of Daemon I Blackfyre through a daughter, a granddaughter or great-granddaughter wed to a man of the Naharis family, sometime roughly between 200 AC and 270 AC.  

What about Daemon’s sons? Since the intent was to make one of them king of the Iron Throne, House Blackfyre would require the support of houses in Westeros both to rebel, gain and keep a throne. I expect that at least the first decade it would be prudent to wait and hold off on betrothals for the sons, especially since the wife of one of Daemon’s sons could end up being Queen of Westeros. And since Bloodraven does not take sons of Daemon II or his younger brothers into account in the Mystery Knight, it seems as if Daemon I’s sons neither married nor fathered children yet by 211 AC.

Another pressing issue would have been funding. Rohanne’s family may help out with gifting a mansion, providing staff (slaves), but family help would only go so far in educating, clothing, and feeding a household, keeping (exiled) supporters close or interested, especially when one has royal pretensions. Take for instance Daemon II’s jewelry and attire –

[John the Fiddler] was the sort of name a hedge knight might choose, but Dunk had never seen any hedge knight garbed or armed or mounted in such splendor. The knight of the golden hedge, he thought.[…] His white silk doublet had lagged sleeves lined with red satin, so long their points drooped down past his knees. A heavy silver chain looped across his chest, studded with huge dark amethysts whose color matched his eyes. That chain is worth as much as everything I own, Dunk thought. […] The Fiddler smelled of oranges and limes, with a hint of some strange eastern spice beneath. Nutmeg, perhaps. Dunk could not have said. What did he know of nutmeg?  […] Dunk could only stand and watch as the Fiddler’s big black trotted onto the field in a swirl of blue silk and golden swords and fiddles. His breastplate was enameled blue as well, as were his poleyns, couter, greaves, and gorget. The ringmail underneath was gilded. (The Mystery Knight)

That requires money. Even the most generous amongst wealthy families do not let a refugee family as large as Rohann’s live on their dime for fifteen to sixteen years, not for free. And certainly the exiled Blackfyre supporters were forced to sell their swords.

Those followers of the Black Dragon who survived the battle yet refused to bend the knee fled across the narrow sea, among them Daemon’s younger sons, Bittersteel, and hundreds of landless lords and knights who soon found themselves forced to sell their swords to eat. (aDwD, Tyrion II)

While Maynard Plumm and Ser Eustace Osgrey refer to Bittersteel as plotting with Daemon’s sons in Tyrosh, in 210 and 211 AC, Inkpots of the Second Sons has this to say –

Inkpots to Tyrion: “Aegor Rivers served a year with us, before he left to found the Golden Company. Bittersteel, you call him.” (aDwD, Tyrion XII)

Like other exiled, landless lords, Bittersteel eventually ended up selling his sword. Even Yandel knows this.

Many famous names from the Seven Kingdoms have served in the Second Sons at one time or another. Prince Oberyn Martell rode with them before founding his own company; Rodrik Stark, the Wandering Wolf, was counted one of them as well. The most famous Second Son was Ser Aegor Rivers, that bastard son of King Aegon IV known to history as Bittersteel, who fought with them in the first years of his exile before forming the Golden Company […] (tWoIaF – The Three Quarrelsome Daughters)

Notice how Yandel says “years” while Inkpots explains it was only a year. Of the two, I am inclined to consider Inkpots a better and more precise source than Yandel. And we should, imo, take “first years of exile” as a broad stroke in comparison to Bittersteel’s forty five years of exile, not as a reference to the first years of the first phase of exile up to the second rebellion. In fact, I interprete the year of selling his sword to the Second Sons as being more towards the end of that first phase of exile than at the start, either 210 or 211 AC.

Money was not the sole reason for Aegor Rivers joining the Second Sons. Initially the lords and knights that fled to Essos with Rohanne and Bittersteel might have lingered, but they were forced to sell their sword to eat. Some joined the Second Sons, the Ragged Standard, the Maiden’s Men. And Aegor Rivers saw the swords, the forces he hoped to use to put Daemon’s son on the throne less and less, some dying for merchant wars in the Disputed Lands, and divided across several Free Companies.

Some joined the Ragged Standard, some the Second Sons or Maiden’s Men. Bittersteel saw the strength of House Blackfyre scattering to the four winds […] (aDwD, Tyrion II)

It seems that Bittersteel hoped to reconnect with those scattered sellswords, see whether fighting alongside them might bring them back to House Blackfyre.

We can conclude in general that Rohanne took care of her children, while Aegor Rivers played house for several years with Calla Blackfyre, helped to raise Daemon’s sons as their uncle and brother-in-law, kept tabs on Westeros, and started to prepare for the future in a military sense, by selling his sword to the Second Sons. Meanwhile the surviving children grew up into marriagable teens and early tweens.

The Second Blackfyre Rebellion (211 AC)

The lords who had not gone into exile with Rohanne and Bittersteel, but bent the knee to Daeron II, had surrendered sons and daughters as hostages to ensure their good conduct and loyalty. Crown Prince Baelor “Breakspear” Targaryen was Hand and popular for he was known as one of the best warriors, but also just and generous. Baelor had two sons, Valarr and Matarys, with Valarr also showing promise in popularity, and interestingly enough also wed to a noblewoman of Tyrosh, named Kiera. Until 209 AC, Daeron II and the realm could not be more sure that Breakspear would be king after him and that the Targaryen line would continue either through Valarr or Matarys. But then a Trial by Seven at the Tourney of Ashford cost the life of the Crown Prince and later in the same year, the Great Spring Sickness took the lives of Daeron II, Prince Valarr and Matarys. Valarr had no heirs: both of Valarr’s sons on Kiera of Tyrosh were stillborn. Neither a diplomat, nor a warrior became king of Westeros, but a man who was preoccupied with books about prophecy and higher mysteries, Daeron’s second son, Aerys I. Like Baelor the Blessed, King Aerys I did not care about fathering offspring. Though he refused to set his cousin-wife Aelinor Penrose aside, he never bedded her. The best and seemingly only decision of importance that Aerys I ever made in order to safeguard his dynasty was to appoint Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers as Hand.

In such a climate, Lord Gormon Peake contacts Daemon II Blackfyre in Tyrosh and smuggles or lures him across the narrow sea, back to Westeros, in the hope to kick off a second Blackfyre Rebellion in 211 AC at a wedding tourney at Whitewalls. But Bloodraven knows of the plan and the lords and knights grow increasingly doubtful, as they realize that Bittersteel is not involved, that Daemon does not have the sword Blackfyre with him and that Daemon the Younger might look the knightly part but is far from a skilled one. Towards the end, most men doubt whether he is even Daemon’s son.

In the Mystery Knight, one of the important points repeated several times by the conspiritors at the Wedding Tourney of Whitewalls is how Bittersteel is not involved and how Daemon II does not carry Blackfyre with him.

Dunk heard footfalls on the steps, the scrape of boots on stone. “…beggar’s feast you’ve laid before us Without Bittersteel…”
“Bittersteel be buggered,” insisted a familiar voice [Gormond Peake]. “No bastard can be trusted, not even him. A few victories will bring him over the water fast enough.” […]
[…] Lord Butterwell: “Frey and I harbored doubts about Lord Peake’s pretender since the beginning. He does not bear the sword! If he were his father’s son, Bittersteel would have armed him with Blackfyre.[…]” (the Mystery Knight)

Yandel and the Citadel discuss and speculate why Bittersteel did not support Daemon II.

That Daemon the Younger dreamed of becoming king is well-known, as is the fact that Bittersteel did not support him in his effort to claim the throne. But why Bittersteel supported the father but refused the son remains a question that is sometimes argued over in the halls of the Citadel. Many will claim that Young Daemon and Lord Gormon could not convince Bittersteel that their plan was sound, and truth be told, it seems a fair argument; Peake was blind to reason in his thirst for revenge and the recovery of his seats, and Daemon was convinced that he would succeed no matter the odds. Yet others suggest that Bittersteel was a hard man who had little use for anything beyond war and mistrusted Daemon’s dreams and his love of music and fine things. And others still raise an eyebrow at Daemon’s close relationship to the young Lord Cockshaw, and suggest that this would have troubled Aegor Rivers enough to deny the young man his aid. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I)

I question whether it was actually a “fact” that Bittersteel did not support Daemon II. There is a distinction between Bittersteel not supporting Daemon the Younger, Bittersteel not being present and therefore unable to support the plan. Inkpots’ revelation of Bittersteel serving the Second Sons for a year before he founded the Golden Company (in 212 AC), provides us with the simplest answer to explain Bittersteel’s absence in the plot – If Bittersteel was not in Tyrosh at the time, but serving the Second Sons, then Lord Peake and Daemon II acted without Bittersteel’s knowledge. Then Peake’s plot with Daemon II was hatched and executed behind Bittersteel’s back, while he was away trying to earn money and making military contacts for Daemon II. Certainly Gormon Peake’s reply to Thomas Heddle about Bittersteel befits that of a man who does not want others to delve too deep in Bittersteel’s absence. If Peake went behind Bittersteel’s back, naturally he would not want Thomas Heddle and others moan about “but Bittersteel!”

Daemon II is shown to be a charming dreamer, more than a warrior. He has the looks, can ride a horse and hold a lance. Even if his skills are not worthy of praise and Lord Peake has to bribe the opponents to lose the jousts against “John the Fiddler”, Daemon the Younger still had basic martial and jousting training.

John the Fiddler paid the older man no mind. “I would love to cross swords with you, ser. I’ve tried men of many lands and races, but never one your size. Was your father large as well?” (The Mystery Knight)

Daemon was seven years old when he fled with his mother to Tyrosh. It would have fallen to Bittersteel to hire or instruct Daemon the Younger. The quote does indicate that Aegor Rivers tried to have Daemon taught in arms and war, insofar Daemon actually would have wanted to practice, instead of dreaming of songs and stories and big knights to “cross swords” with (wink wink at the double entrendre in the above quote for a gay character).

While Bittersteel would have realized that Daemon II is not one to lead an army himself, this does not mean that Bittersteel believed him an unsuitable pretender, not if Bittersteel could be Daemon’s Hand for example.

Furthermore, we have explicit evidence that Bittersteel never tried to upjump a younger brother or nephew before Daemon. Aegor Rivers respected the line of succession and did not crown a new Blackfyre pretender before Daemon II was dead. Bloodraven counts on this when he explains to Duncan why he will not kill Daemon the Younger.

[Bloodraven] is marking down the men to die, Dunk realized. “My lord,” he said, “we saw the heads outside. Is that… will the Fiddler… Daemon… will you have his head as well?”
Lord Bloodraven looked up from his parchment. “That is for King Aerys to decide… but Daemon has four younger brothers, and sisters as well. Should I be so foolish as to remove his pretty head, his mother will mourn, his friends will curse me for a kinslayer, and Bittersteel will crown his brother Haegon. Dead, young Daemon is a hero. Alive, he is an obstacle in my half brother’s path. He can hardly make a third Blackfyre king whilst the second remains so inconveniently alive. Besides, such a noble captive will be an ornament to our court, and a living testament to the mercy and benevolence of His Grace King Aerys.” (The Mystery Knight)

Bloodraven certainly implies that Bittersteel crowned Daemon II himself, before Peake believed himself to be a better kingmaker than Bittersteel. And he already hinted to Duncan as Maynard Plumm that Peake was acting to make Daemon II king for his own ends, with Daemon as a puppet, far earlier.

Maynard Plumm (aka glamored Bloodraven): “You would be surprised to know how many lords prefer their kings brave and stupid. Daemon is young and dashing, and looks good on a horse.” (The Mystery Knight)

While maesters of the Citadel might argue that Bittersteel would roll his eyes at Daemon the Younger having dragon dreams, because the majority of the maesters consider prophetic dreams preposterous, I doubt that Bittersteel himself would have shrugged them away or considered them nonsense. For all we know, Daemon’s dragon dreams might have prompted Bittersteel to go into the service of the Second Sons with the aim to start gathering knights and lords.

My proposal presents a scenario where Bittersteel ironically tried to prepare for a new rebellion for the lead pretender he had, King Daemon II Blackfyre, rather than the heir he wished for. It is just that while Bittersteel worked for this, away from Tyrosh, Lord Peake messed up Bittersteel’s efforts for Daemon II.

So, why did Daemon not have the sword with him then? Imagine that more than ten years after you last rebelled and fled Wester, you attempt to recruit exiled knights and lords across the Free Cities, all serving in different free companies. How would you test their loyalty and convince them, without dragging Daemon the Younger himself along in order to avoid the dreamer ends up killing himself? Carrying the sword Blackfyre would be of extreme help in this. It would certainly serve better than introducing them to Daemon the Younger.

From Bloodraven’s words about there being four younger brothers and even sisters that Bittersteel could crown and how killing Daemon II would grieve Rohanne, we can infer several things. First, Rohanne of Tyrosh is still alive in 211 AC, so are all of his younger brothers and at least two of his (older) sisters. Secondly, Daemon the Younger had no legitimate sons. If Daemon II had any children, they were either illigitemate, stillborn, or daughters. However, since Bloodraven makes a mention of sisters, but not daughters in relation to Daemon II, this suggests that Daemon II had no children whatsoever. This would not be all that surprising, with the many hints of Daemon’s homosexuality. We do not ever see Daemon II charm any woman in the Mystery Knight, while he does not lack charm and looks. He uses that charm only for lords and hedge knights. Certainly in the Mystery Knight, Alyn Cockshaw is possessive of Daemon II and twice plans to have Dunk murdered, because Daemon the Younger shows too much attention to Duncan.  From Renly Baratheon we can extrapolate how Daemon the Younger would only have married out of necessity to produce an heir after he already had won the Iron Throne he was so certain he would win.

Bloodraven makes no mention of nephews to Daemon. While nephews would never come before their fathers, they would come before Daemon’s sisters. Hence any sons born to the younger brothers of Daemon the Younger were not born yet before 211 AC.

Court of King’s Landing: Kiera, Daemon II and freak-deaths (197 – 222 AC)

Bloodraven seems to want to spare Rohanne the grief of losing yet another son. We could interprete that as Brynden Rivers being merely sympathetic to Rohanne, but the story where he shoots one of the twins, before Daemon and then finally the other twin son at Redgrass Field makes me doubts such an interpretation. He speaks euphemistically about the more machiavellistic reasons not wishing to incite Rohanne’s Tyroshi family any more than they might already be. The oddity of Kiera of Tyrosh further strengthens my suspicion.

George has remained very close mouthed about Kiera – that is, her name is not mentioned except in the appendix of the Targaryen lineage of the World Book. Without the lineage Valarr’s wife who had two stillborn sons would remain unnamed. Without the lineage the mother of Daeron’s daughter, Vaella would remain unnamed. Baelor Breakspear’s son Valarr was wed to this Kiera of Tyrosh. We have no actual confirmation of Valarr’s age, but we know he is the eldest son of Baelor Breakspear. Hence, we can predict that Prince Valarr was not born before 183 AC. That is the earliest year when Baelor (born in 170 AC) would have turned thirteen.

Baelor’s wife is Jenna Dondarrion, the daughter of a Marcher Lord. This gives us some information to estimate the earliest possible date of a marriage between a Prince with a Dornish mother and a daughter of a longtime enemy of Dorne. Especially, when we remember that House Dondarrion guested Baelor the Blessed for half a year to recover from the snake bites. This match seems something Daeron II would do, rather than Aegon IV. It seems unlikely that Aegon IV would give his half Dornish-grandson such a strategical house just North of the Boneway for an ally through marriage. But aside from rewarding House Dondrarrion in helping to save Baelor the Blessed’s life, Daeron could have used it to balance out the marriage of his sister Daenerys to the Prince of Dorne in 187 AC : a Marcher Lord gets the Crown Prince for a son-in-law, while the Prince of Dorne gets the King as brother-in-law. Since Daeron II was not king before 184 AC, then Baelor not-yet-Breakspear would not have married Jenna Dondarrion before 184 AC, and thus Valarr could not have been born before 184 AC.

The earliest possible date for Prince Valarr to marry Kiera of Tyrosh was 196-197 AC, either during the First Blackfyre Rebellion or a year later, after House Blackfyre had fled to Tyrosh. Because of the rules of taking part in the Tourney of Ashford, we know that Prince Valarr (who was champion for Lord Ashford’s daughter) was at least sixteen in 209 AC. The Wiki speculates that Vallar was at least eighteen, since his father could fit in his armor, and men physically reach full maturity at eighteen. So, Valarr was born at the latest in 191 AC, and then the marriage to Kiera of Tyrosh would have taken place in 204 AC at the earliest. We do know that since Valarr died in 209 AC of the Great Spring Sickness, and that Kiera of Tyrosh had given birth to two stillborn sons, the last possible marriage year would have been 208 AC. Whichever precise year Valarr and Kiera married, it falls right smack in the time period that House Targaryen and Bloodraven were nervous about Bittersteel plotting with Daemon’s sons in Tyrosh and House Blackfyre building a network of marriage alliances there.

We do not know how Kiera of Tyrosh related to Rohanne of Tyrosh: a daughter of a rivaling political family or Tyroshi kin. But the least we can say is that it must be meaningful that another Tyroshi noblewomen was married to a likely Targaryen heir, after Rohanne, while Rohanne’s children are plotting in Tyrosh. It becomes all the more suspicious, and possibly mercenary, when Kiera of Tyrosh does not return home after Valarr’s death.

After Valarr, Kiera of Tyrosh is wedded to Daeron “the Drunken” Targaren, eldest son of Maekar. This is rather eye-brow raising given the fact that she has already proven to have had difficulty in delivering a healthy, living child. Again, we do not know when Kiera of Tyrosh married Daeron, but we have confirmation that she gave birth to a daughter Vaella, sweet but simple-minded, in 222 AC. No stillbirths are mentioned with Daeron prior to 222 AC. It almost appears as if Kiera of Tyrosh was not wedded to Daeron the Drunken until 221 AC, the year that Aerys I died and Daeron’s father Maekar I became king. With a possible gap between marriages of twelve years, I almost wonder whether Kiera was kept in in King’s Landing all those years as an officious hostage to prevent the political powers in Tyrosh from uniting all behind House Blackfyre. As a recompensation, Tyrosh would get a Queen of Westeros, regardless of the evidence that she had trouble birthing heirs.

Another possibility for the hypothetical twelve year gap was that they wanted to keep the option open for Aerys I to wed Kiera of Tyrosh. As soon as Aerys I became king, his small council proposed for him to set aside his wife Aelinor Penrose and take another.

Wed to Aelinor Penrose, he never showed an interest in getting her with child, and rumor had it that he had even failed to consummate the marriage. His small council, at their wits’ ends, hoped it was simply some dislike of her that moved him, and thus they urged him to put her aside to take another wife. But he would not hear of it. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I)

He never fathered an heir. Aelinor Penrose presumably died a maid. Meanwhile, Aerys had to appoint a new heir several times, because they kept dying before him. His younger brother, next in line, was Rhaegel (who ran around mad and naked in court), but choked to death on a lamprey pie in 215 AC. Rhaegel’s son, Aelor, died in 217 in some grotesque incident by the hand his twin sister-wife, Aelora. She went mad with grief over it, and eventually took her own life, after an attack by the Rat, the Hawk and the Pig at a masked ball.

His brother Rhaegel, third son of Daeron the Good, had predeceased him, choking to death upon a lamprey pie in 215 AC during a feast. Rhaegel’s son, Aelor, then became the new Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the throne, only to die two years after, slain in a grotesque mishap by the hand of his own twin sister and wife, Aelora, under circumstances that left her mad with grief. (Sadly, Aelora eventually took her own life after being attacked at a masked ball by three men known to history as the Rat, the Hawk, and the Pig.)  (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I)

Especially with Rhaegel and Aelor one starts to wonder whether there was an assassin operating. Was it the Strangler in a cup of wine instead of lamprie pie that killed Rhaegel?

Margaery Tyrell began to sob, and Tyrion heard her mother Lady Alerie saying, “He choked, sweetling. He choked on the pie. It was naught to do with you. He choked. We all saw.” (aSoS, Tyrion VIII)

And that grotesque incident where a a twin-wife killed her beloved twin-husband and afterwards is mad with grief sounds like someone had her eat a roast seasoned with basilisk blood.

The waif put the tears to one side and opened a fat stone jar. “This paste is spiced with basilisk blood. It will give cooked flesh a savory smell, but if eaten it produces violent madness, in beasts as well as men. A mouse will attack a lion after a taste of basilisk blood.” (aFfC, Cat of the Canals)

Was Aelora pregnant? An assault could cause her to miscarry. And rape by three thugs would throw doubt on the paternity of such a hypoethetical child. Yes, this is a highly speculative serial murder and assassination scenario, but given the Purple Wedding and the Waif’s words about basilisk poison not that farfetched. The question would then be: who was behind these rapidly consecutive deaths?

  • Kiera of Tyrosh or her family, all in order to get her be queen.
  • Daemon II who was a hostage in King’s Landing and wears a silver chain with dark purple amethysts.
  • Another prince who due to dragon dreams believed he would be king one day, like Aerion Brightflame.
  • Bittersteel.
  • A supporter of House Blackfyre acting on his own (like House Peake has done before)

I do not plan to solve a murder mystery that may not even be a murder mystery. But I will give some initial reflections regarding those hypothetical organizers. Hiring Faceless Men and thugs to assassinate Targaryens does not seem like anything that Bittersteel would approve, let alone organize. He seems a man who wants to win the throne by conquering Westeros, not poison.

A secret Blackfyre supporter in Westeros might be less scrupulous though. Aerys I and Maekar were estranged, after Aerys I made Bloodraven his Hand. Maekar took this as an insult and brooded in Summerhall. Aerys I would be politically at his weakest with Rhaegel and Rhaegel’s children gone with Maekar in Summerhall, the eldest nephew a drunk, the other temporarily exiled by his own father, the third learning for maester and the fourth being no more princely than a peasant is. And yet, why stop at Aelora?

