In the dream his friends rode with him, as they had in life. Proud Martyn Cassel, Jory’s father; faithful Theo Wull; Ethan Glover, who had been Brandon’s squire; Ser Mark Ryswell, soft of speech and gentle of heart; the crannogman, Howland Reed; Lord Dustin on his great red stallion. (aGoT, Eddard X)
While Ned introduces us to his companions in his dream of the Tower of Joy, we get their names and a little bit of info on their personality or how they relate to the story, except for Lord Dustin. His identification is a visual element – a red stallion. This is especially odd in relation to a dream where his men appear as shadows or grey wraiths and their horses as mist. The color too stands out – red. It’s as if George is using a color marker on his story to highlight something.
A Worn Black-and-Red Ribbon
In a recent (june 2019) reading of the first introduction of Dreamsongs, Part 1, George relates a story of the first stories he wrote for a fanzine when he was a junior and senior. It verifies the above suspected use of “red” by George. His first typewriter had a worn ribbon, but the red was still fresh enough, so he used red for emphasis, not knowing about italics. This early method, he basically incorporated into his text, where all letters are black, but he solely needs to add the adjective red accomplishing the same thing.
It is not until aDwD that George reminds us of this horse, in case we had missed it before.
“Lord Dustin and I had not been married half a year when Robert rose and Ned Stark called his banners. I begged my husband not to go. He had kin he might have sent in his stead. An uncle famed for his prowess with an axe, a great-uncle who had fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings. But he was a man and full of pride, nothing would serve but that he lead the Barrowton levies himself. I gave him a horse the day he set out, a red stallion with a fiery mane, the pride of my lord father’s herds. My lord swore that he would ride him home when the war was done.
“Ned Stark returned the horse to me on his way back home to Winterfell. He told me that my lord had died an honorable death, that his body had been laid to rest beneath the red mountains of Dorne. He brought his sister’s bones back north, though, and there she rests … but I promise you, Lord Eddard’s bones will never rest beside hers. I mean to feed them to my dogs.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
In other words, the red stallion is important to Lord Dustin and his wife, because it was tied to a promise to return it. Ned knew of this promise and did return it, alas riderless and without Lord Dustin’s bones. We know the significance of that particular red stallion to the persons related to it, but what is it meta-implication for Ned Stark, but also other characters? Red stallions tend to appear in the most suprising scenes in the books.
Three essays exist so far, following the trail of the Red Stallion
- Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet explores the horse connection to Lyanna, and how Ned Stark betting on the wrong horse leads to his downfall. It proves how horse scenes and especially tourney scenes are foreshadowing parallels.
- Sansa’s Tourneys investigates the premisse that tourneys are used to foreshadow events in the two tourneys that we witness through Sansa’s point of view. The foreshadowing in this essay is restricted to events at Westeros that do not involve events while Sansa is at the Vale.
- Sansa and the Giants attempts to predict what will happen in the Vale while Sansa is there, based on two scenes at the Hand’s Tourney from her point of view, the words of Ghost of High Heart and the snowcastle scene at the Eyrie.