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.

Shadrich, Morgarth and Byron

Three Hedge Knights:  Howland Reed, Elder Brother, and Sandor Clegane

Their Gallantry is Yet to be Demonstrated: The Winds of Winter prediction that a glamor spell disguises the Beast as a Beauty

Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”
“Knights they are,” said Petyr. “Their gallantry has yet to be demonstrated, but we may hope.Allow me to present Ser Byron, Ser Morgarth, and Ser Shadrich. Sers, the Lady Alayne, my natural and very clever daughter . . . with whom I must needs confer, if you will be so good as to excuse us.”
The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.(Alayne II, AFFC)

“Sweet one,” her father said gently, “listen to me. When you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong.” (Sansa III, AGOT)

“He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight[…]” (Sansa IV, AGOT on her misremembering her father’s words.)

First, the acknowledgements.  This essay is possible because of the original post here by the invaluable contributor on the westeros.org forums, bemused in August of 2016.  Bemused presented the case for the identities of Ser Shadrich and Ser Morgarth being Howland Reed and Elder Brother respectively.  I was inclined to agree and even was able to find evidence to expand upon that idea.  The only point of disagreement was on the identity of Ser Byron “the Beautiful,” who I am proposing is Sandor Clegane under a glamor.  This essay sets out to show how this is even possible, how these three men work together in the plot, that this is what GRRM actually intends to happen, and to lay out the textual evidence and clues as clearly as possible.  Other forum contributors who must be thanked for their astute reading and dogged assistance in building this theory are sweetsunray and Ashes of Westeros.

By Blue-Eyed Wolf

Note:  To avoid bogging down an already long essay, I will provide links to smaller, less important quotes if needed for textual support.

Index

  1. Part I:  The Importance of Reading the Three as One
  2. Part II:  Shadrich’s Intentions
  3. Part III:  The Case for Howland Reed
  4. Part IV:  The Quiet Isle, Elder Brother, and Ser Morgarth
  5. Part V:  Sandor Clegane and Ser Byron:  The Beast Enchanted into a Beauty
  6. Part VI:  Brienne’s Symbolic Journey Down the Acorn and Ivy Path
  7. Part VII:  Tying Everything Together in Sansa’s POV

PART I: The Importance of Reading the Three as One

Before exploring the individual identities of our hedge knights, we should first look at how GRRM intends for us to view them:  as a team.  Even though it is Shadrich who we will be introduced to first in Brienne’s AFFC POV, the next two times we see him will be in the company of Morgarth and Byron in Alayne II, AFFC and in Alayne, TWOW sample chapter.  It’s written as if we’re supposed to both see them and unsee them as Sansa’s attention is drawn elsewhere.  Because the author places the men together in consecutive order we should be considering not just their individual identities, but also considering how they will fit together logically and thematically in the story.  They should harmonize well together with each contributing something important for the task at hand.

This makes the name Shadrich all the more a significant choice if we look to the similarities with the biblical Shadrach and his companions Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel.  Just as a brief paraphrase of the story, those are the Babylonian names they’ve taken as appointed officials in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.  Their real Hebrew names are Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria.  The king builds a golden statue and commands that all of his officials must bow down before it on pain of execution in a fiery furnace.  Of course the three being Hebrew and godly men refuse to do so.  When they are set to burn in the furnace, they are protected by God for their faithfulness (as depicted by a mysterious fourth man in there with them referred to as appearing like “the son of God”).  They walk about the flames unharmed and eventually escape.  So in this story we have themes of:  three “godly” men under assumed names, a king that appoints them to positions in his court, the king will be defied, a fourth “man” who will join them, and an unexpected escape by supernatural means.  These themes will become much more clearly fitting as we explore the clues in Brienne and Sansa’s AFFC arcs.

There are a few key points we should keep in mind for the hedge knight team even if they are exactly what they appear to be and only out to kidnap Sansa for a ransom:

  • For any plan, rescue or kidnapping, to work Littlefinger must believe they are exactly the hired swords they appear to be for him to be completely at ease and to allow them around “his daughter.”
  • Littlefinger must believe that there’s no way the hedge knights could know who Alayne really is.
  • Logically, there must be at least one member of the team that can positively ID Sansa through a disguise or physical changes brought on by time and puberty.  Even if they are kidnapping her, there’s no reward for bringing the wrong girl back to King’s Landing.

We know by the fact that they were hired, came back with Littlefinger from Gulltown, spent hours in his solar drinking and talking, have been personally introduced to Alayne, and they have by TWOW sample chapter spent months at the Gates of the Moon without any cause for suspicion means all of the above points are true.

If the hedge knights are in fact under false identities, Littlefinger cannot in any way be previously familiar with any one of them or he would be immediately suspicious of their presence and intentions.  He cannot be able to identify them as anyone other than the identities they have presented.

Shadrich succeeded in finding Sansa where all others had failed.  This means he found the right information that lead him to Sansa.  How he got that information is critically important question to answer.

back to the index

PART II:  Shadrich’s Intentions

In this part we’ll be looking at the evidence in favor of Ser Shadrich being an ally and friend to Sansa, no matter if he is Howland Reed, someone else entirely, or simply the Mad Mouse.  These clues will also directly connect him to associations with Sandor Clegane, an obvious ally to both Stark girls.  But first and as equally important, we need to examine the reasons for Brienne being an unreliable narrator when it comes to analyzing Shadrich through her POV.

Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?”
For love, why else?”
She furrowed her brow. “Love?”
“Aye, love of gold. Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

This conversation Brienne has upon meeting Ser Shadrich is often cited as damning proof of him being simply a bounty hunter if we take it at face value.  There’s subtle details here that indicate his motivations are not actually greedy, but helpful even to Brienne herself.  Shadrich is telling her, actually warning her, that Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer are liars and frauds.  This is something Shadrich assesses within moments of meeting them, which should be a confirmation of most readers’ first impressions of the two.

As we shall see from the examples presented, Brienne will show a persistent pattern * in AFFC of reading people wrong; therefore, she is an unreliable narrator in assessing Ser Shadrich and we should not fall into the trap of taking a POV character’s word as accurate without supporting evidence.  Here’s a rundown of Brienne’s inability to read others accurately:

  • She fails to be suspicious of the grandiose and dubious claims of Creighton Longbough and his partner, Illifer the Penniless.  After being with them a short time she refers to them as “decent men,” but their knightly status is likely fake as Brienne admits herself she’s never heard of them or the knights they claim to have slain at the Blackwater.  Nor are their sigils recognizable to her.  Yet, it never occurs to her to press them with more pointed questions or to even be particularly wary.  With so many dead soldiers from the war, it isn’t difficult to find bits of armor to pass oneself off as a hedge knight.  They are clearly using her as she pays their way at the inn at the old stone bridge.  This is after the innkeeper makes plain that Creighton is a good-for-nothing freeloader.  While they don’t appear to be as terrible as most outlaws, they do seem to be looking for the next big score.  It would therefore be highly likely they would betray Brienne to get their hands on Sansa.  That much should be obvious to the reader as much as it is to Shadrich.  Even much later on her journey she will still think back that “perhaps she had made a mistake in abandoning Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer. They had seemed like honest men.”  What makes them sohonest to her if she even admits she can’t verify their story?  It’s most likely because she sees them as simply “old,” “vain,” and ridiculous, therefore they are harmless.  So harmless then translates to seemingly decent and honest for her.
  • She tersely notes but immediately forgets the boy on the piebald horse (who turns out to be Podrick Payne) that is mentioned three times across Brienne I & II.  It takes a fourth brush with him before it finally dawns on her she’s seen him before and should take an interest.
  • She constantly thinks of Nimble Dick Crabb as a murderous type, but he actually turns out to be just a starving petty conman who jumped at the opportunity for a little coin; however, unlike Creighton, he is described as “scrawny and ill-fed.” Nimble Dick is telling her the truth as he knew it about “fooling a fool,” who will turn out to be Shagwell of the Brave Companions, not Dontos Hollard.  He only tells her about seeing two girls with the fool because Brienne gave him leading questions with promise of more coin.  But what else does he do that warrants so much mistrust from her?  Nothing.  The worst thing he does is rattle Podrick with colorful stories by the campfire of “squishers” and his ancestor, Ser Clarence Crabb.  Brienne will realize after poor Dick’s gruesome death at the hands of Shagwell that she should have trusted him.
  • Although she has reason to be doubtful of Ser Hyle Hunt at first for a cruel game at Highgarden, his actions thereafter are those of a helper and someone who wants to improve Brienne’s opinion of him.  He carries the stinking, rotting heads of the Bloody Mummers all the way back to Maidenpool, which Brienne believe he plans to claim the credit for himself.  Instead he gives Brienne and Podrick full credit for slaying the outlaws, publicly testifying to her bravery and skill.  He stands up to Randall Tarly and leaves his service to join her, and seems genuinely attracted to her despite the teasing.  The reward for finding Sansa Stark he speaks of is then likely not gold, but earning Brienne’s favor and her accepting him as a suitor.  He also makes the auspicious suggestion to seek out Septon Meribald.  She continues to think the worst of Hyle throughout, but her opinion begins to change after he helps her defend the orphans against Rorge and Biter.  She even defends him before they are about to be hanged by Lady Stoneheart and the BwB.

To sum up, we have good reason to doubt Brienne’s first impressions of Ser Shadrich, because she nearly gets everyone she encounters in AFFC wrong.

* Sweetsunray has noticed Brienne shows a pattern in her internal monologue of being prone to thinking in overly literal terms.  She fails to pick up on sarcasm.  She has no ear for tone of voice, which is key to understanding others.  Unlike most POV characters that do assess the eye movements, facial expressions and body language of others,  Brienne focuses on mechanical movement and misinterprets subtle facial expressions if she notices them at all.  If she does pick up on social cues, they have to be blatantly obvious.  This is not to say she is unintellegent, but there seems to be an impairment there which has an impact on her ability to accurately judge others.  She does have a general mistrust (of men especially) based on her life experience, but that is not the same as having good sense of what makes an individual trustworthy or untrustworthy.  Sweetsunray goes into more details and examples of these patterns here and has proposed Brienne may have a Pragmatic Language Impairment.

Brienne’s AFFC arc is almost a parody of the knight errant story.  The white knight is supposed to be the perfect hero to rescue the maiden.  George would seem to have it otherwise.  As one of the most honest, noble, pure-intentioned characters in the books as well as an excellent warrior, her skillset could not be worse for going up against the likes of Petyr Baelish.  Consider how deftly he outmaneuvered the Lords Declarant who thought to oust him with direct confrontation, noble intentions, and show of military force.  Even when she gives her best attempt at playing the deception game, she is painfully transparent.  She tries to claim that she isn’t looking for Sansa, but an unnamed sister that looks exactly like Sansa.  Shadrich calls her bluff in seconds and this is exactly the reason that he can’t ally himself with her.  She places trust in the wrong people and she can’t lie.  And again, Shadrich warns her that Creighton is not what he seems.  The following quotes are from Brienne I, AFFC.

“I am searching for my sister.” She dared not mention Sansa’s name, with her accused of regicide. “She is a highborn maid and beautiful, with blue eyes and auburn hair.  Perhaps you saw her with a portly knight of forty years, or a drunken fool.”
“The roads are full of drunken fools and despoiled maidens. As to portly knights, it is hard for any honest man to keep his belly round when so many lack for food . . . though your Ser Creighton has not hungered, it would seem.”

Ser Shadrich laughed. “Oh, I doubt that, but it may be that you and I share a quest. A little lost sister, is it? With blue eyes and auburn hair?” He laughed again. “You are not the only hunter in the woods. I seek for Sansa Stark as well.”

Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?

Brienne may keep her face straight and doesn’t mention Sansa by name, but she gave herself away easily.  She mentions the description of Dontos:  portly knight or drunken fool.  Also, if she doesn’t know who Sansa Stark is, why does she care what Shadrich’s intentions are toward her?

“I know no Sansa Stark,” she insisted. “I am searching for my sister, a highborn girl . . .”

“. . . with blue eyes and auburn hair, aye. Pray, who is this knight who travels with your sister? Or did you name him fool?” Ser Shadrich did not wait for her answer, which was good, since she had none. “A certain fool vanished from King’s Landing the night King Joffrey died, a stout fellow with a nose full of broken veins, one Ser Dontos the Red, formerly of Duskendale. I pray your sister and her drunken fool are not mistaken for the Stark girl and Ser Dontos. That could be most unfortunate.” He put his heels into his courser and trotted on ahead.

Indeed, she isn’t fooling anyone.  Now that we’ve looked at Brienne’s limitations as an unreliable narrator and complete ineptitude for subterfuge and detective work, we need to look at Shadrich himself for clues to his intentions.  Let’s go back to this quote:

“Aye, love of gold.  Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.”

Shadrich also claimed that he was on the “losing side” at the Blackwater and that his “ransom ruined [him]” as his reasons for hunting Sansa Stark.  It doesn’t quite make sense that a man as shrewd as Shadrich would be so forthcoming with his personal “ruined” situation and offering to split the reward with Brienne, someone he just met only minutes ago.  Why would he even think at that point that this stranger would a merit a split of the reward?  He also gives no details of who captured him or to whom he paid his ransom to.  It’s a seemingly plausible, but unverifiable backstory.  This exchange seems to be more about Shadrich sussing out Brienne’s intentions rather than the other way around.  Creighton and Illifer he had figured out within seconds.  His curiosity must have been piqued when he meets a lady warrior point-blank asking anyone she meets if they have seen her nameless sister who is obviously Sansa Stark.  Again, he has to warn Brienne she isn’t “the only hunter in the woods.”

Keep in mind it had not even occurred to Brienne at this point that other people would start their search for Sansa and Dontos at Duskendale, where the Hollards had previously served House Darklyn.  Shadrich had to spell this out for her.  This will later be confirmed by the maester in Brienne II when she reaches the castle that several have already been there, including the gold cloaks.  Duskendale was exactly where Creighton and Illifer said they were headed.  Even they had sense enough not to discuss openly their purpose there, yet their destination should have been enough to make someone think they might be going there for the same reason as Brienne.  It’s Shadrich she calls “unsavory,” but what has Shadrich actually done that was so unsavory?  Has he been threatening?  No.  He called her a “wench.”  Jaime’s done that.  He mentions the bounty, but he repeatedly hints to her that her companions are frauds (true) and that the way she is going about her search is hopelessly inept (also true).  It seems like the worst the Shadrich actually does is make her feel foolish.

This initial exchange with Shadrich reveals that plainly.  He then was most likely mentioning the Blackwater, his financial ruin, and the split of the reward to give himself a plausible backstory and motivation.  Also he’s likely trying to bait Brienne with promise of the reward to provoke a response.  Although he can see she is not tempted by gold and would genuinely help Sansa, she would be a liability with her other limitations.  This becomes even more apparent later when we find out Shadrich manages to enter Littlefinger’s service and spend months at the Gates of the Moon without raising any suspicion.  It’s also an early hint that Shadrich is looking for the right allies for a special ops team.  As great a warrior and as good a person as she is, she is unfit for a covert mission to find and retrieve the most wanted girl in Westeros.  This scene is a perfect example of the recurring theme of ravens versus Baelor’s doves that GRRM often gives us.  One seems ideal like a white knight on a noble quest, but it are really the clever and bold that are better equipped for the task… like a Mad Mouse and his crew.

While “love of gold” and “plump bag of gold” may point to avarice, this is also isn’t the first time gold is associated with a Stark girl and it relates directly to the helper, Sandor Clegane.  At the tourney of the Hand, the day after Sandor reveals the secret of his scars to Sansa and she responds compassionately, Sandor saves Ser Loras from being killed by Gregor Clegane.  In turn, he is declared the winner (which Sansa “knew the Hound would win”) and receives the purse of forty-thousand gold dragons.  He also loses that purse when it is taken by the Brotherhood Without Banners.  In return Sandor steals Arya from them with the plan of returning her to her family.  (Greenbeard who also has the same idea but strictly for a ransom also refers to Arya as a “golden squirrel”).  Sandor is firmly established as a character that cares little for gold any more than he does titles, so this bag of dragons is important to him for what it represents and the reasons he won it, not just its monetary value or practical use.

The gold, Stark girls, and Sandor associations continue again in TWOW with this exchange between Shadrich and Alayne Stone.  There’s more to their scene than this, but let’s focus on these connections first.

Alayne turned abruptly from the yard…and bumped into a short, sharp-faced man with a brush of orange hair who had come up behind her. His hand shot out and caught her arm before she could fall. “My lady. My pardons if I took you unawares.”

“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

The only other person who catches Sansa by the arm to stop her from falling is Sandor (especially after she bumps into him).  It happens twice in memorable scenes, once on the serpentine steps and once the night before the Blackwater.  In the above scene Shadrich appears suddenly behind her after Sansa engages in an increasingly tense conversation with Lyn Cobray, a violent, quick-tempered man.  Shadrich seeing the danger approaches and  positions himself to “accidently” bump into Sansa, drawing her away from Ser Lyn.  As if that wasn’t a clue enough that we should be thinking in terms of linking Shadrich to Sandor, then we also have Shadrich equating Sansa to a “bag of dragons,” which we’ve already established makes a literal and literary connection between Sandor and both Stark girls.  Also another tiny detail, Ser Shadrich is described as having a very similar scar beneath his ear, the same as Hyle Hunt.

Using wordplay to simultaneously express honestly and to obscure one’s true thoughts is a hallmark of Sandor’s way of speaking, often termed “Sandorspeak” in the fandom.  A few good examples of this are here where he is definitely not referring to Joffrey, but himself.  Also here where he is deliberately obscuring if he’s referring to a man needing a woman or both women and men needing wine.  Shadrich also does this in his quip to Ser Creighton after listening to him boast in the inn.  In this sense, if we look at Shadrich claiming to be searching for Sansa “for love, why else?” it actually can be meant honestly before he pivots to “love of gold” in order to test Brienne’s reaction.  From the pattern and Shadrich referring to Sansa as a “bag of dragons,” “love of gold” can just as easily mean “love of Ned’s daughter” too.

We have one last feature of Ser Shadrich that he has in common with other known helpers and Stark allies in the ASOIAF series:  he rides specifically a chestnut courser.  After saving Sansa from the mob in the bread riot of King’s Landing, Sandor mounts upon Sansa’s chestnut courser to carry her back to safety.  Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully also rides one.  So does Brienne’s helper Hyle Hunt, who rides with her on her quest to find Sansa.  It’s established many times over that GRRM uses horses to reflect traits of the rider, named or unnamed. If we can prove three of these four are helpers and these are the only times a chestnut courser is ridden, it stands to reason that Ser Shadrich will also fit this pattern.

Other possible hints at his solidarity with Sansa Stark are in his “shock of orange hair” and in the sigil upon his shield.

[…]Ser Shadrich was a wiry, fox-faced man with a sharp nose and a shock of orange hair[…]”Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen. Some call me the Mad Mouse.” He turned his shield to show her his sigil, a large white mouse with fierce red eyes, on bendy brown and blue. “The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed. The mouse is me.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

While it is possible that someone could naturally have a very bright shade of copper that would appear orange, this may actually be from hair dye.  Hair dye is something that is well known in the series.  Tyroshi men use it for flamboyant decoration, but in Westeros it is most commonly used by characters for a disguise in numerous examples.  Sansa’s hair is dyed “chestnut” brown (possibly drawing a connection to the chestnut coursers) to hide her true identity.  Sansa will note Shadrich’s face is aged, so it’s very likely his natural hair color may have at least some gray.  When a person with a significant amount of gray tries to dye their hair a pure red or copper shade, the white hairs appear much brighter and less natural.  Reds can appear even pinkish and copper could appear a shocking orange.  While the orange may seem overly conspicuous a choice, it may be sign of solidarity with Sansa’s natural hair that is lighter and more coppery than her mother’s.

The “orange” connection to helpfulness will turn up again repeatedly in Brienne’s arc in the form of Septon Meribald’s “rare and costly” oranges.  Brienne also purchases an orange for Podrick, a rare treat gifted as an act of kindness toward him.  These are not the blood oranges of Littlefinger or Prince Doran.  The septon gives them away out of kindness and charity to the common people of the Riverlands.  Their monetary value means nothing to him.  This is purely a loving act.  This connection to Shadrich’s hair may reinforce the idea he is indeed there “for love” and Sansa’s ransom actually means nothing to him.  So Shadrich as a shocking orange may mean help is coming in the most unlikely and surprising of ways.

Whether naturally or unnaturally orange, Shadrich’s hair color seems symbolically significant when we look at the shield connection. The “white mouse with the fierce red eyes” upon Shadrich’s shield is a blatant weirwood face and color reference. This demands our attention that he has some affiliation with Northern First Men culture, which is very strange if Shadrich is passing himself off a knight, even a hedge knight.  Knighthood is mainly part of Southron and Andal culture and a rarity in the North.  Such an unusual sigil in this context should provoke many questions of Shadrich’s backstory.  Tying that to his hair color, there is also a connection to being “kissed by fire and weirwood leaves have been compared to flames like this example here.  GRRM makes a connection to specifically copper hair and a burning tree here with Addam Marbrand.  Addam is one of the three people in the books described as having specifically “copper” hair along with Sansa (who has a weirwood connection by heritage and all the Stark children being wargs as confirmed by GRRM) and Melisandre (who is definitely connected to burning weirwoods as well as statues of the Seven and human sacrifice).  Fire in real world mythology and in the books appears many times over as divine knowledge of the gods or “fire of the gods.”  Biblical Shadrach, as already mentioned, has a connection to fire by being directly protected by God in the fiery furnace.

There will be closer examination of Shadrich’s sigil when we look at Howland Reed, but for now we can safely say there’s enough evidence here to start considering Shadrich an ally to Sansa, no matter if he has another identity or not.  But this begs a very important question…

If Ser Shadrich is a helper and ally, then why is he a helper and ally? What does Sansa Stark mean to him?   Why would a mere hedge knight nobody do this “for love” if he doesn’t have some pre-existing association with House Stark?  To reveal Shadrich’s identity we need to look for someone deeply emotionally connected to House Stark and who has connections to the Old Gods.

In the next few parts we’ll be focusing on the cases for the individuals, but we will definitely not be leaving it there. Some physical descriptions and some parallels are simply not enough evidence to rely on.  If the three are a team, it is equally important to present evidence for the team as a whole working towards a common objective.

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PART III:  The Case for Howland Reed

There is a temptation to look at the physical descriptions of Meera and Jojen as a basis for Howland’s appearance to disqualify him being Shadich outright.  Meera and Jojen are described as having brown hair and green eyes.  There’s no mention of either of having fox-like features on their faces.  Keep in mind they do also have a mother, who they may favor over their father.  She is listed in the AFFC appendix as being Jyana Reed, Howland’s wife.  It is perfectly reasonable that Howland could actually look completely different than his children.

This is Meera Reed’s telling of the little crannogman story that is obviously her father from Bran II, ASOS and note Howland’s traits:

He was small like all crannogmen, but brave and smart and strong as well. He grew up hunting and fishing and climbing trees, and learned all the magics of my people.
Bran was almost certain he had never heard this story. “Did he have green dreams like Jojen?
“No,” said Meera, “but he could breathe mud and run on leaves, and change earth to water and water to earth with no more than a whispered word. He could talk to trees and weave words and make castles appear and disappear.”

The lad knew the magics of the crannogs,” she continued, “but he wanted more. Our people seldom travel far from home, you know. We’re a small folk, and our ways seem queer to some, so the big people do not always treat us kindly. But this lad was bolder than most, and one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.
“No one visits the Isle of Faces,” objected Bran. “That’s where the green men live.”
It was the green men he meant to find…”

All that winter the crannogman stayed on the isle, but when the spring broke he heard the wide world calling and knew the time had come to leave. His skin boat was just where he’d left it, so he said his farewells and paddled off toward shore.

Howland Reed is set apart from the average crannogman.  He knows all the hunting and survival skills of the crannog as well as all their magic.  He does not have Jojen’s greendreams, but he has an impressive magical repertoire and this is prior to his time on the Isle of Faces.  He does not stay close to home like other crannog out of fear of larger people as he is “bolder than most.”  He has ambition to learn even more magic.  Upon manhood, he travels to stay a whole winter season with the greenmen on the Isle of Faces in the center of the lake called the God’s Eye to learn their secrets.  Howland must have been exceptional to have been allowed this privilege, because as Bran says no one visits the Isle of Faces *.  The isle is one of the few last known places in southern Westeros to have a living weirwood grove, not just individual trees.

* As a quick review of some Dawn Age history, it is said that the Isle of Faces is the site of the children calling down “the hammer of the waters” to break the arm of Dorne to stop further invasion of First Men from Essos.  There’s some speculation that this particular form of magic involved blood sacrifice.  While stopping the tide of First Men was too late, the demonstration of power apparently brought about “The Pact” for peace made on the Isle of Faces between the children and the First Men.  This starts the beginning of the Age of Heroes.  This same magic is probably  the cause of the flooding of the Neck, where the crannogmen currently live.  This caused a natural barrier to invasion from south.  There is legend of crannogmen being small stature because of possible past intermarriage with the children of the forest.

We should also note that young Howland was able to travel alone, through hostile Frey territory, unseen.