Unless the organizer himself ends up dead. Daemon II Blackfyre‘s estimated death would be either 218 AC or early 219 AC, because in 219 AC Bittersteel crowns Daemon’s younger brother Haegon. Even if he seems a buffoon on the one hand, and his disguise is a poor one, he is not dirty of deception or trying to get innocent people executed. All his opponents at the tourney are bribed to lose when they joust against John the Fiddler and Ser Glendon Ball is accused of stealing a dragon egg, with the evidence only being a painted stone put in his bag. While Lord Gormond Peake is proven to be behind this and Dunk leaves room for Daemon to be innocent of it, in the end Daemon does not have the painted dragon egg fetched and jousts against Ser Glendon Ball to prove that Glendon is guilty. How far Daemon himself is willing to go into deception and actually has little honor is left ambiguous. And of course we have that glaring silver necklace with dark purple amethysts around his neck. It should not be fully ignored that the freak-accidents coincide with his captitivy in King’s Landing, if only because he might have had dragon dreams that the organizer or murderer may have used as a guide to bring it about.

Aerion Brightflame Targaryen certainly has the cruelty to plot murder and assassination. Egg tells Duncan in the Hedge Knight how Aerion once entered Aegon’s room, held a knife to Egg’s private parts and threatened to make him a eunuch. He believed in dragon dreams insofar he thought he would turn into a dragon if he drank a cup of wildfire. And it is claimed he meddled in dark arts. Except we do not know whether he was even in Westeros at the time. Maekar sent Aerion to Lys in 209 AC for the trouble he had caused at the Tourney of Ashford.  But we do not know when he returned, except that he was present during the Third Blackfyre Rebellion in 219 AC. In answer to a question, George answered

Lastly, (iv), well, Aerion Brightfire did not stay in Lys all his life, only a few years. He may have fathered a few bastards there, […] (SSM, Many Questions, october 14, 1998)

However, Inkpots of the Second Sons reveals that Aerion was not always in Lys and served with them, like Bittersteel.

“The Bright Prince, Aerion Targaryen, he was a Second Son.” (aDwD, Tyrion XII)

Curiously, Yandel does not mention him as one of the members of the Second Sons, either because he does not know, or left it out. I would say that serving with the Second Sons ought to be added to the “few years” in Lys. Now while interpreting the use of “a few” and “several” is highly speculative, we do tend to use “few” in relation to roughly indicate two, maximally three years, while “several” for example is used to indicate more than two, either three or four. Why would it matter? Because it is not impossible for George to write Bittersteel and Brightflame serving the Second Sons at the same time. Not that would have anything to do with a murder plot of his uncles and cousins, of course. Nor is it unusual for princes and Westerosi traveling in Essos to join a Free Company. It almost sounds like one of those touristy things to do. At any regard, it does show that Aerion travelered around in Essos, possibly fought alongside Bittersteel, or against him after Bittersteel founded the Golden Company, that he sold his sword for cash, and still might have made it back to King’s Landing by 215 AC.

That Kiera of Tyrosh was married twice to a crown prince while House Blackfyre is sheltering in Tyrosh is no coincidence either. And if she was already married to Daeron during Aerys’s reign, she was one of those who seemed about to reap the benefits of those deaths. 

Anyway, with that I end the interlude of eyebrow raising “coincidences” for this time period between the Second and Third Blackfyre Rebellion that raise more questions than answers.

The Golden Company (since 212 AC)

The year after Daemon’s failed attempt at starting a second rebellion, Aegor Rivers founded his Golden Company in 212 AC.

In Essos, Bittersteel gathered exiled lords and knights, and their descendants, to him. He formed the Golden Company in 212 AC, and soon established it as the foremost free company of the Disputed Lands. “Beneath the gold, the bitter steel” became their battle cry, renowned across Essos. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II)

Their battle cry is “Beneath the gold, the bitter steel,” but their motto is “Our word is as good as gold.” The latter refers to their reputation of never haven broken a contract, not until 300 AC, when they broke their contract with Myr in order to honor the one writ in blood with Illyrio for Aegon.

Most free companies are born in the Disputed Lands that lie between Tyrosh, Myr and Lys. At present there are two score (aka forty) free companies.

The Disputed Lands has been the birthplace of more of these so-called free companies than any other place in the known world, beginning during the Century of Blood. Even today, there are twoscore free companies in the region; when not employed by the three quarrelsome daughters, the sellswords oft seek to carve out conquests of their own.(tWoIaF – The Three Quarrelsome Daughters: Myr, Lys and Tyrosh)

However, many of those would be low in numbers and nothing more than rabble out for loot. In an interview George explained it thus:

Hal9000: I presume the mounted mercenaries from the eastern continent aren’t as heavily armored as the Westerosi knights? What about their skills and discipline compared to the Westerosi knights?

George: It varies. Some of the sellsword companies are very disciplined, and some are nothing but rabble joined together in search of loot. At one end there would be the Golden Company, at the other the Brave Companions. The Second Sons and the Stormcrows are in the middle. (SSM Military Questions, June 21, 2001)

The Brave Companions, aka the Bloody Mummers, for example are a Free Company of around 100 men. Jaime’s escort of Walton Steelshank of two hundred men outnumbers the Brave Companions two to one. The Brave Companions lost members during the fight with Ser Amory’s men inside Harrenhal, some to Nymeria’s pack, and some more to the Brotherhood Without Banners before Jaime’s escort. That still accounts for a loss of little over a score of men, not hundreds, let alone thousands. Most of those forty Free Companies would be comparable to the Bloody Mummers – in numbers and poor discipline.

While Ben Plumm’s Second Sons is one of the oldest companies and falls on the middle side of discipline it allegedly has only five hundred men under contract. Daario’s Stormcrows are of similar size, all ahorse. I should add that the Second Sons at one time may have had double their present number. The former commander of the Second Sons prior to Ben Plumm, Mero, caused the Second Sons to have such a bad reputation (comparable to the Brave Companions) that the Free Cities did not even want to hire the Second Sons anymore. Companies that are not hired mean loss of revenue for a sellsword. The last few years, the Second Sons would have had a low number of recruits, while every sellsword who had finished their contract would leave and seek another more profitable company to join. 

We have no known numers for historical companies such as the Bright Banners, Stormbreakers or the Company of the Rose, but presumably are at best the same in size. The Company of the Rose for example was founded by Northerners who chose exile over bending the knee to Aegon the Conquerer three hundred years ago, including female warriors. It is unlikely that Torrhen Stark lost even thousands of warriors to self-chosen exile, or that the North keeps losing a significant drain of northerners to Essos afterwards.  

Next up in size are the Long Lances who comprize eight hundred riders. But even with those numbers they seem poor in discipline, as the Stormcrows defeat them in a night raid. The Stormcrows lose only nine of their own, while gaining twelve recruits out of them. tWoW spoiler: the Mereneese company, the Mother’s Men, formed by freedmen (former slaves) and commanded by Marselen (Missandei’s Unsullied brother) break through their defense like a “rotten stick”.

In comparison the Windblown, commanded by the Tattered Prince, are a large company: they have 2000 horse and foot. The Company of the Cat, commanded by Bloodbeard, is even larger with their 3000 members. The Windblow and Company of the Cat can be called an actual army, albeit a small one. The largest of them all and the most disciplined is the Golden Company, having 10,000 men, which is a full, proper professional army. 500 of those are knights, each with three horses, and as many squires, each with one horses, making for two thousand horses. Then they have a 1000 archers. A third of those are crossbowmen, another third uses double curved bows of the east, and a final third use Westerosi long bows, and then there is another set of fifty Summer Islanders with goldenheart bows (the best bows in Planetos). And then there are the elephants. Did I mention the elephants? They are very important! The elephants I mean.

In discussions about army size, you might see debaters downplay the Golden Company as only having 10,000 men. Minus the knights, the squires and the archers, they have 8000 infantry. In numbers, the armies of the Tyrells and Lannisters should be able to crush them. However, large numbers of the infantry with the Tyrells and Lannisters are levied peasants who were shoved a poorly made sword or lance in their hands. The Lannister levies’ experience is mostly that of killing peasants, the Battle of the Green Fork, Blackwater Bay and an alleged storming of Dragonstone. The Tyrell levies only fought at Blackwater Bay, except for Tarly’s troops who fought at Duskendale. The men with the Golden Company are battle hardened commoners who joined the company because they already learned they were good at it, and at least in tWoW they are fighting to conquer a home, not for money or loot. Here are George’s general words about Westerosi armies, followed with those of recruits of Companies.

Hal9000: What is the general composition of the Westerosi armies? My impression is that the knights or mounted men represent the back-bone of their armies.
George: They are certainly the most feared component, yes.
Hal9000: What is the relative composition of archers (or horse-archers), infantry and cavalry?
George: Infantry outnumbered cavalry by a considerable margin, but for the most part we are talking about feudal levies and peasant militia, with little discipline and less training. Although some lords do better than others. Tywin Lannister’s infantry was notoriously well disciplined, and the City Watch of Lannisport is well trained as well… much better than their counterparts in Oldtown and King’s Landing. (SSM Military Questions, June 21, 2001)

George: Sellswords are mercenaries. They may or may not be mounted, but whether ahorse or afoot they fight for wages. Most tend to be experienced professional soldiers. You don’t have a lot of green young sellswords — some, sure, but not many. It’s a profession a man tends to chose after he’s tasted a few battles and learned that he’s good at fighting. (SSM Mercenaries, May 13, 2000)

According to the app of tWoIaF one of the first feats of the Golden Company was the sack of Qohor. Allegedly Qohor had hired them, but had broken its contract, and Bittersteel retaliated by sacking Qohor. But then we have the story of the Three Thousand (as Jorah Mormont tells it to Daenerys).

“It was four hundred years ago or more, when the Dothraki first rode out of the east, sacking and burning every town and city in their path. The khal who led them was named Temmo. His khalasar was not so big as Drogo’s, but it was big enough. Fifty thousand, at the least. Half of them braided warriors with bells ringing in their hair.
“The Qohorik knew he was coming. They strengthened their walls, doubled the size of their own guard, and hired two free companies besides, the Bright Banners and the Second Sons. And almost as an afterthought, they sent a man to Astapor to buy three thousand Unsullied. It was a long march back to Qohor, however, and as they approached they saw the smoke and dust and heard the distant din of battle.
“By the time the Unsullied reached the city the sun had set. Crows and wolves were feasting beneath the walls on what remained of the Qohorik heavy horse. The Bright Banners and Second Sons had fled, as sellswords are wont to do in the face of hopeless odds. With dark falling, the Dothraki had retired to their own camps to drink and dance and feast, but none doubted that they would return on the morrow to smash the city gates, storm the walls, and rape, loot, and slave as they pleased.
“Eighteen times the Dothraki charged, and broke themselves on those shields and spears like waves on a rocky shore. Thrice Temmo sent his archers wheeling past and arrows fell like rain upon the Three Thousand, but the Unsullied merely lifted their shields above their heads until the squall had passed. In the end only six hundred of them remained . . . but more than twelve thousand Dothraki lay dead upon that field, including Khal Temmo, his bloodriders, his kos, and all his sons. On the morning of the fourth day, the new khal led the survivors past the city gates in a stately procession. One by one, each man cut off his braid and threw it down before the feet of the Three Thousand.
“Since that day, the city guard of Qohor has been made up solely of Unsullied, every one of whom carries a tall spear from which hangs a braid of human hair. […] (aSoS, Daenerys I)

Maester Yandel adds Qohor might contract a free company during times of peril and they also pay off a regular visiting Dothraki khal.

If Qohor contracted the Golden Company not long after 212 AC, then that implies it were times of peril. Possibly the threat (likely Dothraki) was bought of with gifts and thus the Golden Company thanked for showing up but not getting paid. That the Golden Company managed to sack the city while it is permanently defended by Unsullied suggests that Bittersteel found a strategy to combat and defeat the Unsullied, without using the time consuming method of the Harpy’s Sons in Mereen. This certainly would have cemented their reputation from the get go, as the App claims. Still, it is curious that this remarkable and exceptional sacking of Qohor is never mentioned by characters in the series, nor by maester Yandel in the World Book. Either this is a fact that George does not want us to know yet, or it is equally possible that he might end up altering the name of the Free City that got sacked, to Norvos perhaps.

Regardless of the story that the Golden Company sacked Qohor, Bittersteel’s company certainly gained a reputation in the next seven years, quickly attracting more exile knights and lords. To this day in Planetos, it is the first company sought after by those who can afford them.

The Third Blackfyre Rebellion (219 AC)

As Bloodraven had predicted, Bittersteel did not crown Daemon’s brother Haegon Blackfyre, not while Daemon the Younger still lived as hostage in King’s Landing. But by 219 AC Daemon II has died (likely 218 or 219 AC), and Bittersteel crowns Heagon I (26-29) in Tyrosh. This is a surprising young age. Daemon II was in the prime of his life, and life as a royal hostage living at a court that wanted to keep him alive would. Especially since he loved poetry and singing songs more than anything else. So, he had a freak-accident like the Targaryen predecessors, or was either murdered or executed (and not necessarily by a Targaryen supporter).

After crowning Haegon, Bittersteel and Haegon launch a third rebellion. We hardly know anything about this rebellion at present: not where or how long. We know more about Bittersteel’s escape afterwards than the Third Rebellion itself.

In 219 AC, Haegon Blackfyre and Bittersteel launched the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Of the deeds done then, both good and ill—of the leadership of Maekar, the actions of Aerion Brightflame, the courage of Maekar’s youngest son, and the second duel between Bloodraven and Bittersteel—we know well. The pretender Haegon I Blackfyre died in the aftermath of battle, slain treacherously after he had given up his sword, but Ser Aegor Rivers, Bittersteel, was taken alive and returned to the Red Keep in chains. Many still insist that if he had been put to the sword then and there, as Prince Aerion and Bloodraven urged, it might have meant an early end to the Blackfyre ambitions. But that was not to be. Though Bittersteel was tried and found guilty of high treason, King Aerys spared his life, instead commanding that he be sent to the Wall to live out his days as a man of the Night’s Watch. That proved a foolish mercy, for the Blackfyres still had many friends at court, some of them only too willing to play the informer. The ship carrying Bittersteel and a dozen other captives was taken in the narrow sea on the way to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and Aegor Rivers was freed and returned to the Golden Company. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I)

So, after the battle was over and lost for House Blackfyre, Haegon Blackfyre surrendered, but was treacherlously killed, while Bittersteel was captured alive after a duel with Bloodraven and sent to the Wall. But Bittersteel managed to escape and returned to Tyrosh and the Golden Company that also seemed to have largely survived the battle. Prince Maekar led the Targaryen army against Haegon and Bittersteel, Egg (by then 19) showed courage, and Aerion’s “actions” are “well known”, but not necessarily heroic deed. Yandel wrote in general “deeds done, for good and ill”. In fact most “deeds” cited and specified are those we can count as “good” ones:

  • Maekar leading the Targaryen army and defeating the Third Blackfyre Rebellion.
  • Aegon’s couragiousness.
  • Bloodraven defeating Bittersteel in a duel that ended in his live capture and leaving it up to a trial and Aerys I to decide his fate (though arguing for his execution).

That leaves only Aerion’s actions as the possible deeds for ill. Aerion had to earn his nickname “the Monstrous” somehow, no? It sounds like one of those actions was slaying unarmed Haegon Blackfyre after he surrendered his sword. Speaking of a sword, since Bittersteel did fight alongside Haegon in complete support of him and dueled with Bloodraven, just as he did in the First Blackfyre Rebellion with Daemon I, can there be any doubt that Haegon Blackfyre fought with the sword Blackfyre and that Haegon surrendered it? It thus appears that Blackfyre got “lost” there and then.

After his escape, Aegor Rivers crowned Haegon’s eldest son Daemon III (born in exile) before the year was out.

Before the year was out, he crowned Haegon’s eldest son as King Daemon III Blackfyre in Tyrosh, and resumed his plotting against the king who had spared him. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I)

Take note that House Blackfyre still resides and operates from Tyrosh. Then notice that Bittersteel crowned Haegon’s son, Daemon III, and not Haegon’s younger brother Aenys. Bittersteel respected normal inheritance laws for House Blackfyre:

  1. No heir can be crowned before the previous head of House Blackfyre is dead
  2. Sons come before uncles.
  3. daughters and sisters come last.

And since Daemon III Blackfyre was Haegon’s eldest son, Haegon Blackfyre had at least fathered one other son by 219 AC.

Bittersteel does not launch a Fourth Rebellion with the crowned Daemon III Blackfyre until 236 AC. This is a gap of seventeen years. These might be some of the reasons why Aegor Rivers waits this long:

  • Even with a weak king such as Aerys I, Bloodraven proves too strong an opponent as Hand.
  • Aerys I, Bloodraven and Maekar formed a united front after all.
  • The political support of House Blackfyre in Westeros is shattered after two failures during Aerys I
  • Daemon III is still a child at the time.

Jumping the Line (233 AC)

In Westeros, King Aerys I dies in 221 AC. His last remaining and youngest brother Maekar I became king instead. In 222 AC the Crown Prince Daeron the Drunken becomes the father of Vaella. Allegedly Daeron died of the pox some time later that he caught from a whore. Aerion Brightflame’s son Maegor was born in 232 AC, but Aerion the Monstrous died in the same year when he drank a cup of wildfire believing he would turn into a dragon. Then in 233 AC, House Peake rebelled and King Maekar I Targaryen died in the storming of Starpike, as a rock fell and crushed his helm. Maekar’s death caused a succession crisis. Who was to be king or queen? Simple minded Vaella of 11 years old, Baby Maegor and son of a monster like Aerion, maester Aemon, or the peasant prince Aegon? In order to avoid war, Bloodraven called a Great Council to decide the matter. In response to this, Haegon’s younger brother, Aenys Blackfyre, writes a letter from Tyrosh to put his claim forward.

Even as the Great Council was debating, however, another claimant appeared in King’s Landing: none other than Aenys Blackfyre, the fifth of the Black Dragon’s seven sons. When the Great Council had first been announced, Aenys had written from exile in Tyrosh, putting forward his case in the hope that his words might win him the Iron Throne that his forebears had thrice failed to win with their swords. Bloodraven, the King’s Hand, had responded by offering him a safe conduct, so the pretender might come to King’s Landing and present his claim in person. Unwisely, Aenys accepted. Yet hardly had he entered the city when the gold cloaks seized hold of him and dragged him to the Red Keep, where his head was struck off forthwith and presented to the lords of the Great Council, as a warning to any who might still have Blackfyre sympathies. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Maekar I)

Bloodraven’s actions in this are regularly discussed and debated. But I would like to remind the reader that Bittersteel crowned Haegon’s eldest son Daemon III Blackfyre as king in 219 AC already. So, had Daemon III and his brother(s) died by 233 AC? No! Daemon III leads the Fourth Rebellion three years later in 236 AC. So, what did Aenys think he was doing when he wrote to the Great Council? If any Blackfyre ought to petition with the Great Council for consideration to be king in a feudal society, it ought to have been Daemon III Blackfyre, NOT Aenys Blackfyre. Aenys was not solely a pretender in the eyes of the Targaryens. He had no first claim even in the eyes of Bittersteel or House Blackfyre. He sneakily tried to jump ahead in line of his nephews. It seems a strange distinction I make for a family of pretenders trying to wrestle the throne away from the Targaryens. But if House Blackfyre and Bittersteel truly believed Daeron II was not King Aegon IV’s son, then it was their duty to rebel in their eyes, as much as it is Stannis’s duty. Then House Blackfyre and Bittersteel were acting according to feudal honor, except for Aenys. He was nothing more than an opportunist, without any feudal honor or family loyalty.

Is it any coincidence then that House Peake is somehow involved in the events leading up to Aenys making his claim? House Peake and Aenys may not have been plotting actively as Lord Gormond and Daemon II did, but at the very least House Peake likely hoped to create a climate to convince one member of House Blackfyre to cross the narrow sea. That goal worked, resulting in the death of King Maekar, a Targaryen succession crisis and a Blackfyre pretender making a claim, except it was the wrong Blackfyre. It seems that George is setting up a meta-parallel that when House Peake is involved, it is without Bittersteel’s approval. And this meta-parallel might have serious consequences for theories that propose Varys’s Aegon is a Blackfyre descendant: we have three exiled Peakes fighting for Aegon.

  1. First we have a true crowned Blackfyre, but house Peake opportunistically tried to be kingmaker behind Bittersteel’s back, and everyone else ended up believing Daemon II was fake.
  2. The second time, house Peake rebels first, but the wrong Blackfyre who is neither crowned nor in line to be crowned makes his claim.
  3. The third time, members of house Peake fight alongside an alleged Targaryen claimant, but we have hints he is the son of a Lyseni bedslave and a Pentosi cheesemonger, and Moqorro mentions a “fake dragon” surrounding Tyrion.

This is getting progressively worse over time. So, when a Peake says they have “friends in the Reach,” it should make us cringe about Aegon’s identity as possibly not even being a Blackfyre.

Laswell Peake rapped his knuckles on the table. “Even after a century, some of us still have friends in the Reach.” (aDwD, The Lost Lord, aka JonCon I)

Would the consideration and eventual dismissal of Aenys Blackfyre’s claim by the Great Council have resolved the Blackfyre issue once and for all? No, Aenys did not have first Blackfyre claim. It would not have dismissed any potential claim of the crowned King Daemon III Blackfyre, nor his brothers, nor his children’s. Not then, nor the future. Nor did Aenys have value as a hostage. He was a traitor to his own house. In two ways, Brynden Rivers did House Blackfyre a favor: he killed an opportunistic traitor and as a result of his actions Bloodraven ceased to be Hand and Protector of the Realm.