He passed beneath the Twins by night so the Freys would not attack him, and when he reached the Trident he climbed from the river and put his boat on his head and began to walk. It took him many a day, but finally he reached the Gods Eye, threw his boat in the lake, and paddled out to the Isle of Faces.” (Bran II, ASOS)

Even lugging a boat around over land for several days, this is testimony to the skill level of the crannog in stealthy movement and living off the land.  Meera and Jojen’s skillsets would appear to confirm this.  Her hunting has kept Bran and company living off the land as they move North in search of the three-eyed raven.  They also haven’t been found out by any hostile parties along the way.  Looking at what Jojen says about Meera and what Meera says about the little crannogman, we see many overlaps:

The gods give many gifts, Bran. My sister is a hunter. It is given to her to run swiftly, and stand so still she seems to vanish. She has sharp ears, keen eyes, a steady hand with net and spear. She can breathe mud and fly through trees. I could not do these things, no more than you could. To me the gods gave the green dreams, and to you . . . you could be more than me, Bran. You are the winged wolf, and there is no saying how far and high you might fly. . . if you had someone to teach you. How can I help you master a gift I do not understand? We remember the First Men in the Neck, and the children of the forest who were their friends . . . but so much is forgotten, and so much we never knew. (Bran I, ASOS)

Again the “breathing mud” and “flying through trees” (and what those things may actually mean we will be exploring later) is mentioned again.  Meera has clearly inherited the survival and hunting skills of her father and Jojen has inherited a more mystical gift, even if Howland does not possess the power of prophetic dreams.

We also know of Howland Reed’s involvement of the events of the tourney at Harrenhal where he first met and befriended Brandon, Ned, Lyanna, and Benjen Stark.  He was beaten and bullied by dishonorable squires for being a small-statured crannogman.  It was Lyanna Stark in particular that drove off the offending squires, who insisted that he attend the tourney feast, and gave him a place among the Starks on the dais.  It is also Lyanna that is widely believed to be the Knight of the Laughing Tree that avenged Howland and earned his undying loyalty to House Stark and Lyanna in particular.  Meera explains as a crannog, he would not have the skillset needed to joust to avenge himself. That Howland Reed cannot compete as a tourney knight is a very important fact that the author makes very clear.  Howland’s loyalty to House Stark will be demonstrated in his service to Ned Stark in Robert’s Rebellion and attempting to rescue Lyanna from the Tower of Joy.  They failed to reach Lyanna in time to save her.  I believe Howland would be particularly motivated to save her niece.  Especially at the Vale tourney, where it would be the inverse of Harrenhal:  a crannogman disguised as a knight saves a Stark girl.

Now let us take a pause before continuing to compare this to what we know of Ser Shadrich and compare him to Howland Reed.  They are both small-statured, but proportional.  Sansa says Shadrich is so short he might have been “taken for a squire.” So he could be mistaken for a youth if you didn’t see his aged face.  Even sixteen-year-old Meera is described as being “scarcely taller than [almost nine-year-old] Bran.”  Shadrich is then consistent with typical crannog body type.

The Mad Mouse is so named not because he is literally mentally ill as Brienne asks, but because he is a contradiction.  He’s not a typical mouse.  “Your common mouse will run from blood and battle. The mad mouse seeks them out.” he tells her.  So like the little crannogman, he is “bold” and “brave.”  They both are not typical of their own kind, whether it be mice or the shy crannog people.  They are both unafraid of danger and experienced fighters.  We don’t know exact details, but we do know that Howland Reed played a key role in Ned Stark surviving the Tower of Joy and in the death of Arthur Dayne, noted as one of the greatest warriors of his day.

They are both well-travelled, even through hostile enemy territory.  Howland Reed travelling alone and undetected through Frey lands at about sixteen-years-old.  He’s also travelled over great distances in his service to Eddard Stark during Robert’s Rebellion.  Ser Shadrich references the device on his shield to point to his travels:

“Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen *. Some call me the Mad Mouse.” He turned his shield to show her his sigil, a large white mouse with fierce red eyes, on bendy brown and blue. “The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed. The mouse is me.” (Brienne I, AFFC.)

* The name Shady Glen is an interesting choice to claim to hail from as well.  Shady Glen appears to be a play on Dusken and dale, both roughly meaning a darkened or shaded valley.  Duskendale is also the location of the historic, daring one-man rescue operation of Ser Barristan Selmy the Bold who infiltrated the castle to rescue King Aerys from Lord Darklyn’s dungeons.  Lord Tywin Lannister gave Barristan a day to execute his rescue mission before sacking the city.  Selmy recalls he left at the “hour of the wolf” and returned at the “hour of the wolf’,” successfully saving his king.   He refers to this event as “his finest hour.” 

Ser Shadrich is obviously not alone when Brienne first meets him.  He’s with the merchant, Hibald, and his servants but says he’s only travelling with them as far as Duskendale.  Why not alone?  Because he’s travelling to a large town, not an off-the-grid island.  For practical reasons there is not only some safety in numbers when travelling on main roads, but also there’s news and gossip to be found by fellow travellers passing by or at inns.  By the time we meet Shadrich again at the Gates of the Moon, we know he’s travelled and tracked quite a distance to exactly the right place.  This is very much like how Howland Reed left the Isle of Faces at the most auspicious time to arrive at Harrenhal for the historically significant tourney.  And now in TWOW, we have the tourney of the Winged Knights on the horizon.  Exactly how Shadrich finds his way to Sansa will be explored in the timeline of events.

The “breathing mud” ability attributed to Howland Reed is most likely referring to how well-adapted the crannog are in the harsh environment of the Neck.  Anyone else would easily get hopelessly lost.  Knights have drowned in the bogs and there are poisonous plants and lizard lions.  They are disparaged for seeming to live in a primitive manner in an uncivilized place, but they have made this place home for thousands of years.  This is what Theon describes of the Neck and how dangerous it is:

The swampy ground beyond the causeway was impassable, an endless morass of suckholes, quicksands, and glistening green swards that looked solid to the unwary eye but turned to water the instant you trod upon them, the whole of it infested with venomous serpents and poisonous flowers and monstrous lizard lions with teeth like daggers. Just as dangerous were its people, seldom seen but always lurking, the swamp-dwellers, the frog-eaters, the mud-men. (Reek II, ADWD)

This is precisely the talent one needs for navigating the mud and sinkholes that surround the Quiet Isle at low tide.  In Brienne V, Meribald warns Podrick to stay off the mud as “it will open up and swallow you” if you step in the wrong place.  Meribald is experienced with coming to the isle for many years, so he knows how to get to the isle on foot safely.  It’s a long, winding path guided by “feeling” around the mud with his staff first.  This should be nothing for Howland Reed, who has been navigating through more dangerous mud his entire life.  No ferry to the isle necessary.

We should also be drawing a connection between Shadrich’s weirwood-colored mouse sigil and to The Knight of the Laughing Tree’s weirwood sigil shield. Both the Mad Mouse and the Laughing Tree sigils are contradictions.  Actual weirwoods are not depicted as smiling or laughing.  Their carved out expressions are supposed to look pained or frightening.  The events of the mystery knight avenging Howland also remind us that he cannot avenge himself because he is not a tourney knight.  Now look at Ser Shadrich’s statements about himself:

“…’Tis true, I am no tourney knight. I save my valor for the battlefield, woman.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

In TWOW Alayne sample chapter, Myranda Royce asks him if he will be competing in the joust for a position in Robert Arryn’s Winged Knights:

Will you be seeking wings?” the Royce girl said.
A mouse with wings would be a silly sight.”
Perhaps you will try the melee instead?” Alayne suggested. The melee was an afterthought, a sop for all the brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends who had accompanied the competitors to the Gates of the Moon to see them win their silver wings, but there would be prizes for the champions, and a chance to win ransoms.
A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

So again, no jousting for Ser Shadrich.  His skillset is for the battlefield or a melee.  We’ll also be exploring the importance and parallels between tourneys later, but this exchange between Shadrich and Sansa has some very interesting word play.  “A mouse with wings” being a “silly sight” seems to be a twist on the connections to bats in Sansa’s arc and her Whent grandmother on Catelyn’s side.  A bat is often humorously albeit inaccurately called a “flying mouse,” especially in the Old German word for bat, fledermaus.  Sansa has compared a fluttering inside her to swallowing a bat and she was rumored to escape the Purple Wedding by turning herself into a wolf with bat wings.  Bats are also on the sigil of House Whent, who hosted the aforementioned tourney at Harrenhal.  Also the bat is the sigil of the much-maligned House Lothston *, previous owners of Harrenhal before the Whents, who once served them.  This has led many to reasonably speculate that Sansa’s future arc may somehow intersect with Harrenhal owing to these connections as well as the fact that Littlefinger is the current Lord of Harrenhal.

* The last Lothston, red-haired “Mad” Danelle was mysteriously brought down by (most likely false or grossly over-exaggerated) accusations of dark sorcery, child kidnapping, murder, and cannibalism.  This is not unlike Sansa being rumored to use sorcery to kill Joffrey and escape the Red Keep.  Danelle  is also connected to Bloodraven, known sorcerer and greenseer, in The Mystery Knight novella.  So there’s a kissed-by-fire, magic, bats, and Harrenhal connection with the “Mad” moniker as well.

The importance of this cannot be overstated:  Ser Shadrich’s shield is a direct reference to the Old Gods, weirwoods, the Harrenhal tourney and the Knight of the Laughing Tree.  It’s the pivotal moment that earns Howland Reed’s fierce loyalty to the Starks.  That generation of Starks stood up for him, befriended him, and treated him as an equal.  Except for a brief mention of being at the Tower of Joy, GRRM has not featured Howland Reed in any other story except the tourney at Harrenhal.  When Howland Reed re-enters the story, it makes literary sense for the author to establish him with Harrenhal and Old Gods references.

The “flying mouse” motif may point to a larger idea connected to weirwoods and magic.  Children of the Forest have been described as squirrels by the giants.  Arya herself has been called a squirrel many times.  Bran draws comparisons to Arya in both Meera Reed and one of the children who he will call Leaf.  Squirrels do fit that motif if we consider the way they can flit among tree branches with ease (as well at there being a species called a flying squirrel).  This comes full circle with Meera and Howland being able to “fly through trees” and “run on leaves.”  Also note that Shadrich’s sigil colors are on a bendy, the same as House Lothston and both with a “mouse” related to magic at it’s center.  It’s well-known that GRRM has drawn upon Yggdrasil from Norse mythology with his weirwood concept.  There is a squirrel related to Yggdrasil named Ratatoskr who acts as a messenger running up and down the tree between an unnamed eagle at the top and the wyrm>, Níðhǫggr, at the roots (very much like the dragon, Bloodraven, seated at the weirwood’s roots).

We can also make magical associations to another animal Ser Shadrich is connected to:  the fox.  Shadrich has a fox-like face and fox orange hair.  He also comes across as being sly and cunning.  Foxes in real world folklore have been connected to magic, illusion, and deception such as in the Japanese kitsune.  There’s also the very popular medieval folk tales of Reynard the Fox, which GRRM is familiar with.  They were so popular, renard came to replace the old French word for fox.  Reynard is an anthropomorphic fox character and trickster figure whose stories usually involve him deceiving or cunningly escaping other anthropomorphic animal characters.  His character was often used in parodies of medieval courtly love and chanson de geste, or songs of heroic deeds (think Shadrich’s meeting Brienne on her hapless quest to rescue Sansa) as well as satire of political and religious institutions.

There are some very interesting parallels between Reynard and Howland Reed.  Reynard’s castle home is called Maleperduis, which is described as having hidden tunnels, entrances and exits, and confusing pathways to elude his enemies from finding him *.  This is strikingly similar to descriptions of Greywater Watch, Howland’s seat, which is built to move elusively (“he can make castles appear and disappear”) and cannot be found by outsiders or ravens.  The name Reynard is theorized to have derived from the old Germanic man’s name, Reginhard.  The word regin meaning “divine powers of the Old Germanic religion” plus hard meaning “made hard by the Gods.”  It could also mean regin + harti or “strong counsel,” denoting someone wise and clever.

* There is solid proof GRRM is familiar with the Reynard stories.  In the story of Tywin Lannister obliterating House Reyne, Tywin drives Ser Reynard Reyne and his people into the mining tunnels of Castamere, very much like Maleperduis, but with a tragic end:

To the ignorant eye, Castamere seemed a modest holding, a fit seat for a landed knight or small lord, but those who knew its secrets knew that nine-tenths of the castle was beneath the ground.
It was to those deep chambers that the Reynes retreated now.  Feverish and weak from loss of blood, the Red Lion was in no fit state to lead. Ser Reynard, his brother, assumed command in his stead. Less headstrong but more cunning than his brother, Reynard knew he did not have the men to defend the castle walls, so he abandoned the surface entirely to the foe and fell back beneath the earth. Once all his folk were safe inside the tunnels, Ser Reynard sent word to Ser Tywin above, offering terms. But Tywin Lannister did not honor Ser Reynard’s offer with a reply. Instead he commanded that the mines be sealed…” (The Westerlands:  House Lannister Under the Dragons, TWOIAF.)

One Reynard story that has parallels with Shadrich’s role in Sansa’s arc and has that familiar feature of clever word play is in one where he tricks Bruin the Bear, a likely Lothor Brune connection.  Brune is made captain of the guards by Petyr, so he is in command over the hedge knights.  In this story, Reynard steals Bruin’s honey (which calls back to the Bear and the Maiden Fair) or butter depending on the telling.  First, Reynard comes to live with Bruin (like entering service at the Gates of the Moon) and pretends to leave to attend a christening.  He’s really going to sneak back into the house to eat some honey.  When Bruin asks him what the baby’s christened name was, he replies “Just Begun.”  A second time he says he needs to attend a christening, he does the same thing and tells Bruin the baby’s name was “Half-Eaten.”  This same scenario happens a third time with the baby’s name being “All Gone,” at which point Bruin realizes his honey (as a symbol of Sansa) that he was supposed to be guarding is now gone.

And even more importantly to note, one of Reynard’s primary adversaries in his stories is a wolf character dressed up in monks robes named Ysengrim, who is not particularly pious and is used as a parody of the Church.  This has some obvious parallels to Sandor as the gravedigger and the strange bedfellow relationship between the two will make even more sense when we explore Brienne’s journey through the Riverlands on a symbolic level in Part VI.

If there’s any doubt about Howland Reed’s continued deeply personal devotion to House Stark, consider this:  Howland Reed sent his only children, his only heirs, alone to aid Bran and Rickon after Ned was executed.  This is more than the loyalty of vassal to liege lord.  This decision was based on a greendream of Jojen’s, which shows not only their commitment to Ned’s children and also their faith in the mystical for guidance.  That the Reeds’ role in the story is not only to protect, but also offer their knowledge of the Old Gods’ magic and mysticism.  Jojen and Meera get Bran to the three-eyed raven, so that he can fully realize his power as a greenseer and a warg.  Robb has his army, his mother, and Greywind.  Jon has Ghost and his own arc in the North.  Bran has Meera, Jojen, Hodor, and Summer.  Rickon has Osha and Shaggydog.  Arya is lost and presumed dead after Ned’s execution.  Sansa is the one Stark child that is alone in enemy hands and who desperately needs allies.

We don’t know the details of Jojen’s greendream that he shared with his father, but it does not make sense that Howland Reed would send his children to Winterfell and he would stay in the Neck.  His wife, Jyana, would still be at Greywater Watch during the War of the Five Kings.  Recall that Shadrich said he was at the Blackwater and was on the “losing side” of the battle.  Does that mean Howland Reed had fought for Stannis?  Perhaps, as Ned believed Stannis was Robert’s rightful heir.  Yet, there is no indication in our comparison of Howland and Shadrich that his motives are remotely political.  Sansa is imprisoned in Maegor’s Holdfast, the castle within a castle, where the royal family and Hand of the King have their chambers.  Even if there was a way for Ser Shadrich to enter the castle, it is highly unlikely he could get so far inside the Red Keep and get Sansa out undetected.  If Stannis had succeeded in sacking King’s Landing, Sansa would likely then be moved from from the Red Keep to Stannis’s camp, potentially presenting the opportunity to rescue her.  This did not happen.  Hence being on the “losing side” for the lost opportunity, forcing him to wait patiently for another to arise.

It won’t be until the Purple Wedding on the first day of the year 300 that Sansa finally escapes and disappears, but she is headed for her next prison, not freedom.  There is a hint to how her prayers will be answered when Sansa is changing clothes in the godswood to escape King’s Landing:

“Sansa felt as though she were in a dream. “Joffrey is dead,” she told the trees, to see if that would wake her.” (Sansa V, ACOK)

Dontos is not the real Florian and this is no true rescue.  The true answer to her prayers and her freedom will be connected to the Old Gods and tree-talker, as Meera says her father is.  The greendream, Ned’s death, the bonds of friendship forged at the Harrenhal tourney, and the failure to save Lyanna in time at the Tower of Joy are more than enough reason for Howland Reed to head to King’s Landing.

Shadrich and Howland’s Timeline of Events

While using the ASOIAF timeline, we should keep in mind this is a fairly accurate but still an approximation as to the order of events in the series.  There is a margin of time that cannot be exactly accounted for.  Certainly GRRM never intended to follow timeframes rigidly for a story with this many moving parts.  This is only to illustrate how in general the timeline would allow for Howland Reed and / or Ser Shadrich to find Sansa Stark. There is nothing that grossly falls outside of possible time and distance limits that we would have to disqualify the theory.  Real world names of months are used simply to help conceptualized the passage of time.

Ned Stark is executed around early January of 299 and Winterfell learns of his death about two weeks later.  Approximately two months after that, Jojen and Meera arrive in Winterfell during the harvest feast in Bran III, ACOK to re-pledge themselves to House Stark.  Note that the Reeds knew to come to Winterfell without use of ravens as none can find Greywater Watch.  There’s no exact distance from Greywater Watch to Winterfell; however, using Moat Cailin as a rough half-way point (about 590 miles to Winterfell) it would take about two months on horseback.  This is using the distance and travel time calculators on said timeline.  So Meera and Jojen (after the greendream) must have left home about the time Winterfell receives word of Ned’s death.

The battle of the Blackwater was between late August and early September in 299.  As a single rider travelling from Greywater Watch to King’s Landing, there’s still approximately six months of leeway for Howland Reed to arrive in King’s Landing in time for the battle even if he left much later than Jojen and Meera.

New Year’s Day of the year 300 is the Purple Wedding.  Ten days later Sansa arrives at the Baelish holdings on the Fingers.  Eight days after that Lysa will arrive and marry Petyr that night.  Around that same time, Jaime sends Brienne to find Sansa Stark.  About early February, we find Brienne’s first chapter in AFFC opens in Rosby (to the southwest of Duskendale).  That day she meets Creighton and Illifer.  The next day they catch up to Ser Shadrich and the merchant Hibald’s party farther up the the road near the old stone bridge inn, also heading to Duskendale.  By their conversation, it is now widely public knowledge at this point that Sansa Stark is a wanted fugitive for regicide and there is a bounty on her.  Brienne will leave the old stone bridge inn in the late hours of the night, abandoning Creighton and Illifer.  One of Hibald’s serving men in the stables sees Brienne leaving.

I propose that Ser Shadrich may have been curious of Brienne leaving so abruptly in the middle of the night considering their conversation over Sansa Stark and may have decided to track her.  He reasonably may have thought she had found a lead that caused her to suddenly abandon her companions and go it alone.  If we are being honest, Brienne would not be that difficult to track.  Podrick did it pretty easily.  She’s as big as the Hound and a lady knight.  Up until she has her shield repainted in Duskendale like Ser Duncan the Tall’s sigil, she’s obliviously carrying the reviled Lothston device on her shield.  She’s extremely memorable everywhere she goes.  

At this point, events take place in closer succession and the following will show when relevant information from the Vale reaches the Riverlands.

  • In Sansa VII, ASOS, Lysa will be murdered by Littlefinger around 2/9/300.
  • In Brienne II, AFFC at around 2/11/300, Brienne will get the lead from the pious dwarf at the Seven Swords in Duskendale to find Nimble Dick Crabb at the Stinking Goose in Maidenpool.
  • At around 2/17 and in Brienne III, she will learn of Lysa Arryn’s death from Randall Tarly at Maidenpool.
    • Although Brienne had considered going to Sansa’s aunt, it’s precisely the news of Lysa’s death that makes her reject the idea of going to the Vale.  This is probably true of other bounty hunters as well except for Ser Shadrich, since his team is the only one that actually arrives in the Vale.
  • Brienne goes on her wild goose chase tour of Crackclaw Point with Nimble Dick in Brienne IV, returning to Maidenpool around 4/9 in Brienne V.
  • Sometime after 3/23 and after the failed Lords Declarant meeting to oust the Lord Protector of Alayne I, AFFC, Littlefinger will leave the Eyrie for Gulltown for the wedding of Lyonel Corbray.
    • As an ancient, noble house of the Vale and with many other prestigious Vale lords as guests, the Corbray wedding would be a widely-known impending event around the region.
    • The marriage to a Gulltown merchant’s daughter was brokered by Littlefinger likely sometime well before Alayne I in anticipation of the Vale lords opposition to him.  By land (~450 miles), that would be approximately a 18 – 21 day journey.
  • This means the wedding probably takes place somewhere in a window between 4/10 and the party leaving Gulltown around 4/26.
  • Brienne will reach the Quiet Isle in Brienne VI, AFFC around 4/20/300 then leave the next morning.  Ser Shadrich could find the isle as early as that day or the next following Brienne without being seen.  We’ll see the clues he did indeed follow her in Part VI.
  • The very next time we see Ser Shadrich will be in Alayne II, when Sansa descends from the Eyrie to the Gates of the Moon.  This will be around 5/14/300.

So, even if Shadrich follows Brienne to the Quiet Isle to meet Elder Brother and Sandor Clegane as early as the next day (4/21/300), they can still board a ship (which I will describe in greater detail in Part IV) and arrive in Gulltown in couple of days.  Brienne confirms the voyage to Gulltown from Maidenpool is very short.  It took Sansa only 10 days to reach the Fingers from King’s Landing by ship and that is a much, much greater distance.  That’s still a safe window of a few days to enter Littlefinger’s service and follow his party back to the Gates of the Moon.  In Part IV, the importance of meeting Littlefinger in Gulltown rather than going directly to the Vale will be discussed in more detail.  Again, the timeframes are approximations.  This is only to show that there’s nothing that is so outside the limits of time and distance that it couldn’t work, disproving any part of this theory on that basis.

Keep in mind, GRRM always intended for Brienne to sync up with people from Arya’s arc:  Gendry, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and unCat.  Her skillset, vow to Catelyn, knowledge of Gendry’s parentage, and her reunion with Jaime are far more valuable and relevant there.  It makes sense then that when Arya eventually returns to Westeros, her path will also intersect with Brienne’s.  So the Quiet Isle visit, meeting Elder Brother and seeing the gravedigger is not truly intended for Brienne’s purpose in the story.  Aside from limited word of Arya’s last known sighting months prior and the Hound being “dead,” she doesn’t come away from the isle with anything truly useful to her.  So none of this extensive set up is meant for Brienne to act upon.  It has to be meant for someone else entirely…

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PART IV:  The Quiet Isle, Elder Brother, and Ser Morgarth

The Elder Brother was not what Brienne had expected. He could hardly be called elder, for a start; whereas the brothers weeding in the garden had had the stooped shoulders and bent backs of old men, he stood straight and tall, and moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years. Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer. His head was large and square, his eyes shrewd, his nose veined and red. Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw. He looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal one, thought the Maid of Tarth. […]
[..]He leaned forward, his big hands on his knees. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

“Aye,” said [Ser Morgarth], a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams.” (Alayne II, AFFC.)

As far as physical description similarities, both Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth are heavily built.  Both have noticeably large, strong hands.  They both have a highly distinguishing noses that are veined and red.  Elder Brother says he is forty-four years old, which would be consistent with the salt-and-pepper hair in Ser Morgarth’s beard.  With a few minor changes of shaving his head to hide the tonsure and letting the stubble on his face grow in thicker, the Elder Brother could easily become Ser Morgarth.  Notice, the beard mentioned is thick, not long, so not much time is required for the growth.  Of course, we won’t be relying on the physical descriptions to rest our case on, but the features mentioned are quite distinguishing and GRRM makes sure we are supposed to notice them.

If there’s one thing Brienne is detailed about, it’s the markings of a fellow warrior.  She notes almost immediately that Elder Brother looks like “a man made to break bones” rather than a “gentle,” “kindly” faced healer. Like the Mad Mouse, he is a contradiction.  Indeed, he was formerly a knight, a third son from a knightly house.  We will also see from his backstory that GRRM tailor-made the Elder Brother to rehabilitate Sandor Clegane physically and psychologically.  He had a girl he would have liked to marry, but as a third son he had nothing to offer her.  He describes himself as a “sad man” and self-medicated with alcohol abuse (hence the veiny red nose).  He also admits he had raped women to his shame.  His entire sense of self was defined by being a warrior.  He’s a veteran of Robert’s Rebellion and fought on the Targaryen side at the Trident where he was “killed,” stripped of his armor and washed up on the Quiet Isle.  He was healed by the Elder Brother before him, spent the next ten years in silence, before he took up the role of the current Elder Brother.

“Instead I woke here, upon the Quiet Isle. The Elder Brother told me I had washed up on the tide, naked as my name day…  We are all born naked, so I suppose it was only fitting that I come into my second life the same way. I spent the next ten years in silence.” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

This passage describes a very important concept about the Elder Brother, making the name “Morgarth” very significant, and connecting him to the biblical Shadrach’s “godly men.”  Elder Brother is surrounded by real world pagan greenman symbolism which GRRM translated into his in-book mythology of Garth Greenhand *. This is only one of many Garth-type names and greenman themes that appear repeatedly in the series.  This is all about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, sacrifice to ensure life continues, and the god acting as the gatekeeper between the living and the Underworld. GRRM hammers this association home between literal in-book greenmen on the otherworldly Isle of Faces.

* Garth Greenhand is the legendary High King of the First Men.  Some legends say he didn’t just lead the original First Men from Essos into Westeros, but he actually predated this and was the first and only human in Westeros and that he interacted with the Children of the Forest and the giants.  Other legends make him a green god of fertility and harvest who demanded blood sacrifice or sometimes the green god himself is the sacrifice in autumn needed to ensure the renewal of life in the spring.  He not only brings about fertility in the land, but also increases fertility in women leading to maids flowering, crones regaining their moonblood, and mothers giving birth to twins and triplets.

The Quiet Isle is a perfect metaphor for the Underworld or afterlife.  It’s a place of life, death, and rebirth.  The isle is an idyllic self-sustaining place of food and drink.  They have abundant varieties of fruits and vegetables grown there.  They have sheep, ponds of fish, and shellfish from the bay.  They make their own butter and have a windmill to grind their own grain to make bread.  They even brew quite a few alcoholic beverages:  ale, mead, cider, and wine.  Brewing alcohol is an important theme of green gods like Dionysus making Elder Brother’s red nose from alcohol abuse symbolic of this concept.  The honey bees and beehive shapes of the women’s cottages have mythological associations with goddesses and the underworld.  It is noted women come there too to be healed and to give birth.

The role of a symbolic Garth fits Elder Brother like a glove.  His hands are described as “healing hands” and he is credited with being able to heal people that maesters cannot.  His (green) hands restore life.  He resides in the Hermit’s Hole, a cave over two-thousand years old next to a chestnut tree where the first holy man to live there “worked wonders” and established the monastic order.  It’s also very possible the cave is pre-Andal invasion and was a place of mystical power for the First Men (again, look at the parallels to the Isle of Faces) before it was Andal-ized and adopted by the Faith of the Seven.  So the Elder Brothers of the isle inherit their healing abilities, which are widely regarded as being somewhat miraculous.

The Quiet Isle is also a place to cross over into the afterlife in more than one way.  Sometimes the dead and dying wash up on the shores, as did the Elder Brother.  Sometimes they are brought there like the Hound or the people of the Saltpans after the massacre to die or be healed.  The metaphoric and most common way is for penitents to abandon their old lives to be reborn in a new monastic life.  In a sense, the brothers on the isle are dead to the outside world.  They don’t speak with few exceptions.  Many cover their faces as well, obscuring their past identity.  Their brown robes and cowls are like the dead driftwood that washes up there, but even driftwood gets reborn as beautiful polished furniture and cups.  If you want to come on the Quiet Isle, you need Elder Brother’s or one of his proctor’s permission.  There’s a ferry to the isle which is evocative of Charon.  So that makes Elder Brother, like Garth Greenhand, a psychopomp.  He’s a gatekeeper between life and death, literal and metaphoric, and can also return people to the world of the living.  The imagery is evocative of the Elysian Fields and especially Avalon, where King Arthur was taken to recover from wounds sustained against Mordred at the Battle of Camlann and is destined to return from.  By that alone we should expect to see Sandor restored and renewed to something closer to a “true knight.”  It’s also important to know that Elder Brother also has ravens and is a gatekeeper of news of the outside world, but he largely withholds that information from the other brothers.

If the Elder Brother has abandoned his old life as a knight and has such a clearly defined purpose on the Quiet Isle, why would he then join Shadrich’s hedge knight team to rescue Sansa?  There are actually three major reasons for this that he speaks extensively about:  a debt he owes to Sandor Clegane, the inaction of Ser Quincy Cox during the Saltpans massacre, and the effect that Brienne has upon him.

“I buried him myself. I can tell you where his grave lies, if you wish. I covered him with stones to keep the carrion eaters from digging up his flesh, and set his helm atop the cairn to mark his final resting place. That was a grievous error. Some other wayfarer found my marker and claimed it for himself. The man who raped and killed at Saltpans was not Sandor Clegane” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Before the massacre, Sandor Clegane only stood accused of turning craven and deserting.  With some time passing and a regime change in King’s Landing, this might have been forgiven and he could have possibly moved forward with his life.  Because of Elder Brother’s mistake with the helm, the Hound is wanted for horrific mass murder, burning and pillaging, and the mutilation and rape of children.  Both Frey and Tarly men are hunting him and well as Brienne and her party.  At this point Sandor cannot show his face outside the isle without risking being killed on the spot.  He is then a novice not by choice and indefinitely trapped.  This is something Elder Brother did attempt to correct by sending a raven out to try to explain the mistaken identity, but that has proven weak and ineffective.  Writing well-meaning letters has done nothing to rectify the injustice of Sandor being falsely accused of heinous crimes and being condemned for it.

It was Elder Brother that directly dealt with the aftermath of the massacre.  He personally witnessed the horrors Rorge and Biter inflicted on the people.  He talks in explicit detail of the burning and screaming, the graphic violence done to women and children, and the last words of the dying.  There is no doubt Elder Brother was deeply affected by this event (as he still feels guilt over raping women).  The last building standing in the Saltpans is the castle of Ser Quincy Cox, who barred his doors while his people sought his protection.

The smile vanished. “They burned everything at Saltpans, save the castle… It fell to me to treat some of the survivors. The fisherfolk brought them across the bay to me after the flames had gone out and they deemed it safe to land. One poor woman had been raped a dozen times, and her breasts…  her breasts had been torn and chewed and eaten, as if by some . . . cruel beast… As she lay dying, her worst curses were not for the men who had raped her, nor the monster who devoured her living flesh, but for Ser Quincy Cox, who barred his gates when the outlaws entered the town and sat safe behind stone walls as his people screamed and died.”
“Ser Quincy is an old man,” said Septon Meribald gently. “His sons and good-sons are far away or dead, his grandsons are still boys, and he has two daughters. What could he have done, one man against so many?”
He could have tried, Brienne thought. He could have died. Old or young, a true knight is sworn to protect those who are weaker than himself, or die in the attempt.
“True words, and wise,” the Elder Brother said to Septon Meribald. “When you cross to Saltpans, no doubt Ser Quincy will ask you for forgiveness. I am glad that you are here to give it. I could not.” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

This is a story about someone who had the power to do something and did nothing.  GRRM didn’t write this story to motivate  Brienne to action, because she already knows what a true knight should do.  It’s what she will do when she defends the orphans from Rorge and Biter, preventing another Saltpans.  Elder Brother knows this too, yet he has his own moment of denial and self-comforting lies to avoid action, that someone else will deal with the ills of the world and all will be well.

“If so, give up this quest of yours. The Hound is dead, and in any case he never had your Sansa Stark. As for this beast who wears his helm, he will be found and hanged. The wars are ending, and these outlaws cannot survive the peace. Randyll Tarly is hunting them from Maidenpool and Walder Frey from the Twins, and there is a new young lord in Darry, a pious man who will surely set his lands to rights. Go home, child.”

This is all utter nonsense.  The wars are not even close to ending.  The murderers are still out there murdering people and have yet to be caught.  It’s Brienne taking action herself who will kill them.  The “new young lord” is Lancel Lannister, who even his father says is not the one to deal with these problems in his physical and psychological condition after the Blackwater.  Brienne responds to his urging for her to give up and go home to her father by tearfully telling him the story of her journey and ending with:

I have to find her,” she finished. “There are others looking, all wanting to capture her and sell her to the queen. I have to find her first. I promised Jaime. Oathkeeper, he named the sword. I have to try to save her . . . or die in the attempt.

So, in a short period of time two people have come to the Quiet Isle who are emotionally connected to Sansa Stark, who have tried or are trying to save her.  He’s also been a warrior himself who fell very short of knightly virtues and was himself a “broken man.” The terrible things he did still haunt him.  By healing and mentoring Sandor he is healing himself; however, by being unable to forgive Quincy Cox indicates he has also been unable to fully forgive himself even years later.  As a person of faith and a believer in what knights should do, he is at a tipping point between action and inaction.  He’s primed for a little nudge in the form of a third person coming to the isle with the same purpose.  Might he then take this as some sort of sign from his gods and that saving Sansa is also part of his own redemption?

What he contributes as Ser Morgarth is very important.  His skillset is not only martial experience, but as gatekeeper of information he can help connect some important dots.  Getting these three men together to compare notes, they could very quickly deduce they should start looking in the Vale.  They don’t have to know Sansa is there for a fact to be suspicious enough to go there first.  First they have the news of Lysa’s marriage to Littlefinger, her death about a month later, and him becoming the new Lord Protector.  This all happening very shortly after the Purple Wedding when Sansa disappeared.  Recall that news of Lysa’s death is what made Brienne decide against the Vale and everyone else too apparently.  Sandor, being so close to the royal family, would have known Littlefinger and Lysa Arryn for many years at court and would have probably thought the exact opposite.  Littlefinger bragging that he deflowered Sansa’s mother (openly disparaging of her honor) was also well-known court gossip.  Then later he is directly involved in the downfall and death of her father, which Sandor witnessed.  They don’t have to know anything for certain, but these dubious and unsavory connections to Tully women should be enough to make anyone suspicious.

The Elder Brother would then also know about the upcoming marriage of Lyonel Corbray to the Gulltown merchant’s daughter.  Sandor would also know that Littlefinger was in charge of customs in Gulltown and his success there was the reason he was brought to court and eventually made master of coin.  It is then likely he will be in attendance at the wedding with ties to both parties and as Lord Protector. The importance of the hedge knights meeting Littlefinger in Gulltown (rather than travelling directly to the Gates of the Moon) cannot be stressed enough. Unlike anyone else who made connections between Sansa and Lysa, this team of men made a connection between Littlefinger and Sansa. You wouldn’t be able to do that if you didn’t have relevant information on Littlefinger’s history at court.  Remember it’s widely accepted Lysa was murdered by Marillion and without Lysa no one else sees a reason to search in the Vale.  Shadrich, Morgarth, and Byron clearly didn’t buy that.

The most important thing that Elder Brother could contribute is access to a ship.  Travelling by ship to is the only way to make it in time to Gulltown while Littlefinger is there.  There would appear to be a problem with this as the nearest port at the Saltpans is completely destroyed and abandoned.  The Elder Brother says it himself:

“Only the castle remains. Even the fisherfolk are gone, the fortunate few who were out on the water when the raiders came. They watched their houses burn and listened to screams and cries float across the harbor, too fearful to land their boats. When at last they came ashore, it was to bury friends and kin. What is there for them at Saltpans now but bones and bitter memories? They have moved to Maidenpool or other towns.”

But the fishermen’s boats are still out there on the Bay of Crabs and Elder Brother has built relationships with the people of the Saltpans for many years.  They’ve traded goods from the island in town.  He’s tended to their sick and pregnant women.  He cared for their wounded and dying after the massacre.  The brothers helped bury their kin.  At least one of those survivors would take them to Gulltown if he asked for their help.  This would be even faster than going to a port and trying to find a ship headed there.  No port is even necessary as they can easily be ferried out to a ship from the island as Sansa was taken by a small boat out to the Merling King during her escape.  Such a ship may even be used later for their own escape.  Most importantly, the captain and crew of that ship would be highly unlikely to betray them.

In fact, this calls back to what Ned did to return home from the Vale to call his banners during Robert’s Rebellion.  Just like her father, Sansa is wanted by crown to be brought to King’s Landing to be beheaded.  Gulltown seemed to remain loyal to the Targaryens, so Ned crossed the Vale from the Eyrie to the Fingers to hire a fishing boat to take him across the Bite.  The reverse happens during Sansa’s escape of King’s Landing:  Sansa thought she would be taken home, but instead the Merling King took her to the Fingers, and then they travelled by land to the Eyrie.  It makes perfect literary sense for a fishing boat to be involved in Sansa’s escape from the Vale, just like her father.

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Part V:  Sandor Clegane and Ser Byron:  The Beast Enchanted Into a Beauty

Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho. I’ll steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho. (“Off to Gulltown”)

The most glaring issue readers may have with this idea is the gravedigger having such a pronounced limp when Brienne sees him. She notes he “walked with the awkward lurching gait of one half-crippled.”  When we see Byron in Sansa’s POV, there’s no such limp.  It would then seem doubtful that Sandor is even physically up to the task of a rescue mission and would disqualify him as Ser Byron.  Arya abandoned Sandor by the Trident at around 1/31/300 in Arya XIII, ASOS.  Brienne sees him as the gravedigger at around 4/20/300.  So roughly three months later after being near dead from blood loss and infected wounds, Sandor has a noticeable limp, but he’s also digging graves all day long.  That’s very hard, physically taxing labor.  So this shows a very rapid rate of healing and is testimony to Elder Brother’s exceptional healing hands *.  When Byron is introduced three weeks later, it is plausible that Sandor has recovered even further in that time to make the limp unnoticeable or non-existent.

* Just to drive home the point as to how seriously ill Sandor was, he most likely would be diagnosed in the real world with having sepsis with the symptoms Arya describes.  He would have been at higher risk of developing sepsis due to a depressed immune system from alcohol abuse, lack of sleep and proper nutrition.  Every patient is different, but some people even take a year to fully recover from sepsis with the advantage of modern medicine.  Still, 50% of survivors may have continued health issues post-sepsis like severe fatigue, disabling pain, and decreased mental functioning.  Of course, we’re talking about GRRM’s fantasy world medical care, but it’s interesting that he leaves Elder Brother’s the treatment methods somewhat vague adding to the mystery of it.  It’s the results that are clear from what we can glean from the details.  It is an extraordinary rate of recovery.

Before we explore glamoring, we should look at why the idea of Sandor as Ser Byron actually makes quite a bit of sense in context.  His motivation for jumping at a second chance to save Sansa considering his “dying” regrets should need no further explanation.  Since I’ve shown that the names our other hedge knights have significant meaning to their real identities, Byron is no different.  In character analyses of Sandor Clegane, he often regarded as quite Byronesque with his brooding, arrogant, passionate and self-destructive traits.  The term coming from the dark romantic themes and antiheroes in the works of English poet, Lord George Gordon Byron.  A passage from Byron’s The Corsair (1814) could easily be describing Sandor Clegane and compare that to his own defiant speech to the Brotherhood Without Banners:

He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath’d him, crouch’d and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt. (The Corsair, Lord Byron)

“A knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors, they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses.  I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don’t stink. You hear me?” (aSoS, Arya VI)

As if that weren’t enough of a perfect connection to the name, sweetsunray found another little gem.  “The poet Byron had a favourite dog who died of rabies.  He treated him personally without any fear of being bitten or attacked, and afterwards wrote a poem for his dog, Boatswain (a Newfoundland dog), called Epitaph to a Dog. The poem is engraved on the dog’s grave and the grave is larger than Byron’s. The first two introductory paragraphs were written by his friend.”  Original post here.

Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human Ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog who was born in Newfoundland May 1803 and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,

Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!

By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

“It puts the idea of the Hound declared dead and buried, becoming a gravedigger in quite another light all by itself. And he “died” a mad dog, with biting words wanting to be killed in mercy.  But then a Byron appears near Sansa’s side.” (sweetsunray).  It also fits well with the better nature of Sandor Clegane: the protector, his loyalty to his master, the honest one in a court of liars, and the one whose worth also goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  So as we can see “Byron” could not be a more fitting alias for Sandor.

How does Sandor fit into Shadrich’s “godly” men? There are greenman associations with Sandor just as much as with Howland Reed and Elder Brother.  A variant on greenman depictions is that he has the head of a beast, much like the Hound’s helm.  Despite being a Westerman, Sandor in appearance and values seem much more aligned with being of First Men stock so much that he is mistaken for Arya’s father.  He’s also one of many Odin-archetypal characters by “dying” against a tree (like Odin hanging himself on Yggdrasil to gain wisdom and knowledge).  He’s crossed over to the Underworld (the Quiet Isle) and has been reborn symbolically (the Hound persona having “died”).  His steed is named after the Seven’s god of death.  He is also of the “wickerman” variety of greenman being literally a burned man.  It should be no coincidence either that one of the most mentioned First Men clans of in the Vale are called the Burned Men, led by Timett son of Timett (who also sacrificed an eye like Odin).  The Burned Men prove their worth in a trial of self-mutilation by fire.  Similarly, Sandor faced a trial by combat against Beric Dondarrion (another Odin and greenman figure), burning his arm and “proving” his worth, or at least that he didn’t deserve execution.

There are other Norse mythology parallels * to the Vale arc, but there are a few themes that GRRM seems to be cherry-picking into an amalgamation.  Sansa is very much like Idunn, the Norse goddess who possesses apples that grant immortality and youth (she is Catelyn reborn to Petyr).  She is kidnapped by the giant, Thjazi (disguised as an eagle, mirroring the original titan sigil of House Baelish to the new unassuming mockingbird sigil but also his commandeering of House Arryn, the falcons), with the help of Loki (in this case, the trickster is Dontos).  When the gods begin to grow old, Loki (the trickster now as a hero) is tasked with retrieving Idunn by using Freya’s falcon-feather cloak that turns him into a falcon (shape-shifting for the rescue of Idunn).  Loki (in falcon form) turns Idunn into a nut (the chestnut-haired Alayne) and carries her off in a daring escape from the giant.  Loki playing both roles of the kidnapper’s agent and the rescuer of Idunn is not unlike the two versions of “Florian the Fool” in Sansa’s arc:  Dontos and Sandor.

* There’s another interesting story of Thor’s prized possession, the hammer Mjollnir being stolen by giants which would only be returned if Freya married the giant, Thrym.  Thor using Freya’s falcon-feather cloak disguised himself as the bride Freya and with Loki’s help infiltrated the giant’s home of Jotunheim to retrieve his hammer.  There are themes of a false bride, a thieving giant, a trickster, and using shape-shifting  Full story here.

Just as there are many Odin figures, there are many Loki-trickster figures, especially in the wildling concept of wife-stealing such as Bael the Bard.  As Ygritte explains to Jon, in wife-stealing it’s the quick, cunning, and brave that earn the favor of the prospective wife.  Sandor had once attempted symbolic wife-stealing with Sansa “at the point of his blade” the night of the Blackwater, but he was in no state to win her consent and she refused him.  This brings us back to the aforementioned song of “Off to Gulltown,” from where the bastard Alayne hails and where the hedge knights meet Littlefinger.

The description of Ser Byron would appear to be at odds with Sandor’s values, however.  On the surface, he seems like a “puffed up” noble that Sandor would disdain.

“Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.” […] the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.” (Alayne II, AFFC)

There are no physical similarities (aside from being tall) between Ser Byron and Sandor Clegane obviously. The two could not seem more different in every possible way.  Sansa calls Byron “elegant.”  How does Sansa define “elegant” when she sees it?  She only uses the word two other times in AFFC to describe Marillion and Symond Templeton.  She uses it to describe mostly clothing that is refined and fashionable with some luxurious embellishments and when someone’s appearance is sleek and sharply styled.  We can then deduce that Ser Byron stands out from the other two (a sign we should pay attention to him) because he is likely more refined and stylishly dressed rather than just being merely handsome.  Add to that his mannerism of kissing her hand like a courtier.

Assuming this is a glamor, why would Sandor choose to look like Ser Byron?  The last time Sandor saw Sansa was the night of the Blackwater in Sansa VII, ACOK.  He left her ashamed of his actions, but also believing she wouldn’t leave with him because she was still afraid of his appearance. Choosing an identity that is more aligned with the gallantry and physical ideal of Loras Tyrell would seem to be a way to gain her trust, especially if they want her to leave with them willingly.  Now is a good time to remind ourselves that no matter who the hedge knights are, friends or villains, there still needs to be one person on the team that can positively ID Sansa Stark. Gaining her trust and identifying Sansa through a disguise would be Sandor’s contribution to the team.  The kiss on the hand then may not be mere gallantry, but a signal to the other two men confirming her real identity.

Sandor as Ser Byron is also quite in line with GRRM’s worst kept secret of being a dark fairytale fan, particularly Beauty and the Beast.  Even more specifically his favorite film version is La Belle et la Bête (1946) written and directed by Jean Cocteau.  Actor Jean Marais portrays the Beast and another of Beauty’s suitors, the handsome and blonde Avenant (meaning “pleasant”).  At the end of this version and as the Beast is transformed back into a Prince Ardent (meaning “passionate”), Avenant is transformed into a Beast.  It then may be that GRRM is playing with the idea of Sandor as Jean Marais in three roles:  the tormented Byronic Hound, Ser Byron, and the reclaimed identity of Sandor Clegane divorced from the overly negative aspects of the Hound.  It’s a very George-like twist to rebuild the fairytale better with the handsome prince as the enchantment and the Beast as the true form.  We will be examining other evidence in favor of a beast disguised as a beauty later in Part VI when we look at the symbols and signposts along the way in Brienne’s arc and in Alayne II leading right up to meeting the hedge knights.

I would also think it’s fair to say there would be a touch of wish-fulfillment * here on Sandor’s part of becoming more ideal in her eyes.  He would not know since then how her opinions have evolved.  She’s more wary that a pretty face can conceal a bad character and is gravitating more towards the good qualities of honest and plain people, like Ser Lothor.  The irony in their introduction is that Sansa is only brusquely acknowledging Ser Byron’s presence.  She isn’t swooning or flattered at all as she might have been in AGOT.  Because of Joffrey and Marillion, she may have internalized the association of superficial charms with abuse and sexual threat.  She pays more attention to details about Shadrich and Morgarth if we look at the full exchange:

“You are never an intrusion, sweetling. I was just now telling these good knights what a dutiful daughter I had.”
“Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.
“Aye,” said the second knight, a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. “You left out that part, m’lord.”
“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”

“Knights they are,” said Petyr. “Their gallantry has yet to be demonstrated, but we may hope. Allow me to present Ser Byron, Ser Morgarth, and Ser Shadrich. Sers, the Lady Alayne, my natural and very clever daughter . . . with whom I must needs confer, if you will be so good as to excuse us.”
The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.
“Hedge knights?” said Alayne, when the door had closed.

* Sandor romanticizes what he probably regards as his finest hour of saving Sansa from the mob in the bread riots.  He misrepresents the story to Arya and tells her she sang a song for him after this event, which is completely re-writing history to reflect a more idealistic fantasy.

From the above scene, the hedge knights have been in Littlefinger’s solar for hours, drinking and talking into the predawn since they arrived at “evenfall.”  Littlefinger is clearly at ease around them and apparently has been doing a little bragging about his “daughter.”  They were able to lower his inhibitions with alcohol, broach the subject without suspicion and get him to summon Alayne to the solar (very late at night and immediately following the long ride down) so that her father could do a bit of showing off, exploiting a weakness in his character that would be familiar to Sandor.  It took several re-reads before I caught this due to the POV trap.  Sansa doesn’t necessarily regard certain details as important, so the reader doesn’t either.  The hedge knights need to meet Alayne ASAP to confirm her identity.  If she isn’t Sansa, they need to leave and keep looking elsewhere.  But is Sandor capable of this level of deception around Littlefinger who is also familiar with him especially over a long period of time?

We actually do have quite a bit of evidence for Sandor being a highly effective actor when necessary, being able to exploit other’s expectations, and even do things that seem to be out of character.  Even to the Lannisters who he has served closely for many years, they consider him little more than a loyal dog and a weapon with personal aspirations no greater than wine or killing his brother.  Being seen as such has granted him privileges denied to others and a wide berth of trust from his masters, such as the kingsguard position that is normally only reserved for anointed knights and without requiring him to swear vows.  Unlike Brienne, he’s shown he can lie believably and “sniff out” falsehoods.  He is often described as almost appearing out of nowhere, so even for such a large and easily noticeable person, he’s quite capable of making himself unassuming, almost invisible, in public.

In Arya X, ASOS, we see Sandor’s abilities on full display when they successfully infiltrate the Twins just before the Red Wedding.  With only a hood over his scars, he adjusts his manner of speaking and acting, gives plausible explanations, and effectively fools a knight that is well-acquainted with him because he understands how others think.