Because, Aenys was not the head of House Blackfyre and we lack any comment about his potential family life, other than that he lived in Tyrosh, we cannot make a definite conclusion regarding his marriage status, nor any children he might have had. We have no confirmation in this regard, nor do we have hints that Aenys (39-42 old) died a bachelor without issue. But his murder and the dismissal of the claim of Kiera’s daughter Vaella indicate that by this time either Aenys’s mother Rohanne or her father have died. The political threat of Tyroshi nobility siding with the Blackfyre cause seems to have waned.

The Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion (236 AC)

Westeros suffered under a long winter from 130 AC to 135 AC, while lords grew to dislike “peasant” King Aegon V for meddling in their affairs, even before he was king, and then reducing their rights and privileges in favor of the common folk. Meanwhile, Bloodraven had been sent to the Wall. If there ever was a time ripe to rally support and hope for success for the Blackfyre cause, it would have been at the end of that winter. And so, King Daemon III Blackfyre and Bittersteel led the Golden Company in a fourth attempt to seize the throne in 236 AC.

In 236 AC, as a cruel six-year-long winter drew to a close, the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion saw the self-styled King Daemon III Blackfyre, son of Haegon and grandson of Daemon I, cross the narrow sea with Bittersteel and the Golden Company at his back, in a fresh attempt to seize the Iron Throne. The invaders landed on Massey’s Hook, south of Blackwater Bay, but few rallied to their banners. King Aegon V himself rode out to meet them, with his three sons by his side. In the Battle of Wendwater Bridge, the Blackfyres suffered a shattering defeat, and Daemon III was slain by the Kingsguard knight Ser Duncan the Tall, the hedge knight for whom “Egg” had served as a squire. (tWoIaF – the Targaryen Kings: Aegon V)

It ended far more quickly than the pretender might have wished, at the Battle of Wendwater Bridge. Afterward, the corpses of the Black Dragon’s slain choked the Wendwater and sent it overflowing its banks. The royalists, in turn, lost fewer than a hundred men…but amongst them was Ser Tion Lannister, heir to Casterly Rock. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister Under the Dragons)

But they failed once again. Daemon III died fighting Duncan the Tall. As ever, Bittersteel escaped and lived for another five years, to die fighting in the Disputed Lands in 241 AC.

Bittersteel eluded capture and escaped once again, only to emerge a few years later in the Disputed Lands, fighting with his sellswords in a meaningful skirmish between Tyrosh and Myr. Ser Aegor Rivers was sixtynine years of age when he fell, and it is said he died as he had lived, with a sword in his hand and defiance upon his lips. Yet his legacy would live on in the Golden Company and the Blackfyre line he had served and protected. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon V)

If Aegor Rivers crowned anyone in Tyrosh, we have not been told. If he did not crown anyone, it was not because there was no male heir as the mention of the last Daemon Blackfyre and Maelys “the Monstrous” Blackfyre seventeen years later prove. There certainly is the possibility that several Blackfyres died at Wendwater Bridge, not just Daemon III. Yandel phrases the defeat as “shattering” and the river choked with bodies. An uncle, his brother(s) and perhaps even an eldest son could have fought along and died there. Perhaps Bittersteel did not consider the male heirs worthy of any crowning, such as Maelys. Maybe Bittersteel recognized that it would not happen in his lifetime and simply refused to crown someone when he could not be at their side. It is however certain that Aegor Rivers never actually gave up on the dream that one day the Golden Company and House Blackfyre would succeed.  Aegor Rivers commanded the Golden Company to carry his golden skull back across the narrow sea when they would retake Westeros.

All the skulls were grinning, even Bittersteel’s on the tall pike in the center. What does he have to grin about? He died defeated and alone, a broken man in an alien land. On his deathbed, Ser Aegor Rivers had famously commanded his men to boil the flesh from his skull, dip it in gold, and carry it before them when they crossed the sea to retake Westeros. His successors had followed his example. (aDwD, The Lost Lord, aka JonCon I)

The Last Blackfyres

Sometime, before 258 AC, only two male Blackfyres remain with unspecified ties: the last Daemon Blackfyre and Maelys “the Monstrous” Blackfyre. Maelys challenges his cousin Daemon for command over the Golden Company and kills him.  Then in 258 AC, Maelys forms the Band of Nine with eight other exiles and outlaws, promising each other they will help each of them carve out a kingdom. Prince of the Dragonflies, Duncan, dubbed them the Ninepenny Kings.

In 258 AC on Essos, another challenge rose to Aegon’s reign, when nine outlaws, exiles, pirates, and sellsword captains met in the Disputed Lands beneath the Tree of Crowns to form an unholy alliance. The Band of Nine swore their oath of mutual aid and support in carving out kingdoms for each of their members. Amongst them was the last Blackfyre, Maelys the Monstrous, who had command of the Golden Company, and the kingdom they pledged to win for him was the Seven Kingdoms. Prince Duncan, when told of the pact, famously remarked that crowns were being sold nine a penny; thereafter the Band of Nine became known as the Ninepenny Kings in Westeros. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon V)

In the same year that 259 AC Aegon V and others died in the tragedy of Summerhall and his last remaining son Jaehaerys became king, Maelys helps an ambitious merchant prince Alequo Adaris in taking Tyrosh, that city that House Blackfyre had called home from 196 AC until at least 233 AC. Tyrosh would have been the sole home the second, third and even fourth generation of House Blackfyre, whether still having that name or not, had ever known. The Ninepenny Kings sacked it and installed Alequo as Tyrant King. Next, they seized the Stepstones for their base to conquer Westeros for Maelys.

The tragedy of Summerhall brought Jaehaerys, the Second of His Name, to the Iron Throne in 259 AC. Scarcely had he donned the crown than the Seven Kingdoms found themselves plunged into war, for the Ninepenny Kings had taken and sacked the Free City of Tyrosh and seized the Stepstones; from there, they stood poised to attack Westeros. Jaehaerys had known that the Band of Nine meant to win the Seven Kingdoms for Maelys the Monstrous, who had declared himself King Maelys I Blackfyre, […] (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaerys II)

Instead of waiting for the Ninepenny Kings to launch an invasion in Westeros, King Jaehaerys II sent armies to defeat them on their self-chosen turf in 260 AC. They warred across islands and channels for close to a year. But it was the young knight Barristan Selmy who killed Maelys in single combat.

[…] In 260 AC, his lordship landed Targaryen armies upon three of the Stepstones, and the War of the Ninepenny Kings turned bloody. Battle raged across the islands and the channels between for most of that year. […] Hightower and his men were hard-pressed for a time, but as the war hung in the balance, a young knight named Ser Barristan Selmy slew Maelys in single combat, winning undying renown and deciding the issue in a stroke, for the remainder of the Ninepenny Kings had little or no interest in Westeros and soon fell back to their own domains. Maelys the Monstrous was the fifth and last of the Blackfyre Pretenders; with his death, the curse that Aegon the Unworthy had inflicted on the Seven Kingdoms by giving his sword to his bastard son was finally ended. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaejaerys II)

Offcially, House Blackfyre ended with Maelys. But Illyrio Mopatis specifies that Maelys was the last Blackfyre of the male line. This means that with his death, so died the name Blackfyre, not necessarily the men, women, boys and girls who had Blackfyre blood running through their veins. They simply did not have the Blackfyre name, because their closest ancestor named Blackfyre was their mother, or grandmother.

Because we get no specifix textual ties to previous Blackfyres other than their names, most people do not go further than assume that Maelys is a grandson of Daemon I Blackfyre via either Haegon, Aenys or the last two unnamed sons, and that the relationship between Maelys and the Last Daemon is a type of cousin relationship. However, while we may have no direct textual confirmation for Maelys, we have something else – an illustration of Maelys in the duel against Selmy.

Maelys_Selmy
Maelys Blackfyre fights Barristan Selmy during the War of the Ninepenny Kings, as depicted by Jose Daniel Cabrera Pena in tWoIaF

maelys_the_monstrous_woiaf_8931

The illustrations in the World Book or those of the illustrated novels are approved by George or made using George’s  guidelines about the character. So, I ask you, how old does Maelys look to you? To the right is an enlargement of Maelys alone, for readers who do not own the World Book.

Maelys is an old man with wrinkles. He looks he could be a grandfather. Considering that he still has a heavy frame with a broad chest, Maelys is younger than seventy. If I say I see a man who is over fifty, I am being optimistically generous, taking a hard life as well as weathering of sand and sun into consideration for appearing older than he might be. Maelys died in 260 AC. That would mean he was born at the latest in 209 AC. But any of Daemon I’s grandsons who carries the name Blackfyre was born after 211 AC. So, Maelys is not a grandson, but one of Daemon’s last unnamed sons, who would be between 64 to 68 in 260 AC. The last name carrying male Blackfyre was also the last living son of Daemon I Blackfyre. Since, Maelys killed his cousin (and perhaps others) this makes Maelys not just the last surviving male Blackfyre in 260 AC, but the man who destroyed and killed House Blackfyre: a kinslayer and usurper. If the destroyer of House Blackfyre was indeed Daemon I’s last son, it becomes cruelly poetic. Daemon I founds House Blackfyre, while his last (youngest) son ensures it goes extinct, as if everything and everyone between the beginning and the end hardly mattered. 

There is his nickname, “the Monstrous”. But even his first name is a phonetical hint. If you were to pronounce Maelys and ask someone who would not know you were uttering a name to write it down, they would write malice. Maelyis is just malice spelled differently. Then there is his parastic twin, sprouting from his neck as a second head.

Captain of the Golden Company, named for his grotesquely huge torso and arms, fearsome strength, and savage nature. A second head grew from his neck, no bigger than a fist.

Fraternal twins (non-identical) are the result of a woman’s ovaries releasing two eggs around the same time, and thus two eggs are fertilized by a sperm each. While they are conceived and born simultaneously, genetically they are no closer than siblings born apart in time, across various pregnancies. How over-active ovaries are is regulated by a woman’s hormones, and thus the chance of birthing fraternal twins is genetically dependent – and this is important – on the mother (not the father!). No amount of genetic make-up of men can increase the chance of their wives giving birth to twins. All a man can do is pass the genes onto a daughter who, as a result, is more pre-disposed at having fraternal twins. So, if a mother has given birth to fraternal twins once, there is a higher chance that she might have another set of fraternal twins afterwards than a woman who has never birthed twins.

A chimera twin is created from a basic fraternal twin situation when the two zygotes conjoin. A zygote is a fertilized egg, a cell, traveling down the tubes into the womb and has not yet nestled. It is only in the earliest stages of division, not yet even increased in size – a pre-embyrionic stage. So, basicaly the cells of what could have been two persons gets clumped together, like two colors of plasticine (that do not mix) lumped together to mold one figure out of it. The baby born has for example one eye with cells with genes dictating that the eye color ought to be green, while the cells of the other eye have another genetic code dictating it ought to produce another color. Same thing with cells in the scalp to produce hair color. People theorize for example that Tyrion is a chimera twin. Joanna has already birthed paternal twins, and Tyrion seems a mish-mash (not a mix) of different genetic material – bi-colored hair and bi-colored eyes.

Unlike with fraternal twins, there is no factual genetic predisposition for giving birth to identical twins. It is mere random chance. However, since there is an erronous belief that twinning is genetically predisposed in general, we cannot rule out that George made this mistake. With identical twins you start out with one sperm having joined with one egg, like a normal pregnancy. The zygote starts to divide and travels to the womb, nestles, but sometime later in the embryonic stage, the clump of cells dividing end up splitting, so that you have two clumps of embryos that develop furhter and are born as identical twins, who are near identical genetic copies of the same gender.  Rohanne’s firsborn twin sons Aemon and Aegon could be identical twins, as they at least are both male.

If an embryo splits after day 12 of fertilization, there is a risk that they do not completely separate, resulting in conjoined twins. Sometimes one of the conjoined twins ceases to develop and dies, while the other develops in full – parasitic twins. The underdeveloped twin is called the parasite, whereas the twin who developed completely is the autosite, who has all the vitals to survive on his own. Since a vital phoetus will try to get as much oxygen, nutrients and space for development in utero, the underdeveloped parasite may end up being partially reabsorbed, resulting in a vanishing twin. Conjoined twins and parasitic twins are ALWAYS identical twins³, with a parasitic twin being a special type of conjoined twins. The description we have for Maelys is typical for a parasitic twin (NOT a chimeric twin). Since it appears that we have two set of identical twins, this furthers the (scientifically erronous) idea that Rohanne is the likeliest mother of Maelys.

It would be completely unfair to blame the surviving half of a conjoined twin of the death and underdevelopment of the other in real life. But as feudal societies go, without much scientific insight, of course Maelys is regarded as a “kinslayer in utero”. Do you think Maelys was treated better than Tyrion, because his last name was Blackfyre? No, if anything he would have been treated worse, with the constant reminder of the parasite twin sticking out his neck. Even his own mother would have recoiled from him. No father or brother would agree to wed their daughter or sister to such one. It would not be Westeros or King’s Landing making mock of him, but the Tyroshi, from the highest born to the street urchins. Maelys grew up in Tyrosh, since he was a suckling baby or a crawling toddler, hating his family and the city that welcomed them, but not him. What histories tell us he was involved in – slaying his own cousin and sacking Tyrosh – is the obvious result of the inevitable hatred. Maelys did not simply kill his cousin with a sword. He twisted and tore his cousin’s head off with his hands.

He won command of the Golden Company by fighting his cousin, Daemon Blackfyre, for it, killing his cousin’s destrier with a single punch and then twisting Daemon’s head until it was torn from his shoulders. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaerys II)

Ouch! The hatred is deep.

Speaking of heads. Usually, the lead male of the family is called, “the family head,” or “the head of the family”. There would be no reason to challenge the Last Daemon for command of the Golden Company if Maelys was already ahead in line. Hence, Daemon Blackfyre would be ahead of Maelys, according to the inheritance order that Bittersteel followed. And nobody gives the same name to two of their sons, not even the Freys. We can exclude the last Daemon Blackfyre from being a grandson of Daemon I, because these would not be Maelys’s cousins, but nephews. Hence, the last Daemon Blackfyre is either a grandson of Haegon, Aenys or the other unnamed brother.

In order for the Last Daemon to be the Captain General of a professional army such as the Golden Company, he would have been an experienced fighter in his twenties, not a mere boy or teen, especially if it required a man like Maelys to battle him for command over it. Theoretically one can argue that the Last Daemon may have died years before Maelys formed the Band of Nine in 258 AC. However, with Maelys kinslaying the Last Daemon in order to get command, and thus usurping him, it seems unlikely that Maelys wasted too much time. Time was ticking for a man looking that old already. Maelys’s actions leave a “last chance for a rogue” impression. So, I lean towards the Last Daemon dying in 257 or 258 AC.

Haegon’s line

  • Daemon III: born between 211 & 218 AC, died in 236 AC
    • sons of Daemon III: born between (earliest) 224 and 236 AC.
      • 4th rebellion: max 12
      • Bittersteel’s death: between 5 and 17
      • Maelys’s challenge (latest 258 AC): between 22 to 34
  • brother(s) of Daemon III: born between 212 & 219 AC.
    • (cannot be named Daemon)
      • 4th rebellion: between 17 and 24
      • Bittersteel’s death: between 22 and 29.
    • his sons: born earliest 225 AC.
      • 4th rebellion: max 11
      • Bittersteel’s death: max 16
      • Maelys’s challenge: max 33

Aenys’s line

  • sons: born between 211 & 233 AC
    • (would be nephew, not cousin to Maelys)
      • 4th rebellion: between 3 and 25
      • Bittersteel’s death: between 8 and 30
    • grandsons: born earliest 224 AC
      • 4th rebellion: max 12
      • Bittersteel’s death: max 17
      • Maelys’s challenge: max 34

The line of the penultimate unnamed son of Daemon I would be similar as Aenys’s.

I do propose that there was at least another Blackfyre, before the Last Daemon, who commanded the Golden Company after Bittersteel’s death. This would not necessarily have to be the first in line of sucession, but a Blackfyre who could be seen as the steward, much like Aegor Rivers was to House Blackfyre. The following line in the World Book gives that impression. 

After Bittersteel, the company was led by descendants of Daemon Blackfyre until the last of them, Maelys the Monstrous, was slain in the Stepstones.  (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II)

Technically the last Daemon Blackfyre and Maelys Blackfyre are enough to warrant the use of the word “descendants”. But by specificying “until the last of them” it strongly suggests there were at least two descendants who led the Golden Company prior to Maelys.

For Westeros, Maelys Blackfyre and the Golden Company sacking Tyrosh has little to no meaning. Of course for House Blackfyre this is immense. Maelys sacking Tyrosh, home to House Blackfyre for so long, is huge. It closes a door on House Blackfyre as much as tearing the head off the Last Daemon off. It is revenge, rejection and goodbye all rolled into one. And if in Tyrosh they speak ill of the Tyrant Alequo Adaris, the name Blackfyre would equally be synonymous to an enemy in the eyes of the Tyroshi. If there even had been another living male Blackfyre relative of Maelys in Tyrosh after the sacking, he would have needed to alter his name or flee the City. And basically because of this many readers assume or suppose, that any Blackfyre descendant, whether they still had the name or not, were hunted, enslaved and sold or purged from Tyrosh.

I strongly disagree with this, however. Calla Blackfyre’s first children, sons and daughters, would have been born fifty to sixty years before the sack. None of them would have had the Blackfyre name. They would have married into the noble and wealthy families of Tyrosh. Calla’s and Bittersteel’s first grandchild could have been born somewhere around 215 AC, their great-grandchild by 230 AC, and so on. By 260 AC a 5th generation of descendants of Calla Blackfyre could be born, with each of them carrying a different noble Tyroshi name.

There is an enormous difference between Tyroshi despising the name Blackfyre and Tyroshi effectively killing or  enslaving their own kin (male or female) or in-laws simply because the mother, grandmother or great-grandmother of that kin had the name Blackfyre. For instance, at present in the series, the name Frey may be the most reviled name. Before long the saying will be “the only good Frey is a dead Frey.” But do you think House Vance will kill or sell off Marianne, Walder and Patrek Vance, just because they had a Frey mother? Will Anya Waynwood or anyone of her household kill her ward Cynthea Frey? What about Robert, Walder and Jon Brax? Many readers think Olyvar Frey is the ward of Rosby. If he claims Rosby and takes the name Rosby in order to be Lord of Rosby will people kill him? If Roslin Frey births a son to Edmure Tully, will they slay her and her child in its cradle? Of course not. People can hate a name and any stranger bearing the name. But they will not hate their children, wives, husbands, parent, grandparent, cousins, uncles or aunts, let alone betray them. These are people they know personally to be innocent of wrongdoing.

The threat to such descendants are not the Tyroshi, but Maelys himself. He could fear another challenger with Blackfyre blood, though not the name. Certainly sacking a city can be used as a cover-up for a purge to hunt down kin. Maelys would not have been able to know them all, however, and several could have escaped his notice, just not many.

After the sack of Tyrosh and the defeat of Maelys and the Ninepenny Kings at Steptones, Alequo Adaris remained the king tyrant of Tyrosh for six more years.

Half a year of hard fighting remained before the Stepstones and the Disputed Lands were freed from the remaining Band of Nine, and it would be six years before Alequo Adarys, the Tyrant of Tyrosh, was poisoned by his queen and the Archon of Tyrosh was restored. For the Seven Kingdoms, it had been a grand victory, though not without cost in lives or suffering. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaerys I)

Alequo’s significance can be manifold. On the one hand the Tyrant of Tyrosh and his seven year reign would add fuel to the hatred for the name Blackfyre. Secondly, he could have been a cousin or nephew of Maelys, a son of one of Maelys’s sisters or one of his nieces, or an in-law wedded to one of Maelys’s cousins. If so, then Alequo would have had as much interest in holding a purge of Blackfyre descendants like himself (or his wife), and many years to do it. Thirdly, any of the surviving descendants could have been involved in his downfall. This would have resulted in the restored Archon forgiving the surviving descendants.

So, while I overall agree that the sack of Tyrosh by Maelis and the tiranny of Alequo would have greatly decimated the number of non-name-carrying Blackfyre descendants, I disagree with the belief that they would not be tied to Tyrosh anymore.

Finally, to me the far more subtextual break for Blackfyre descendants is the one with the Golden Company, founded by Bittersteel for House Blackfyre. But they betrayed Bittersteel and House Blackfyre when they flocked to a Blackfyre who slew his own kin ahead in line of him. They too sacked Tyrosh, and would have been an instrument to purge those descendants who had the blood, but not the name. Imagine if you will, a great-great-great grandson of Calla Blackfyre and Aegor Rivers and the stories he would have been raised with – of his fierce ancestor Bittersteel who founded the famous Golden Company and put his whole life in service of House Blackfyre, about Calla’s noble mother and her father the Archon, how Tyrosh had welcomed them, about the valiant Blackfyre pretenders and the treacherous ones, and finally Maelys the Monstrous who destroyed his own house, stole the Golden Company and turned against Tyrosh. What chance is there that such a descendant would have anything to do with the Golden Company? Almost none.

Literary purpose

At the heart of the story and feud between House Targaryen and House Blackfyre lies the same issue of Stannis Baratheon rebelling against Joffrey and Tommen Baratheon. The entire series of political conflicts in aGoT kick off with the queen-consort having an affair, cuckolding the king, effectively putting children on the throne that are not the king’s, and willing to murder children, the king and an honest man who is not even without empathy. Everything surrounding this cuckolding and affair is set-up to make us angry and disgusted by it: twin-incest, attempt to murder an innocent child, a child-heir who is a monster and a coward, and on top of it, Cersei is narcissistic and power-hungry who does not actually love her children, and a strict set of feudal inheritance rules. And according to those rules, Stannis should be king, and Shyreen after him.