“Salt pork for the wedding feast, if it please you, ser.” The Hound mumbled his reply, his eyes down, his face hidden.
“Salt pork never pleases me.” The pitchfork knight gave Clegane only the most cursory glance, and paid no attention at all to Arya, but he looked long and hard at Stranger. The stallion was no plow horse, that was plain at a glance…   “How did you come by this beast?” the pitchfork knight demanded.
M’lady told me to bring him, ser,” Clegane said humbly. “He’s a wedding gift for young Lord Tully.
“What lady? Who is it you serve?”
Old Lady Whent, ser.
“Does she think she can buy Harrenhal back with a horse?” the knight asked. “Gods, is there any fool like an old fool?” Yet he waved them down the road. “Go on with you, then.”
Aye, m’lord.” The Hound snapped his whip again, and the old drays resumed their weary trek… Clegane gave them one last look and snorted. Ser Donnel Haigh,” he said. “I’ve taken more horses off him than I can count. Armor as well. Once I near killed him in a mêlée.”
“How come he didn’t know you, then?” Arya asked.
Because knights are fools, and it would have been beneath him to look twice at some poxy peasant.” He gave the horses a lick with the whip. “Keep your eyes down and your tone respectful and say ser a lot, and most knights will never see you. They pay more mind to horses than to smallfolk. He might have known Stranger if he’d ever seen me ride him.”

Even though he despises knights and normally lashes out when someone calls him “ser,” he doesn’t mind being misidentified as a knight when the need arises.  In Arya IX, ASOS, when Sandor needs a ferry to cross a flooded river with Arya, he becomes a knight to the ferryman and uses “knight’s honor” as credit.  He’s capable of suppressing his usual reactions, seeming to behave out of character, to accomplish a goal.  As Sandor is well aware of how to adjust his speech and behavior to convincingly become a peasant and has allowed himself to be thought of as a knight, becoming Ser Byron is not such a stretch.

As a Lannister man and “sworn” shield, Sandor has been exposed to proper courtly conduct his entire life.  He may not choose to behave with flowery courtesy, but he does not act or speak crudely when he is in his professional role.  He can be courteous to a lady as when he dabbed Sansa’s lip with a handkerchief, the difference being it’s sincere act and not for show.  As his position is close to the royal family, he needs to be trusted to act properly.  He is not Gregor.  Unlike the tv adaptation, Sandor is depicted as having a care with his appearance, usually neat and plain or lightly adorned.

In TWOW sample chapter, the next time we see all three hedge knights again, they will also be dancing with Sansa.  Again, this isn’t that strange a thing for Sandor to do even if we haven’t seen him do that on page.  Like all courtly protocols, dancing was a required part of real medieval knightly training (even done in full armor), Andal chivalric culture, not to mention being a primary form of entertainment found everywhere.  Courtesy is not just a part of a medieval girl’s education.  It was expected of all nobility to know the rules of etiquette and chivalry to advance family interests.  Sandor is not so anti-knight or lives so outside Andal culture that it ever made him refuse to learn how to compete in a tourney joust, which was normally reserved only for anointed knights.  It’s the title and vows he takes issue with, not the skillset.  Sandor is from an Andal knightly house with some formal education from a maester, served in an Andal highlord’s house and then at the royal court.  It would be more shocking if he didn’t know at least one dance.

If the hedge knights are following a pattern of being contradictions, I would expect Ser Byron not to conform to expectations, but to turn out to defy them.  On one final note, it shouldn’t be mere coincidence that GRRM has already placed a Sandor in the Vale in the form of Sandor Frey, squire to Donnel Waynwood, Knight of the Gate after Brynden Tully. Sandor Frey is not seen on page, only mentioned in the ACOK appendix as existing.  The name Sandor is only used twice in the entire series.  His mention then is likely a hint by the author of what is to come.  Now we will look at glamoring and the plausibility of a glamor being used in this context.

Glamoring and the Precedents Set For It In ASOIAF

Melisandre I, ADWD, tells us quite a bit of good information on glamoring:

“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

“The glamor, aye.” In the black iron fetter about his wrist, the ruby seemed to pulse. He tapped it with the edge of his blade. The steel made a faint click against the stone.
The spell is made of shadow and suggestion. Men see what they expect to see. The bones are part of that.”

Glamoring magic is not something restricted to R’hllor and can be something any magician can do of any discipline or religion.  The Faceless Men also teach glamoring, but take it to the final level of donning a dead person’s face.

Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with.(The Ugly Little Girl, ADWD)

Howland Reed can “change earth to water and water to earth with no more than a whispered word. He [can] talk to trees and weave words and make castles appear and disappear.”  His words can create magic the same as Melisandre.  There is no reason that glamoring would be beyond him, especially when it seems to be a very basic form of illusion.  The raw materials for a good glamor are readily available on the Quiet Isle.  They have countless bones of long dead, anonymous people that have washed up on their shores and GRRM really emphasizes that the Quiet Isle has rubies and Meribald couples them with bones:

“…many strange and wondrous things are pushed toward us, to wash up on our shores. Driftwood is the least of it. We have found silver cups and iron pots, sacks of wool and bolts of silk, rusted helms and shining swords . . . aye, and rubies.”

Better rubies than bones.” Septon Meribald was rubbing his foot, the mud flaking off beneath his finger. “Not all the river’s gifts are pleasant. The good brothers collect the dead as well<. Drowned cows, drowned deer, dead pigs swollen up to half the size of horses. Aye, and corpses.”

Note how the items listed appear to a dichotomy between the beautiful and elegant and the rough and practical with the wording pairing them together.  Each item in the pairing has similar or related functions, but it’s their appearances that are different.  It would not be such a stretch then if there is at least one ruby somewhere on Ser Byron’s “elegant” person even if Sansa hasn’t seen it as she barely pays any note to him.

There are two major precedents for glamoring being used in the series that are highly significant this theory.  In ADWD, glamoring is being used by Melisandre and Mance Rayder as a plot device in a situation that has many parallels and inverses to the Vale.  Mance Rayder is glamored by Mel to look like Rattleshirt, while the real Rattleshirt is glamored to look like Mance.  It is the latter that will face execution freeing the other for his mission.  The glamor is to allow Mance to leave Castle Black while I propose a glamor is used to infiltrate the Gates of the Moon.  Mance takes on the alias of Abel (not insignificantly an anagram of Bael the Bard, wife stealer) to go to Winterfell and rescue a “Stark” girl, Jeyne Poole as (f)Arya.  In the Vale, a Stark girl needs to be rescued from Petyr Bael-ish, the false Bael.

Both arcs in Winterfell and the Vale involve usurpers using scheming, murder, and a puppet to give themselves an air of legitimacy.  For the Boltons, it’s using the marriage of (f)Arya to Ramsay Bolton.  For Littlefinger, it’s using his marriage to Lysa to become Lord Protector over Robert, murdering her, then marrying his “daughter” to the next heir, Harrold Hardyng.  In both situations there is something false about the bride’s identity.  There’s an inversion in that an imposter, Jeyne Poole is playing a legitimate Stark and a real Stark, Sansa, is a fake bastard daughter. Petyr hovers over both Winterfell and Vale arcs, responsible for the false brides’ respective situations and for at least some involvement in the deaths of the heads of those houses:  Ned, Catelyn, Jon Arryn, and Lysa.  There’s another layer of inversion in the brides and grooms.  The legitimate offspring Sansa Stark has become a bastard and the groom, Ramsay Bolton, born the bastard Ramsey Snow, was legitimized.  Harrold Hardyng, the potential groom, is Sweetrobin’s unlikely heir through an accident of fate.  Arya, being the youngest female Stark, would be the least likely to inherit Winterfell, yet here “Arya” is the heir and solidifying the Bolton’s hold on Winterfell.  With so many twists on the same themes in both regions, it is safe then to seriously consider a glamor being used in both.

The other major precedent that parallels with the upcoming tourney in TWOW is from the tournament at Whitewalls in The Mystery Knight which was pointed out by Ashes of Westeros.  Ser Duncan the Tall attends a tourney at Whitewalls, which was built from stone quarried in the Vale.  The host is Lord Ambrose Butterwell, a former master of coin (as was Littlefinger) in celebration of his second marriage, not so unlike the Vale tourney to secure Harry and Alayne’s betrothal, which would be Sansa’s second marriage.  Butterwell has other motives as the event is also a ruse for others who support the Second Blackfyre Rebellion to gather.  The tourney is rigged so Daemon II Blackfyre (under the alias “Ser John the Fiddler”) will win a red dragon egg (as Sansa is associated with a bag of dragons) as a prize.  Dunk meets and befriends three hedge knights, one of whom was Maynard Plumm (possibly a play on the name Reynard), who is Bloodraven under a glamor there to squash the Blackfyre plot.  In this case a moonstone is used instead of a ruby, but it’s also further proof that glamors can be done by a greenseer magician too:

Dunk whirled. Through the rain, all he could make out was a hooded shape and a single pale white eye. It was only when the man came forward that the shadowed face beneath the cowl took on the familiar features of Ser Maynard Plumm, the pale eye no more than the moonstone brooch that pinned his cloak at the shoulder.

It’s an agent of Bloodraven that actually stole the red dragon egg by the privy shaft in Lord Butterwell’s chamber.  The only one small enough (specifically child-sized) to fit is a dwarf.  Ser Shadrich is not a dwarf, but Sansa says he is “wiry” and could be mistaken for a squire.  After the plot is dismantled, Butterwell is attained and Whitewalls is torn down to the ground and the earth salted.  The destruction of Whitewalls speaks to a probable and massive upheaval in the Vale in TWOW (again, see the avalanche theory).

There’s also a strong possibility that the tourney of the Winged Knights will also be rigged by Littlefinger.  By comments made here and here, no one seems to have a high opinion of Harrold Hardyng’s jousting skills and he’s up against far more experienced tourney knights.  He was only just knighted by Yohn Royce in a tourney for squires and according to Myranda Royce it was set up so Harry would win.  With Sweetrobin’s health uncertain, both men are jockeying for influence over the heir.  Littlefinger arranging for Harry to do well in the tourney is another way to woo him away from Bronze Yohn, further isolating and diminishing the Lord of Runestone’s power to oppose him.  It also encourages him to view the betrothal to Alayne more favorably.  At Whitewalls, the master of games was being bribed to fix the listings of matches between competitors for a favorable outcome.  In the TWOW sample, Alayne visits Petyr’s solar and finds a window open and a stack of papers on the floor, one of which was the list of competitors.  We shouldn’t fall into the POV trap again and think these details are unimportant as her attention is drawn elsewhere.  Someone child-sized and good at climbing could have easily been in that room to get a look at the list of competitors in advance.

As we can see there are numerous parallels in the Northern arc and in precedents for glamors being used in the series with the current Vale arc.  So many that we can safely say that the theory can work with the established canon.  Now we need to look for other clues that this is what GRRM actually intends to do.

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Part VI:  Brienne’s Symbolic Journey Down the Acorn and Ivy Paths

By acorn and ivy paths, I’m referring to the two parallel dresses both Sansa and Arya have worn.  Sansa’s is embroidered with ivy and Arya’s is embroidered with acorns, both on the bodices and over their hearts.  This is about their true identities inside despite their outward appearances.  Arya who has struggled with issues of acceptance and seeing herself as beautiful is admired by Gendry and called pretty by Lady Smallwood while wearing her acorn dress.  By her likeness to Lyanna and her association with swans, she will grow into a beauty all her own.  Sansa is dressing modestly for her bastard status, but the vines and leaves are embroidered in gold (again, Sansa equated with gold) thread.  She also chooses to wear as her only adornment an “autumn gold” ribbon with her practical wool dress when she cannot wear Stark or Tully colors.  So she chooses her own colors and styling that are reminiscent of Sandor telling her the story of his house sigil, the only other time “autumn” is used as a descriptive of gold or yellow in the series.  Ivy and acorn symbolism will repeatedly show up in Brienne’s path and it will be important to examine the context we find them in.

Brienne will start her AFFC arc believing herself on Sansa’s trail as Arya is presumed dead, but actually finds herself in the end meeting significant people from Arya’s arc.  GRRM then has always intended the acorn path for Brienne, so the ivy path is meant for another to follow.  Though Brienne’s AFFC arc has been panned by many readers as mostly a long, meaningless road trip, I would say the colorful people she meets and sights she sees are a symbolic journey pointing us to what the author actually intends for the real ivy path to Sansa.  The signposts were never for Brienne to read, they were for the reader.

Food symbolism and animal descriptives will be particularly important.  It starts right from the jump and tells us exactly where Brienne will end.  In Brienne I, when she chances upon the con men, Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer, they offer her to share their meal of grilled trout.  As if grilling trout weren’t enough of a bad sign in the Tully Riverlands, it’s a reference to the “dead trout” Lady Stoneheart that Brienne will meet.  The next morning, Brienne sees Illifer skinning a squirrel and Creighton pissing on a tree.  They break their fast on squirrel, acorn paste, and pickles.  With the tree, those are clearly symbols related to Arya and the pickles likely being a euphemism for her very difficult position with Lady Stoneheart.  The next meal she shares is the “goat on the spit” at the inn at the old stone bridge after she crosses paths with Ser Shadrich and he warns her of the company she is keeping.  Brienne will later be encountering the slobbering Goat’s, aka Vargo Hoat’s men, Shagwell, Timeon and Pyg, but we’ll go into more detail with that later.  It’s leaving the inn and going to Duskendale alone where Brienne will find the first major clue (for the reader) of the ivy and acorn path.

In Brienne II, when she is seeking to have her Lothston shield repainted by the captain’s sister, she has a good look at the mural upon the doors of the Seven Swords inn which has very interesting features:

They showed a castle in an autumn wood, the trees done up in shades of gold and russet.Ivy crawled up the trunks of ancient oaks, and even the acorns had been done with loving care. When Brienne peered more closely, she saw creatures in the foliage: a sly red fox, two sparrows on a branch, and behind those leaves the shadow of a boar.

At the time of TWOW chapter, it is autumn and winter wheat is ripening.  The timing is ripe for harvesting the seeds of winter sown at the Gates of the Moon.  Gold is paired with reddish-brown (as in Sansa’s red hair covered by brown).  We have the ivy and the acorns featured.  By looking closely, Brienne sees the hidden animal figures in a particularly significant order.  The crossing of paths between Team Brienne and Team Shadrich is for mutual benefit, serving to spur each party toward their respective paths.  The “sly red fox” is “fox-faced” Ser Shadrich, who Brienne meets first.  We will see another fox again later.  The two sparrows being a euphemism for the sparrows, the humblest members of the Faith of the Seven.  She meets Septon Meribald and then is led to the Elder Brother, who redirects her from her pursuit of the Hound and reveals she’s actually been chasing Arya, not Sansa.  The boar is not actually seen, only its shadow (as glamors are made of “shadow and suggestion”) and it hidden behind the leaves.  A face covered in leaves is a classic green god depiction (also as hunters in the wood like Herne the Hunter and Cernunnos).  The most significant appearance of a boar in the series is the mortal wounding of Robert Baratheon, the instrument for upheaval and sudden regime change  *.  Recall that while Robert was plied with strong wine while hunting, it was Cersei exploiting his natural tendencies to ensure his death — the very same tactics we saw in Petyr’s solar at the first meeting of the hedge knights.  Regime change is hidden and it’s coming for the Lord Protector.

* Another significance of the boar is Norse mythology is the Hildisvíni or “battle swine” that belongs to Freya, whose name means “Lady.”  The boar is actually her devotee, Óttar.  His name is believed to be a version of Freya’s husband, Óðr, which is also a version of Odin.  

It should also be no coincidence that right after leaving her shield to be painted, Brienne hears the story of Barristan Selmy’s one-man daring rescue of King Aerys at Duskendale, but more important than that is her next meal and meeting with the pious dwarf at the Seven Swords inn.  A meal of hot crab stew is shared between them and Brienne gets her next lead to the Stinking Goose to find the man that “fooled a fool.”  Pay attention to the dwarfs features and his story.

Not until he hopped off the bench did Brienne realize that the speaker was a dwarf. The little man was not quite five feet tall. His nose was veined and bulbous, his teeth red from sourleaf, and he was dressed in the brown roughspun robes of a holy brother, with the iron hammer of the Smith dangling down about his thick neck.

“Do you serve some holy house in Duskendale, brother?”
“‘Twas nearer Maidenpool, m’lady, but the wolves burned us out,” the man replied, gnawing on a heel of bread. “We rebuilt as best we could, until some sellswords come. I could not say whose men they were, but they took our pigs and killed the brothers. I squeezed inside a hollow log and hid, but t’others were too big. It took me a long time to bury them all, but the Smith, he gave me strength. When that was done I dug up a few coins the elder brother had hid by and set off by myself.”

His detailed features are a perfect amalgamation of Shadrich, Elder Brother, Septon Meribald, and the gravedigger.  He’s about Shadrich’s height, he has Elder Brother’s veiny, bulbous nose, he wears the roughspun of a holy brother, he favors the smith like Septon Meribald, he hid in a tree like a crannogman, he dug graves like the gravedigger and has a burly, thick neck.  The outlaws that attacked his septry were looking for coins (like gold dragons) that their elder brother had hidden before he was killed.  With the feature of sourleaf and the “red smile”  this does not bode well for particularly our Elder Brother as Morgarth — a dead Garth.  This particular dwarf is also beheaded and taken to KL to claim the reward for Tyrion, Sansa’s supposed accomplice in regicide.  The most important thing here is that Elder Brother, Septon Meribald, and Sandor are helpers and are twice symbolically grouped together with Ser Shadrich / Howland Reed in the mural and in this dwarf.

The hot crab stew obviously points to her next significant part of the journey with Nimble Dick Crabb from the lead she received from the pious dwarf.  (Note also he doesn’t want any monetary reward for his help, only the bowl of crab stew).  Following Nimble Dick Crabb, she will hear the tale of Ser Clarence Crabb as they travel up Crackclaw Point.  We are supposed to draw parallels between Brienne and the legendary knight in her battle with the Bloody Mummers.  Clarence Crabb is extremely tall, wields a “magic sword”, takes the heads of his foes back to his woodswitch wife to bring them back to life and elicit their “good counsel.”  At the ruins of Crabb’s ancestral castle called the Whispers which is covered in ivy, they will finally meet Shagwell, Timeon, and Pyg.  Nimble Dick will be killed after comparing himself to Clarence Crabb, and Brienne will slay the outlaws with her “magic sword” Oathkeeper.  Before that they will give her “good counsel” of reporting that the Hound has the Stark girl she is seeking at the Saltpans.  Hyle Hunt takes the heads of the outlaws back to Maidenpool to “speak” to Brienne’s bravery and skill.  So Nimble Dick was not the real crab here, it was the maiden Brienne.  And with Nimble Dick’s death at the Whispers the ivy path has literally reached a dead end for Brienne.  She’s now unknowingly on the acorn path to Arya when they meet Septon Meribald back at Maidenpool.

The association of crabs with maidens makes even more sense when we consider they are tidal creatures, which are related to the Moon and goddess symbolism.  Think of the crab as the astrological sign Cancer which is associated with the Moon.  “Moon is god, woman wife of sun.  It is known.”  Other tidal shellfish that have feminine associations are clams for their comparison to female genitalia.  Arya also has her associations with shellfish as Cat of the Canals in her arc, but Sansa is the only maiden at the Gates of the Moon (also a female genitalia metaphor).  As Ygritte explained to Jon, the ideal time for stealing a wife is when the Thief is in the Moonmaiden.  The astrological mythology is important.  The Stallion (like Stranger) is called the Horned Lord by the Freefolk, connecting more greenman symbolism to Sandor.  “The red wanderer” (as an analog to Mars the planet and god of war) is sacred to the Smith (the laborer, such as the gravedigger) and is also called the Thief.  Sansa is the Moonmaiden (as she is also associated with moonstone jewelry) and the crab.  We will soon see who really finds the crab on Brienne’s path.

In Brienne V, Brienne, Podrick, and Hyle Hunt join with Septon Meribald and Dog (who has not revealed his true name, is a huge beast, and like Sandor he is his own dog) to use his knowledge of the region to find the Hound that supposedly has Sansa.  Podrick also tells of his own dog named Hero, who wasn’t actually a hero, but he died a “good dog.”  The terrain they are travelling has descriptive features that we should take note of:

The lands they traveled through were low and wet, a wilderness of sandy dunes and salt marshes beneath a vast blue-grey vault of sky. The road was prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools, only to appear again a mile farther on; without Meribald, Brienne knew, they surely would have lost their way. The ground was often soft, so in places the septon would walk ahead, tapping with his quarterstaff to make certain of the footing. There were no trees for leagues around, just sea and sky and sand.
No land could have been more different from Tarth, with its mountains and waterfalls, its high meadows and shadowed vales, yet this place had its own beauty, Brienne thought. They crossed a dozen slow-flowing streams alive with frogs and crickets, watched terns floating high above the bay, heard the sandpipers calling from amongst the dunes. Once a fox crossed their path, and set Meribald’s dog to barking wildly.

They are navigating through the wetlands where they must check their footing, a slightly less dangerous version of the Neck.  They would be lost without an experienced guide.  They are amongst the reeds and the land is “alive with frogs” pointing to Howland Reed and the derogatory association with crannogmen as “frog-eaters” and “mud-men.”  Most telling of all, it is a fox that crosses their path and sets Dog to barking.  In Part III, I mentioned the fox association to the kitsune who can create elaborate illusions.  It’s dogs that are able to see through a kitsune’s illusions and unmask them, because “a dog can smell a lie.”  What’s important here is that we have the fox crossing paths with a dog and holy man.  Yes, Ser Shadrich has definitely followed Brienne to the Quiet Isle.  Now look at the very next passage:

And there were people too. Some lived amongst the reeds in houses built of mud and straw, whilst others fished the bay in leather coracles and built their homes on rickety wooden stilts above the dunes. Most seemed to live alone, out of sight of any human habitation but their own. They seemed a shy folk for the most part, but near midday the dog began to bark again, and three women emerged from the reeds to give Meribald a woven basket full of clams. He gave each of them an orange in return, though clams were as common as mud in this world, and oranges were rare and costly. One of the women was very old, one was heavy with child, and one was a girl as fresh and pretty as a flower in spring. When Meribald took them off to hear their sins, Ser Hyle chuckled, and said, “It would seem the gods walk with us . . . at least the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.” Podrick looked so astonished that Brienne had to tell him no, they were only three marsh women.

We have the repetition of being among the reeds two more times and now we have even more allusions to crannogmen with their (according to Meera) “little skin boats,” being a “shy folk” living closely among themselves.  They were yet untouched by the war here like in the Neck.  What Dog barks at should be taken as something we need to pay attention to.  Dog’s barking alerts them to the presence of the women.  GRRM is very bluntly making sure the reader sees the three women as three incarnations of the goddess, but he doesn’t want you to read it that way literally by Brienne’s response.  So who are our symbolic goddesses relevant to the people in this story arc?  The Crone is Lady Stoneheart.  The Mother is Lyanna Stark.  The girl is the Maiden, Sansa *.  All of these women in the past needed help and the helper fell short to some degree.  Brienne swore to Catelyn to find her daughters and she will find herself held accountable for her failure by Lady Stoneheart.  Howland Reed was there with Ned when they failed to reach Lyanna in time to save her.  He sent his children to help Bran and Ned’s only other known living child is in danger.  Sandor promised he would help take Sansa home and keep her safe, but his mental state was too volatile to even protect himself.  It’s too late to save Catelyn and Lyanna, but it isn’t too late for Sansa.  This is about renewing old vows and making good on past failures.  We’ve already seen the way oranges are used to express help freely given as a loving act.  They are exchanged for “common as mud” clams pointing to the bastard-born Alayne with her rare copper hair blotted out by common brown dye.

*  As an alternate interpretation that works equally well, The Crone is Lady Stoneheart, The Mother is Sansa (in her surrogate mother role to Sweetrobin), and the Maiden is Arya).  At this time, Arya is in her Cat of the Canals persona and she is heavily connected to clams and mussels.  Brienne, with Septon Meribald’s guidance, is inadvertently sending help in three directions associated with each goddess aspect.  As she is on her way to the Quiet Isle, this represents an intersection of the acorn and ivy path which we will see again on the isle.  She leads Shadrich to his special ops team and motivates the Elder Brother to action.  Brienne is heading toward Lady Stoneheart, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and Gendry — a convergence of people from Arya’s arc.  She still needs to fulfill her oath to Catelyn and she has relevant information on Gendry’s parentage.  When Arya returns to Westeros, we should expect to see her reconnect here.  The mayhem in the Riverlands still needs to be set right and Brienne is gaining a reputation for putting down outlaws.

Along their path to the Quiet Isle, “Dog [leads] the way, sniffing at every clump of reeds and stopping every now and then to piss on one.”  This doesn’t speak well of a liking between Howland and Sandor, more of a strange bedfellow relationship in their common cause.  (Can’t you just hear Sandor saying “Piss on that, Reed!”?)  From these passages it’s Dog’s job to sniff things out along the path, because “a dog can smell a lie” just as it’s Sandor’s task to see through Littlefinger’s lies and the disguise that is Alayne Stone.  Now see what happens when they are navigating the dangerous muddy ground around the isle at low tide.