Meanwhile we are introduced to a series of bastards: Jon Snow, Gendry, Mya Stone, Joffrey, Tommen, Myrcella, Edric Storm, and Bella, the Sand Snakes, Boodraven, Ramsay, and so many more. Some do not know they are bastardborn. Others believe they are bastardborn, but actually may be trueborn. Sansa is trueborn, but has to survive by taking on the identity of a girl who is bastardborn. Some of the bastards are utter villains and monsters, but so are several trueborn characters. Others are heroes, but so are several trueborn characters. Many are just trying to survive. And then slowly, from aSoS onwards, George starts to introduce the concept of descendants whose ancestry is actually a line that exists thanks to their bastard ancestor. There is Ben Plumm who is a descendant of Viserys Plumm, whose true father was not a Plumm, but Aegon IV Targaryen. Ygritte tells Jon Snow the story of how House Stark’s lineage was saved because a daughter Stark birthed a bastard fathered by Bael the Bard. The first Baratheon, Orys, was allegedly a bastard. And then House Blackfyre is mentioned and becomes an integral part of the Dunk & Egg stories, and the Targaryen history in the World Book.

As my first parts pointed out  – the prelude, the founding of House Blacfkyre and the First Rebellion – we get a similar kick-off as in aGoT: a queen who likely did cuckold her king once and one of the king’s legitimized bastards rebelling after he is convinced that the king has no feudal right to be king. Except this time, the queen is a dutiful woman who is not out to gain power, nor would she have intended to cuckold him. She would have simply given in, when young and heartsick, to her true love that one-time. On top of it, her son was one of the best kings in the Targaryen history, a truly good person, with diplomatic skills, achieving with it what no other king has done – bringing Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms peacefully and without losing it. Nor is there evidence that Daemon I Blackfyre or Bittersteel were evil people, acting out of hunger for power. They rebelled, because they believed that by the feudal rules of their society, Daeron the Good had no right to the throne.

If Daeron II was indeed a bastard, this has a consequence that his descendants are actually a bastard line, as much as House Blackfyre, House Plumm, House Stark and House Baratheon. That in fact there are no characters who are more true heirs with more right to a throne and rule of a whole continent on account of their birth than the known bastards. Recognizing this, was Aegon IV so morally wrong then when he legitimized all his bastards, no matter if he did it as a joke or a “fuck you” to feudal society? 

His last act before his death, all accounts agree, was to set out his will. And in it, he left the bitterest poison the realm ever knew: he legitimized all of his natural children, from the most baseborn to the Great Bastards—the sons and daughters born to him by women of noble birth. Scores of his natural children had never been acknowledged; Aegon’s dying declaration meant naught to them. For his acknowledged bastards, however, it meant a great deal. And for the realm, it meant blood and fire for five generations. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV)

Purely from the ethical view of human rights, this may in fact have been the only responsible decision that Aegon IV ever made in his life – differentiating people based on whether they were born in wedlock or not, to a noblewoman or a tavern wench is wrong. Aegon IV did not start those wars. The lords and houses clinging to feudal rules did.

The result is that George first traps us readers into supporting characters (whether it is Stannis or Dany or anyone else you want to pick) who have the most right to rule according to the feudal rules of the order in which someone is born, on the right side of the blanket, where the fraudulent bastard is a monster and the challenger is either a just person or an emancipating liberator. Then he completely deconstructs the validity of those rules by giving us heroic bastards and trueborn monsters, good kings who are actually bastards, and horrific kings, princes and pretenders you do not want anywhere near a throne. And on top of that he makes everyone either bastardborn or a descendant of a bastard line, so that in the end we readers will completely abandon the feudal rules of legitimacy, birth order and gender, and judge a character for the good or ill they do, exactly as we would judge a character in our own modern world. And yes that means that Aenys Blackfyre should not be judged until we know more of him. He was a traitor to his own nephew Daemon III according to feudal rules, but he was also a peaceful and trusting man, and may have made a better king than Daeron the Good for all we know. Daemon III and Bittersteel had a chance in 233 AC to write their own letter, but preferred to go on a full scale war invasion three years later, while the realm still needed to recover from a long winter. And clearly Aenys was nowhere near the monster that Maelys was.

And I think that the main role of whomever will be revealed to be a Blackfyre descendant in the present timeline of the series will be for Daenerys Stormborn to question her assumptions of legitimacy based on a name and ancestry. It is perhaps one of the first things that Jorah Mormont brings up…

“He is still the true king. He is …”
Jorah pulled up his horse and looked at her. “Truth now. Would you want to see Viserys sit a throne?”
Dany thought about that. “He would not be a very good king, would he?”
“There have been worse … but not many.” The knight gave his heels to his mount and started off again.
Dany rode close beside him. “Still,” she said, “the common people are waiting for him. Magister Illyrio says they are sewing dragon banners and praying for Viserys to return from across the narrow sea to free them.”
The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never are.”
Dany rode along quietly for a time, working his words like a puzzle box. It went against everything that Viserys had ever told her to think that the people could care so little whether a true king or a usurper reigned over them. Yet the more she thought on Jorah’s words, the more they rang of truth. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

 George will not let us forget that “women are important too”, nor that they do not merrit a throne any more just for being a woman, or Targaryen, or the blood of the dragon. Dany will have to earn the throne, because she wants to serve the common people and make sure they are left in peace, able to discern when it is time to defend with fire and blood and when to conquer hearts and minds.

Notes

  1. You may have seen it claimed that the words of House Blackfyre are the reversal of the Targaryen words. That instead of “Fire and Blood” the words of House Blackfyre are “Blood and Fire”. There is however no source whatsoever that confirms this, and Dany herself mixes up the order of the words: “Blood and fire, thought Dany. The words of House Targaryen.” (aSoS, Daenerys II). The claim that the words of House Blackfyre are “Blood and Fire” instead of the Targaryen “Fire and Blood” is but a fan theory without any hint or evidence backing it up.
  2. Putting aside the joke that Daario’s “hidden identities” have become, suggesting Daario to have dragon related ancestry is not a “hidden identity”. It is the equivalent of Tyrion revealing to Ben Plumm that he has two drops of dragon blood in his veins. Daario Naharis would still be Daario Naharis, just as Brown Ben Plumm is still Brown Ben Plumm. The sole difference between Ben Plumm and Daario Naharis is that the first is upfront to Dany about his drop of dragon blood, whereas Daario is not. If he is a descendant of House Blackfyre through the female line, then obviously Daario would have a most logical reason to stay quiet about it. “Hey, I have dragon blood too, because my grandmother was a Blackfyre,” is not something you would want to say to a Targaryen who has three dragons and is not afraid of telling them to burn you to a crisp. Lady Blizzardborn made a nice compilation of quotes for Daario as Blackfyre descendant.
  3. Unless you have the very rare chimera, splitting incompletely again more than twelve days after the zygotes clumped together.

The Ragtag Band of Exiles

Aegon’s Team

Spoiler Warning – this essay contains a quote and a reference to a crucial point of Arianne’s arc in her excerpt chapters of tWoW. The quote is harmless in relation to plot, but I will repeat the spoiler warning for Arianne’s arc.

First I will determine all what unites this particular ragtag band; determine the member rules. Then I will address plot context. I tackle the prominent members separately and show you how they prove my assertions about ragtag band context and roles. This will include identity speculation, list and discuss the often proposed candidates, referring to essays and theories out there, and in some cases I will propose a candidate myself.

Lysono Maar – “We prefer to call ourselves a free brotherhood of exiles.” (tWoW, Arianne II)

The members of this band are defined by a backstory that led to a forced or voluntary exile. Their stories or origin reveals how they could not practice their life’s calling, except in exile, because of society’s or their peers’ short-sightedness, while plenty of their inferior colleagues get recognition in Westeros.

  • An armorer’s son cannot be a knight
  • A woman who had sex and had a child cannot be a religious instructor
  • A man who lost a battle cannot possibly win a war
  • A gay man cannot be a proper father

These type of prejudices affected characters in other ragtag bands as well1, but instead of turning into Bloody Mummers, outlaws or brothers of the Night’s Watch, the characters in this particular ragtag chose or were forced into exile. And in doing so, reclaimed their purpose and freedom.

The founder of this ragtag band of exiles was not Aegon, nor Jon Connington, nor the Golden Company, but Varys.

The shame of the lie still stuck in his craw, but Varys had insisted it was necessary. “We want no songs about the gallant exile,” the eunuch had tittered, in that mincing voice of his. “Those who die heroic deaths are long remembered, thieves and drunks and cravens soon forgotten.” […]
[…] Varys had been adamant about the need for secrecy. The plans that he and Illyrio had made with Blackheart had been known to them alone. The rest of the company had been left ignorant. What they did not know they could not let slip. (aDwD, JonCon I, The Lost Lord)

As original recruiter, Varys put his stamp on both the ideology and the goal of the ragtag band. Varys hates magic.

Magic, you mean?” Tyrion said impatiently. “Bloodspells, curses, shapeshifting, those sorts of things?” He snorted. […]
[…]”Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer’s trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Hence, anyone that Varys recruited or helped to recruit would follow the least magical religion – the Faith of the Seven. The recruited members are rationalists, at worst “superstitious”, but most importantly they do not practice magic or lack magical abilities. They are the closest thing to a secular ragtag band in the books.

Secondly, Varys is a master of mummery, of disguises, and so are the recruits living a life of disguise, but not a magical one: different name, different hair color, …

And yet, not all is false. While Varys is not dirty of machiavelistic methods² and murder to accomplish his goals for what he believes is the greater good, he espouses a belief in a uniting enlightened despot, who historically altered society from feudalism and serfdom to a far more meritocratic society and promoted the formation of middle class and cities³.

“No.” The eunuch’s voice seemed deeper. “He is here. Aegon has been shaped for rule since before he could walk. He has been trained in arms, as befits a knight to be, but that was not the end of his education. He reads and writes, he speaks several tongues, he has studied history and law and poetry. A septa has instructed him in the mysteries of the Faith since he was old enough to understand them. He has lived with fisherfolk, worked with his hands, swum in rivers and mended nets and learned to wash his own clothes at need. He can fish and cook and bind up a wound, he knows what it is like to be hungry, to be hunted, to be afraid. Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.” (aDwD, Epilogue)

Hence, Varys recruited members he believed to be genuine in their professions, callings and hearts, often because they experienced prejudice first hand. Even while disguised or keeping a secret, the ragtag members are true at heart. These are not false people, only in it for themselves and their more base needs, but following a calling that appeals to a higher nature, in reconciliation with their integrity of self.

And finally they all share the goal in hiding Aegon and keeping him alive.

So, all true ragtag members share these traits:

  • Exiles in hiding because of prejudice
  • Free
  • Followers of the Faith of Seven
  • Secular, rationalists, no magic
  • In disguise, keeping a secret, cautious or prudent
  • Yet true at heart, answering a calling of the higher self
  • Protect and instruct Aegon

Lastly, it must be noted that if Varys and Illyrio as founders start out by being the behind the scene leaders of the ragtag band, who recruit, form the plans and order the band where and when to go, Jon Connington and Aegon have now effectively taken control of the band, reducing Illyrio and Varys to men who will have to follow suit.

[…] Very little of what the fat man has anticipated has come to pass.” Griff slapped the hilt of his longsword with a gloved hand. “I have danced to the fat man’s pipes for years, Lemore. What has it availed us? The prince is a man grown.[…]

[…]”Which plan?” said Tristan Rivers. “The fat man’s plan? The one that changes every time the moon turns? […]I have had enough of Illyrio’s plans. […]” (aDwD, The Lost Lord, Jon Connington I)

As they reject Illyrio’s plans, they also drop the disguises which Varys insisted was necessary.

[Jon Connington] was sick of hiding, sick of waiting, sick of caution. I do not have time enough for caution. […]

[…]Young Griff ran his fingers through his hair. “I am sick of this blue dye. We should have washed it out.” […]

[…]”No man could have asked for a worthier son,” Griff said, “but the lad is not of my blood, and his name is not Griff. My lords, I give you Aegon Targaryen, firstborn son of Rhaegar, Prince of Dragonstone, by Princess Elia of Dorne … soon, with your help, to be Aegon, the Sixth of His Name, King of Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.”[…]

[…] It was not the prudent course, but he was tired of prudence, sick of secrets, weary of waiting. (aDwD, The Lost Lord, Jon Connington I)

Instead of remaining hidden, they decide to strike out by themselves, return to Westeros, reclaim lost lands and a kingdom (they hope). Hence  some of the rules alter for the members.

  • Instead of exiles, they are returned exiles who reclaim
  • Drop the disguise
  • Help Aegon take the Iron Throne

So, any of the others having secrets should be revealed in quick succession in tWoW. And if the rules change, other characters who were never exiled can be recruited to become part of the team, which is exactly what Jon Connington aims to do after taking Griffin’s Roost.

“[…] No one ever seems to mention the Vale, which suggests to me that the Arryns have taken no part in any of this.”
And Dorne?” The Vale was far away; Dorne was close. […] Without Daenerys and her dragons, Dorne was central to their hopes. “Write Sunspear. Doran Martell must know that his sister’s son is still alive and has come home to claim his father’s throne.”
“As you say, my lord.” The Halfmaester glanced at another parchment. “We could scarcely have timed our landing better. We have potential friends and allies at every hand.” […]
“[…]And whilst they dither, we will send out word secretly to likely friends in the stormlands and the Reach. And Dorne.” That was the crucial step. Lesser lords might join their cause for fear of harm or hope of gain, but only the Prince of Dorne had the power to defy House Lannister and its allies. “Above all else, we must have Doran Martell.” (aDwD, The Griffin Reborn, Jon Connington II)

And so, I have arrived at the plot development with regards to the Ragtag Band of Exiles. While I notice mostly speculation with regards to “friends in the Reach” (which is referred to by Peake more as a vague hope of potentials rather than a surety), including speculations of prominent members of House Hightower to be secret members of this Ragtag of Exiles, the speculation regarding Dorne’s recruitment seldom goes beyond, “When Doran learns of Quentyn’s death he’ll side with Aegon,” despite the fact that several times Jon Connington’s thoughts and words hammer on Dorne being the most crucial ally.

There is however a more imminent issue to be dealt with. Prince Doran is cautious and is unlikely to believe that either Jon Connington or Aegon are alive, that they are who they claim to be on their word alone. Even if Aegon and Jon Connington take all of the Stormlands by storm (pun intended), there is still the issue of verification. Learning of Quentyn’s death might help, but his emissary Arianne Martell still needs to be convinced, and she will be the one making the decision by sending the word “dragon” back to Sunspear.

tWoW spoiler warning! Skip to next paragraph if you do not wish to be spoiled.

Arianne’s two excerpt chapters of tWoW focus on her wondering what happened to Quentyn, but also pondering the problem how she could ever verify whether Aegon is indeed Elia’s son, or just a pretender. Combine this with the likelihood of secrets and disguises being let go of in rapid succession, when we solely have Arianne’s POV in the Stormlands while meeting the members of the Ragtag Band of Exiles

End of spoiler warning.

One of the possible secret identities must be someone who is quite capable of winning Arianne’s trust and convince her that Aegon is indeed a dragon (regardless whether it’s actually true or not). This limits the possible identities considerably. One of their members must be someone she knows personally, someone she can recognize upon meeting, someone whose story she knows, someone she can trust on their word alone, because she would regard this person as affiliated to her family’s inner circle. If there is such a person amongst the prominent characters of the Ragtag Band of Exiles, we could expect Arianne to send the raven to Sunspear with the one word, “dragon”, regardless of Arianne learning of Quentyn’s fate before or after.

And so, I have proposed a framework, context and important expected plot developments where roles, backstories and identities have to fit for the members of the Ragtag Band of (Returned) Exiles.

Ragtag Members

  • Lord Varys, the Spider: links to the introduction on Varys.
  • Illyrio Mopatis, the Golden Goose
  • Jon Connington, the Silver Griffin
  • Aegon
  • Ser Rolly, the Duck
  • Lemore, the Soiled Septa
  • Haldon, the half maester
  • Tyrion, the Fool
  • Serra
  • Lysono Maar
  • Elephants

Notes

  1. These prejudices are actually used by readers to argue a certain character can never achieve this or that nor will have plot importance  – tsk, tsk, you should know better
  2. I proposed in the past on westeros.org that much of Varys’s plans, machinations and expressions of his personal beliefs match Machiavelli’s Il Principe that was adopted by the Tudors and Catherine de Medici in England and France.
  3. The War of the Roses occurred within a feudal system, but the Tudor dynasty emerged out of that war with the reconciliation marriage between Lancastrian Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Their son Henry VIII ruled as an enlightened despot rewarding and elevating commoners to high stations, while ridding himself of long-time lines of noble blood, as did his daughter Queen Elizabeth I. Feudalism ended within one generation.

Chthonic Lexicon and Summations

I used to keep an expanded lexicon of chthonic vocabulary, and summation of roles, items and locations at each end of my essay. But aside from the one established at the end of the first and second essay, I will build the lexicon on this separate blogpost that will be updated as a type of fixed reference page.

In the essays I mark words that denote the concept of life in orange, death in black and what can be identified as being used for both in purple. Usually the scene or context or adjective gives the needed information to determine whether it is life or death related. Still, concepts or features of the middle column also fall under the definition of chthonic. If you notice something being colored in red it is simply done for emphasis, such as a phrase that shows up several times.

The chthonic lexicon

Living world Both worlds/Liminal Underworld
Vertical axis (Earth) surface, terrestrial, hill, sky, ground, up, high, celestial  Cleft Down, subterranean, deep (within the earth), under, beneath, underfoot, overhead, depth, cave, cavern, hole, yawning chasm, cairn, sunken, (false) bottom, interred, low
(Wind) Directions South (of the Neck), Southron

East

North (of the Neck)<>Far south

West

“Far away”, beyond (the Wall)

Houses, locations, areas House Tully of Riverrun, House Tyrell of Highgarden, Summer Sea, House Baratheon of King’s Landing, Starfall, Queensgate (formerly known as Snowgate, an underworld name) roadside, Twins, Fairmarket, Ramsford, Blue Fork, Maidenpool House Stark of Winterfell, House Dustin, House Mudd, Winterfell, Narrow Sea, Wolfswood, Nightfort, Castle Black, Greyguard, the Wall, Black Gate, Barrowton, The Neck, Moat Cailin, Green Fork, Oldstones, kingswood
Buildings or features Town, city, (crofter’s) village, inn, crowded, rich, filled, bedchamber, hearth, storage, library, curtain wall (?), sept Tower, castle, hall, stairs, bed, box, window, door, gate, bridge, stable, sickroom, ford, gatehouse, storage, storehouses Crypts, dungeon, cell, vault, cellar,  tomb, grave, graveyard, barrow, cairn, sepulcher, pillars, walls, floor, statue, throne, high seat, empty, hollow, chains, niche, gutter, moat, long low hummock, swords on the wall, murder holes, foundation
Construction’s state Building, flourish, growing Destroy, destruction, charr(ed), burn(ed), shattered, scattered, tumbled, half-sunk, ruin, crack, brittle, worn away, crumbling, overgrown, washed out, washed away, molested, deserted, smashed, plundered, looted, splintered

sealed, shut

Path Kingsroad, rising, rolling Crossing, stairs, bridge, drawbridge, doorway, gate, ford, causeway Winding, coil, narrow passage, narrowed, pinched, bending, dark journey, rocky way, descending, falling, sliding, slip, across, shut door, close the way, death trap
Nature & landscape Flower fields, orchard, grasslands, harvest, hill, (glass) garden, fertile, undying Godswood, valley, channel Wilderness, desolation, bare, vast, bogs, swamp, quicksand, suckholes, forest, woods, grove, frozen (hell), earth (as in soil), loose dirt, mud, boggy soil, impenetrable, muck, leafy ground, silting up, battleground
Trees & plants Redwood, fruit trees, green grass

pollen, seed

roses, rose petals, leaves, grass, lilly Sentinel, weirwood, oak, pine, soldier pine, spruce, ironwood, ash, alder, elm, beech, birch, larch, willow, forget-me-nots, wild roses, blue roses, moss, lichen, humus, weeds, brown grass, gorse, bracken, thistle, sedge, blackberry bush

trunk, canopy, root, bark, trunk, tangled, branches, gnarled, thorns

Material Crystal, gold, rich, kindling Milkglass, wooden, collar of different metals, paper, wax Stone, rock, granite, pebbles, black basalt, (Valyrian) steel, hard, iron, velvet, silver, wire, rust, hempen rope, salt, blanket
Food & Organics Fruit, melons, peaches, fireplums, summerwine

ripe, juice, sap, suck, fat, hunt, flesh

feed, (healthy) appetite, replenish, growing

Wine, milk, half-empty

pluck, roast

Jar, pot

Salt, sourleaf (mouth), blackberry, soup, scraps

Dwindle, withered, dried, wrinkled, shrunken, curdled, decay, sloughed off skin,  loose skin, sagging, thin <> thick, empty, gnawed, rotten, scrawny

not eating,  puke, spew, spit, bite, hunger

boil, butcher, peck, chew, despoil, dissolve

(mortal) remains, (broken) bones, guts, gore, corpse, skeletal, carcass, carrion, ghostskin, shell, litter, rubble