The soft brown mud squished up between his toes. As he walked he paused from time to time, to probe ahead with his quarterstaff. Dog stayed near his heels, sniffing at every rock, shell, and clump of seaweed. For once he did not bound ahead or stray. Brienne followed, taking care to keep close to the line of prints left by the dog, the donkey, and the holy man. Then came Podrick, and last of all Ser Hyle. A hundred yards out, Meribald turned abruptly toward the south, so his back was almost to the septry. He proceeded in that direction for another hundred yards, leading them between two shallow tidal pools. Dog stuck his nose in one and yelped when a crab pinched it with his claw. A brief but furious struggle ensued before the dog came trotting back, wet and mud-spattered, with the crab between his jaws. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Dog is forced to trust in the guidance of the holy man while he’s sniffing around.  He does not “bound ahead and or stray” in the fervor of the search.  The plan in the Vale requires months of patience and avoiding detection.  It’s Dog that finds the crab hidden in the low tidal pool (the Gates of the Moon).  The pinched nose and the brief struggle before successfully carrying off the crab is highly evocative of wife-stealing.  If there was still any uncertainty left about Dog’s association with Sandor, the author drives the point home “when Dog went to sniff [the gravedigger] he dropped his spade and scratched his ear.”  Sandor is of course missing an ear and this will come up again when we look at Stranger in the stables.

Ser Hyle gave the big horse an admiring look as he was handing his reins to Brother Gillam. “A handsome beast.”
Brother Narbert sighed. “The Seven send us blessings, and the Seven send us trials. Handsome he may be, but Driftwood was surely whelped in hell. When we sought to harness him to a plow he kicked Brother Rawney and broke his shinbone in two places. We had hoped gelding might improve the beast’s ill temper, but . . . Brother Gillam, will you show them?
Brother Gillam lowered his cowl. Underneath he had a mop of blond hair, a tonsured scalp, and a bloodstained bandage where he should have had an ear. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Under the cowl of the holy brother is blonde hair.  Under the blonde hair is a missing ear.  This is a perfect description of the masks Sandor hides true identity behind.  Remember Ysengrim who I mentioned in Part III as a character in Reynard the Fox stories?  Here we have the wolf (or beast) in monk’s robes who is not as godly as they would like him to be.  Handsome is repeated twice but he is a beast, refusing to be gelded and tamed into a plow horse.  They tried to rename him Driftwood and insist that he is a plow horse, turning him into something he is not.  What happens to driftwood when it washes up on the Quiet Isle?  It gets transformed into something new and is “polished till [it shines] a deep gold.”  Or, in other words, it is made blonde and elegant.

The meal they share with the Elder Brother and in the presence of the gravedigger marks the last meeting between the acorn and ivy path travellers.  The next day, Brienne will finally head towards her final two chapters, meeting Gendry, Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners.  It will be left to the characters on the isle to resume the ivy path.

Their supper in the septry was as strange a meal as Brienne had ever eaten, though not at all unpleasant. The food was plain, but very good; there were loaves of crusty bread still warm from the ovens, crocks of fresh-churned butter, honey from the septry’s hives, and a thick stew of crabs, mussels, and at least three different kinds of fish. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Just what exactly are we supposed to find “strange “about this meal?  That is a curious word to use and doesn’t appear to make sense at all in context.  There’s nothing particularly strange about bread, butter, honey, and locally-fished seafood stew if we take it literally.  The stew is the last juncture of the acorn and ivy paths before paths diverge again.  We have the crabs and mussels, with mussels featured heavily in Arya’s ADWD arc.  Bread and honey have associations with Catelyn.  “Strange” can also hint to the presence of the Stranger (the god aspect that Sandor most identifies with, more so than Warrior).  The gravedigger is one of those novices tasked with serving and clearing the food.  The Stranger has no single depiction of his face:  it can be a shadow, an animal, shrouded completely as is the gravedigger’s, or as I am proposing the face of a blonde gallant knight.  We’ve already seen how Sandor will play a pivotal role on the hedge knight team as the only one that can ID Sansa.  In a stew, the ingredients all retain their own flavors but are together in a common broth.  There are also three different kinds of fish, like our three very different hedge knights.  I would also expect to see on the acorn team, Arya’s own “different kinds of fish” coming together.  It’s not the literal meal that we are supposed to see as strange, but the people the ingredients represent.  Our hedge knights might be “strange” but in the end the maiden finds them “very good.”

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Part VII:  Tying Everything Together in Sansa’s POV

 Logically if Brienne’s chapters were full of signs of the author’s intent, we should be able to find those seeds also planted in Alayne II AFFC, the chapter leading up to meeting the hedge knights.  While there’s much that could be unpacked from this chapter, we’ll be staying focused on things pertaining to our hedge knight team.

Just a brief aside first before I wrap up my final points.  Most readers should already be aware of the romantic and sexual subtext the author has included in the dynamic between Sansa and Sandor, whether they approve of it or not; however, casual readers may have missed many of those themes on their first reading.  Delving into that analysis here isn’t necessary for proving the original theory, nor does disagreeing with a romantic interpretation disprove the theory in the least.  If you aren’t familiar with this idea already, you may find these links to essays and resources helpful.  It paints a clearer picture of why Sandor re-entering Sansa’s arc as presented in this theory is thematically satisfying and consistent with what GRRM has already established.

More Repetition of Themes and Motifs

As mentioned in Part V, the Norse goddess Idunn is transformed into a nut by Loki as the rescuer to escape the giant’s home.  To get a little more specific into this myth, the story actually starts with three Aesir gods Odin, Loki, and Hoenir on a journey far from Asgard in a desolate land where food is scarce.  They come upon a herd of oxen and slaughter one, but they find sorcery has made the meat unable to be cooked by fire.  The culprit is the giant Thjazi, in disguise as an eagle.  He promises to remove the spell in exchange for letting him have his fill of the meat.  The eagle flies down and eats the choicest portions of the meat.  Loki, finding this unacceptable, challenges the eagle with a tree branch but is snatched up by the eagle and carried high into the air.  The eagle coerces Loki to give him Idunn and her fruits that grant everlasting youth.  There’s no myth that GRRM utilizes that is an exact one-to-one, but look at this scene of Sansa leaving the Eyrie with Sweetrobin in the bucket attached to a winch chain:

Mord took up his whip and cracked it, and the first pair of oxen began to lumber in a circle, turning the winch. The chain uncoiled, rattling as it scraped across the stone, the oaken bucket swaying as it began its long descent to Sky. Poor oxen, thought Alayne. Mord would cut their throats and butcher them before he left, and leave them for the falcons.

The difference is the order of events and the eagle is switched out for falcons.

Consistent with Norse mythology, Loki is often the cause of problems in the story as well as the one who is tasked with setting things right again.  We’ve already shown that this Loki-trickster figure is Dontos, who helps the giant Littlefinger abduct Sansa.  Idunn is tricked by Loki into being led away from Asgard and is snatched up by Thjazi in eagle form.  She is taken to his home called Thrymheim (“Thunder Home”) which has “icy towers” in the high mountain peaks overlooking a green valley below, as is the Eyrie and the Vale of Arryn.  When the gods start to rapidly age, Loki was found out to be the last one seen with Idunn as Dontos disappeared at the same time as Sansa.  Loki (this time as rescuer) is shape-shifted into a falcon using Freya’s feather cloak and turns Idunn into the nut to carry her off.  Lothor Brune, who has acted as a stand-in for Sandor, is in the winch room to see Sansa and Robert into the bucket that will lower them down to Sky.  See how the oaken bucket is like the nut, enclosing them on all sides except the top:

Some of the winch chains were fixed to wicker baskets, others to stout oaken buckets. The largest of those was taller than Alayne, with iron bands girding its dark brown staves. Even so, her heart was in her throat as she took Robert’s hand and helped him in. Once the hatch was closed behind them, the wood surrounded them on all sides. Only the top was open. It is best that way, she told herself, we can’t look down. Below them was only Sky and sky. Six hundred feet of sky…”
“AWAY!” came Ser Lothor’s shout.

The next part of the “escape” from the Giant’s Lance is trusting the mules to carry them safely down.  While I plan on a companion piece covering this area in more detail, we again have animals representing our rescue team.  Mules are hybrids of horses and donkeys signifying the dual identities of our hedge knights and that they are well suited for their task at hand.  One mule in particular is of interest.

She turned to Robert Arryn, her black hair blowing. “Which mule will you ride today, my lord?”
“They’re all stinky. I’ll have the grey one, with the ear chewed off. I want Alayne to ride with me. And Myranda too.”

Yet another repetition of the missing ear we saw in Part VI with Sandor and Brother Gillam.  As if that weren’t enough, two repeated statements Robert makes about mules calls us back to an earlier quote from Sansa:

“I hate those smelly mules. One tried to bite me once! You tell that Mya that I’m staying here.”
“I hate mules,” he insisted. “Mules are nasty. I told you, one tried to bite me when I was little.”

He is a dog, just as he says. A half-wild, mean-tempered dog that bites any hand that tries to pet him, and yet will savage any man who tries to hurt his masters. (Sansa IV, ACOK)

Like Brienne’s arc, Alayne II is not without its food symbolism.  When the party arrives at the waycastle Snow, they share a meal of “stewed goat and onions.”  While Brienne had the “goat on the spit” representing Vargo Hoat (or his men rather), the goat here seems to refer to Littlefinger whose often-mentioned feature is his goatee.  Goats also are symbolic of male lust as in the god Pan, who was known for chasing nymphs.  Depictions of the Devil began to be infused with goat imagery during the medieval period.  “Stewed” is also a slang term for being drunk, which is also how we find Petyr in his solar with the hedge knights.  As for the onions, the most notable onions in the series are Davos Seaworth’s onions.  During Robert’s Rebellion, Davos slips past enemy lines and smuggles onions into Storm’s End to save Stannis from starvation during a siege, an act that earned him a knighthood.  Onions are a fairly common enough ingredient mentioned in the series.  They are pretty unassuming and what you expect to see in a stew, but peel back the layers

In relation to earning a knighthood through heroism, we have the conversation between Sansa and Myranda about a squire:

“Saving yourself for Lord Robert?” Lady Myranda teased. “Or is there some ardent squire dreaming of your favors?”
“No,” said Alayne, even as Robert said, “She’s my friend. Terrance and Gyles can’t have her.”

The mystery “squire” in question is as much a tease by the author as it is by Myranda.  “Ardent” is a rarely used word in the entire series — only three times to be exact.  As discussed in Part V, “Prince Ardent” is the true identity under the Beast in GRRM’s favorite film version of Beauty and the Beast.  I would also argue that “squire” is actually a fitting metaphor for Sandor at this point.  As the gravedigger and a novice on the Quiet Isle, one of his jobs is serving food.  If we compare this to traditional knightly training, food service would be on the page level below squire.  The next level of squire means he must stick close to the knight (as Elder Brother was) training him and do as he is told.  As we’ve seen in Part VI, Dog sticks close to Meribald’s side, not “bounding ahead,” especially when they are moments away from finding the crab.  By using the word “squire” the author implies that Sandor has not yet earned his knighthood.  We should expect to see if everything proves correct, some metaphoric dubbing of Sandor by the Elder Brother as a knight in the near future.  Plus there is the early hint of her favor that will later prove important in the outcome of the tourney in TWOW as it is the last line of the sample chapter.

[Harrold Hardyng]  grinned. “I will hold you to that promise, my lady. Until that day, may I wear your favor in the tourney?”
You may not. It is promised to…another.” She was not sure who as yet, but she knew she would find someone.

A mystery knight to carry her favor, which calls us back to parallels with the tourney of Harrenhal and the tourney of Whitewalls in The Mystery Knight novella.

Plot, Characterization, and Alternate Theories

Before we conclude with Sansa meeting the hedge knights, we should take a step back to examine how this theory is serving the plot and characterization as well as glance over a few alternate ideas for comparison.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate where Sansa is in all this.  She’s at a point in her arc where she’s resigned to the fact that she is indefinitely trapped in the Alayne Stone persona.  The rescuer she prayed for (or rather the one she got) in the godswood has turned out to be unwholesome and false to say the least.  She’s tormented by being implicated in his unsavory schemes on one hand, but cannot reveal her true identity out of fear of being beheaded on the other.  The only option she sees is to bravely move forward and try to make the best out of being Alayne Stone in a day to day existence.  As a result, the reader is lulled into anticipating only more of the same:  Sansa spending another book treading water in her imprisonment or yet another arranged marriage as a plot point.  That would be exceedingly dull writing if it were true and thankfully GRRM is better than that.

Looking through the lens of the original theory, there’s several ironies going on here that solve the above predicament.  Sansa spends a great deal of time reminding herself to be vigilant in maintaining her Alayne Stone character as being unmasked means her certain death.  Being unmasked in the solar by the hedge knights is precisely what happens despite her efforts, but it means her rescue instead.  It means her godswood prayers have actually been answered.  The key to her freedom was already in the works, but readers have been looking in all the wrong places.  She’s completely unwitting that one of the men she is bantering with is a staunch Stark loyalist and the other is the man she’s been literally dreaming of.  Not only are their respective appearances different, but there’s a stunning display of character growth held up side by side between Alayne and Ser Byron.  Sansa has become more self-assured, warm, and outspoken.  Sandor has learned to be more self-controlled, patient, and respectful.  This isn’t entirely a performance, it’s applying what they’ve learned in their parallel humbling stints as a bastard and the gravedigger.

This is not to say that Sansa is a damsel who will be passively rescued.  Many readers expect she will play a pivotal role in the downfall of Petyr Baelish, as do I.  On the contrary, the hedge knights can give her a place of power to act from.  For the first time, she has allies loyal to her and who will fight for her best interests alone.

Finally, the wool is being pulled over the eyes great con artist himself, who at the same time thinks he’s fooling everyone with his “daughter.”  It’s a completely appropriate comeuppance.  Most of all there’s a way out that doesn’t involve yet another marriage proposal, which has never meant anything good in her story before.  The possible betrothal to Harry the Heir makes for great slight-of-hand, because it’s what we’re trained to expect in her arc.  While the reader and Sansa are looking toward the young falcon, our attention is drawn away from the hedge knights.  Too many Vale arc speculations play up the importance of Harry the Heir (only just mentioned in Alayne II) and completely ignore or downplay the role of Ser Shadrich, who has been lurking around since Brienne I.  Not that Harry won’t serve a purpose, but Shadrich is the obvious Chekhov’s gun here.

The original theory solves some very key questions that readers have had.  It addresses:

  • How Sandor will re-enter Sansa’s arc in a logical, canon-supported, and thematically satisfying way that serves both characters.
  • How Howland Reed will help an actual Stark on page in a way that utilizes his established backstory and talents (which is all we are given by the author).
  • How to effectively use a character like the Elder Brother that we only meet briefly, but we’re given a wealth of detail concerning his backstory, talents, and capacity to be of service.  To leave him just treating the gravedigger off page is a waste.
  • How to solve the current Vale arc predicament with plenty of surprise for a majority of readers, that streamlines the good use of existing and important characters, and serves to further the overall plot of the series.  It also thwarts one of the biggest villains in the books in a manner that is fitting for his hubris and deceit.
  • How to make sense of the frustration with the author for seeming to place Sansa on an endless treadmill of imprisonment and marriage proposals when other POV characters seem to have more to do.  For the reader, it ushers us into the third act of the series without having to spend more time watching and waiting for the the conflict to somehow resolve.  The process was already happening over the course of months.  It was cleverly hinted at all along, but we fell for the author’s use of misdirection and unreliable POV narrators hook, line, and sinker.

It also assimilates well with other well-laid out theories and gives them a new twist.  In sweetsunray’s Sansa and the Giants (aka the avalanche theory of the Vale), the presence of Howland Reed and his knowledge of the “hammer of the waters,” provides a magical cause to the cataclysmic avalanche.  The hedge knight team can also protect Sansa from that danger and get her to safety.  In The Beast’s Kiss, it’s theorized that Harry combines aspects of Loras Tyrell and the blunt, offensive honesty of Sandor Clegane.  An older and more experienced Sansa knows how to go toe to toe with him.  She’s clever, confident, and flirtatious and may be open to a kiss from Harry.  Point taken; however, Ser Byron can be read as the physical ideal of Loras and his gallantry, but with the better part of Sandor’s nature:  the loyal protector who is now saving his bite for those who truly deserve it.  Plus, I have presented my own interpretation on the use of the Beast, Avenant, and Prince Ardent as Sandor playing all three like the actor, Jean Marais.  It’s a great twist on the fairytale for GRRM to make the handsome prince the enchantment and the Beast the true form to be revealed.

The problem with alternative theories and speculations on secret identities is that they often fail to address important issues to plot and characterization.

  • That Sandor is still the gravedigger and Sansa will find him?
    • For Sansa to somehow find her way to the Quiet Isle with no way of knowing Sandor is there or not having any other cause to go there makes no sense.  While most expect them to re-unite, this version doesn’t advance the overall plot or address how Sansa will be freed in the first place.
  • Howland Reed as the High Sparrow?
    • That makes no use of his magical talents, his backstory, his affiliation to the Old Gods, and helps no Starks at this point.  The idea rests on Howland Reed being solely motivated by revenge and pits him against Cersei.  That’s not narratively satisfying as she didn’t order either the Red Wedding (Tywin did and he’s dead) or Ned’s beheading (Joffrey did and he’s dead).  Besides the High Sparrow’s punishment of Cersei has nothing to do with the injustice toward the Starks.
  • Howland Reed as the Hooded Man?
    • Most of the same problems as the above, helps no actual Starks, and rests solely on revenge.  With the loss of a POV inside Winterfell until Stannis retakes the castle means anything he does will be off page, which would be a very weak use of a pivotal character.  There are much stronger candidates for the Hooded Man, such as Harwin sent by the BwB and LS and who can positively ID Arya.
  • Ser Shadrich working for Varys?
    • Fails to address the weirwood, Old Gods, Harrenhal, and KotLT connections.  A supposed agent of Varys just inexplicably asks a stranger (Brienne) if she’d like to hunt Sansa Stark for the Spider’s reward when everyone at Duskendale is doing the same thing and she’s clearly a terrible detective, let alone spy.  That makes no sense.
  • Ser Byron as Tyrek Lannister or Harry Rivers?
    • Tyrek Lannister is proposed on account of the blonde hair and that he could ID Sansa.  This can be ruled out immediately by the fact that both Littlefinger and Sansa know exactly who Tyrek is.  There’s no way Littlefinger would let a Lannister know he has Sansa or that Sansa would trust a Lannister.  I’ve also heard Harry Rivers, the Bastard of Bracken, by the blonde hair but he’s pretty much confirmed dead.  Both have zero connection to Sansa’s story.

So we can see, it’s quite easy to not see the forest for the trees when proposing theories.  That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly outline how a theory works on the individual level, the affected POV character’s level, and in the big narrative picture.

Meeting the Hedge Knights

The very last passage before they arrive at the Gates and Sansa is summoned to the solar is loaded with important references and foreshadowing.

By the time they finally reached her father’s castle, Lady Myranda was drowsing too, and Alayne was dreaming of her bed. It will be a featherbed, she told herself, soft and warm and deep, piled high with furs. I will dream a sweet dream, and when I wake there will be dogs barking, women gossiping beside the well, swords ringing in the yard. And later there will be a feast, with music and dancing. After the deathly silence of the Eyrie, she yearned for shouts and laughter.

The sweet dream is a veil over her eyes much like the glamor and the false identities that hide her saviors. It’s also the role she must play to create a feeling of safety.  Then the author reveals what she will find when her eyes finally open.  This part is reality, not the dream.What she imagines are references related to Sandor:  dogs, swords, and a reference to a past incident where Sansa hears the Hound mentioned by gossiping washerwomen. There’s also foreshadowing of the tourney feast where our hedge knight team is spotted dancing with her.  Waking in the morning to these references is fitting since they arrive in the predawn hours and she is summoned to Petyr’s solar.  There the hedge knights, her gallant knights, are revealed to her.

The author isn’t done yet and this ties the beginning and ending of the chapter together:  Byron’s kiss.  In the opening scene of Alayne II, Sansa recalls her final version of the unkiss, the kiss she misremembers Sandor giving her the last time she saw him.  There will be a companion essay that will go into more detail, but essentially she muses on the kiss then she puts the “memory” aside.  From her point of view, “that day is done” and she must get on with the business of being Alayne Stone.  What’s really important here is what she tells Robert Arryn, who sparked the final version with his own “clumsy” kiss.

Alayne pushed her little lord away. “That’s enough. You can kiss me again when we reach the Gates, if you keep your word.”

Another kiss for a promise kept.  Who is it she thinks she has already kissed?  Who was it she was just thinking of?  Who also made a promise that he initially failed to deliver on?  Sandor.

I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” (Sansa VII, ACOK)

The one who actually kisses Sansa first at the Gates of the Moon is not Robert Arryn.  It’s Ser Bryon and it’s a chaste and respectful kiss on the hand.  As I have said before, the kiss on the hand is likely the signal to the other two he’s positively ID’d Sansa, but it’s definitely more than that.  It’s chivalrous and indicates the character growth of Sandor Clegane toward true knighthood and being of service to another more worthy than his previous masters.  It points to this rescue succeeding where he failed the first time.  It’s the irony of Sansa believing the man she wants to kiss her again is gone forever then receives a kiss from that man without realizing it.  The chaste kiss is stark contrast to any other kiss she’s received, real or not.  It marks a restoration of faith in the existence of true knights for the reader if not Sansa herself (yet).  Time and time again she’s been told how naive and foolish the songs are (and many readers have bought into this cynicism as well), but the author is saying on a few rare occasions they are true.  Deconstruction and reconstruction complete.  Byron’s kiss brings us full circle on themes of knighthood, idealism, and second chances for each of our hedge knights.  It combines chivalry and Arthurian romances with the toppling of corrupt power by the trickster underdog themes of Reynard the Fox and Loki.  Most of all, it is a ravens versus doves story that GRRM so loves.

“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”

The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.

The twist on the word “lout” is that when used in the verb form, it means to bow respectfully, exactly what the hedge knights do when they take their leave of Sansa.  They are a motley crew of tricksters that slipped in under Littlefinger’s nose, effectively fooling the fooler.  One of whom is Sansa’s much prayed for Florian the Fool, the knight in motley armor — or rather the most unexpected and seemingly contradictory disguise for the man beneath it.

GRRM has been quoted that Sansa’s pattern of misremembering things has been purposely built up over time and will eventually “mean something.”  One of those instances I believe is specifically relevant to this theory and shows where the author’s intentions have been since AGOT:

“Sweet one,” her father said gently, “listen to me. When you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong.” (Sansa III, AGOT, What her father actually said)

“He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight…”(Sansa IV, AGOT, What she misremembers her father saying)

The Conclusion

  • In Part I, we saw the importance of the name Shadrich and it’s biblical relation to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three “godly” men who will defy a king while under assumed identities.  No matter friends or foes, there must be at least one person on the hedge knight team that can positively ID Sansa for any plan to work.
  • In Part II, Brienne’s limitations on judging Ser Shadrich fairly and accurately were laid out.  No matter who Shadrich is or isn’t, there is a substantial amount of evidence that he is a helper if we look past Brienne’s limitations.  He has parallels to Sandor Clegane as well as other known helpers and he is surrounded by weirwood, Old Gods, KotLT, and Harrenhal references.
  • In Part III, I made the case for Howland Reed based on what we know from Jojen and Meera about their father.  Not resting on physical descriptions alone, Ser Shadrich’s claims and skillset are consistent with details we know of Howland Reed.  Most importantly Howland Reed has thus far only been featured in the story of the Harrenhal tourney with ties to the KotLT (aside from a brief mention of being at the ToJ).  When he re-enters the story it makes sense that he will have those references surrounding him as does Ser Shadrich.  We’ve also looked at the importance of the fox representing Ser Shadrich as medieval folk hero, Reynard the Fox, and his parallels to Howland Reed.  The timeline of events shows that Howland Reed as Ser Shadrich has likely been searching for a way to get to Sansa since word of Ned’s death reached the North.  There’s also plenty of plausible time and the means to find Elder Brother and Sandor Clegane on the Quiet Isle, devise their plan, and meet Littlefinger in Gulltown.  Howland’s role is to provide the glamor to disguise Sandor.
  • In Part IV, we established that Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth share distinctive physical features.  The Quiet Isle represents a metaphoric afterlife or an Avalon where King Arthur (Sandor) will be healed and restored.  The Elder Brother’s role is a green god type linked to Garth Greenhand (hence his alias) and he serves as a psychopomp, ushering people between the worlds.  He’s also a gatekeeper of information from the outside world and has access to a ship that can take them to Gulltown.  He also has a debt to pay to Sandor Clegane for his mistake with the Hound’s helm that led to Sandor’s death warrant.  We also looked at how Elder Brother is still searching for his own redemption and the effect that Brienne and the Saltpans massacre has on him.  No other bounty hunters make a connection between Sansa and Littlefinger, something that can only be done if you know Littlefinger’s history.
  • In Part V, I showed that Sandor could be plausibly healed enough for a rescue mission.  Sandor’s character shares a remarkable amount of parallels to the poet Lord Byron and his works, making the name “Byron” extremely appropriate as an alias.  Sandor fits the “godly men” motif as a literal burned man or wicker man variety of green god.  I made comparisons to Odin as well as Loki in the rescue of Idunn myth.  The choice of Sandor become a blonde, handsome knight makes sense in the context of the author’s favorite film adaptation of La Belle et la Bête and with his knowledge of Sansa.  We looked at the textual evidence for Sandor being able to pull off the role of Ser Byron as well as the precedents for glamors used in the series and their parallels to the Vale arc.  The raw materials for a glamor, bones and rubies, are heavily emphasized as being present on the Quiet Isle.  Most importantly, Sandor’s role on the team is to positively ID Sansa through a disguise, which the others cannot do.
  • In Part VI, we looked at the symbolic journey of Brienne through the Riverlands and Crackclaw point.  The signposts along the way were never meant for Brienne to act upon, because she winds up with people from Arya’s arc (the acorn path).  Through animal and food symbolism and colorful side characters, we see who is actually on the ivy path to Sansa.  The mural at Duskendale and the pious dwarf link Shadrich as Howland Reed to two holy men, Septon Meribald and Elder Brother, as well as Sandor as the gravedigger.  Along the way the fox crosses paths with Dog and we have repeated mention of being “among the reeds.”  Sansa is symbolically linked to the Moon Maiden through crabs and clams and it is Dog that finds the crab and steals it from it’s hiding place.  The Quiet Isle gives us Stranger (renamed Driftwood), who bit the ear off a brother, hidden under his blonde hair and cowl.  Missing ears become an important motif pointing to Sandor.  Then we have the symbolism of the “strange” but “very good” stew representing our hedge knight team.
  • In Part VII, from Sansa’s POV chapter we see a repetition of previous themes and symbols:  the rescue of Idunn, the stewed goat and onions representing the hedge knights with a drunken Petyr, the missing ear of the mule, and the significance of the “ardant squire” and Sansa’s favor that will play a role in the tourney.  The theory presented serves all characters involved as well as the Vale arc and the overall plot of the series.  It also compliments other well-supported theories and shows were alternate theories fall short.  Sansa’s POV ends on references directly related to Sandor and the tourney feast where our hedge knights will most likely make their move if the author is parallelling Whitewalls and Harrenhal.  She then meets her saviors and the scene culminates with Byron’s highly significant, chaste kiss that ties major themes together.

back to the index

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.