Animals Songbirds, stags, falcon, nest, pup, hawk, dragon Horse, birds, wings, bat, bull, squirrel, red salmon (two or three) direwolves (at feet), Grey Wind, Ghost, Shaggydog, lone wolf, pack, boar, wood adder, snake, serpent, head of the serpent, moths, crow, raven, beak, swarm, cover, flies, worms, lice-ridden, (feral) dogs, rat, great beast, lizard-lion, warhorse, vulture, weasel, scavenger
Intelligent Species The living, people Children of the Forest Others, wights, wildlings, Old Nan’s stories, ghosts, vengeful spirits, demons
Seasons Summer Spring, fall Winter
Elements Sun, air, (good) breeze, hot, scalding, hot spring, moist warmth, bath, to bathe, cascade, great fall, lighting a fire Wind, heat, breathe, water, steam, river, pool, smoke, stream, clouds, rain, bubble Ice, snow, mist, low clouds, freezing, cold, cool, chill, frost, hoarfrost, pond, well, underground river, gale, draft, gust, autumn rains, swollen, flooding, overflowing, torrent, rising water, wildfire
Light & time Sunlight, day, daytime, bright, airy, rainbow, ruddy, shine, morning, (reading) lamp, wick Dawn, dusk, evenfall, sunset, full moon, moonlight, glow, torch, beacon, candle, fire, last light, light that brings the dawn (Dead of) night, dark, darkness, darkly

horned or sickle moon, stars, “no sun and no moon”, stars are strangers

gleam, glimmer, glitter

12 maidens

Numbers Numerous, ninety-nine, seven  three, six Ninety, twelve, dozen, hundred
Color Yellow, orange, auburn hair, blue eyes, Tully coloring, bright colors, gold, shiny Red, white, milk Black, ebon, grey, grey-green, moss green, murky green, grey-brown, brown, icy blue, pale, colorless, discolored, dun, somber, stained, faded, doll, grizzled, spotted, splotched
Shape Clear, plain to the eye Shadow, shade, half-seen, wraith, spirit, oval, twisted, misshapen, armored, stump, shaggy, windblown
Clothing Naked (as your name day), breeches Wreath of flowers, garland, flowery crown, flowers in hair Cloaked, hooded, blanket, shrouded, roughspun rags, leathery, boiled leather, dead men’s armor
Consciousness Awake Dreaming, dreams, sleeping, visions, drunk, green dream Dead, nightmares, mad, hallucination, absent, rest, remembers
Identity Name(d), familiar face, gender, familiar, long hair, open, break the seal Face Nameless, faceless, unknown, Stranger, unknowable, genderless, forgotten, not recall, only remembered by trees, unseen, alone, lonely, look the same, cut hair, thin hair, bald, not yourself anymore, wolf blood, daughter of the North, hiding, hidden, enemy, lean
Limbs, organs and fluids loins, arms, seed, breast, teat, flesh, skin, marrow veins, heart, hands, blood, wings, forehead, temples, forehead scalp; skull, bald head, lower lip, throat, cocked elbow, crossed arms, folded hands, toothless mouth, sourleaf/bloody mouth, chest, feet, heels, neck, dry  or black blood
Ceremony, religion Anointed, wedding, marriages, the Faith, wedding cloak, maiden cloak, naming newborn children, absolution Feast, secret ceremony Buried, interred, burial, procession, Old Gods, dignity, godless, demon worship
Life (passage) Beginning, Sex, making new life, born, clinging to life, endless, kiss, maiden’s blood, maidenhood, lovemaking, quicken, nine moons, deliver a child, breastfeeding, nursing, playing Bed of Blood, blood flow, bring forth in blood and pain The end, stop, death, death sentence, execution, take a man’s life, vanished, bloodstained, farewell, losing someone, loss, lost, gone, stop, absent
Health-Manner of death living are helpless, being well, whole, safe, strong Sickness, ill, fever, fire in the gut, wound, milk of the poppy, sickbed, coma, rape Freeze, choke, suffocate, behead, severed/floating head, on a spike, throat (cut), blow, butcher, rip, murder, kill, gangrene, sepsis, gout, game of thrones, drown, taken quickly, mercy <> merciless, tears of Ly, starved, tortured, broken, impaled, fall, kill himself, hanging, disembowled
The senses – Seeing Seeing, Sparkling, everywhere everyone One-eyed, three-eyed, observatory, (Myrish) lens, runny and clouded eyes, secret Blind, eyes closed, not able to see, averting eyes, not seeing

watch(ful), stare, peer, lurk

unseen, hidden, hiding, disguised,  unnoticed

The senses – Sound, speech & communication Hearing, loud, roar, laughter, tinkling, song, sing, jape, crib tales, good news/tidings, noise Smile, music, breathe, news, message, private language, counsel, letter, errand, chorus, shouts or shouting

Woodharp

Wordless, (deep) silence, (deep) quiet, mouth closed, hanging notes, swallow (sound), final words, breathless, listening, cut off, cover ears

whisper, susurrus, soft, faint, sigh, rustle, creak, mutter, only with the dead or damned, echo, ring, whicker softly

mournful, sob, groan, grievous or dark news, croak, sad
<>
warning, scream, cry, shriek, snarl, growl, ghastly, discord, crash, howl, caw, snap, crunch

trumpet, warhorn

The senses – Taste & smell Tasting, smelling, explosion, burst, sweet, spices, perfume, incense, oils No longer able to smell, hideous, stink, moist, bitter, stuffy
The senses – Tactility Brush, stroke, polish, pillow, holding, hug, embrace, close, holding hands Untouched, scarcely touched

spike of pain

Slimy, wet, sodden <> papery dry, crisp

Mobility Quick, vault, rush, urgent, drive, run, rolling, fiddle Crossing, climb, scale, fly, soar, dance Unbending, still, lie, rest, unmoving, unchanged, never change, stiffen, tired

shift, stir, fade, slip, blow

shiver, shudder, ripple, tremble, shake,

creep, stalk, follow, prowl, paw, lurch, snap, jut, spring from nowhere, limp, slink away, thrust

flap, rear

drip, spray, fall, slip, dangle, swing, tumble, hang, sweep

Age Babe, child(ren), youth, young, infant Old, ancient, primal, eternal, forever, always, frail, gouty, ninety, wize, smooth cheeked green lads
Personality Mercurial, quick, changeable, fierce, easy to love, sweet, quick to laugh Unchanged, no difference, untouched, unchanged, absolute, rigid, unbending, stubborn, savage, formal, solemn, stern, distant, strange, modest
Mood & feelings Happy, gleeful, bolsterous, good-humored, horny, wanton, obscene, fine time, jolly, charming, graceful, vulnerable, good ache, glad, gentle Love, in love Sad, weep, sorrow, grief, tears, grievous, melancholy, long faced, solemn, thinking, lonely, deserted, despair, anguish, agony

grim, gloomy, brooding, sullen, somber, rueful, frown, disapproving

nervous

angry, glare, vengeful, furious, cruel

disturbed, fear, frightened, afraid, dread, terrified, terror
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Brave, courage, dare, bold, let go

Expressions A bloody sword is a thing of beauty, facing fears or darkness Winter is coming, Stark words, this is his/her place, there always must be a Stark at Winterfell, the cup has passed, taking all someone loves, wrong hands, The Others take you, never again, when his time comes, lop the head of the snake
Function or figure mother, septon, septa, father, King’s Hand, ward, fostered, singers, horn that wakes the sleepers, a son, holy men, maiden, Mother Above Sword of the Morning, Three men in white cloaks, Lord of the Crossing, Jenny of Oldstones and her prince, Merry Meg

Horned God

greenseer, warg, maester

messenger

master of horse, stableboy

twins

Warden of the North, King in the North, northerner, King-Beyond-the-Wall, kings who are gone

silent sister, Stranger’s handmaiden, Lady Stoneheart, Hangwoman, 12 maidens, widow, washerwomen

judge, headsman, executioner, Hammer of Justice

outcast, wanderer, ranger, poacher, outlaw Brave Companions, Bloody Mummers

storyteller, taleteller, oracle, fool, Florian the Fool

Night’s Watch,  sword in the darkness, Watcher, shield that guards the realm of men, Kingsguard, knights, lancers, bowmen, captain of the guards

stonemason, ironsmith, blacksmith, alchemist

grey rat (=maester)

Of Interest Life is unfair, things come cheap, honors, accounting books, figures (numbers) Promises, vows, swear, pledge, oaths, errands Curses, damnation, desertion, fair, duty; (king’s) justice; accuse, revenge, vengeance, punishment, paying price for oath breaking, toll, broken or false promises, lies and truth, despoiling; paying respect to the dead; owing, mercy, haunt
Swords & arms Sheath, phallus, a thing of beauty, empty handed, man’s needs, golden sword, wooden sword Dawn, bloody sword, oathkeeper, pommel Greatsword Ice, Needle, longsword, sharp, knife, arakh, stiletto, dagger, (archer’s) stake, lance, arrow, noose, hammer, warhammer, whip, archery, spear

blow, swing, single stroke, across a lap or knees, unsheathed, bare steel, point, pointy end, sharp, battle, onslaught

forge

Fate Weaving, needle, carve, cut, spell, doom, Old Nan, broken antler, needlework, stitches, woven, runes
Legendary events Hammer of the Waters, Red Wedding

Mythological roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Egypt
Isis mother goddess, mother of a king, protector of children

wife of ruler of the underworld, protects the dead and proper burrial, magic. Searched for the body parts of her murdered husband, found all, except his phallus, which she replaced with a magical golden one to birth her king-son

Catelyn Tully Stark, Lysa Arryn, Cersei Lannister

Catelyn Tully Stark

Osiris Betrayed king who was tricked and murdered and his remains desecrated. Once reassembled, except for his phallus (replaced by a golden one) he became the dead ruler of the underworld Ned Stark (when dead)
Horus Son of Isis and Osiris, nursing son

 

Youth, needing protection against illness and assassination

King who unites upper and lower Egypt and battles his father’s murderer Set

Eye of Horus, or the “all seeing green eye”

Falcon head

Robb Stark and Rickon Stark (to Cat), Tommen (to Cersei), Sweetrobin (to Lysa), Aemon Steelsong and Monster (to Gilly)

Bran Stark (to Cat), Tommen (to Cersei), Sweetrobin (to Lysa)

Robb Stark (to Cat), Tommen (?)

 

Greenseer Bran Stark

Sweetrobin, Bran Stark (fly)

Set Envious murderer of Osiris Petyr Baelish, Joffrey
Tem, or Re-Atum Setting sunrays, creator god who when old wishes to let chaos return Walder Frey
Wepwawet ‘Opener of the ways’, originally war god, but later conflated with Anubis and chthonic, head of a grey wolf Hallis Mollen, Robb Stark
Greek
Persephone Queen of the Underworld, seasons, abducted flower maiden, wife of the ruler of the Underworld, fellow ruler of the Underworld Lyanna Stark, Catelyn Tully-Stark, Jenny of Oldstones
Despoina horses, animals, dance, conflated with Persephone Lyanna Stark
Demeter searches and grieves

Fertility goddess of fruit and harvest, of the lovely hair, of the golden sword, of the bath and hot springs, connected to the underworld since fruit and vegetables cannot grow without it and seeds have to be burried in soil.

Catelyn Tully Stark, Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark

Catelyn Tully Stark

Pandora Temptress who unleashes doom, death and sickness onto humanity // All giving chthonic earth and fertility goddess, half interred, half her body above earth Lysa Tully Arryn

Catelyn Tully Stark

Hades Living ruler of the Underworld

Abductor

Ned Stark

Rhaegar Targaryen

Dionysus-Iacchus Lightbringer, secret, protected, Persephone’s son Jon Snow
Dionysus-Bacchus wine, drunk, fat, shred to pieces Robert Baratheon
Orpheus Gifted musician, lyre

visited the underworld to take his wife Eurydice back to the world of the living

Heretic, shred to pieces, only head remains

Rhaegar Targaryen

Robert Baratheon

Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon

Eurydice Orpheus’ dead wife Elia Martell
Hypnos God of sleep Bloodraven
Sisyphus King refused to remain in Hades and tricked his wife into an improper burrial, allowinh him to haunt the living Ned Stark (in a positive manner)
Theseus Hero with a fondness for young girls, betrays one sister for the other, abductor of Helen, attempted abduction of Persephone Littlefinger
Minthe & Leuke Alleged mystresses of Hades, water nymphs, spark the jealousy of Persephone Ashara Dayne, Wylla, fisherman’s daughter
Peleiade of Dodona Oracle priestess who interpretes the rustling of the leaves of a sacred oak at the heart of the Dodona grove (northern Greece) Osha
Pentheus “Man of sorrows”, king, heretic, shred to pieces, head on a spike Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark
Hermes messenger, psychopomp Ned Stark, young Robert Baratheon, Varys, Hallis Mollen
Zeus Storm god, lightning bolt, King of the gods on Mount Olympus Robert Baratheon, Lord of the Stormlands and King of Crownlands and Westeros
Poseidon God of the sea, rivers, a trident, in older Accadian Greek myth also ruler of the underworld (subaquatic) Stannis Baratheon, lord of Dragonstone
Korybantes armed protectors, guards Kingsguard, Arthur Dayne, Oswald Whent, Gerold Hightower, Ned’s guard at ToJ
Hera Queen of the gods, power, jealous, murderous Cersei Lannister
Athena war, pious, intelligence Elia Martell
Aphrodite love, beauty Lyanna Stark
Helen of Troy most beautiful woman, abducted, cause of the War of Troy and downfall of Troy Lyanna Stark
Paris prince of Troy, judge of beauty, abducts Helen, cause of the War of Troy and downfall of Troy Rhaegar Targaryen
Norse
Thor Storm god, warhammer Robert Baratheon
Niddhog Dragon chewing at the root of Yggdrasil Visenya Targaryen, Good Queen Alysanne Targaryen, Mad King Aerys Targaryen, Rhaegar Targaryen
Four harts Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro Four stags nibbling at the leaves of the crown of Yggdrasil Robert Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon
Vedrfölnir Hawk sitting between the eagle’s eyes, manipulated by the malicious Ratatoskr Jon Arryn, Lysa Arryn Stark
Ratatoskr Malicioius squirrel who sets the hawk against the dragon with backtalk Petyr Baelish, Citadel
Horned god fertility, hunt, psychopomp young Robert Baratheon, Renly Baratheon

Chthonic locations

Mythological locations or features Function aSoIaF characters
Egypt
Land of Rostau Rostau= ‘necropolis’. Underworly realm a soul has to journey either along rivers or road in the hope to achieve afterlife like Osiris. Dangerous realm where a dead person can experience a second permanent death if killed by any of the Watchers, demons or guardians of the gateways. Sun god Ra makes the journey each night Riverlands, Neck, Barrowlands
1st gate Western gate, where the sun sets, a mountain/hill split in two by a stream, guarded by gods of the mountain that can spring up out of hiding Whispering Woods
2nd gate Just a simple leaf for a door with one snake as gatekeeper Whispering Woods
3rd-11th gate Required crossing, some walled keep, with gatehouses and murderous demons/snakes, lizards, ancient dead kings, judges,old man leaning on a cane (Re-Atum, the setting sun), and dedicated to one of the 12 maidens of the night (one for each hour) Moat Cailin, Twins, Maidenpool, Oldstones, Fairmarket
Greek
Cave of Hypnos in Hades Home of the god of sleep Bloodraven’s cave
Lethe River/pool of forgetfulness in Hades, dead drink to forget life before death & be allowed to reincarnate, runs along Hypnos’ cave, creates drowsiness with its murmur Cold black pool of Winterfell’s godswood, underground river in Bloodraven’s cave
Phlegethon Lava stream (river of fire) in Hades. Joins with the Styx Underground cause of the hot springs at Winterfell
Styx Murky river of hatred, gods vow on Styx and do not break their word. Joins with the Phlegethon. Three hot pools of Winterfell
Oracle of Dodona Sacred grove in wintry Northern Greece, where priestesses, the Peleiades (‘flock of doves’), interpreted rustling of leaves of  sacred oak in heart of the grove. Black dove flew to Dodona and instructed people in human speech to build an oracle there. Weirwood heart tree in Winterfell’s godswood, heart tree in godswood of King’s Landing (oak).
Norse
Yggdrasil World tree in Norse myth. It is an evergreen ash tree, whitened by the daily whitewash applied from the Urdarbrunnr Weirnet, weirwood trees
Valhalla One of Odin’s halls where the selected slain feast and prepare for Ragnarok.The slain are those picked by Valkyries in battle. Winterfell’s hall and crypts per Theon’s nigthmare
Urdarbrunnr The well/pool/lake of 3 main Norns – past, present and future – determining the fate of men. One Yggdrasil roots ends at Urdarbrunnr. Otherwise known as the weird/wyrd sisters in English tradition. Pour water and lime from the well each day over the world tree – whitewash. Two different sources locate it either in Midgard or Asgard. A hall where the gods gather is built nearby. Cold, black pool in Winterfell’s godswood, beside the weirwood, in which Ned Stark cleans his greatsword Ice. The pool beside the Three Singers (three tangled weirwood trees) in Highgarden’s godswood.
Jötunheimr Realm of the frost giants Land North of the Wall, where the giants still live
Ginnungagap The ‘yawning void’ or ‘gaping abyss’; primordial void from which Norse cosmos was born and located in Jötunheimr The ‘yawning chasm’ in Bloodraven’s cave where the underground river runs through in the darkness.
Mimisbrunnr Well of knowledge, beneath one Yggdrasil root; seeker must make a sacrifice to drink from it. Located in Jötunheimr. Weirnet connected to weirwood grove at Bloodraven’s cave.

Chthonic Items

Mythological items Function aSoIaF items
Egypt
Osiris’s golden phallus Fertility symbol of life being born out of death. Oathkeeper in Lady Stoneheart’s possession
Osiris’s missing phallus Osiris’s true phallus is eaten and gone by fish, symbolizing true death Ice missing and destroyed
Set’s box = Osiris’s coffin Coffin custom made to fit Osiris, used to trick Osiris into lying in it, only to be shut inside and murdered. Lysa’s box with message
Greek
Demeter’s golden blade Golden sword/sickle used for the first harvest and war against the Titans. Oathkeeper, Jaime Lannister (?) in Lady Stoneheart’s possession
The Eleusinian Mystery Ritual for the initiated regarding the secret truths of the Persephone-Demeter myth involving items and phases of things shown, things said and things done, which are all unspeakable by punishment of death Lysa’s box with message
Pandora’s box Jar containing death, ilness, old age, poverty, hunger, war. After being opened humanity suffers all these ills. Lysa’s box with message

Them Bones

In Lady of the Golden Sword of Winterfell I showed a connection between Ned Stark and Catelyn Tully as that having pointed echoes of the myth of Osiris and Isis. Catelyn’s link to Isis does not end with her being shown Ned’s bones and noticing he is missing his sword. And the mystery of Eddard Stark’s remains remains related to chthonic beliefs and practices with regard to Osiris. Catelyn orders the silent sisters, escorted by Hallis Mollen, to bring the bones to Winterfell. In this essay I will explore the possible fate of Ned’s bones. This fate itself can be deduced through pure analysis of the books, but I also tie it to Egyptian  mythological beliefs as well as James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake to illustrate George’s possible inspirations for his choices of that fate.

A proper burial

“I am grateful for your service, sisters,” Catelyn said, “but I must lay another task upon you. Lord Eddard was a Stark, and his bones must be laid to rest beneath Winterfell.” They will make a statue of him, a stone likeness that will sit in the dark with a direwolf at his feet and a sword across his knees. “Make certain the sisters have fresh horses, and aught else they need for the journey,” she told Utherydes Wayn. “Hal Mollen will escort them back to Winterfell, it is his place as captain of guards.” She gazed down at the bones that were all that remained of her lord and love. “Now leave me, all of you. I would be alone with Ned tonight.” (aCoK, Catelyn V)

One of Isis’ roles was making sure that the dead were properly buried and protected. That is why she is so often depicted on ancient thombs. The proper way to bury a Lord Stark is to lay his bones at rest beneath Winterfell, in the crypts, with a statue, a direwolf at his feet, and a sword across his knees. It is his place. We get an echo of that particular phrase for Hallis Mollen, as escort. In this way, Catelyn takes on the Isis role of ensuring the correct burial rituals are preserved.

A proper burial is something that every culture known to man finds important. It does not matter what you believe or even that you believe in an afterlife, but the majority of people hold to some type of ritual that respects the integrity of the deceased’s body. Purposeful desacration of the remains of the deceased is one of the biggest taboos and therefore often used in wartime as the final demoralizing insult to the enemy, which is exactly what Lady Dustin intends to attempt and what the Freys certainly did to Robb Stark and Catelyn.

The silent sisters are an order of the faith of the Seven sworn to the Stranger, the aspect representing Death itself within the Faith. They are called the Stranger’s wives or death’s handmaidens. They prepare the dead’s bones for burial and accompany them to their resting place or family. In essence, they are akin to psychopomps who deliver the dead from the living world to the underworld. Every feature about them fits the chthonic lexicon:

  • their vow of silence: the dead do not speak, at the most whisper or echo
  • their vow of chastity: the dead do not reproduce
  • they keep their faces cowled, except for their eyes: the dead are anonymous
  • they are shrouded in grey garb: black, white and grey are the dominant colors. Brown, green, red and blue only chthonic in certain hues, such as the cold blue of ice and stars, the brown of earth and gnarled roots, the dark red of blood, or the green of moss and lichen.

By ordering Hallis Mollen to escort the silent sisters, Catelyn makes him a psychopomp as well. As Captain of the Guards of Winterfell and House Stark with the grey direwolf as sigil, we can regard him as serving the role of Anubis (with the head of a canine), who was the embalmer god before Osiris and later became the guide of the dead souls. While Anubis had the head of a canine, he was heavily associated and conflated with Wepwawet, a god of war whose name means opener of the ways, and had the head of a grey wolf. He was initially seen as a scout our outrider, and the one who accompanied the pharaoh. Because war leads to death, he too became a chthonic deity who opened the ways for the dead to enter Duat, the Egyptian underworld. With dead Eddard Stark without his phallic sword being shifted by George from Hades to Osiris, and Hallis Mollen the Captain of the Guard, he would indeed serve perfectly as the one to accompany Ned Stark to Winterfell.

As Lady Stoneheart, Catelyn herself becomes a figurative silent sister, wife to the Stranger. While she made no vow of silence, her ability to speak is severely hampered, because of her cut throat. Lady Stoneheart is her most often used epiteth, but people also call her The Silent Sister. She wears grey garb, a cloak and tends to disguise her face most of the time with the hood of her cloak.

She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.”(aSoS, Epilogue)

“Lady Stoneheart.”
“Some call her that. Some call her other things. The Silent Sister. Mother Merciless. The Hangwoman.”

A trestle table had been set up across the cave, in a cleft in the rock. Behind it sat a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded…[snip]… Her eyes glimmered under her hood. Grey was the color of the silent sisters, the handmaidens of the Stranger. (aFfC, Brienne VIII)

So, as  the grey-garbed Silent Sister, Catelyn fully becomes a figurative sister-wife to Ned Stark, such as Isis was to Osiris.

The Two Ways through the Land of Rostau

The Book of the Dead is one of the more famous titles of a selection of Egyptian texts and spells regarding the journey into the underworld with an elaborate focus on the judgment of the dead souls – the Egyptians believed the deceased’s heart would be weighed against a feather Ma’at (truth). These incantations and spells to be recited by the deceased were written on papyrus and copied over a milennia. The first mentioning of a weighing ritual can be found in the much older Book of Two Ways. This is not an actual book, but a collection of spells deciphered and gathered from coffin wirting in the 19th and 20th century, for which much of the analysis was compiled in 1961. There is no papyrus version of this book, only what was carved into the coffins (and rarely on tomb walls). The spells in the coffins were meant to help the deceased in reaching their chosen destination in the afterlife. The lid of a coffin contained images and spells regarding the sky  (the sky-way to join Ra). The spells written on the bottom of the coffin were of use to voyage into the subterranean, the way of the resurrected Osiris, where the soul’s goal was to be seated next to Osiris in Duat and be resurrected like him. Before the period of the Coffin Texts, there were the much older Pyramidic Texts, engraved in the walls of the pyramid. They were spells asking and ordering gods to open the way for the pharaoh to join them in the heavens, with ladders, wings and sky-barges as methods of ascension. So, the afterlife concept in ancient Egypt evolved, first from an exclusive celestial afterlife with the gods that only a king could hope to achieve, to that of a concept where commoners also could achieve an afterlife, in the underworld and join the company of Osiris.

osiris-weighing
Book of the Dead: the weighing of the heart and Osiris’s subterranean throne as the final destination.

In the Greek Hades, the destination of a dead soul is predestinated by their actions and choices in life. The judges, such as Minos, decided whether a shade goes to Elysian Fields, just Hades or Tartarus. But the Duat concept of the Egyptians is different. The soul decides for itself where he (or she) wants to go. However, the dead must overcome obstacles, challenges, guards, tests and demons along the way to reach it1. If the dead soul failed, he or she died a second death and it was game over.

Since Osiris did succeed in such a voyage himself and Ra traversed that very realm every night, the deceased would identify himself as Osiris or Ra when dealing with these guards, gods and demons in order to succeed when they used the spells. We could regard the dead rulers of Winterfell seated on their throne in the crypts as a series of Osirises, one seated next to the other. Since the crypts of Winterfell is his place, Ned’s dead spirit would choose the way of Osiris, like his forefathers, and take his rightful place next to them for an eternal second life. If given the choice, Eddard Stark would not choose the celestial way.

The lands and realm the soul must travel through in order to reach Osiris in Duat is called the Land of Rostau, meaning the Land of Necropolis (the city of the dead). The path leads through a realm of rivers and roads.

“The paths by water and by land which belong to Rostau” (CT1074)

The lands that the silent sisters and Hallis Mollen had to traverse in order to get to Winterfell were the Riverlands. Not only are the Riverlands a land of nine rivers, but also the region where several main roads intersect into the crossroads: the riverroad, the kingsroad and the high road. Hence, the Riverlands is the land of water- and landways.The lands around the Gods Eye burn and the fighting reaches as far as the Twins. Here are several poignant passages from aCoK, aSoS and aFfC.

It was midday when they arrived at the place where the village had been. The fields were a charred desolation for miles around, the houses blackened shells. The carcasses of burnt and butchered animals dotted the ground, under living blankets of carrion crows that rose, cawing furiously, when disturbed. Smoke still drifted from inside the holdfast. Its timber palisade looked strong from afar, but had not proved strong enough.
Riding out in front of the wagons on her horse, Arya saw burnt bodies impaled on sharpened stakes atop the walls, their hands drawn up tight in front of their faces as if to fight off the flames that had consumed them. (aCoK, Arya III)

Two days’ ride to either side of the kingsroad, they passed through a wide swath of destruction, miles of blackened fields and orchards where the trunks of dead trees jutted into the air like archers’ stakes. The bridges were burnt as well, and the streams swollen by autumn rains, so they had to range along the banks in search of fords. The nights were alive with howling of wolves, but they saw no people. (aSoS, Jaime III)

After that, hardly a hundred yards went by without a corpse. They dangled under ash and alder, beech and birch, larch and elm, hoary old willows and stately chestnut trees. Each man wore a noose around his neck, and swung from a length of hempen rope, and each man’s mouth was packed with salt. Some wore cloaks of grey or blue or crimson, though rain and sun had faded them so badly that it was hard to tell one color from another…[snip]… Some of the dead men had been bald and some bearded, some young and some old, some short, some tall, some fat, some thin. Swollen in death, with faces gnawed and rotten, they all looked the same. (aFfC, Brienne VII)

High Sparrow: “Most have lost their homes. Suffering is everywhere . . . and grief, and death. Before coming to King’s Landing, I tended to half a hundred little villages too small to have a septon of their own. I walked from each one to the next, performing marriages, absolving sinners of their sins, naming newborn children. Those villages are no more, Your Grace. Weeds and thorns grow where gardens once flourished, and bones litter the roadsides.”

The Riverlands are effectively turned into a dangerous underworldly realm, a Necropolis littered with bones left and right – a land of Rostau where death triumphs as Pieter Breugel the Elder depicted so well.

The spells on the coffin aimed to help the soul in preventing dying a second death in the Land of Rostau and are a conceptual map of places to avoid. The Book of Two Ways compares to a cheater’s guide that helps a gamer to avoid the traps or know the combination of buttons to get across an unavoidable deadly obstacle as well as the hidden perks. The Book of Two Ways does indeed look like a visual map of a house infested with dangers and obstacles in different rooms where the player hopes to reach the final succesful destination.

rendering_book_of_two_ways

rendering_book_of_two_ways

Below is a photograph of the Book of Two Ways in color as it was engraved in the coffin. The black and white renderings above give a more detailed black & white look of the imagery to help you understand what you’re looking at. We “read” the cheater’s guide from right to left, top to bottom.

The Two Ways do not solely apply to the choice between two possible final destinations, but if the dead soul chooses the way of Osiris, he can choose between two different paths:

  1. the Abode of the Knife Wielders crossing and following rivers
  2. the demonic Announcers crossing and following roads, into tombs, and so on.

Let’s call the two paths separated by a red band (a like of fire), box I. When either one of those is succesfully traversed, without dying a second death, the deceased gets clothing and items to give the dead his status. Moving to the left, the dead soul then enters the Land of Rostau. First, he or she enter a hall divided in three compartments by walls of flame, passing entities called the Watchers (box II). Next, the paths criss cross in confusion (box III). Scarab headed demons holding lizards and snakes lie in wait there. At the end of it, the dead soul reaches Osiris. At least, he does if he chose the short-version.

Coffin of Sepi, Book of Two Ways
Coffin of Sepi, Book of Two Ways (copyright, Werner Forman)

There is also a long-version, which continues in the lower band, again from right to left. After the dead soul traversed the Land of Rostau, he or she meets Toth first who weighs the heart (what later becomes the Book of the Dead). If the deceased had a featherlight heart they could embark on Toth’s barge to pass along seven gates in the circle of fire, with three gatekeepers at each gateway. The guardians of the first four gateways need to be repelled, whereas the last three are protectors. After that the dead finally gets to meet with Osiris, and all ends happily and truly ever after. (Truly, the ancient Egyptians would totally think Tombraider the bomb)

George plays with this concept when even a dead Eddard Stark faces numerous difficulties in arriving at his place. Neither Hal Mollen nor Ned’s bones have reappeared in the books, or at least not recognized as such. Catelyn wonders about the final resting place of her husband’s bones as she accompanies Robb and Edmure to the Twins.

It made her wonder where Ned had come to rest. The silent sisters had taken his bones north, escorted by Hallis Mollen and a small honor guard. Had Ned ever reached Winterfell, to be interred beside his brother Brandon in the dark crypts beneath the castle? Or did the door slam shut at Moat Cailin before Hal and the sisters could pass? (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Notice how Catelyn thinks of Moat Cailin as a door that may have been shut, and is thus comparable to a gate that needs to be overcome.

Moat Cailin, north of the Neck, certainly serves as a gate to keep people outside. While much of the building is now ruinous, three gatehouse towers remain. It is thus a gate with three guardians. Here follows Catelyn’s integral description of Moat Cailin, where she explains to the Blackfish how it is an unavoidable death trap where snakes and lizard lions in the bogs and moat are its natural guardians.

Just beyond, through the mists, she glimpsed the walls and towers of Moat Cailin … or what remained of them. Immense blocks of black basalt, each as large as a crofter’s cottage, lay scattered and tumbled like a child’s wooden blocks, half-sunk in the soft boggy soil. Nothing else remained of a curtain wall that had once stood as high as Winterfell’s. The wooden keep was gone entirely, rotted away a thousand years past, with not so much as a timber to mark where it had stood. All that was left of the great stronghold of the First Men were three towers … three where there had once been twenty, if the taletellers could be believed.
The Gatehouse Tower looked sound enough, and even boasted a few feet of standing wall to either side of it. The Drunkard’s Tower, off in the bog where the south and west walls had once met, leaned like a man about to spew a bellyful of wine into the gutter. And the tall, slender Children’s Tower, where legend said the children of the forest had once called upon their nameless gods to send the hammer of the waters, had lost half its crown. It looked as if some great beast had taken a bite out of the crenellations along the tower top, and spit the rubble across the bog. All three towers were green with moss. A tree was growing out between the stones on the north side of the Gatehouse Tower, its gnarled limbs festooned with ropy white blankets of ghostskin.
“Gods have mercy,” Ser Brynden exclaimed when he saw what lay before them. “This is Moat Cailin? It’s no more than a—”
“—death trap,” Catelyn finished. “I know how it looks, Uncle. I thought the same the first time I saw it, but Ned assured me that this ruin is more formidable than it seems. The three surviving towers command the causeway from all sides, and any enemy must pass between them. The bogs here are impenetrable, full of quicksands and suckholes and teeming with snakes. To assault any of the towers, an army would need to wade through waist-deep black muck, cross a moat full of lizard-lions, and scale walls slimy with moss, all the while exposing themselves to fire from archers in the other towers.” She gave her uncle a grim smile. “And when night falls, there are said to be ghosts, cold vengeful spirits of the north who hunger for southron blood.” (aGoT, Catelyn VIII)

Now tell me that Moat Cailin does not sound like an Egyptian’s wet dream of what one of the gates of the Land of Rostau would be like.

Lady Barbrey’s words to Theon in the crypts seem to confirm that them bones as of yet have not reached their destination. Though she wishes to prevent Ned’s bones from reaching the Winterfell crypts, she does not have them herself either. Instead, she is waiting for Hallis Mollen to emerge from the Neck.

Lady Barbrey Dustin: “….but I promise you, Lord Eddard’s bones will never rest beside [Lyanna’s]. I mean to feed them to my dogs.”…[snip]… “Catelyn Tully dispatched Lord Eddard’s bones north before the Red Wedding, but your iron uncle seized Moat Cailin and closed the way. I have been watching ever since. Should those bones ever emerge from the swamps, they will get no farther than Barrowton.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

Lady Dustin takes the role of a demonic guardian or one of the Watchers of the Land Of Rostau, lying in wait to feed Eddard’s bones to the dogs. She even uses the phrases of “the way” and “watching”. Barrowton is a land of barrows, or burial mounds and thus tombs. A town of barrows is a necropolis.

A wide plain spread out beneath them, bare and brown, its flatness here and there relieved by long, low hummocks. Ned pointed them out to his king. “The barrows of the First Men.”
Robert frowned. “Have we ridden onto a graveyard?” (aGoT, Eddard II)

Barbrey Dustin mentions how the goal of Ned’s bones is to rest beside those of his sister. In the depictions of dead Osiris on his throne, in general his sister Nepthys and his sister-wife Isis are depicted beside him too. In that sense, Lyanna can be seen as taking Nephtys’ place. Nephtys and Isis personify two sides of the same coin, where Nepthys belongs to the night and Isis to the day. By Roman times, Nepthys was regarded as the wife of Set (the benevolent aspects of Set) and the mother of Anubis, who was raised and adopted by Osiris and Isis, not unlike Eddard Stark raising Jon as his own bastard son, while he is widely believed to be Lyanna’s son by most readers.

If Lady Barbrey succeeds in her plan perhaps Eddard Stark dies a second time, for the bone marrow seems to preserve some memory.

Summer dug up a severed arm, black and covered with hoarfrost, its fingers opening and closing as it pulled itself across the frozen snow. There was still enough meat on it to fill his empty belly, and after that was done he cracked the arm bones for the marrow. Only then did the arm remember it was dead.(aDwD, Bran III)

Guardians of the Crossing

Another Egyptian book of coffin spells (mostly found on Seti I’s coffin), the Book of Gates, are an expansion on the spells for the twelve gates of the night, one for each hour. This tells the tale of Ra who has to travel through the underworld each night, starting west in order to come out east and shine for another day. For example the serpent Saa-set is the guardian of the first hour gate.

He who is over (i.e. has mastery over) this door opens to Ra. Sa [divine intelligence] says to Saa-set, “Open your door to Ra, throw wide open your door to Khuti. The hidden abode is in darkness, so that the transformations of this god may take place.” This portal is closed after this god entered in through it, and there is lamentation on the part of those in their mountain [a barrow] when they hear this door shut.” (adapted from the translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, Book of Gates, Chapter III, Gate of Saa-set)

Similar words are used over and over to open each gateway for the sun Ra traversing the night sky, and this was the phrase Catelyn thought of in relation to Moat Cialin.

bookofgateshour3
Book of the Gates, 3rd hour

The first passage is not really a gate as it is a mountain pass or valley in the West, with a river cutting the mountain in half, guarded by buried gods of the mountain. The second gate is but a leaf serving as a door with the Ahau as guardians. These guardians spring or stand up from the earth to fetter souls they capture. The Battle of the Whispering Woods feature several references to this first and second gate.

We see the Whispering Woods for the first time as Catelyn waits at night on top of a ridge of a valley, while her son hid his army beneath ground leaf, bushes and trees. As Robb’s men wait for Jaime to enter the narrow valley, they whisper. Hence, the valley and its woods are referred to as the Whispering Woods ever after. Once Jaime and his warriors arrive, the Northerners and Freys seal off the passage of the valley behind Jaime and the fighting breaks out.

The woods were full of whispers. Moonlight winked on the tumbling waters of the stream below as it wound its rocky way along the floor of the valley. Beneath the trees, warhorses whickered softly and pawed at the moist, leafy ground, while men made nervous jests in hushed voices…[snip]…To east and west, the trumpets of the Mallisters and Freys blew vengeance. North, where the valley narrowed and bent like a cocked elbow, Lord Karstark’s warhorns added their own deep, mournful voices to the dark chorus. Men were shouting and horses rearing in the stream below.

The whispering wood let out its breath all at once, as the bowmen Robb had hidden in the branches of the trees let fly their arrows and the night erupted with the screams of men and horses. All around her, the riders raised their lances, and the dirt and leaves that had buried the cruel bright points fell away to reveal the gleam of sharpened steel. (aGoT, Catelyn X)

We have a moonlit night scene with whispering, hushes, woods, mourning, dirt and ground, men buried beneath foliage, or hidden. By itself the above scene already has many chthonic lexicon references, and is in general underworldly. But notice some of the specific details. It is a passage in a valley, that is orientated from west to east, with a stream passing through a rocky (mountainous?) bedding. Towards the north, the valley itself bends like a cocked elbow, not unlike the mummy guardians at the gates in Rostau. And when Ra speaks unto mummified guardians he speaks of their hidden arms, meaning the swaddled bent limbs. George cleverly uses it to hide the weapons (double meaning of arms). Here is an example of such speech:

O UTAU of the earth, whose duty it is to stand near his habitation, whose heads are uncovered, and whose arms are hidden, may there be air to your nostrils, O UTAU, and may your funeral swathings burst open, … (The Book of Gates, chapter IV, Gate of Asuebi, adapted from the translation of Wallis Budge in 1905)

Leaves litter the soil and are used hide the guardian army of Robb, like a door, who rise or spring up from their graves. Or we could see the leaves as the swathings of Robb’s men that burst open after which they jump up like the Ahau.

The third gate crosses water, a type of corridor between two walls with swords, spikes or arrows on the top. It is referred to as the Double Bull. Two uaraei (cobras standing on their tails) spew divine fire that strengthesn Ra into the corridor. The corridor itself or the crossing of it is personified by a great, monstrous snake beared by a procession of men. Snakes are featured constantly at these gates, some are benefactors, some are enemies, such as Apep (Chaos), who coils itself around Ra’s barge and attempts to eat it. But the Ra incarnation Atum (or Tem) chops its head off.

Catelyn to Robb: “You may have lopped the head off the snake, but three quarters of the body is still coiled around my father’s castle.” (aGoT, Catelyn X)

And in the middle section of the gateway is a lake or pool of water. Architecturally the Twins resemble the concept of the repeated gates with its corridor. It even has swords on the walls and a water tower in the middle. And when Robb’s army crosses from east to west, the procession is referenced to look like a snake.

They shifted Lord Walder from his litter and carried him to the high seat of the Freys, a tall chair of black oak whose back was carved in the shape of two towers linked by a bridge… [snip]…”I called my swords, yes I did, here they are, you saw them on the walls…”

They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river. The double column wound its way through the gate of the eastern twin like a great steel snake, slithering across the courtyard, into the keep and over the bridge, to issue forth once more from the second castle on the west bank. Catelyn rode at the head of the serpent, with her son and her uncle Ser Brynden and Ser Stevron Frey. Behind followed nine tenths of their horse; knights, lancers, freeriders, and mounted bowmen. It took hours for them all to cross. (aGoT, Catelyn XI)

The gates that follow after the second are similar, each time with several enshrined or entombed guardians that are mummified and thus have their arms crossed or bound. These guardians must be appeased, goaded, commanded or praised in order to allow a crossing. The Lord of the Crossing, Walder Frey, has that same posture when Catelyn haggles for her son’s army to cross.

“Well, you can’t!” Lord Walder announced crisply. “Not unless I allow it, and why should I? The Tullys and the Starks have never been friends of mine.” He pushed himself back in his chair and crossed his arms, smirking, waiting for her answer. The rest was only haggling. (aGoT, Catelyn XI)

Not only is Walder Frey referenced as a guardian of the type of gate that Ra crosses every hour between dusk and dawn, he is also identified by George as one of the Watchers of the Land of Rostau, just like Lady Barbrey is one.

Afterward, Catelyn would remember the clatter of countless hooves on the drawbridge, the sight of Lord Walder Frey in his litter watching them pass, the glitter of eyes peering down through the slats of the murder holes in the ceiling as they rode through the Water Tower. (aGoT, Catelyn XI)

At the sixth hour, Ra arrives at the hall of judgment where a soul’s heart is weighed against a feather and Osiris is seated just beyond. Ra gets to sit beside Osiris and basically becomes Osiris. After that the voyage continues where more and more people are depicted as having been taken captive, tied by a noose to banners, representing Ra who defeats the night and begins his journey towards rebirth as the day-sun. Many of the figures at the Twelve Gates are mostly different representations of Ra in his various states through the night – lions, lizards, mongoose, bull, ape – revealing in part the creation story of the world and humanity out of chaos.

atum-god-egypt
Tem or Atum as old man with his staff

Notable characters as guardians are an old man Tem (or Atum) with bent back, leaning on a cane in the company of knife wielding guardians who slew the sun’s enemies and are lords of the boiling waters. Walder Frey has much in common with Tem. Re-Atum in his old man form represents the evening sun or night sun, the rays of the setting sun who begins his journey into the night lands. Tem means the completed one and he is a creation god. First, he created himself out of chaos and water. Out of loneliness he masturbated to beget his children. When they went exploring by themselves into the darkness, he was heartbroken. In order to find them again, he created the sun (the eye of Ra). When his children returned to him, he cried tears of joy, from which humanity was born. Despite being a creation god, he was also feared for apocalyptic reasons. Because when old, he had grown so weary of life that he desired to bring creation back to its primal chaotic state, and thus undo his own creation.

Walder Frey is very much introduced to us as a creation figure, said to be able to create his own army with his seed.

Her father had once said of Walder Frey that he was the only lord in the Seven Kingdoms who could field an army out of his breeches. When the Lord of the Crossing welcomed Catelyn in the great hall of the east castle, surrounded by twenty living sons (minus Ser Perwyn, who would have made twenty-one), thirty-six grandsons, nineteen great-grandsons, and numerous daughters, granddaughters, bastards, and grandbastards, she understood just what he had meant. (aGoT, Catelyn IX)

Walder Frey is ninety, gouty, unable to stand on his own.

Lord Walder was ninety, a wizened pink weasel with a bald spotted head, too gouty to stand unassisted…[snip]… “Now my bastards presume to teach me courtesy,” Lord Walder complained. “I’ll speak any way I like, damn you. I’ve had three kings to guest in my life, and queens as well, do you think I require lessons from the likes of you, Ryger? Your mother was milking goats the first time I gave her my seed.” (aGoT, Catelyn IX)

Gout and brittle bones had taken their toll of old Walder Frey. They found him propped up in his high seat with a cushion beneath him and an ermine robe across his lap…There was something of the vulture about Lord Walder, and rather more of the weasel. His bald head, spotted with age, thrust out from his scrawny shoulders on a long pink neck. Loose skin dangled beneath his receding chin, his eyes were runny and clouded, and his toothless mouth moved constantly, sucking at the empty air as a babe sucks at his mother’s breast.(aSoS, Catelyn VI)

At the mentioning of a paper dry kiss, the thought of papyrus is not far away. Later we are reminded of his crispiness too.