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.

Hades, the Warden of the Underworld

He took hold of Ice with both hands and said, “In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I do sentence you to die.” (aGoT, Bran I)

In Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts I already indicated how Ned Stark can be regarded as a temporary Hades in the crypts. I also showed how Winterfell, the godswood, the North and beyond the Wall in its entirety can be regarded as an Underworld, not just the crypts of Winterfell alone. In this essay I make the case that Ned Stark shares so many aspects with this chthonic deity that Ned Stark and consequentionally any Lord or King of Winterfell is a ruler of the Underworld and has all the responsibilities that come with it.

Update 25/12/2018: My friend the Fattest Leech (link to her blog) sent me an excerpt picture of one of George’s short stories, and I discuss it at the end of this essay.

The Warden of the North

Every mythology ultimately attempts to compromize the wish to live forever – the inability to imagine we and our loved ones stop existing alltogether – with the instinctive horror of the dead not staying dead. Only the most divine heroes should be granted such a boon, preferably somewhere else (Arthur, Jesus Christ, Herakles, Osiris,…). The sole time they may reappear in our world is when we are in dire need of salvation – at the end of time. In contrast, the dead who choose to prowl the world of the living are evil – poltergeists, demonic vampires or mindless zombies. Basically, coming back is a big no-no.

In order to prevent the latter, usually several safeguards are installed.

  • Heroes get to go to some paradise that is incomparably better to life on earth.
  • Evil ones get imprisoned in Tartarus or Hell where eternal punishment awaits them.
  • The rest are forced to forget their previous life somehow.
  • If they come back it is through reïncarnation and born anew as a baby without memory.
  • There are guardians, hellhounds, gateways, and a judging ruler whose decision is all-powerful.

Rulers of an otherworld or underworld range from demonic tormentors and evil, aggressive and war-like to benevolent ones in paradise. No underwordly ruler fits Ned’s character as well as Hades.

Ned Stark is Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North and there are numerous chthonic references for the North and Winterfell overall as an underworld, including Greek ones. In the first chthonic essay I already made the anology between Robert’s Rebellion and the three Olympian brothers defeating the Titans, who then disperse the reign over Olympus, the oceans and the underworld. While Ned Stark is not a blood-brother to Robert, they are foster brothers. With Stannis ruling the naval fleet and Ned the North we pretty much get a similar division as that of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Of note here is that Hades pulled the short straw. Hades had not asked for the underworld, and was not even all that happy about it, yet he did his duty. And in Catelyn’s second chapter of aGoT, Ned Stark expresses a similar sentiment.

That brought a bitter twist to Ned’s mouth. “Brandon. Yes. Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born to be a King’s Hand and a father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.”
“Perhaps not,” Catelyn said, “but Brandon is dead, and the cup has passed, and you must drink from it, like it or not.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Hades’s main duty is to make sure none of the dead escape the underworld, and Ned’s first two duties that get highlighted in the books are the execution of a deserter and the remark he will have to fight the King Beyond the Wall. In a way a dead soul escaping the underworld is a type of deserter.

His lord father smiled. “Old Nan has been telling you stories again. In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch.[…] But you mistake me. The question was not why the man had to die, but why I must do it.” (aGoT, Bran I)

He was the fourth this year,” Ned said grimly […] He sighed. “Ben writes that the strength of the Night’s Watch is down below a thousand. It’s not only desertions. They are losing men on rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and all.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

I highlighted Ned’s question to Bran – why must Ned do it – but momentarily left out the answer that Ned gives Bran. The question should not only be asked in-world, but also at a meta-level. Why is Ned in particular the man who is called for to deal with deserters of the Night’s Watch and who will have to ride against the King-beyond-the-Wall? Is it not the Night’s Watch job to deal with wildling threats against the realm? And if Ned Stark can be fetched to lop a deserter’s head off, then surely Lord Commander Jeor Mormont can do the same? Supposedly, the Night’s Watch is an independent force, allied to no particular lord or king to protect the realm, including Ned’s North, from being threatened by whichever threat exists North of the Wall. And yet, from the first chapter (aside from the Prologue), the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, is shown to be the main man called to act, if the Night’s Watch fails to do the task delegated to them. Later, Osha too claims Robb ought to go North, not South, for the same purpose.

Currently the majority of men at the Night’s Watch are criminals sent their by their lords as a form of punishment. We can see an echo of Tartarus in this. Tartarus was the underworld prison where those who warred or offended the gods were sent and given some type of punishment. If Hades lay a certain distance away from earth, then Tartarus lay doubly far. People who have attempted to set up a timeline run into headaches regarding travel days issues from Winterfell to the Wall and Winterfell to the Crossroads (and from there King’s Landing). Ignoring how impossibly fast Tyrion manages to get to the Crossroads after leaving Winterfell upon his return to King’s Landing, which George has admitted was a mistake, we can say it takes roughly the same amount of time to get to the Wall from Winterfell than to reach and cross the Neck, and that the sum of those distances is roughly the same distance from the Neck to King’s Landing. Since this initially chosen distance inconveniences later plot (such as Tyrion meeting Catelyn at the Crossroads), something else influenced George’s decision. The alleged distance of Tartarus to earth may have been George’s inspiration.

No King-Beyond-the-Wall was ever stopped by the Night’s Watch alone. Always, some Lord or King of Winterfell was the man to deal with the threat.

Wildlings have invaded the realm before.” Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. “Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather’s grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard.”

“Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne,…. (aCoK, Jon III)

  • Raymun Redbeard sneaked across the Wall. He and his forces met a bloody end at Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and Harmund Umber. Lord Willam died during the battle, but his younger brother Artos the Implacable slew Redbeard himself. The Night’s Watch arrived too late at the Lake to fight, but in time to burry the dead. The Lord Commander, Jolly Jack Musgood, was forever after known as Sleepy Jack.
  • Bael the Bard’s legend tells how he fathered the next Stark ruler on the daughter of a Lord Brandon Stark, the Daughterless. Bael became King-Beyond-the-Wall several decades later, but was ultimately slain by his own son, who was the new Lord of Winterfell by then.
  • Gendel and Gorne slipped pas the Night’s Watch using a passage through the caves. But the King in the North was waiting for them at the other side. The Night’s Watch attacked the wildlings in the rear. Gorne managed to slay the King in the North, but the King’s son killed Gorn in turn after he put his father’s crown on. Gendel either died in the same battle or managed to return to the caves but lost his way.
  • The Night’s King was a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and the then King-Beyond-the-Wall, Joraman, and King of Winter, Brandon Stark the Breaker, joined forces to defeat the Night’s King.

Through the several legends, we see a pattern emerge where ultimately it falls to a ruling Stark to stop a King-Beyond-the-Wall or a Night’s Watch commander from taking over or escape into the South. We see something similar with Hades. He is the ruler of the underworld, but he has several tasks delegated to other characters who either judge the dead, are keyholders to gates, guard crossings. But when they fail, Hades has to deal with the situation personally. Hades and Ned Stark are the CEOs of the underworld and the North (including beyond the Wall) respectively, while the other characters form the manager team and in the case of the Night’s Watch – a daughter company. So, the meta-answer to “why Ned Stark in particular?” is basically, “Because the rule and responsibility is ultimately his.” And this has been true for all the Kings and Lords of Winterfell.

While Hades’s subjects may not leave the underworld, no such restrictions exist for the lord of the underworld himself. He himself is not dead and can leave for earth or Olympus whenever he likes. He just rarely does so. And there are occassions that he left the underworld – to fetch his desired bride-to-be Persephone and to help defend the city Pylos (according to Homer in the Illiad), where Hades was wounded by Heracles and then nursed at Olympus. Once Ned Stark becomes Lord of Winterfell, he remains in the North, despite the fact that the king is his best friend and foster brother. He only leaves the North for Robert’s Rebellion in order to retain his head and his lordship over the North, his marriage to southern Catelyn Tully (which coincides with Robert’s Rebellion), Balon’s rebellion and finally to be Hand of the King. And in that last exit, he ends up wounded and nursed, but also unfortunately killed.

Ned had last seen the king nine years before during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, when the stag and the direwolf had joined to end the pretensions of the self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands. (aGoT, Eddard I)

Hades is usually oblivious what happens on earth and Olympus though, when he is overseeing his realm. Most of the time, Hades is a passive unseen figure when it comes to affairs of the living. Only oaths, promises and curses reach his ears then. The curses are important, since several underworld characters need to be sent after the cursed. But the promises are relevant too, even those made by the gods. Since the goddess Styx aided the Olympian brothers to win against the Titans, they commemorated her aid by swearing and promising on the underworld river Styx. They would keep them, even if they had disastrous results. Oathbreaking was a crime even amongst the gods, worthy of imprisonment at Tartarus.

Throughout Ned’s story in the first book, George makes it clear that Eddard Stark loves Robert best. Even right after learning the dark news of his foster-father’s death, he breaks instantly into a smile when he learns Robert intends to visit. He only vaguely knows about Robert’s supposed children with Cersei over the course of the years. Ned has not been keeping much track of what has happened outside of the North. His knowledge of what happens at the Night’s Watch and beyond the wall is more up to date than those of the capital and life of his best friend.

“The letter had other tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”

It took Ned a moment to comprehend her words, but when the understanding came, the darkness left his eyes. “Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face…[snip]..”Damnation, how many years has it been? And he gives us no more notice than this?..” [snip]…”It will be good to see the children. The youngest was still sucking at the Lannister woman’s teat the last time I saw him. He must be, what, five by now?

“Prince Tommen is seven,” she told him. “The same age as Bran…” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Notice how Robert represents life, light and the sun to Ned in this scene already. The mere thought of seeing Robert lifts the darkness and can break the grimness of Ned’s face, and he associates Robert with children being nursed at the breast, representing new life.

Even though Eddard Stark was not privy to every detail of the Small Councils until that time, one would suppose that at least some of Robert’s reputation as king would not go unnoticed – his many tourneys, the prizes he gives away, hunts, the number of Lannisters getting so many advantageous positions. And yet, it is as if Ned has been truly in isolation for over a decade. Balon of the Iron Islands, Doran of Dorne and the Tyrells of the Reach are as far away from King’s Landing as Winterfell, but they kept tabs much better than Eddard Stark. Ned is oblivious like Hades, not because of distance or the low number of visitors, but because he does not consider it much of his concern.

It goes without saying that Ned Stark considers promises to be of utmost importance. In the previous essay the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I showed that while Ned keeps his promises – at least until he ends up in the dungeons and is physically prevented of keeping his promises to Robert – there is a discrepance between the spirit of the promise kept and the spirit of the promise requested. I showed how the limitation of words allows for the disagreement in interpretation by both those asking him to promise as Ned making one. The ambiguity in how Ned makes and keeps promises is an interesting discussion all by itself, but falls outside the scope of this essay. Objectively, Ned keeps the promises in the same spritit he makes them, within the constraints of reality, even if that differs with the spirit they are requested.

“I will,” Ned had promised her. That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them. (aGoT, Eddard IX)

Vows and curses are paired in the above paragraph. Ned regards keeping vows his curse. This is true as well for the vows done by the Greek gods on the Styx. Zeus promises his human lover Semele whatever she wishes. So, when she asks him to show himself to her in his true godly nature, and not just the shape he takes to walk amognst the mortals, Zeus has to comply, even though he knows that Semele will die on the spot from the sight of his godly light.

In his final dungeon chapter Ned himself curses people as well as thinks of broken promises (which I argued already in the second chthonic essay are most likely his promises to Robert on his death bed rather than those to Lyanna).

He damned them all: Littlefinger, Janos Slynt and his gold cloaks, the queen, the Kingslayer, Pycelle and Varys and Ser Barristan, even Lord Renly, Robert’s own blood, who had run when he was needed most. Yet in the end he blamed himself. “Fool,” he cried to the darkness, “thrice-damned blind fool.”

Hades’s Wife

In the first essay I identified Lyanna as Persephone, abducted by Rhaegar. But Catelyn’s feelings towards the godswood and all things North reveal her to be a Persephone to Ned as Hades. He may not have actually abducted Catelyn, but let us not forget that initially, Persephone’s father Zeus gives his permission to Hades in taking Persephone for a wife.

In his youth, Ned had fostered at the Eyrie, and the childless Lord Arryn had become a second father to him and his fellow ward, Robert Baratheon. When the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen had demanded their heads, the Lord of the Eyrie had raised his moon-and-falcon banners in revolt rather than give up those he had pledged to protect.

And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Lyanna is featured as the flower maiden that got kidnapped, but she dies before we learn what her feelings were about her circumstances. Catelyn’s first chapter shows a Persephone who has lived in the underworld with her Hades for fourteen years and raised a family with him. It turns out that Catelyn has very mixed feelings about her home. Even Ned is aware of her dislike of the Winterfell godswood that she visits to deliver the news of Jon Arryn’s death.

Catelyn had never liked this godswood.[…]

“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. He slid Ice back into its sheath. “You did not come here to tell me crib tales. I know how little you like this place. What is it, my lady?”

Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”

I will explore Catelyn more specifically in the next chthonic essay, but for now the quotes I already provided suffice  to indicate how Catelyn takes the Persephone role, not as maiden, but as Hades’ wife and his partner in ruling the underworld. Ned Stark shares the rule of Winterfell and the North with his wife, much like Hades shares it with Persephone, even in his absence.

Ned to Catelyn: “You must govern the north in my stead, while I run Robert’s errands. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Robb is fourteen. Soon enough, he will be a man grown. He must learn to rule, and I will not be here for him. Make him part of your councils. He must be ready when his time comes.”(aGoT, Catelyn II)

Allegedly though, Hades had a mistress before he had a wife, the naiad (water nymph) Minthe, or at least Minthe coveted Hades and wished to seduce him. Minthe was jealous of Persephone and boasted she would have Hades for her lover (again). Equally possessive, Persephone silenced Minthe once and for all by turning her into a plant, the sweet-smelling mint, and in some versions then tramples her.

“Near Pylos, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthe, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Haides, was trampled under foot by Kore [Persephone], and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos.” (Strabo, Geography 8. 3. 14 (trans. Jones), Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.)

“Mint (Mintha), men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymphe of Kokytos, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus (Hades); but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aitnaian hill [Mount Aitna in Sicily], then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus (Hades) would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.” (Oppian, Halieutica 3. 485 (trans. Mair), Greek poet C3rd A.D.)

There might have been even another nymph Hades may have been involved with once, Leuke.

“Leuke was a nymph, a daughter of Okeanos, who was carried off by Hades. After her death she was changed into a white poplar in Elysium. The white poplar was sacred to Hades.”(R. E. Bell, Women of Classical Mythology, sourced from Servius on Virgil’s Eclogues 4. 250, C20th Mythology encyclopedia)

There is the rumor that Ned Stark may have had an affair with Lady Ashara Dayne. Winterfell gossips about it in a way that it heightens Catelyn’s fears – that Ned Stark loves another woman so much that he wished to rear his bastard son Jon alongside his firstborn son with Catelyn. Even after fifteen years of marriage, Catelyn is still envious and insecure, comparing herself unfavorably to Ashara’s looks. It is not Catelyn, however, who stamps out Ashara by silencing the gossip, but Ned himself.

… Catelyn heard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of her husband’s soldiers….[snip]… And they told how afterward Ned had carried Ser Arthur’s sword back to the beautiful young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall on the shores of the Summer Sea. The Lady Ashara Dayne, tall and fair, with haunting violet eyes. It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face.

That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. “Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady.” She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name was never heard in Winterfell again.

Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely, for nothing Catelyn said would persuade him to send the boy away. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Meanwhile other sources say the wetnurse Wylla (also from the shores of the Summer Sea) was Ned Stark’s lover, or a fisherman’s daughter. It seems more than a coincidence that all three rumored women are associated with the sea or water, and that both of Hades’s alleged mistresses were water nymphs.

As much as Persephone was possessive of her husband, so could Hades be sparked into wrath over anyone slighting or wanting to take his wife from him.

“Theseus and Peirithoos agreed with each other to marry daughters of Zeus, so Theseus with the other’s help kidnapped twelve-year-old Helene from Sparta, and went down to Haides’ realm to court Persephone for Peirithoos . . . Theseus, arriving in Haides’ realm with Peirithoos, was thoroughly deceived, for Haides on the pretense of hospitality had them sit first upon the throne of Lethe (Forgetfulness). Their bodies grew onto it, and were held down by the serpent’s coils. Now Peirithous remained fast there for all time, but Herakles led Theseus back up.” (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 23 – 24, trans. Aldrich, Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)

Theseus’ most famous myth is that of slaying the Minotaur with the help of Minos’s daughter, Ariadne. She (and her younger sister Phaedra) sailed with him, but Theseus left her at the island Naxos, while he took Phaedra to wife instead of Ariadne. He also forgot to put up white sails, instead of black sails, upon his return. Believing his son dead, King Aegius of Athens flung himself from the cliffs into the sea, named after the king as the Aegean Sea.

Ariadne was not the sole daughter Theseus meddled with. He and his best buddy Peirithous believed themselves only worthy to take one of Zeus’ daughters to wife. Theseus settled his mind on Helen, who was then still a child. Peirithous wanted Persephone. They first kidnapped Helen and left her with his mother until she was old enough to be married, and later journeyed to Hades in order to steal Persephone.  Zeus foiled Peirithous’ plan by informing Hades well ahead about it. Hades welcomed his two heroic visitors with a feast, but had them sit on a chair or rock that made them forget and immobile. Peirithous was gruelly punished for his criminal intent by the Furies, and Theseus was a prisoner, fixed to the rock for many months. When Heracles visited Hades to fetch Cerberus the hellhound and saw his friend Theseus, he requested and was granted leave from Hades to take Theseus with him to earth again. Heracles also requested freedom for Peirithous, but Hades refused to do so and Heracles did not pursue the request any further. Theseus returned home to find Helen gone, rescued by her half-twin brothers Castor and Pollux. Helen’s first abduction by Theseus led to the promise by the many Greek Kings to go to war against anyone stealing her from the husband she would choose (Menelaos), and thus why all the Greeks were bound to war against Troy.

We rarely see Ned Stark as a hotheaded character, except once – when Littlefinger leads Ned to a brothel and claims Catelyn is inside. Seemingly uncharacteristically, Ned loses his temper and physically threatens Petyr Baelish, who is smaller and not as strong as Ned. Just like Hades, Ned sees red when a man insults and dishonors his wife.

Ned Stark dismounted in a fury. “A brothel,” he said as he seized Littlefinger by the shoulder and spun him around. “You’ve brought me all this way to take me to a brothel.”

“Your wife is inside,” Littlefinger said.

It was the final insult. “Brandon was too kind to you,” Ned said as he slammed the small man back against a wall and shoved his dagger up under the little pointed chin beard.(aGoT, Eddard IV)

Several parallels can be drawn between Littlefinger and Theseus – preferring girls of pre-marital age, as well as deceiving the sister who is smitten with him for the other sister who does not even love him. Both Theseus and Littlefinger put aside their jealous wife (in Theseus’ case, the queen of the Amazons Hypolythe or her sister Antiope), because they fancy marrying a young girl, Phaedra and Sansa respectively.

Hades’s Character

Though Hades was the least worshipped and the least liked of all the gods, this had mostly to do with his ominous function and thus people avoiding his attentions. While perceived as grim, brooding and cold, his character was surprisingly not negative. In fact, in many ways he was altruistically inclined, generous and hospitable to both visitors and subjects. The underworld held festivities as well, both for visitors as well as new arrivals. Because of his undisputed position as ruler of the underworld and the feasts he held when there was occasion for it, Hades was sometimes referred to as Zeus of the Underworld.

When Ned learns of Robert’s visit, he instantly starts to prepare for a feast and thinks how to accomodate the large royal party coming, including the Lannisters.

“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and the children travel with them.”

“Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes,” he said. “It is just as well. That will give us more time to prepare.”

“The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.

Ned grimaced at that. There was small love between him and the queen’s family, Catelyn knew. The Lannisters of Casterly Rock had come late to Robert’s cause, when victory was all but certain, and he had never forgiven them. “Well, if the price for Robert’s company is an infestation of Lannisters, so be it. It sounds as though Robert is bringing half his court.”

“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” she said.

Ned squeezed her hand. “There must be a feast, of course, with singers, and Robert will want to hunt. I shall send Jory south with an honor guard to meet them on the kingsroad and escort them back. Gods, how are we going to feed them all? On his way already, you said? Damn the man. Damn his royal hide.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Of course, the welcoming and the feast is performed without fault. Even if Winterfell holds no southron court, nothing can be said against Ned’s hospitality and manners.

Yet Robert was Ned’s king now, and not just a friend, so he said only, “Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.”

By then the others were dismounting as well, and grooms were coming forward for their mounts. Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children…[snip]..Ned knelt in the snow to kiss the queen’s ring, while Robert embraced Catelyn like a long-lost sister. Then the children had been brought forward, introduced, and approved of by both sides.

No sooner had those formalities of greeting been completed than the king had said to his host, “Take me down to your crypt, Eddard. I would pay my respects.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

In the first essay I argued how Robert’s speech on the spiral steps into the crypts is less about being disrespectful as it is a celebration of life. And here I will argue that indeed Robert does the most appropriate act by visiting the crypts first, before doing anything else. After all, not even a king can voyage to the underworld and say, “Show me to my room and let me rest and freshen up first. The dead can wait.” Even the king of the gods, Zeus, has to formally pay his respect to both the ruler of Hades as the place and its subjects. You would probably pay the underworld the biggest insult possible if you were to say that the dead can wait while visiting. And insulting the ruler of the eternal underworld is not exactly what you would wish to do (unless your name is Heracles).

Though Ned Stark is sometimes thought of as frozen-hearted, he shows his altruistic and generous side in several situations. While Robert dreams of killing Rhaegar still, there is a noteworthy absence of such harsh feelings with Ned towards the man who supposedly raped and killed a most beloved sister. Nor does he feel a hatred for the children of the Mad King and refuses to sign the King’s order to assassinate Danaerys. And finally, despite knowing and considering Cersei’s children to be evidence of her treason against the king, he gives her a chance to escape before he informs Robert about it. For the first two examples, the reader can suspect personal motivations for Ned not to hate Rhaegar or Danearys if R+L=J is true. Lyanna may bear shared responsibility in her disappearance and may have loved Rhaegar. And if he protects the life of Rhaegar’s son, Jon, then he could hardly condone the assassination of Rhaegar’s sister who is roughly off age with Jon. It is the third example regarding Cersei and her children that reveals Ned’s altruistic nature. He thinks she had Jon Arryn killed and that none of her three children are Robert’s – two cases of high treason. Nor does he like Joffrey. And yet, he cannot endanger three innocent lives of chidlren without given Cersei a chance to run.1

Hades treated everyone equally according to the laws and was just in this manner, but also unyielding and stern. Even though he applied the laws strictly, and allowed no exceptions, he took no particular pleasure in his duty, nor engaged in tormenting his subjects.

Ned’s sentencing of Gared – the oathbreaker, the deserter – embodies all of Hades’s characteristics regarding justice. He is not without empathy for Gared, he questions him fruitlessly without using force or torture. Despite his pity for Gared’s state of fear, Ned still sentences him to die when Gared can give him no defense. The law is the law. He is an oathbreaker, a deserter, and dangerous too.

“The poor man was half-mad. Something had put a fear in him so deep that my words could not reach him.”(aGoT, Catelyn I)

There were questions asked and answers given there in the chill of morning, but afterward Bran could not recall much of what had been said. Finally his lord father gave a command, and two of his guardsmen dragged the ragged man to the ironwood stump in the center of the square. They forced his head down onto the hard black wood. Lord Eddard Stark dismounted and his ward Theon Greyjoy brought forth the sword. “Ice,” that sword was called…[snip]…The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.

His father peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of Ice with both hands […] He lifted the greatsword high above his head.[…] His father took off the man’s head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine. […] The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched. […]

“… In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch. No man is more dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile…” (aGoT, Bran I)

Ned Stark does not let someone else shoulder the responsibility, but wields the sword himself, doing it swiftly, cleanly and without hiding behind a mask or a headsman. If Ned Stark is not convinced himself that the man should die, then nobody else should do it for him and he should not pass the sentence. He instructs all his possible male heirs to view it as he does, telling them not to take pleasure in the task. And according to Sansa her father regarded it his duty, but did not like killing.

“King Robert has a headsman,” [Bran] said, uncertainly.

“He does,” his father admitted. “As did the Targaryen kings before him. Yet our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.

“One day, Bran, you will be Robb’s bannerman, holding a keep of your own for your brother and your king, and justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” (aGoT, Bran I)

“Wrinkle up your face all you like, but spare me this false piety. You were a high lord’s get. Don’t tell me Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell never killed a man.”

That was his duty. He never liked it.” (aCoK, Sansa IV)

If Jorah had not escaped to Lys, he would have shared the same fate as Gared’s or be a brother of the Night’s Watch. To Ned it does not matter whether the criminal is a lord or a commoner.

I illustrated both sides in quotes. Not to prove how there are two sides of the same story, however. First of all, there are no differing facts – Jorah sold poachers to slave traders. End of story. Secondly, the act is a crime – in a feudal society, the subjects of a lord are not his chattel. What is at opposition are the two opinions how Ned Stark should have sentenced the crime. Illyrio attacks the law against slave trade, while the criminal blames the judge for being unyielding (and his wife and love as mitigating motivation). Meanwhile the judge views it strictly through justice’s eyes.

“The Usurper wanted his head,” Illyrio told them. “Some trifling affront. He sold some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver instead of giving them to the Night’s Watch. Absurd law. A man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.” (aGoT, Danearys I)

“Do you remember Ser Jorah Mormont?”

“Would that I might forget him,” Ned said bluntly. The Mormonts of Bear Island were an old house, proud and honorable, but their lands were cold and distant and poor. Ser Jorah had tried to swell the family coffers by selling some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver. As the Mormonts were bannermen to the Starks, his crime had dishonored the north. Ned had made the long journey west to Bear Island, only to find when he arrived that Jorah had taken ship beyond the reach of Ice and the king’s justice. (aGoT, Eddard II)

“You hate this Lord Stark,” Dany said.

He took from me all I loved, for the sake of a few lice-ridden poachers and his precious honor,” Ser Jorah said bitterly. (aGoT, Danaerys IV)

Jorah’s and Illyrio’s reaction illustrates the attitude of dislike for an unyielding, “everybody equal” Hades character. People often say they want those in the position to make decisions over others to be fair, believing themselves they mean “everybody equal” with it. But when they end up getting presented with consequences for their actions and mistakes (since everybody would include themselves), it often turns out that fair actually is supposed to apply only to “everybody I do not know or like”. The fairest event in life is death, because it is a certainty that nobody gets to live forever. You can’t (plea-) bargain with death, bribe it, trick it or threaten it, and there is no difference in the finality of it. In contrast, life is unfair – quality of life, the means and possibilities to improve that quality, how long we have. Hades emulates this unyieldiness of death. Ned Stark does the same in the way he governs his region. Notice too, how Jorah talks of Ned as taking all I loved. If you do not know the particulars, Jorah speaks as if Eddard Stark killed his wife and children, as if Ned is death itself who takes our loved ones.

There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.(aGoT, Eddard XV)

Yes, Varys said the above about Stannis to Ned, but it applies to Ned Stark as well, despite the fact that Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei thought of him as a naive fool who made it too easy on them. When it comes to justice, Ned Stark shares Stannis’s inexorability, and the most poignant act that proves this to the small council is when he sends Beric to arrest Gregor Clegane, a bannerman of the queen’s ruthless father. Ned only chooses men for the task who are not seeking vengeance. He does not seek justice for ulterior motives, such as making friends with the Reach, Edmure  Tully, or make peace with Tywin. His strict, uncompromozing stand was the main reason that nobody else of the small council of importance wanted to ally themselves with him. He is dangerous to their self-interests, because they all resort to treasonous tactics that could get them a head short, especially if Ned allies with another unyielding just man like Stannis.

This strict and unyielding attitude of Hades and Ned when it comes to ruling their realm and justice, also makes them both being perceived as stern, cold and having a frozen heart. They even share a similar physical description. Hades was dark bearded, had a darker skin tone than Zeus or Poseidon, a gloomier and grim expression. Still, both took care of their looks and dress. Combined with a dignified appearance, Hades therefore immediately strikes people as being serious.

Ned, Arya and Jon share the same dark coloring of hair as well as skin tone. Looking older than he is, adds seriousness to Eddard. And he is either described as grim looking, brooding, or frozen-faced by other characters.

Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell. […]  Jon’s eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see. He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.(aGoT, Bran I)

“Ned! Ah, but it is good to see that frozen face of yours.” The king looked him over top to bottom, and laughed. “You have not changed at all.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

“Lord Eddard Stark is my father,” Jon admitted stiffly.

Lannister studied his face. “Yes,” he said. “I can see it. You have more of the north in you than your brothers.” (aGoT, Jon I)

She might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned’s sake, so long as they were out of sight. Jon was never out of sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of the trueborn sons she bore him. Somehow that made it worse. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

170px-HadesCerberus

Finally, there is the seat of the Lord of Winterfell. Down in the crypts every King of Winter and Lord of Winterfell is portrayed on a stone seat with two stone direwolves at his feet. The actual seat of the Lord in the big hall above is also made of stone and has two sculptured direwolves flanking him. Both the living Lord of Winterfell as well as the dead ones therefore resemble one of the most typical sculptures that portray Hades – with the three-headed Cerberus at his feet.

“Hodor,” Hodor said, and he trotted forward smiling and set Bran in the high seat of the Starks, where the Lords of Winterfell had sat since the days when they called themselves the Kings in the North. The seat was cold stone, polished smooth by countless bottoms; the carved heads of direwolves snarled on the ends of its massive arms. (aGoT, Bran IV)

In the same chapter, there are more than just carved direwolves in the great hall. There are actual three male direwolves who snarl and threaten Winterfell’s visitor, Tyrion, which makes the link to three-headed Cerberus even more evident.

The door to the yard flew open. Sunlight came streaming across the hall as Rickon burst in, breathless. The direwolves were with him. The boy stopped by the door, wide-eyed, but the wolves came on. Their eyes found Lannister, or perhaps they caught his scent. Summer began to growl first. Grey Wind picked it up. They padded toward the little man, one from the right and one from the left.

“The wolves do not like your smell, Lannister,” Theon Greyjoy commented.

“Perhaps it’s time I took my leave,” Tyrion said. He took a step backward … and Shaggydog came out of the shadows behind him, snarling. Lannister recoiled, and Summer lunged at him from the other side. He reeled away, unsteady on his feet, and Grey Wind snapped at his arm, teeth ripping at his sleeve and tearing loose a scrap of cloth.

Cerberus
Heracles with three-headed Cerberus on a leash and frightened King Eurystheus hiding in a pot.

Going South

Not long after the decision that the Lord of Winterfell is going to live South the fate of the Starks and the North goes South, starting with Bran’s fall. Everything going South is an expression to indicate how things go wrong and unravel. George applies the saying metaphorically by having Ned Stark live South as Hand of the King. He is not just going to battle or visit. He permanently leaves his primary responsibility to others, who consecutively also go South. After Ned Stark leaves with his daughters, his Persephone-like wife Catelyn Tully leaves within a fortnight for King’s Landing, never to return to Winterfell. Several months later, Robb too heads South with his mother, also never to return. Osha was correct, was she not, when she said they were going the wrong way?

“Will he now? We’ll see. You tell him this, m’lord. You tell him he’s bound on marching the wrong way. It’s north he should be taking his swords. North, not south. You hear me?”(aGoT, Bran VI)

It has been going the wrong way well before the present time of aGoT – when Rhaegar stole Lyanna as Persephone not TO the underworld, but FROM the underworld. With his harp music as well as passion for mysteries and prophecy, Rhaegar can be seen as an echo of Orpheus (aside from a Paris). Rhaegar manages to make Lyanna sniffle with his melancholic music, just as Orpheus uses his music to move Hades and Persephone to tears to allow him to take his wife back to the living.

The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.(aSoS, Bran II)

But in aSoIaF, our Orpheus ends up stealing Persephone from the underworld, instead of retrieving his wife. Worse, his wife is alive. No wonder that ends in disaster for the both of them. If that had occurred in Greek mythology, the Iliad would be a walk in the park in comparison to what Demeter and Hades would unleash in their anger – a nuclear winter and walking dead. Oh, wait, that scenario sounds familiar. This world-on-its-head script coincides with a time when the previous Lord of Winterfell, Rickard Stark, has southron ambitions. And everything goes indeed South: Lyanna missing, Ned fostered in the Vale, Rickard and Brandon Stark executed. Solely young Benjen Stark is left at Winterfell, and just like Bran he is still only a child.

Meddling in the affairs of the Underworld

The guarding of the North has been going increasingly wrong for centuries. The Targaryen conquest of Westeros, starting with the creation of the Kingsguard, after an assassination attempt on Aegon the Conquerer and his sister-wife Visenya, made another position more interesting than the Night’s Watch for second or third sons who get to inherit nothing.

But out of all the tragedy was born one glorious thing: the Sworn Brotherhood of the Kingsguard. …[snip]…On one occasion in 10 AC, Aegon and Visenya were both attacked in the streets of King’s Landing, and if not for Visenya and Dark Sister, the king might not have survived…[snip]…It was Visenya, not Aegon, who decided the nature of the Kingsguard. Seven champions for the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, who would all be knights. She modeled their vows upon those of the Night’s Watch, so that they would forfeit all things save their duty to the king. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon I)

Visenya’s Kingsguard was modeled after and contrasted against the Night’s Watch. Where before knights and noble warriors could gain honor as a second or third son in the Night’s Watch, the White Swords of the Kingsuard became the more sought after position. Even if there were only seven lifelong positions to be filled, second and third sons preferred to try perform at tourneys and prove their loyalty to a king in King’s Landing over the Night’s Watch. In less than three hundred years the number of Black Brothers dwindled from ten thousand to less than thousand.

Sadly, the most important truth about the Night’s Watch today is its decline. […]  The vast expense in sustaining the Wall and the men who man it has become increasingly intolerable. Only three of the castles of the Night’s Watch are now manned, and the order is a tenth of the size that it was when Aegon and his sisters landed, yet even at this size, the Watch remains a burden. (aWoIaF – the Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)

While Maester Yandel (the in-universe author of the World Book) may assert that the Night’s Watch may have been in decline before Aegon’s conquest, obviously the drop in quantity has exponentially decreased since then. A tthe time of Aegon’s conquest it could hardly have been a tenth the size of the original size, because that would mean the Night’s Watch was originally an army of 100.000 men strong once. That would be too farfetched a number. Also, one would suppose that with a unified Westeros, instead of seven kingdoms warring each other (or petty kingdoms warring  before the arrival of the Andals), there would be a surplus of young noble sons who could seek glory at the Wall. But that never happened. The numbers just plumeted down so much that they have to close down at least two forts 100 years after conquest. So, the Targaryen’s reign have had the worst impact on the Night’s Watch.

Not just the quantity has dwindled, the quality too. Instead of able fighters, criminals are picked out of the dungeons and sent to the Wall, turning it into a prisoner colony where the noble volunteers have to watch their back against mutiny and act as jailors. The Night’s Watch cannot guard the realm anymore – not against wildling raiders, not against a wildling army, let alone an army of wights and Others.

Still, with the remarks from several maesters we can say that these scholars had an agenda to weaken both the Starks and Night’s Watch as well, by historically claiming certain threats to be extinct (such as giants) or being no more real than children’s tales. One of their archmaester’s once wrote a book accusing the Night’s Watch and Starks of lying about the Long Night and the Others in order to affirm their domain.

Archmaester Fomas‘s Lies of the Ancients—though little regarded these days for its erroneous claims regarding the founding of Valyria and certain lineal claims in the Reach and westerlands—does speculate that the Others of legend were nothing more than a tribe of the First Men, ancestors of the wildlings, that had established itself in the far north. Because of the Long Night, these early wildlings were then pressured to begin a wave of conquests to the south. That they became monstrous in the tales told thereafter, according to Fomas, reflects the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion. (aWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)

The Targaryen meddling did not stop with setting up the kingsguard. Good Queen Alysanne effectively weakened the North itself as well as the Night’s Watch when she forced the Starks to give land away to the dwindling Night’s Watch, called the New Gift, and made the Night’s Watch move into new headquarters and out of the Nightfort.

His queen, Alysanne, was also well loved throughout the realm, being both beautiful and high-spirited, as well as charming and keenly intelligent. Some said that she ruled the realm as much as the king did, and there was some truth to that. It was at her behest that King Jaehaerys at last forbade the right of the First Night, despite the many lords who jealously guarded it. And the Night’s Watch came to rename the castle of Snowgate in her honor, dubbing it Queensgate instead. They did this in thanks for the treasure in jewels she gave them to pay for the construction of a new castle, Deep Lake, to replace the huge and ruinously costly Nightfort, and for her role in winning them the New Gift that bolstered their flagging strength. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaeris I)

How could the New Gift have weakened the Starks and Night’s Watch both? The Night’s Watch does not man the New Gift with armed men to protect the tenants, nor have the money or labour force to maintain buildings, roads, dredging, … Their focus, manpower and energy is spent on ranging beyond the Wall, repairing the Wall and the forts there, and manning the Wall. Meanwhile, with the abandoned castles, wildlings slipped through and over the Wall more easily, and the unprotected farmers of the New Gift were subjected to raids. In two hundred years, the New Gift has mostly been abandoned and is barely even a food source for the Watch anymore. Simultaneously, the Starks were hampered in their ability to grant keeps and castles to loyal families or second sons, lost harvest and timber revenues, and had less people to raise levies from. The New Gift was nothing but a poisoned gift. Even maester Yandel admits this.

Later still, it was said that the Starks were bitter at the Old King and Queen Alysanne for having forced them to carve away the New Gift and give it the Night’s Watch; […] Though in these days it is said that Lord Ellard Stark was glad to aid the Night’s Watch with the Gift, and took little convincing, the truth is otherwise. Letters from Lord Stark’s brother to the Citadel, asking the maesters to provide precedents against the forced donation of property, made it plain that the Starks were not eager to do as King Jaehaerys bid. It may be that the Starks feared that, under the control of the Castle Black, the New Gift would inevitably decline—for the Night’s Watch would always look northward and never give much thought to their new tenants to the south. And as it happens, that soon came to pass, and the New Gift is now said to be largely unpopulated thanks to the decline of the Watch and the rising toll taken by raiders from beyond the Wall. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)

“A queen stayed there for a night.” Old Nan had told him the story, but Maester Luwin had confirmed most of it. “Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator. He’s called the Old King because he reigned so long, but he was young when he first came to the Iron Throne. In those days, it was his wont to travel all over the realm. When he came to Winterfell, he brought his queen, six dragons, and half his court. The king had matters to discuss with his Warden of the North, and Alysanne grew bored, so she mounted her dragon Silverwing and flew north to see the Wall…”(aSoS, Jon V)

That King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysane did not expect the Starks to surrender part of their lands away with a big smile is testified by the fact that they visited the North and the Wall with dragons. The World Book only speaks of the two dragons of the royal couple, while Old Nan’s story, mostly confirmed by Maester Luwin, mentions as many as six. Even visiting Winterfell with only two dragons and half the court is a clear display of power and an unspoken threat.

The jewelry to build Deep Lake and abandon the Nightfort was another of Alysanne’s poisoned gifts.

Bran wasn’t so certain. The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories…[snip]…All that had happened hundreds and thousands of years ago, to be sure, and some maybe never happened at all. Maester Luwin always said that Old Nan’s stories shouldn’t be swallowed whole. But once his uncle came to see Father, and Bran asked about the Nightfort. Benjen Stark never said the tales were true, but he never said they weren’t; he only shrugged and said, “We left the Nightfort two hundred years ago,” as if that was an answer. (aSoS, Bran IV)

…as the Watch shrunk, its size made it too large and too costly to maintain. Maesters who served at the Nightfort whilst it was still in use made it plain that the castle had been expanded upon many times over the centuries and that little remained of its original structure save for some of the deepest vaults chiseled out of the rock beneath the castle’s feet. (aWoIaF -The Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)

“It was the first castle on the Wall, and the largest.” But it had also been the first abandoned, all the way back in the time of the Old King…[snip]… Good Queen Alysanne had suggested that the Watch replace it with a smaller, newer castle at a spot only seven miles east, where the Wall curved along the shore of a beautiful green lake. Deep Lake had been paid for by the queen’s jewels and built by the men the Old King had sent north, and the black brothers had abandoned the Nightfort to the rats. That was two centuries past, though. Now Deep Lake stood as empty as the castle it had replaced, and the Nightfort . . .(aSoS, Bran IV)

Maester Yandel cites ranger reports sent to the Citadel by the Night’s Watch maesters regarding giants, wildlings, wargs and greenseers in his World Book. Obviously the Citadel also received maester reports regarding what existed beneath the Nightfort. Yandel minimizes or evades to tell about it in detail. He may not even known himself. But we can be sure that high level maesters in Oldtown have read reports about the magical weirwood gate, the Black Gate.

“There’s a gate,” said fat Sam. “A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, [Coldhands] called it.”…[snip]…”You won’t find it. If you did it wouldn’t open. Not for you. It’s the Black Gate.” Sam plucked at the faded black wool of his sleeve. “Only a man of the Night’s Watch can open it, he said. A Sworn Brother who has said his words.”…[snip]…”The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”

[…]

[Bran] could see the door, though. The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all. It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it.

A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that.

The door opened its eyes.

They were white too, and blind. “Who are you?” the door asked, and the well whispered, “Who-who-who-who-who-who-who.”

“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”

“Then pass,” the door said. Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. (aSoS, Bran IV)

That is some serious magical gate, contradicting all that the maesters try to propagandize as supersition and children’s stories. If a Wall was built with such a magical weriwood gate through which only men of the Night’s Watch can pass that would show that there actually might be some truth in the legends of the Age of Heroes. It would have spooked the hell out of the maesters in the Citadel, when maesters of the Night’s Watch reported such a discovery, down in the catacombs of the Nightfort. Perhaps they truly believed the gate and spells in the Wall were enough to keep out Others and Children of the Forest, that there was no more risk. Still, it is very suspicious that this castle was abandoned, for a nearby newly built castle with normal wooden steps (instead of ice) and normal portcullis gates, which was also abandoned.

Voice proposes in his thread A Song of Vaginal Warg-Blocking at the Last Hearth that Good Queen Alysanne was a knowing conspiritor to cease the Stark ability to skinchange and/or warg.  I certainly would thank Voice for getting the quotes together, to which I refer in here as well, and I recommend a read of the proposal. I am not myself sure whether Alysanne Targaryen was fully aware how poisoned her gifts were. It is possible she truly believed she was doing the Night’s Watch a favor, while she was manipulated by the Citadel. She was a queen known to stand up for a woman’s rights – stopping the Lord’s right to the First Night, having a man who beat his adulterous wife to death receive the same amount of beatings (minus the legal six he gave his wife), standing up for her granddaughter Rhaenys as heir (but failing). Just the Nightfort’s horror stories alone, especially about Dany Flint, and the economical excuse might have been motivation enough for Alysanne to see such a dreadful place abandoned.

Voice certainly points at a curious coincidence between the Nightfort (and Greyguard) being abandoned two hundred years ago and the disappearance of the direwolf south of the Wall. With Westeros history going back thousands of years, two hundred years is a rather precise timing, and suggests it may not be a concidence at all.

Theon Greyjoy said, “There’s not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years.” (aGoT, Bran I)

There were dragons here two hundred years ago, Sam found himself thinking, as he watched the cage making a slow descent. They would just have flown to the top of the Wall. Queen Alysanne had visited Castle Black on her dragon, and Jaehaerys, her king, had come after her on his own. (aFfC, Samwell I)

Were direwolves able to use the Black Gate as a corridor back in the day? And if so, who then opened the gate for the pregnant direwolf that died the day Gared was executed? How did Gared even manage to escape the Others, the wights and traverse through the Wall all on his own without someone noticing? Did he know about the Black Gate? Or did he get a helping cold hand from a man riding an elk? Regardless of the possible answers, I think we can definitely conclude that the direwolf as a Cerberus symbol disappearing south of the Wall is at the very least a literary parallel to Targaryens weakening the ability of the Night’s Watch to guard the Wall and the Starks in maintaining their primary purpose.

Of course, it were not the Targaryens who hunted the direwolves into near-extinction south of the Wall, but not using the Black Gate anymore might have kept the direwolves north of the Wall from repopulating the area. The lack of direwolves has a negative impact on the Starks. Without a bond to a pet direwolf even potential Stark wargs do not develop their abilities, as we witness with Sansa. With only horses or the occasional cat to skinchange as we witness with Arya, people certainly would not even suspect warging. Over time the Starks themselves do not believe in warging anymore, and would regard marriage as nothing more than a politically strategic tool.

When Queen Rhaenys Targaryen forged a marriage between the daughter of Torrhen Stark (the King Who Bent the Knee) and Lord Ronnel Arryn (the King Who Flew) her brothers were so disgusted about it that they even refused to attend the ceremony.

Whether anti-Targaryen feelings were made worse by Queen Rhaenys Targaryen’s efforts to knit together the new, single realm with marriages between the great houses is left to the reader to consider. That Torrhen Stark’s daughter was wed to the young and ill-fated Lord of the Vale is wellknown; it was one of the many peace- binding marriages forged by Rhaenys. But there are letters preserved at the Citadel suggesting that Stark accepted these arrangements only after much protest, and that the bride’s brothers refused to attend the wedding entirely. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)

But hundred eighty years later Lord Rickard Stark considers marriages with non First Men and/or of the Faith advantageous, and even fosters his second son to an Arryn, and the Starks were nearly exterminated by King Aerys. King Robert Baratheon meddles further by taking Ned Stark south as his hand, along with two Stark daughters, as well as getting the Iron Throne into a steep debt and installing corrupt people into places of power, including heirs who are not actually of his own blood. And the government of his faux son nearly exterminates the Starks again. Meanwhile Littlefinger and Varys use the chaos for their personal power agenda.

The whole expose of what went South with the Starks and the Night’s Watch brings me back to the Yggdrasil tree of Norse mythology. Several creatures live in and from the tree and they all end up playing a role in bringing the world tree down, harming it or corrupting it.

  • Niddhog: a wyrm (aka a dragon) lives underneath the tree and gnaws at the root of Niflheim.
  • Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro: four harts (stags of red deer) nibble at the leaves and the branches of the top. Their names mean ‘The Dead One’, ‘The Unconscious One’, ‘The Thundering One’ and ‘The Snoring One’ respectively.
  • Unnamed eagle and Vedrfölnir: in the top of the tree sits an eagle, with a hawk (called Verdrfölnir) perched between his eyes.
  • Ratatoskr: a squirrel that scurries up and down the tree and plays the malicious messenger or gossiper between Niddhog and eagle. He stirs the pot between the two by revealing what the one said about the other, back and forth. The result is that Niddhog gnaws angrily at the root even more. His name is currently believed to mean ‘drill-tooth’, while in the past it has also been argued it may have been a loan word meaning ‘rat-tusk’.

So, we have a dragon undermining and weakening the underworld, four stags gorging on the fruit (the foliage) at the crown of the tree, and a nasty squirrel stirring trouble between the crown and the underworld with gossip and words. And how much does this not resemble the meddling of the Targaryens in the North and the Night’s Watch, the true and faux Baratheons undermining the throne and the realm and both the measters of the Citadel and Littlefinger undermining relations or stirring the pot.

Lady Barbrey Dustin refers to the maesters as grey rats who council lords and houses and yet have their own agenda. Squirrels tend to be regarded as a rat-type, because both compare in size and are rodents. Maester Luwin is at some point compared to a squirrel by Bran, as soon as he gets a paper in his hands, which often tend to contain messages – though in this case it is a drawing of a saddle.

Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarf’s hand, curious as a small grey squirrel. He unrolled it, studied it. “I see. You draw nicely, my lord. Yes, this ought to work. I should have thought of this myself.”(aGoT, Bran IV)

Now, both Bran and Arya are referred to by others as squirrels too, but Bran hunts squirrels savagely as Summer, while Arya vehemently denies repeatedly that she is a squirrel. And she hunts a squirrel herself for food as well.