When he was settled, the old man beckoned Catelyn forward and planted a papery dry kiss on her hand. (aGoT, Catelyn IX)

One of Walder’s favorite words is boil and boiling, especially in relation to his children and grandchildren. While Walder Frey has always been proud, with age he has become so petty that it has turned on his own brood even. It seems that he actually looks forward to the chaos his death will cause, which is not unlike the old Tem.

[Catelyn to Walder Frey] “I have every hope that you will live to be a hundred.”
“That would boil them, to be sure. Oh, to be sure. Now, what do you want to say?”

He bobbed his head side to side, smiling. “Oh, yes, I said some words, but I swore oaths to the crown too, it seems to me. Joffrey’s the king now, and that makes you and your boy and all those fools out there no better than rebels. If I had the sense the gods gave a fish, I’d help the Lannisters boil you all.”

Lord Walder jabbed a bony finger at her face. “Save your sweet words, my lady. Sweet words I get from my wife. Did you see her? Sixteen she is, a little flower, and her honey‘s only for me. I wager she gives me a son by this time next year. Perhaps I’ll make him heir, wouldn’t that boil the rest of them?”(aGoT, Catelyn IX)

They heard the Green Fork before they saw it, an endless susurrus, like the growl of some great beast. The river was a boiling torrent, half again as wide as it had been last year, when Robb had divided his army here and vowed to take a Frey to bride as the price of his crossing.(aSoS, Catelyn VI)

Here is a quote of one of the translated text of the Book of Gates with regards the third gate where we first meet Tem and its green boiling waters.

“[Here is] the lake of water in Duat, surrounded by the gods who are arrayed in [their] apparel and have [their] heads uncovered. This lake is filled with green herbs. The water of this lake is boiling hot, and the birds betake themselves to flight when they see its waters and smell its fœtid smell. (The Book of Gates, chapter IV, Gate of Asuebi, adapted from the translation of Wallis Budge in 1905)

At the fouth Egyptian gate of the night, we are introduced to the dozen maidens of the night (one for each hour) where six stand on land and the other half on water. And Walder Frey introduces us to twelve maidens as well. Well, he introduces thirteen girls, but one is a widow and not a maiden.

Lord Walder named the names. “My daughter Arwyn,” he said of a girl of fourteen. “Shirei, my youngest trueborn daughter. Ami and Marianne are granddaughters. I married Ami to Ser Pate of Sevenstreams, but the Mountain killed the oaf so I got her back. That’s a Cersei, but we call her Little Bee, her mother’s a Beesbury. More granddaughters. One’s a Walda, and the others . . . well, they have names, whatever they are . . .”
“I’m Merry, Lord Grandfather,” one girl said.
“You’re noisy, that’s for certain. Next to Noisy is my daughter Tyta. Then another Walda. Alyx, Marissa . . . are you Marissa? I thought you were. She’s not always bald. The maester shaved her hair off, but he swears it will soon grow back. The twins are Serra and Sarra.”…[snip]… “There they are, all maidens. Well, and one widow, but there’s some who like a woman broken in. You might have had any one of them.” (aSoS, Catelyn VI)

Oldstones is another gateway in the books. It is an old ruin castle on top of a hill overlooking the Blue Fork. Its curtain walls have long been gone, not unlike Moat Cailin. What remains is the winding path that coils around the hill and a weathered sepulchre (tomb) of a king long gone. A tomb and a hill makes for a barrow.

Yet in the center of what once would have been the castle’s yard, a great carved sepulcher still rested, half hidden in waist-high brown grass amongst a stand of ash. The lid of the sepulcher had been carved into a likeness of the man whose bones lay beneath, but the rain and the wind had done their work. The king had worn a beard, they could see, but otherwise his face was smooth and featureless, with only vague suggestions of a mouth, a nose, eyes, and the crown about the temples. His hands folded over the shaft of a stone warhammer that lay upon his chest. Once the warhammer would have been carved with runes that told its name and history, but all that the centuries had worn away. The stone itself was cracked and crumbling at the corners, discolored here and there by spreading white splotches of lichen, while wild roses crept up over the king’s feet almost to his chest. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Though it is probably not how you culturally imagined the likeness when you first read it, you can see that King Tristifer is depicted with all the typical features of the depiction of a pharaoh in his tomb – crown, beard, smooth faced, hands folded across the chest holding a shaft or staff (of a warhammer).

The road up to Oldstones went twice around the hill before reaching the summit. Overgrown and stony, it would have been slow going even in the best of times, and last night’s snow had left it muddy as well…Once more around the hill, and there I am…The curtain wall of Oldstones had once encircled the brow of the hill like the crown on a king’s head. Only the foundation remained, and a few waist-high piles of crumbling stone spotted with lichen. Merrett rode along the line of the wall until he came to the place where the gatehouse would have stood. (aSoS, Epilogue)

tutankhamun_mask
Tutanchamon’s Mask – smooth faced, beard and crown with uraeus on the brow.

George does not use snake related vocabulary here, but he is indeed describing a coiling road. Where Robb’s army was a snake crossing the Twins, here the road is like a snake. The hint to this snake is the comparison he makes with the curtain walls being like a crown. The crown encircling a pharaoh’s head had an uraeus on the brow. Every legitimized Egyptian king had this king-cobra on the brow of his crown since the Old Kingdom of the 3rd millenia BC and every Rostau gate from the third hour on had two of these snakes inside the corridor passage breathing divine fire. The pharaoh’s crown also shows us why George uses the phrase curtain walls. Curtains are made of cloth, and aside from the uraeus, so is the pharaoh’s crown made of cloth.

The lack of standing walls does not make Oldstones any less of a gateway. It are not its walls that are dangerous, but who and what resides within. Despite the walls and actual gate being gone, George mentions the invisible gatehouse and walls to make clear to the reader that this is a Rostau gateway. He even reminds us of the Whispering Wood with Merrett’s thoughts of outlaws hiding in the trees of the lower slopes of the hill, and then springing up from out of nowhere, much like those Egyptian enshrined guardians, who tend to appear in groups of nine or twelve.

Beneath the castle ruins, the lower slopes of the hill were so thickly forested that half a hundred outlaws could well have been lurking there. They could be watching me even now. Merrett glanced about, and saw nothing but gorse, bracken, thistle, sedge, and blackberry bushes between the pines and grey-green sentinels. Elsewhere skeletal elm and ash and scrub oaks choked the ground like weeds. He saw no outlaws, but that meant little. Outlaws were better at hiding than honest men.

Bloody outlaws, always hiding in the bushes. It had been the same in the kingswood. You’d think you’d caught five of them, and ten more would spring from nowhere. When he turned, they were all around him; an ill-favored gaggle of leathery old men and smooth-cheeked lads younger than Petyr Pimple, the lot of them clad in roughspun rags, boiled leather, and bits of dead men’s armor… [snip]… Merrett was too flustered to count them, but there seemed to be a dozen at the least, maybe a score. (aSoS, Epilogue)

And of course, the right time for all of this is during or after the sun is setting in the west and starts it journey in the Lands of Rostau. Both when Catelyn and Robb talk at Oldstones and Merrett brings the ransom it is dusk already. In the Land of Rostau you die after the sun has set.

It was there that Catelyn found Robb, standing somber in the gathering dusk with only Grey Wind beside him. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

But only if he was there by sunset with the gold. Merrett glanced at the sky. Right on time… In the west, the sun had vanished behind a bank of low clouds…[snip]…Leaves crunched beneath their heels, and every step sent a spike of pain through Merrett’s temple. They walked in silence, the wind gusting around them. The last light of the setting sun was in his eyes as he clambered over the mossy hummocks that were all that remained of the keep. Behind was the godswood.
Petyr Pimple was hanging from the limb of an oak, a noose tight around his long thin neck. His eyes bulged from a black face, staring down at Merrett accusingly. You came too late, they seemed to say. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t! He had come when they told him. “You killed him,” he croaked. (aSoS, Epilogue)

We also have a reference to the concept of judgment of the captured soul – whether he speaks truth and whether he lived a righteous life or not.

Robb studied the sepulcher. “Whose grave is this?”
“Here lies Tristifer, the Fourth of His Name, King of the Rivers and the Hills.” Her father had told her his story once. “He ruled from the Trident to the Neck, thousands of years before Jenny and her prince, in the days when the kingdoms of the First Men were falling one after the other before the onslaught of the Andals. The Hammer of Justice, they called him. He fought a hundred battles and won nine-and-ninety, or so the singers say, and when he raised this castle it was the strongest in Westeros.” She put a hand on her son’s shoulder. “He died in his hundredth battle, when seven Andal kings joined forces against him. The fifth Tristifer was not his equal, and soon the kingdom was lost, and then the castle, and last of all the line. With Tristifer the Fifth died House Mudd, that had ruled the riverlands for a thousand years before the Andals came.” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

“Get off there,” Merrett said. “You’re sitting on a king.”
“Old Tristifer don’t mind my bony arse. The Hammer of Justice, they called him. Been a long while since he heard any new songs.” (aSoS, Epilogue)

Merrett’s comment follows the older Egyptian concept that only a king could sit with the gods. But the chance to sit with Osiris, who was once king of Egypt, is available to anybody. George portrays this idea superbly with the commoner Tom O’ Sevens of Sevenstream sitting on the king’s tomb. And that King Tristifer Mudd is connected to Osiris becomes clear with the nickname Hammer of Justice. Of course, a hammer of justice is a modern court symbol. The Feather of Justice as a nickname for a king would not sound as formidable to our modern ears, especially since we associate feathers with quills to write, rather than a weapon of war. It is at Oldstones where Lady Stoneheart and her personal band of the Brotherhood without Banners hang Petyr and Merrett Frey for their participation in the Red Wedding.

Something that all the gateways had in common so far is that they are tied to maidens. For example the name Cailin in Moat Cailin is an Irish Gaelic word that means girl or maiden. So, Moat Cailin actually means Maiden’s Moat. And at the Whispering Woods the fighting is overseen by Catelyn at the top ridge of the hill overlooking the valley. Catelyn Tully may not be a maiden anymore, but Cateline is the French version of the Irish Cailin. In other words, Catelyn’s name itself means maiden. At the Twins, the Lord of the Crossing introduced us to twelve maidens and Walder Frey organized the Red Wedding to avenge these maidens who were spurned by Robb when he married Jeyne Westerling. Lady Stoneheart is not to be fully identified with Catelyn anymore, and hence at Oldstones the maiden is Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair like Persephone.

“There’s a song,” [Robb] remembered. “‘Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair.'” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

From somewhere deep within the castle, faint music came drifting through the trees…[snip]…[Merrett] took another swallow, corked the skin up, and led his palfrey through broken stones, gorse, and thin wind-whipped trees, following the sounds to what had been the castle ward. Fallen leaves lay thick upon the ground, like soldiers after some great slaughter. A man in patched, faded greens was sitting crosslegged atop a weathered stone sepulcher, fingering the strings of a woodharp. The music was soft and sad. Merrett knew the song. High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts . . . (aSoS, Epilogue)

The sole line we know about this song, so far, is the line that Merrett thinks to himself -“High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts.” That line portrays Jenny as still being eerily present at Oldstones somehow, dancing with the ghosts.

This concludes the introduction into the concept of the ancient Egyptian Two Ways and Gates, and how there are stylistic links between the Riverlands and Barrowlands as a Land of Rostau, Moat Cailin and the Whispering Woods as a death trap gateway, Lady Barbrey as one of the Watchers lying in wait to prevent Ned’s Bones to reach his destination, the Twins resembling the typical night gateway for Ra’s nightly voyage, Walder Frey featuring as the aged Tem or Atum and Oldstones as a gateway that is also a hall of justice. It is time to apply the Two Ways concept to Hallis Mollen and the silent sisters traveling with Ned’s bones. Which route would they have taken initially? Which problems might they have encountered? And did they attempt to reach the North via an alternative route – a second way?

The Ways of Hallis Mollen

We do not have explicit confirmation which route Hal Mollen took, but Catelyn’s thoughts in the Whispering Wood on her way North to the Twins with Robb’s army suggest that Hal and the silent sisters went directly north of Riverrun. Robb’s original intended route north from Riverrun is the short way through the Riverlands – through the Whispering Woods, then cross the Blue Fork at Fairmarket, and from there straight to the Twins where they would cross the boiling Green Fork to reach kingsroad and follow it into the Neck and open the shut door of Moat Cailin with a military plan. It seems logical that their planned route would also have been Mollen’s overland short way.

Like Catelyn and Robb, Hal Mollen would have managed to enter Rostau and pass through the leafed Whispering Woods without any danger. The next gates are Ramsford, Fairmarket and Oldstones. Robb and Catelyn could not cross there, as both bridges had been washed away by the overflowing Blue Fork, foreshaodwing how the gates in Rostau area closed to Robb and he lost the power and knowledge to open them.

Five days later, their scouts rode back to warn them that the rising waters had washed out the wooden bridge at Fairmarket. Galbart Glover and two of his bolder men had tried swimming their mounts across the turbulent Blue Fork at Ramsford. Two of the horses had been swept under and drowned, and one of the riders; Glover himself managed to cling to a rock until they could pull him in. “The river hasn’t run this high since spring,” Edmure said. “And if this rain keeps falling, it will go higher yet.”
“There’s a bridge further upstream, near Oldstones,” remembered Catelyn, who had often crossed these lands with her father. “It’s older and smaller, but if it still stands—”
“It’s gone, my lady,” Galbart Glover said. “Washed away even before the one at Fairmarket.”

But Hallis Mollen left long before the heavy rains started and would have crossed the Blue Fork fine at either Fairmarket or Oldstones. We have no description of Fairmarket, but we know it was the end of the lifeline for Ryman Frey, the heir of Walder Frey after his father Stevron Frey died at the Battle of Oxcross and one of the names Merrett Frey gives as organizer of the Red Wedding to the Brotherhood without Banners. It was also the location where Arrec Durrandon was massively defeated by Harwyn Hoare, and thereby the Storm Kings lost dominion over the Riverlands to the Ironborn.

“Has some ill befallen Ser Ryman?”
Hanged with all his party,” said Walder Rivers. “The outlaws caught them two leagues south of Fairmarket.”
Jaime frowned…Still . . . these outlaws are growing bold, if they dare hang Lord Walder’s heir not a day’s ride from the Twins. “How many men did Ser Ryman have with him?” he asked.
Three knights and a dozen men-at-arms,” said Rivers. “It is almost as if they knew that he would be returning to the Twins, and with a small escort.” (aFfC, Jaime VII)

If you are curious what the Brotherhood without Banners may possibly plan as actions for tWoW then I recommend Lady Gwyn’s essay Riverlands Edition: the Capitulation of Riverrun, or Wolfish Hearts in the Riverlands. It is also incorporated in the radio westeros podcast episode BWB – the Last King’s Men.

At first sight, there is not much in Fairmarket’s name to link it to a maiden. From the series alone it seems nothing but a town at the Blue Fork with a bridge. Except, as a noun a fair and a market are synonomous. As an adjective fair is related to justice or beauty. And then there is of course the song The Bear and the Maiden Fair, where the bear is taken to a fair and meets a maiden. Any other information we have about Fairmarket comes from the world book. Aside from the battle between the Stormlands and Ironborn, one of the nine mistresses of Aegon the Unworthy was a common woman, Megette (or Merry Meg), who he bought from her blacksmith husband under threat.

MEGETTE (MERRY MEG): The young and buxom wife of a blacksmith

While riding near Fairmarket in 155, Aegon’s horse threw a shoe, and when he sought out the local smith, he came to notice the man’s young wife. He went on to buy her for seven gold dragons (and the threat of Ser Joffrey Staunton of the Kingsguard). Megette was installed in a house in King’s Landing; she and Aegon were even “wed” in a secret ceremony conducted by a mummer playing a septon. Megette gave her prince four children in as many years. Prince Viserys put an end to it, returning Megette to her husband and placing the daughters with the Faith to be trained as septas. Megette was beaten to death within a year by the blacksmith.
Children by Merry Meg: Alysanne, Lily, Willow, Rosey. (tWoIaF, The Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV)

If you read some of my bear-maiden essays, you might see how Megette and the blacksmith of Fairmarket are apt figures for the fair maiden and the bear at a fair, albeit a darker version as the blacksmith murdered Megette after she was returned to him (a bear taking his revenge). Notice too how two of her children were named after flowers. George could have chosen Megette to come from any town as well as give her a husband with any type of profession. But he crafted her to be linked both with flowers and bears in a subtle way.

After Fairmarket, Hallis would have gone straight for the Twins. I can see no reason for Hallis to insist the silent sisters to journey straight into the Neck over the kingsroad, unless there is dire need for it. So, one of the questions is whether Hallis Mollen reached the Twins before Walder Frey learned that Robb married Jeyne Westerling, especially since the Freys showed a particular enjoyment in desacrating both Robb Stark’s body as well as Catelyn’s, nor do they show any fear for the gods by breaking guest right. At least Walder Frey, nor any other Frey, assures Catelyn that Hallis and the silent sisters crossed the Twins. Timeline projects suggest that Hallis would have had time to cross the Twins before Walder Frey learned of Robb’s marriage. Walder Frey not mentioning Hallis to the Starks might be out of pettiness.

Since Lady Dustin has been watching for Ned’s bones to emerge from the Neck, Moat Cailin was most likely already in Ironborn hands, before Hallis reached it. Lady Dustin’s assumption about Hallis Mollen being trapped in the Neck also lends credence to the belief that the Freys did not hamper Hallis in crossing the Twins. Lady Dustin would have inquired with Roose Bolton as well as Aenys and Hosteen Frey regarding Ned Stark’s bones (though neither of them would have been at the Twins at the time to confirm the crossing with their own eyes).

It is a reassuring thought that crannogmen came to Hallis’s aid and that Ned’s bones are veing hosted at Greywater Watch in the Neck for the time being. Since Isis managed to hide Osiris’s remains in a swamp, it seems fitting for Ned’s bones to be in the Neck at present. However, after Isis hid Osiris’s body in the swamp, Set discovered it and scattered his remains all across Egypt, prompting Isis to search and recompile the remains for years. And yet, it seems unlikely that Hallis would prefer to hang around at Greywater Watch, while Ironborn attack the North and his king is south. Is it not far likelier that Hallis would try to get back south to warn an outrider, a scout, the Freys, as well as make sure the silent sisters can continue their voyage North with Ned’s Bones? To reach the North, one does not always need to ride solely in the northern direction. There is an alternative route, a second long way. Hallis could have turned back south with the intent to escort the silent sisters to a port, such as Saltpans or Maidenpool, from where they could embark and sail to White Harbor. And if that is the case, then their fate would have been more akin to what the High Sparrow reports to Brienne on the road from Duskendale to Rosby and to Cersei in King’s Landing.

The septon had a lean sharp face and a short beard, grizzled grey and brown. His thin hair was pulled back and knotted behind his head, and his feet were bare and black, gnarled and hard as tree roots. “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…” (aFfC, Brienne I)

Maidenpool inthe Bay of Crabs was sacked thrice, by Lannister forces, Stark forces and finally Bloody Mummers. The latter foraged, knifed, raped and burned their way up as far as Saltpans in the north-east of the Riverlands, Maidenpool in the east, and any septry in the areas in between. Jaime renders us the description of Maidenpool.

Their host shook his head. “You’ll never reach Maidenpool by river. Not thirty miles from here a couple boats burned and sank, and the channel’s been silting up around them. There’s a nest of outlaws there preying on anyone tries to come by, and more of the same downriver around the Skipping Stones and Red Deer Island. And the lightning lord’s been seen in these parts as well. He crosses the river wherever he likes, riding this way and that way, never still.”(aSoS, Jaime II)

At Maidenpool, Lord Mooton’s red salmon still flew above the castle on its hill, but the town walls were deserted, the gates smashed, half the homes and shops burned or plundered. They saw nothing living but a few feral dogs that went slinking away at the sound of their approach. The pool from which the town took its name, where legend said that Florian the Fool had first glimpsed Jonquil bathing with her sisters, was so choked with rotting corpses that the water had turned into a murky grey-green soup. (aSoS, Jaime III)

I do not have to fall back on the World Book to link Maidenpool to a maiden. It is supposedly the location where Jonquil and her sisters bathed.

Jaime took one look and burst into song. “Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool . . .”

“Care for a bath, Brienne?” He laughed. “You’re a maiden and there’s the pool. I’ll wash your back.” (aSoS, Jaime III)

Maidenpool’s name actually makes it the alternative to Moat Cailin. With the gate shut at maiden’s moat, the maiden’s pool would have seemed the best alternative, at that side from the Twins. It also features judgment when Brienne witnesses Randyl Tarly judging criminals.

And then there is Jon’s dream about Maidenpool. Well, not literally about Maidenpool, but figuratively.

When the dreams took him, he found himself back home once more, splashing in the hot pools beneath a huge white weirwood that had his father’s face. Ygritte was with him, laughing at him, shedding her skins till she was naked as her name day, trying to kiss him, but he couldn’t, not with his father watching. He was the blood of Winterfell, a man of the Night’s Watch. I will not father a bastard, he told her. I will not. I will not. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she whispered, her skin dissolving in the hot water, the flesh beneath sloughing off her bones until only skull and skeleton remained, and the pool bubbled thick and red.(aSoS, Jon VI)

The weirwood has his father’s face. In aCoK, he once dreamed about a weirwood sappling with Bran’s face talking to him, while Bran was hiding in the darkness of the crypts to stay safe from Theon and Ramsay. It seems that the weirwood’s face indicates which spirit or soul is sending the dream. In this case, Ned Stark appears to cause the dream. It is not Ned Stark doing the talking though, but Ygritte. Meanwhile Ygritte is a maiden – in the sense that she is a young woman, not necessarily a virgin – in a pool, basically telling hm that he is a fool. And she dissolves into a skull a bones. So we have Ned Stark, Maidenpool and skull and bones left.

Thrice the sparrows mention bones together with the claim that even silent sisters were raped:

  • The High Sparrow tells it to Brienne.
  • A one legged sparrow repeats the speech to Cersei when she asks them about their intentions with all them bones at Baelor’s statue.
  • The High Sparrow repeats the crime against the silent sisters in his first conversation with Cersei as well as asking whether she has seen the bones.

When she saw what they had done to Baelor the Beloved, the queen had cause to rue her soft heart. The great marble statue that had smiled serenely over the plaza for a hundred years was waist-deep in a heap of bones and skulls. Some of the skulls had scraps of flesh still clinging to them. A crow sat atop one such, enjoying a dry, leathery feast. Flies were everywhere. “What is the meaning of this?” Cersei demanded of the crowd. “Do you mean to bury Blessed Baelor in a mountain of carrion?”
A one-legged man stepped forward, leaning on a wooden crutch. “Your Grace, these are the bones of holy men and women, murdered for their faith. Septons, septas, brothers brown and dun and green, sisters white and blue and grey. Some were hanged, some disemboweled. Septs have been despoiled, maidens and mothers raped by godless men and demon worshipers. Even silent sisters have been molested. The Mother Above cries out in her anguish. We have brought their bones here from all over the realm, to bear witness to the agony of the Holy Faith.”

[High Sparrow:] “Yet everywhere septs are burned and looted. Even silent sisters have been raped, crying their anguish to the sky. Your Grace has seen the bones and skulls of our holy dead?” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

When George repeats teamed phrases thrice in a chapter or arc of the same book (The High Sparrow’s arc in this case), then he usually wants us to pay attention to it .It is not just there for the High Sparrow’s sake or to tell the tale of war’s impact. Bones and silent sisters are mentioned in combination with each other to not make us miss the clue. And be honest – at least at second read your mind wondered once to the thought, “Could it possible be?” Very likely you dismissed the idea as soon as you thought it, clinging to the High Sparrow’s assertion that those are the bones of septons. In reality, the High Sparrow would be unable to tell whose bones they find. If hypothetically Hal and the sisters went to Maidenpool or guested at a septry along the way and chanced on the Bloody Mummers, then the High Sparrow could not have known the box with Ned’s Bones were not a septon’s bones. Hence, we should indeed ask ourselves whether some of the bones the High Sparrow has in his cart may actually be Ned’s bones.

There is actually a subtle passage shortly after Brienne met with the High Sparrow, where George suggests to the reader to ask themselves whose bones they might be. Brienne wonders whether the septon she saw being strung up by the Bloody Mummers once lies in the High Sparrow’s cart. Meanwhile, Creighton mentions the rape of a silent sister (again) and how they are wives to the Stranger, cold and wet as ice. Brienne carries half of Ned Stark’s reforged Ice with her. She is a bit of a silent sister as well. She may be a chatterbox in her mind, but sullen and silent most of the time. Later on, Brienne meets The Silent Sister, who once wondered in the Whispering Woods where Ned’s bones found their last resting place.

Ser Creighton lifted one cheek off the saddle to scratch his arse. “What sort of man would slay a holy septon?”
Brienne knew what sort. Near Maidenpool, she recalled, the Brave Companions had strung a septon up by his heels from the limb of a tree and used his corpse for archery practice. She wondered if his bones were piled in that wayn with all the rest.
“A man would need to be a fool to rape a silent sister,” Ser Creighton was saying. “Even to lay hands upon one . . . it’s said they are the Stranger’s wives, and their female parts are cold and wet as ice.” (aFfC, Brienne I)

Initially the sparrows pile the bones around Baelor’s statue in King’s Landing. This is the same square where Ned confessed to treason and was beheaded on Joffrey’s order. The High Septon at the time considered it a profanity of the holy location, just as Cersei uses the same argument to the sparrows over piling bones at Baelor’s statue.

“This business with Eddard Stark . . . Joffrey’s work?”
The queen grimaced. “He was instructed to pardon Stark, to allow him to take the black. The man would have been out of our way forever, and we might have made peace with that son of his, but Joff took it upon himself to give the mob a better show. What was I to do? He called for Lord Eddard’s head in front of half the city. And Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn went ahead blithely and shortened the man without a word from me!” Her hand tightened into a fist. “The High Septon claims we profaned Baelor’s Sept with blood, after lying to him about our intent.”
“It would seem he has a point,” said Tyrion. (aCoK, Tyrion I)

Brienne learns of molested silent sisters and the bones that the High Sparrow has in his wayn, shortly after leaving King’s Landing to search for Sansa who fled from the city on the night that Joffrey was murdered. Ned Stark confessed to his treason at Baelor’s Sept for Sansa’s sake and safety.

Afterwards, the Sparrows cleaned up the square, and I assume they buried the bones beneath Baelor’s Sept along with the kings of Westeros and the caches of volatile wildfire.

So His Grace commanded his alchemists to place caches of wildfire all over King’s Landing. Beneath Baelor’s Sept and the hovels of Flea Bottom, under stables and storehouses, at all seven gates, even in the cellars of the Red Keep itself.(aSoS, Jaime V)

“There is a vault below this one where we store the older pots. Those from King Aerys’s day. It was his fancy to have the jars made in the shapes of fruits. Very perilous fruits indeed, my lord Hand, and, hmmm, riper now than ever, if you take my meaning. We have sealed them with wax and pumped the lower vault full of water, but even so . . . by rights they ought to have been destroyed, but so many of our masters were murdered during the Sack of King’s Landing, the few acolytes who remained were unequal to the task. And much of the stock we made for Aerys was lost. Only last year, two hundred jars were discovered in a storeroom beneath the Great Sept of Baelor. No one could recall how they came there, but I’m sure I do not need to tell you that the High Septon was beside himself with terror. I myself saw that they were safely moved. I had a cart filled with sand, and sent our most able acolytes. We worked only by night, we—” (aCoK, Tyrion V)

If those two hundred jars beneath Baelor’s Sept were the sole cache of wildfire located beneath it, then it is likely the only safe location in King’s Landing. The allusions to Cersei using wildfire to set King’s Landing ablaze are too numerous to ignore. And in that case Ned’s bones would be at the heart of that Egyptian underwordly ring of fire.

And yes, the thought of Ned’s bones circling back to King’s Landing and ending up beneath the sept of the Faith of the Seven hurt. Unfortunately, for the time being we cannot rule it out, not through logic, nor through symbolism. It is all so circular.

Riverrun’s Circle

The location where Ned’s bones were last seen is quite suspect for a circular fate. Riverrun is the opening word of James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake. It is one of the most mysterious books written by Joyce, and considered one of the most difficult. Though published in 1939, two years before Joyce’s death, and lots of essays have been written on it, it still remains one of the most elusive books in English literarure. It was also Joyce’s ultimate Opus on which he worked for seventeen years. The opening sentence of the novel should actually be attached to the last unfinished sentence at the end of the book. Once you do that you get

a way a lone a last a loved a long the / riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. (Finnegan’s Wake, James Joyce)

The sentence’s subject is about recirculation. The book is circular because of that cutting of the sentence. Its theme is the circle of life and death. Finnegan is a character from an Irish song, Finnegan’s Wake. Drunk from whiskey he falls from a ladder while building a wall. Breaking his skull, everyone believes him dead. During his wake, the mourners get rowdy and spill whiskey on Finnegan’s body who wakes from his coffin and is thus resurrected by the same element that killed him, whiskey or “water of life”. In Joyce’s book though the guests tell him he is better off where he was and put him back to rest (and thus kill him).

Rivers are Joyce’s ultimate symbol in the book to evoke this circle of life and death. One of the most favored and hailed sections of the book is about two washerwomen washing clothes at either side of the river (the Liffey), gosipping about the wife of the man accused of a crime. As the day grows darker into night, the river gets wider and overflows, while the washerwomen turn slowly into stone and tree and their voices become whispers.

And in relation to that renowned passage of the book, I want to point out the paragraphs of the chapter where Catelyn and Robb cross the Whispering Wood back to the Twins and then learn Fairmarket was washed out. Catelyn and Robb reached Riverrun via the Whispering Wood, and now they have to journey the same way back.

As the gods would have it, their route took them through the Whispering Wood where Robb had won his first great victory. They followed the course of the twisting stream on the floor of that pinched narrow valley, much as Jaime Lannister’s men had done that fateful night. It was warmer then, Catelyn remembered, the trees were still green, and the stream did not overflow its banks. Fallen leaves choked the flow now and lay in sodden snarls among the rocks and roots, and the trees that had once hidden Robb’s army had exchanged their green raiment for leaves of dull gold spotted with brown, and a red that reminded her of rust and dry blood. Only the spruce and the soldier pines still showed green, thrusting up at the belly of the clouds like tall dark spears. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Immediately after Catelyn remembers her marriage to Ned, including her wedding and how different Ned Stark was to her than Brandon Stark, follows the above paragraph where George starts by alluding to the gods. Even if there are no actual gods in Planetos and even if you are an atheist, some turns in life have an unavoidable ironic recirculing to them that it does feel as if some god or gods are pulling a prank on you that can only be droll to them. Sometimes life and fate just seems bigger than rationally negotiable. The Whispering Wood can be seen as one of the two washerwomen whispering and turning into a tree at one side of the stream that is starting to widen and overflow the banks.

While obviously the above paragraph foreshadows Catelyn’s and Robb’s fate at the Twins where they will be unable to negotiate with the Lord of the Crossing to avoid death, the next paragraph pulls in Ned Stark’s fate as well. The  whole paragraph is a reflection back onto the past and what-ifs.

More than the trees have died since then, she reflected. On the night of the Whispering Wood, Ned was still alive in his cell beneath Aegon’s High Hill, Bran and Rickon were safe behind the walls of Winterfell. And Theon Greyjoy fought at Robb’s side, and boasted of how he had almost crossed swords with the Kingslayer. Would that he had. If Theon had died in place of Lord Karstark’s sons, how much ill would have been undone?

Then the paragraph after that alludes to the second washerwoman who turned into stone, while even the dead are nourishing life. Where the initial paragraph in the Whispering Wood uses nothing but chthonic lexicon to only denote death, in this one death has been long past and bright colors and faces re-emerge. What lives must die, but recyles back to new life. The sun must set and Ra must voyage the night lands, but comes out the other side to start a new day. It portrays the cycle of life and death and back to life.

As they passed through the battleground, Catelyn glimpsed signs of the carnage that had been; an overturned helm filling with rain, a splintered lance, the bones of a horse. Stone cairns had been raised over some of the men who had fallen here, but scavengers had already been at them. Amidst the tumbles of rock, she spied brightly colored cloth and bits of shiny metal. Once she saw a face peering out at her, the shape of the skull beginning to emerge from beneath the melting brown flesh.

Right after, Catelyn wonders about Ned’s final resting place.

It made her wonder where Ned had come to rest. The silent sisters had taken his bones north, escorted by Hallis Mollen and a small honor guard. Had Ned ever reached Winterfell, to be interred beside his brother Brandon in the dark crypts beneath the castle? Or did the door slam shut at Moat Cailin before Hal and the sisters could pass?

As the snake of Robb’s leftover army passes through the valley, Catelyn questions whether she will ever see Riverrun again, this of a place named after a circular sentence of a circular book.

Thirty-five hundred riders wound their way along the valley floor through the heart of the Whispering Wood, but Catelyn Stark had seldom felt lonelier. Every league she crossed took her farther from Riverrun, and she found herself wondering whether she would ever see the castle again. Or was it lost to her forever, like so much else?

As I said, Riverrun is the opening word of Finnegans Wake, and every extra word and sentence you read takes you farther from it, and yet the end of the novel takes you back to the start. So, at some point as you read, you are not going farther away from Riverrun, but approach it again.

Finally, the passage concludes with the news that Fairmarket’s bridge has been washed away, with Galbart Glover clinging to the washerwoman who turned to rock for dear life.

Five days later, their scouts rode back to warn them that the rising waters had washed out the wooden bridge at Fairmarket. Galbart Glover and two of his bolder men had tried swimming their mounts across the turbulent Blue Fork at Ramsford. Two of the horses had been swept under and drowned, and one of the riders; Glover himself managed to cling to a rock until they could pull him in.

So, overall we have a very vivid scene with a stream overflowing in a wood of trees that whisper, two bridges being washed out, Glover clinging to a rock for dear life, and Catelyn reflects on the passage of time, cycle of life and death, all twisting and curving around thoughts of Ned Stark. In total there are seven paragraphs that reference the two washerwomen whispering as stone and tree at the overflowing banks of the Liffey of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and at the heart of it, Cat wonders where Ned’s bones lie now.

“Where are the rest of you?” Bran asked Leaf, once.
“Gone down into the earth,” she answered. “Into the stones, into the trees…” (aDwD, Bran III)

The Afterlife

You may ask yourself what Finnegans Wake has to do with the Two Ways and Gates of Egyptian myth. Well, at the heart of Egyptian mythology of Osiris and Isis as well as the Rostau voyage of Ra is the concept of the cycling of the sun and of life – a daily resurrection for the sun and a resurrection of the dead in some way. One source is ancient, the other of the 20th century, but in essence are about the same issue on which humanity has pondered ever since humans evolved to a level of cognitivity to wonder about it and even in our dreams rivers and roads are a symbol where we reflect on the state of our life and the passing of time.

Time is different for a tree than for a man. Sun and soil and water, these are the things a weirwood understands, not days and years and centuries. For men, time is a river. We are trapped in its flow, hurtling from past to present, always in the same direction. … (aDwD, Bran III, courtesy The Fattest Leech)

For a tree time is circular. Even the age of a tree can be counted through tree-rings. And there are indications that Ned Stark’s spirit managed to reach out for the weirnet, and has become part of the world, not unlike the wood witch tells Varamyr’s mother.

“Your little one is with the gods now,” the woods witch told his mother, as she wept. “He’ll never hurt again, never hunger, never cry. The gods have taken him down into the earth, into the trees. The gods are all around us, in the rocks and streams, in the birds and beasts. Your Bump has gone to join them. He’ll be the world and all that’s in it.”(aDwD, Prologue)

Varamyr experiences this, before he chooses to use his spirt to live a second life in his wolf.

For a moment it was as if he were inside the weirwood, gazing out through carved red eyes as a dying man twitched feebly on the ground and a madwoman danced blind and bloody underneath the moon, weeping red tears and ripping at her clothes. Then both were gone and he was rising, melting, his spirit borne on some cold wind. He was in the snow and in the clouds, he was a sparrow, a squirrel, an oak. A horned owl flew silently between his trees, hunting a hare; Varamyr was inside the owl, inside the hare, inside the trees. (aDwD, Prologue)

Since Ned Stark has not shown any sign of being a skinchanger, he would have been unable to actually go into an animal’s skin, but the wood witch’s words as well as Leaf’s would indicate that his spirit could have gone into the environment. The Starks are a family steeped in chthonic symbolism while alive, whose power may actually grow as dead spirits roam the underwordly realm that is the North (see the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert). And the links to Osiris suggest that Ned Stark’s spirit might be stronger than just anybody’s. Even Ned’s southern wife ends up being resurrected as Lady Stoneheart, and she is only wedded to a Stark. Had the Freys buried her properly according to Tully customs of burning a body on a boat, Beric could never have resurrected her.

Bran and Rickon meet and talk with Ned Stark down in the crypts at his empty tomb in a dream the night before they receive the confirmation message that Ned is dead.

The mention of dreams reminded him. “I dreamed about the crow again last night. The one with three eyes. He flew into my bedchamber and told me to come with him, so I did. We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad.”
“And why was that?” Luwin peered through his tube.
“It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had been deeply disturbing, more so than any of the other crow dreams.

“Shaggy,” a small voice called. When Bran looked up, his little brother was standing in the mouth of Father’s tomb. With one final snap at Summer’s face, Shaggydog broke off and bounded to Rickon’s side. “You let my father be,” Rickon warned Luwin. “You let him be.”
“Rickon,” Bran said softly. “Father’s not here.”
“Yes he is. I saw him.” Tears glistened on Rickon’s face. “I saw him last night.”
“In your dream …?”
Rickon nodded. “You leave him. You leave him be. He’s coming home now, like he promised. He’s coming home.” (aGoT, Bran VII)

Both Bran and Rickon appear to have had the same dream about Ned Stark in the crypts several days after his death. The raven arrives with the message about Ned’s fate, but it would take days for the raven to fly. That this is a special dream is emphasized with the three eyed crow, which would be Bloodraven, making Bran go down into the crypts (and perhaps Rickon too). Ned is not just talking with Bran father to son, but about Jon, something about him that Bran is as of yet unaware of. This indicates that Ned’s spirit is acting and communicating days after his death, independently from Bloodraven.

Arya talks with a voice she believes to be her father at the weirwood of Harrenhall before she decides to escape.

Then, so faintly, it seemed as if she heard her father’s voice. “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” he said.
“But there is no pack,” she whispered to the weirwood. Bran and Rickon were dead, the Lannisters had Sansa, Jon had gone to the Wall. “I’m not even me now, I’m Nan.”
“You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.”
“The wolf blood.” Arya remembered now. “I’ll be as strong as Robb. I said I would.” She took a deep breath, then lifted the broomstick in both hands and brought it down across her knee. It broke with a loud crack, and she threw the pieces aside. I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth. (aCoK, Arya X)

While initially her father’s voice repeats what he once said to her in King’s Landing, and it can be waved off as a memory of her father, his second reply is not an actual memory, but that of a father in the present referring to the past. It is possible that his spirit was indeed talking to her through the weirwood. And then I have already argued that Ned Stark’s spirit tries to show Jon the fate of his bones and how it is linked to Maidenpool.

Osiris only became the ruler of the afterlife in death, but Ned Stark already was a ruler of of the underworld in life. Why would death make him less so? Because the previous Lords of Winterfell and Kings of Winter do not seem to have power anymore? But they are actually properly buried within the tombs of the crypts, beneath their statues, with swords in their laps, well those that have not rusted away or have been taken. Their residual power seems contained at one location.

By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where the metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant those ghosts were free to roam the castle now.(aGoT, Eddard I)

But as long as Ned Stark is not properly buried, he seems to be free to manifest himself or appeal to Jon, Bran and Arya from anywhere, wherever they are.

The Greek myth of King Sisyphus (of present day Corinth) is a fine example to make my point. In Ancient Greece it was believed that those who were not properly buried would be ignored by Charon, the ferryman, and left at the shores of the upper world at the Achethon, denied both the afterlife in Hades and life in the flesh with the living. King Sisyphus did not wish to be in Hades at all, and he used this to his advantage. Before dying, he requested his wife to prove her love for him by throwing his naked corpse onto a public square once he was dead. When she had done so, he begged Persephone for permission to be allowed to return to the upper world to scold his wife for the improper burial. Persephone allowed it, but Sisyphus refused to return to Hades after his wife finally buried him as custom decreed it. Hermes had to drag him down by force. At heart the message is that improper burial can enable the deceased to remain an influence in the upper world. This seems to be what Ned Stark’s spirit seems to be doing. And without a living Lord Stark of Winterfell, the threat of the Others and the upper world messing with the underworld this may actually be for the ultimate benefit of all.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

While we hope that Ned Stark’s bones are safely waiting in the Neck with Howland Reed to be brought to Winterfell, it is not certain that Hallis Mollen and the silent sisters would have waited there, but instead may have decided to turn south for Maidenpool (that was sacked thrice) in order to board a ship for White Harbor. Their fate after exiting the Neck south again would have been dire. George repeatedly informs us of the fact that silent sisters were molested, and always in combination with bones they carry of people the Sparrows believe to have been septons. Jon’s dream of Ygritte in the godwood pool while the weirwood has his father’s face, suggests that Eddard Stark is trying to show that his skull and bones found their way to Maidenpool at the time. Those bones were carried back to King’s Landing, displayed at the location where Ned was beheaded, and presumably buried beneath Baelor’s Sept. The sole balm to the grievous idea that Ned’s bones circled back to rest at the location where he was killed, with no one ever able to figure out which of those bones are indeed his and thus forever lost, is that it might enable his spirit to be free to help his children (and nephew), for there is no sword to lock  him in the crypts of Winterfell.

The Riverlands, Neck and Barrowlands seem to belong to a type of underwordly realm that the Ancient Egyptians would refer to as Land of Rostau, a necropolis, full of dangerous gateways where guardians and watchers aim to capture and kill souls to prevent them from reaching a status like Osiris. The identifiable gates are Whispering Woods, Fairmarket, Oldstones, Twins, Moat Cailin and Maidenpool. All are related or feature maidens. Both names Catelyn and Cailin mean maiden. Catelyn is the supervizing “maiden” at Whispering Woods. At Oldstones we have Jenny and her song, while the information on Fairmarket in the world book puts Aegon IV’s mistress Megette forward as the maiden fair in relation to the Bear-song. At the Twins, Walder Frey introduces us to twelve maidens, one for each hour of the night. Moat Cailin is actually Maiden’s Moat, making Maidenpool its alternative counterpart.

Furthermore, the name of the keep Riverrun where Ned’s bones were last seen in the text and the passages where Cat wonders about their fate are steeped in allusions and references to some of the most famous features and paragraphs of James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, a book that was written to be circular and has as its major theme the circle of life and death.

Thank you

I would like to thank Daendrew for pointing out that Riverrun is the opening word of Finnegans Wake and looking up the meaning of the name Cailin. Thank you also to the Fattest Leech for challenging me to delve deeper into the possibility of the Maidenpool route of Hallis Mollen and finding related quotes in relation to the Riverrun concept of recirculation.

Notes

  1. The Egyptians were not the sole culture with such a journey concept of the dead. The Mayan Popul Vuh describes a similar underworld of tests, crossroads and fiends, where the deceased either dies or succeeds in being resurrected. And the Christians have a concept of purgatory where the dead soul has to go through stages of punishment in order to reach heaven and be in the presence of God.