Finally, Littlefinger is never explicitly referred to as a squirrel, but he definitely acts the malicious messenger stirring the pot from the start of aGoT, by pointing to the Lannisters as the ones who killed Jon Arryn and attempted to assassinate Bran. And Jon Arryn is a falcon (though not a hawk) whose seat is the Eyrie, or otherwise an eagle’s nest.

Fast Friend

Several fans with blogs or youtube channels have referenced George’s older writing that is unrelated to aSoIaF. Some use it to argue that Planetos and the aSoIaF mythos belongs within George’s 1000 worlds, and then there are fans (such as my friend The Fattest Leech) who notice that George’s themes and George’s personal archetypes keep on reappearing in older stories. The latter approach takes more of a meta approach on George’s writing, recognizing that an author has his own preferred types of heroes and villains clashing on similar themes across his writing throughout the years, as if perfecting it, although each story is unique and occurs in its unique setting. I too am of this opinion, after my friend has sent me excerpts from older stories for a year now. One of those excerpts comes from a short story Fast-Friend. It is a sci-fy story, with a main character called Brand. The story starts with him practicing to fly with the help of a honey blonde angel. Leave off, the -d at the end of his name, and we have Bran, except that he’s thirty years old and wears black, like Jon. The angel, her interactions with and the thoughts she provokes in Brand compare to Val. Other characters are Tully colored Robi and red-haired Melissa. Robi’s name is close to the name Robb, except Robi is a woman, and Melissa reminds of Melissandre.

Before the events of the story, certain “creatures” were discovered in space during space expeditions: blinkies and darkies. Blinkies can move at near lightspeed, while darkies can move even faster. The latter are a type of predator who feeds on blinkies, by transforming matter they come across into energy for speed. Then sometime later, by accident, a human managed to symbiotically merge with a darkie, becoming a new species all together that is friendly to humans and function as messengeres that can go faster than lightspeed. These are called fast-friends. Some government program was created where people who pass several tests get a chance to become such a fast-friend. Melissa and Brand, who were lovers, volunteered for it, ten years before the start of the short story, and Melissa succeeded in becoming a fast-friend. But Brand also witnessed what happened to volunteers who got “rejected” by darkies. And his fear has gotten the better of him. He kept on dreaming of becoming a fast-friend, by trying for the government program a second time, and when his courage failed him again, he intended to become a fast-friend in the wild space, by catching a darkie. But he never actually came around to actually trying. And though he met Melissa several times in space, over the course of the last decade, they have literally become alienated to one another. She has become a new species, an alien, who finds him dull and cares less about earthly issues, since her experiences and physical needs are different. She does not feel hunger, nor desires sex. The matter transformation done by the darkie aspect takes care of her energy needs, while traveling faster than lightspeed causes an all-time orgastic sensation. And eventually she is starting to forget human language. Brand has replaced Melissa as a lover with an “angel” to fulfill his physical needs, but still holds on to a hope to be reunited with Melissa, even thethering her to the space ship he built – called the Chariot – designed so fast-friends could pull it at their speed like horses do with a carriage. During his last meeting with Melissa, he finally faces the truth that he will never become a fast-friend himself who can reach for the stars, and that it would be wrong to chain fast-friends to his ship. Instead he is content at just being a darkie hunter to sell for money as well as hints he might form an actual relationship with Robi.

Of interest here in relation to aSoIaF is that we have this “Bran” dreaming to fly and being able to reach for stars, but eventually choosing to be happy at just being a man, making a living. And also how this “Bran” is described as having an austere Starkesque attitude. Meanwhile Melissa is tansforming into a being that is less and less human over time, in thought and physical needs and not aging (due to the speed at which she can travel), very much like Melissandre.

What is crucially related to this essay though are the names of the expeditions that happened in the past of this short story: Hades expeditions to Pluto. The first expedition Hades I was a failure, but the second expedition Hades II was the one where the children of the people who originally left on the second expedition discovered the darkies and blinkies, and one of those discoverers became immortal by merging into the first fast-friend. So, in this story we have a direct reference to Hades by George, it being used across a span of several generations over and over again, and children being succesful where their parents (and grandparents) failed. This is not unlike the three Stark generations aSoIaF focuses on. Rickard Stark and two of Ned’s siblings failed, while Ned himself died before his time as well, leaving it to his children and nephew to succeed, with one of them having the potential to become almost immortal.

And so, this Hades allusions I see within Ned Stark, predates aSoIaF and has been directly referenced before.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

One of the implications of the North and beyond the Wall being the underworld realm of Westeros in a meta-view is that it makes the living Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North effectively the ruler of that underworld, who has certain duties – most particularly, making sure that his subjects (aka the dead) remain in the underworld.So, if the expressions and words of the Starks have led to this intuitive belief that the Starks are crucial in preventing the Others from overrunning Westeros, then the chthonic archetypal symbolism supports this expectation.

Ned Stark  has physical features in common with the Greek Hades. Hades may be one of the most likable, humane rulers of the underworld in contrast to the various other rulers in other mythologies. His rule fell to him by chance. It was a duty to him,  a duty he did well, but took no pleasure in. Ned shares his unyielding nature when it comes to oaths and justice, but likewise altruistic, hospitable, wrathful regarding anyone attempting to dishonor his wife with whom he shares responsibilties of his rule. They both have a rumored mistress of wom their wife is jealous. Winterfell rulers are depicted with Cerberus-like wolves guarding their seat and abode. Ned is more interested in what goes on at and beyond the Wall, than what happens in the rest of Westeros, and is rarely seen outside of the North. When all that is combined with geographical features for both Winterfell and beyond the wall that coalesce with those of the Greek underworld, we can positively identify Ned Stark as aSoIaF’s Hades.

While Catelyn Tully can hardly be said to have been kidnapped by Ned, she very much fits the portrayal of the older, married Persephone. She loves her husband, shoulders his burden by sharing in his duty to rule, but dislikes the North and the godswood even though it has been her home for fifteen years. And when she returns to her own roots, she cannot enjoy it for she misses her husband and children.

The main duty of the ruler of an underworld is to make sure no dead souls get to desert or that an army of undead return to earth. Of course a ruler is not to do it all alone: he has other characters to help him – guards, barriers, gates and hellhounds (or in this case hellwolves). But what happens when scholars help convince the dragonlords on Mount Olympus that Titans and zombies do not exist? That the sole threat from Tartarus are a bunch of pesky unskilled souls, which a wall and guards can deal with all on their own? What happens if those same dragonlords decide Tartarus can be guarded with less guards and close down some of the gates, banish Cerberus to a compound and set Hades to a desk job? And what happens when Orpheus makes Persephone cry, but then steals Persephone from the underworld instead of his wife, who actually turns out to be alive? Well, then everything goes south. If this all occurred in Terry Pratchet’s Disk World we would settle back for 300 pages of hilarity. But in George’s Westeros it leads to a tragic rollercoaster with the Citadel, the Targaryens, the Baratheons and Littlefinger undermining and/or exterminating the Starks and the Night’s Watch, just like Niddhog, four stags and a malicious squirrel harm, profit and corrupt Yggdrasil. .

So, George basically plays around with chthonic archetypes who end up in a mess. And he reveals to us his authorial intent of messing with their duties by starting with them in the underworld, taken down into the portal crypts where they are summoned to abandon the underworld to keep the world of the living straight. We are literally warned several times in the books that Starks and going south ends badly.

Summary of chthonic roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Hades Ruler of the Underworld Ned Stark
Persephone Fellow ruler of the Underworld, Wife of Hades // Queen of the Underworld, abducted flower maiden Catelyn Tully Stark, Lyanna Stark
Orpheus Gifted musician, lyre, visited the underworld to take his wife Eurydice back to the world of the living Rhaegar Targaryen
Eurydice Orpheus’ dead wife Elia Martell
Hypnos God of sleep Bloodraven
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
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

Notes

  1. I disagree with Varys’ claim that Ned revealing what he knew to Cersei killed Robert. Ned confronted Cersei three days before Sansa and Arya were to sail for Winterfell. That sailing day coincided with Ned’s arrest in the throne room. Robert died in the early morning or late night, having been brought in the evening before. It took Renly and Selmy two days to get Robert to the Red Keep after he had his hunting accident with the boar. Hence, Robert’s accident occurred on the same day that Ned Stark confronted Cersei at dusk. The most opportune moments to hunt any animal would be either dawn or dusk. So, either Robert was already injured in the morning, hours before the confrontation in the godswood, or at the very same moment at dusk. No doubt a fast rider or raven was sent ahead to alert Cersei shortly after the accident. This implies that Cersei already knew Robert was deadly injured before she met Ned, or she learned of it hours after the conversation, in the dead of night. Hence, Ned Stark’s “mercy” did not kill his friend. Lancel already had instructions to make sure that Robert would end up dead. Cersei never ran with her children, because she believed Robert would already be dead by the time Renly and Selmy would get back with the wounded king. Ned Stark’s confrontation though did give her a head’s up that he would be her first enemy and she had two-three days to prepare for it.

Craster’s Black Blooded Curse

Another one of those famously violent and accursed places is Craster’s Keep, with Craster and his wives – who are actually his daughters – him sacrifing his sons, his extortion of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (aka the Old Bear), the mutiny and aftermath events. After the horror of Harrenhal (see Harrenhal’s Curse), Craster’s Keep may very well be the runner up of most horrific places.

While Craster and his Keep only appears in two chapters, they are littered with bear references, verbally, symbolically as well as bear characters, including a bear kill and bear wedding, but also plenty of Goat or Ram-characters, who are not so different from Vargo Hoat. To untangle the whole bear revenge, which includes the attack on the Fist of the First Men, I have to split the concept in several essays. The first essay focuses on the numerous hints we are given about Craster’s character. I will reveal to you a tale of murder and cannibalism, and a proposal on the fate of Benjen and his six rangers. Craster bears a heavy black blooded curse indeed.

For those who are unfamiliar with bear-folklore, that I will reference here and there in this essay, I urge you to read my introduction on bear-lore

Chekhov Bear Skulls, Axes and Murder

On the southwest, [Jon] found an open gate flanked by a pair of animal skulls on high poles: a bear to one side, a ram to the other. Bits of flesh still clung to the bear skull, Jon noted as he joined the line riding past. (aCoK, Jon III)

Surprise, surprise – well not really – what hangs in plain sight at the poles of Craster’s Gate? A bear skull and a ram’s. It sounds like the bear has been killed recently, since flesh still clings to it. And I would think that hanging a bear’s skull high on a pole does not really count as a proper burial. I sincerely doubt that Craster held any symbolical wedding with the bear carcass. As for the ram’s skull: that would be Craster’s permanent scapegoat for the bear kill.

Edd points out that bear skull again, when Jon asks him for Jeor’s axe as a gift for Craster the host. If something hanging from a pole (rather than a wall) is pointed out twice by characters in the same chapter, the author is clearly saying, “That bear skull is important! It’s not just some grizzly detail for decorative purposes to set the mood.” (see what I did there?) .

“Give the wildling an axe, why not?” [Dolorous Edd] pointed out Mormont’s weapon, a short-hafted battle-axe with gold scrollwork inlaid on the black steel blade. “He’ll give it back, I vow. Buried in the Old Bear’s skull, like as not. Why not give him all our axes, and our swords as well? I mislike the way they clank and rattle as we ride. We’d travel faster without them, straight to hell’s door. Does it rain in hell, I wonder? Perhaps Craster would like a nice hat instead.”
Jon smiled. “He wants an axe. And wine as well.”
“See, the Old Bear’s clever. If we get the wildling well and truly drunk, perhaps he’ll only cut off an ear when he tries to slay us with that axe. I have two ears but only one head.”
“Smallwood says Craster is a friend to the Watch.”
“Do you know the difference between a wildling who’s a friend to the Watch and one who’s not?” asked the dour squire. “Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. I wonder how long that bear’s been nailed up on that gate, and what Craster had there before we came hallooing?”

Sure, Edd is droll and funny with his dry humor, but he is also a wise character. He tends to use his speeches to hint at something. Craster has just extorted Old Bear Jeor Mormont out of wine and an axe. Edd certainly portrays Craster as a greedy extortionist by suggesting Craster wants all of their axes and swords. He also suggests betrayal by Craster, turning the bear’s gifts against him. The “Old Bear’s skull” parallels the bear’s skull on the gate. And while Edd uses a figure of speech of Craster burying an axe into a bear skull, he is also saying that an enemy pretending to be a friend kills you and then buries you in secret. Edd regards Craster as an enemy of Jeor Mormont and the Night’s Watch, only posing to be a friend.

Later in the chapter, the next morning, a curious conversation follows between Dywen, Grenn and Edd about bears that Jon overhears. Dywen is a bit of bear fan, and once claimed to have seen a fifteen foot huge bear North of the Wall (which Jeor Mormont dismissed as big fish talk) while in the company of Grenn. It is this bear that Dywen refers to in the quoted conversation below.

Jon wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the Night.
“You did not,” Grenn said, scowling. “I would have seen.”
Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.
What bear? Was there a bear?”
There’s always a bear,” declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation. “One killed my brother when I was young. Afterward it wore his teeth around its neck on a leather thong. And they were good teeth too, better than mine. I’ve had nothing but trouble with my teeth.”

First of all, with the meta-line that there is always a bear George tells the reader to look and hunt for bears in the books. They are important, they are involved in every plot arc.

But let us take a deeper look at Edd’s story about his brother. One of the wards against bear power, instead of looking through brass rings, was wearing a belt of bear teeth. Edd reverses this bear-lore. A bear killed his brother, then put his brother’s teeth on a thong and wore it around its neck. The men of the Night’s Watch call each other brother. So, is Edd talking here about an actual sibling or a brother of the Night’s Watch? Who else in that company of black brothers sitting around the breakfast fire has teeth issues? That would be Dywen, who has wooden replacement teeth. If Edd says he has trouble with his teeth, like Dywen has teeth issues, then he is allying himself with Dywen – he respect and protecst the Old Bear, like Dywen, his brother, as well as mistrusts Craster. This is Dywen’s opinion about Craster.

Dywen said Craster was a kinslayer, liar, raper, and craven, and hinted that he trafficked with slavers and demons. “And worse,” the old forester would add, clacking his wooden teeth. “There’s a cold smell to that one, there is.”

Also, Dywen’s nose is always right.

There is a link between Edd’s quoted words, Dywen and axes. When Jon and Sam say their vows at the heart tree beyond the wall, in aGoT, they find two of Benjen’s (wighted) men who end up attempting to assassinate Jeor Mormont.

Squatting beside the dead man he had named Jafer Flowers, Ser Jaremy grasped his head by the scalp. The hair came out between his fingers, brittle as straw. The knight cursed and shoved at the face with the heel of his hand. A great gash in the side of the corpse’s neck opened like a mouth, crusted with dried blood. Only a few ropes of pale tendon still attached the head to the neck. “This was done with an axe.”
“Aye,” muttered Dywen, the old forester. “Belike the axe that Othor carried, m’lord.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Since the axe is missing, nor is there any sign of blood on the location, Ser Jaremy Rikker and Dywen conclude they were murdered somewhere else. Indeed, Sam points out that they are dead for a longer while, since their blood is not fresh anymore. Dywen then suggests someone transported them there.

Dywen sucked at his wooden teeth. “Might be they didn’t die here. Might be someone brought ’em and left ’em for us. A warning, as like.” The old forester peered down suspiciously. “And might be I’m a fool, but I don’t know that Othor never had no blue eyes afore.”
Ser Jaremy looked startled. “Neither did Flowers,” he blurted, turning to stare at the dead man.

Since they turn out to be wights who can walk, the reader dismisses Dywen’s literal suggestion here. Wights can walk on their own. Dogs and horses are terrified from Othor’s and Jafer’s wighted corpses, which explains why most animals stay clear of them and no scavenger has gnawed on them. Except Ghost did bite one of the hands off. At Bloodraven’s cave both Summer and the normal wolves feed on wights, and so do ravens. Even so, while it is clear that Jafer and Othor were not killed on that location, the black dusty blood, black hands, white skin do not prove they were killed a long time ago at all.

On the other hand, we are not even sure how long Jafer and Othor were lying there to be found. Ghost found Jafer’s body and bit off his hand, the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows at the grove North of the Wall. This happened near evenfall.

Mormont to the new recruits about to be sworn in:”At evenfall, as the sun sets and we face the gathering night, you shall take your vows. From that moment, you will be a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch.”

[Sam and Jon] said the words together, as the last light faded in the west and grey day became black night. “Hear my words, and bear witness to my vow,” they recited, their voices filling the twilit grove. (aGoT, Jon VI)

And only the next morning do the rangers go out with Jeor, Jon and Snow to find and look at the bodies.

“Gods have mercy,” the Old Bear muttered. He swung down from his garron, handing his reins to Jon. The morning was unnaturally warm; beads of sweat dotted the Lord Commander’s broad forehead like dew on a melon. (aGoT, Jon VII)

So, we know that Jafer and Othor stayed put at the same location, for at least a night. If they lay there as wights for a night, they may have been there for two nights, a week, a month or even longer for all we know. I hear you protest loudly against this, “Surely, the rangers looking for them or hunters would have found them!” Well, would they? How do rangers travel? On horseback. And the horses would have naturally made a wide bow around them.

His horse was nervous, rolling her eyes, backing away from the dead men as far as her lead would allow. Jon led her off a few paces, fighting to keep her from bolting. The horses did not like the feel of this place. For that matter, neither did Jon.

What do the hunters use? Hunting dogs. The dogs were useless, when the rangers and hunters already knew there were bodies North of the Wall. Any hunting party looking for game with the dogs would have been led anywhere but the location of Jafer’s and Othor’s bodies. Only Ghost was able to lead them to the bodies.

The dogs liked it least of all. Ghost had led the party here; the pack of hounds had been useless. When Bass the kennelmaster had tried to get them to take the scent from the severed hand, they had gone wild, yowling and barking, fighting to get away. Even now they were snarling and whimpering by turns, pulling at their leashes while Chett cursed them for curs. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows was the first time that Ghost hunted North of the Wall. Jon used to take Ghost hunting South of the Wall when he was still a recruit. This means that if Jon and Sam would have made their vows a week later, Jafer and Othor would have been found a week later, and thus would lay unmoved for a week. Hence, they might actually have been lying there for quite a while.

While sweeps were done to look for Benjen and his rangers, it is actually doubtful they searched this close to the Wall. We cannot even know how long Jafer and Othor lay there.

At the very least, Dywen’s remark suggests that Craster may have helped the Others with more than baby sons. There is a theory on reddit that goes deeper into Craster’s lies, reconstructs the likely events preceding the prologue and what the Others may be after, which I certainly recommend as a read: a cold death in the snow – the killing of a ranger.

Edd does not just warn Jon that Craster is an enemy of Jeor and how brothers of the Night’s Watch need to protect the Old Bear at present. When he points at the bear skull at the gate, he hints that he suspects Craster has betrayed them before – Waymar Royce and Benjen.

Jon realizes that Craster is a liar when Gilly mentions having seen Others or wights, which contradicts Craster’s denial regarding wights (sort of) after Mormont reveals the fate of Jafer and Othor to him. Let us follow that axe around, shall we?

The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe. If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.” He sent his wife scurrying with a slap on her leg and a shout of “More beer, and be quick about it.”
No trouble from the dead,” Jarmen Buckwell said, …
…[snip]…
“The cold gods,” [Gilly] said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”… [snip]…”Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon III)

Well, Craster lies in a clever way. Even if he saw wights, they give him no trouble, because the Others keep him safe, for the moment. But how odd is it that Craster mentions wanting a sharp new axe in the same paragraph about the wight topic in answer to Jeor Mormont’s story about Jafer and Othor, one of which at least was killed by an axe.

What does Craster need a new axe for? According to reports the forest is practically empty of game and animals. All the villages are empty as well, either wighted or with Mance Rayder at the Milkwater. And even if Mance tramples Craster’s Keep, one axe will make little difference. It certainly is completely worthless against Others (unless it was made of dragonglass or dragonsteel). And what happened to his previous axe then?

“Gared says they were chasing raiders. I told him, with a commander that green, best not catch ’em. Gared wasn’t half-bad, for a crow. Had less ears than me, that one. The ‘bite took ’em, same as mine.” Craster laughed. “Now I hear he got no head neither. The ‘bite do that too?

Craster gave a shrug. “Happens I have better things to do than tend to the comings and goings of crows.” He drank a pull of beer and set the cup aside. “Had no good southron wine up here for a bear’s night. I could use me some wine, and a new axe. Mine’s lost its bite, can’t have that, I got me women to protect.”

Craster’s axe lost its bite, and earlier he refers to Gared’s beheading and whether the ‘bite did that too. So, axe, bite, and beheading as we saw done to Othor. Nor is it the first time that bite, steel and beheading goes hand in hand. George uses that phrase when Jon hacked at Othor in the Old Bear’s room.

Jon hacked at the corpse’s neck, felt the steel bite deep and hard. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Mormont offers Craster an escort to the Wall for his safety. Keep that remark by Dywen of someone bringing Jafer and Othor to the location where they were found in the back of your mind. Now watch Mormont’s pet raven. He does not just scream a word. He does something.

“You are few here, and isolated,” Mormont said. “If you like, I’ll detail some men to escort you south to the Wall.”
The raven seemed to like the notion. “Wall,” it screamed, spreading black wings like a high collar behind Mormont’s head.
Their host gave a nasty smile, showing a mouthful of broken brown teeth. “And what would we do there, serve you at supper? We’re free folk here. Craster serves no man.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Now how about that nice pet raven, spreading his wings behind a bear’s skull and screaming “Wall”. The raven’s wings serve as a figurative wall behind Mormont’s head. Checkhov’s Old Bear skull on the wall? That makes for a 3rd reference of a bear skull on a wall/pole. Also, did Craster escort Jafer and Othor to the Wall, which resulted in an assassination attempt on the Old Bear?

Remember how Craster mentioned wine before? The wine and serving are more of George’s callbacks to the wight chapter in aGoT: Jon was to serve Jeor wine, and Jon attacked Alliser Thorne during supper.

[The Old Bear] was seated by the window, reading a letter. “Bring me a cup of wine, and pour one for yourself.”…[snip]…”I told you to sit,” Mormont grumbled. “Sit,” the raven screamed. “And have a drink, damn you. That’s a command, Snow.”…[snip]…”Lord Eddard has been imprisoned. He is charged with treason. It is said he plotted with Robert’s brothers to deny the throne to Prince Joffrey.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Craster’s choice of words are uncannily precise references to the whole chapter. And he seems to enjoy it too. It is almost as if he had eyes and ears himself in that chapter of aGoT. Now, I am not actually saying that Craster actually was a witness to it all through some magical means. But George references the wight assassination chapter in aGoT with the chapter of Craster’s Keep in wording repeatedly.

It certainly makes Old Mormont’s assertion about Jon’s uncle one full of dark irony. (wink wink)

“Your uncle could tell you of the times Craster’s Keep made the difference between life and death for our rangers.”

The last time, it probably meant “death”. What exactly did Craster mean when he said he never missed Benjen, hmmm? As in he killed him with one sure stroke?

“I’ve not seen Benjen Stark for three years,” he was telling Mormont. “And if truth be told, I never once missed him.”

The Ram

Thoren Smallwood swore that Craster was a friend to the Watch, despite his unsavory reputation. “The man’s half-mad, I won’t deny it,” he’d told the Old Bear, “but you’d be the same if you’d spent your life in this cursed wood. Even so, he’s never turned a ranger away from his fire, nor does he love Mance Rayder. He’ll give us good counsel.”

Thoren Smallwood has taken over Benjen’s duties, since Benjen’s disappearance, and he is convinced that Craster is a friend to the Watch. But the hints about axes, the bite and bear skulls suggest he is the opposite.

What did Dywen do in the breakfast scene? He whapped Grenn on the ear, which is a reference to Craster. Here follows Jon’s description of Craster in aCoK, as well as Samwell’s in aSoS.

Craster sat above the fire, the only man to enjoy his own chair. Even Lord Commander Mormont must seat himself on the common bench, with his raven muttering on his shoulder… [snip]…Craster’s sheepskin jerkin and cloak of sewn skins made a shabby contrast, but around one thick wrist was a heavy ring that had the glint of gold. He looked to be a powerful man, though well into the winter of his days now, his mane of hair grey going to white. A flat nose and a drooping mouth gave him a cruel look, and one of his ears was missing. (aCoK, Jon III)

Craster was a thick man made thicker by the ragged smelly sheepskins he wore day and night. He had a broad flat nose, a mouth that drooped to one side, and a missing ear. And though his matted hair and tangled beard might be grey going white, his hard knuckly hands still looked strong enough to hurt…[snip]… Craster owned but one chair. He sat in it, clad in a sleeveless sheepskin jerkin. His thick arms were covered with white hair, and about one wrist was a twisted ring of gold. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster is missing an ear! Who else has an ear issue? Vargo Hoat, the Goat. Brienne bit Vargo’s ear and it got infected. Craster lost his ear because of the ‘bite (meaning frostbite).

Notice the emphasis on Craster wearing sheepskins, and how his arms are covered with white hair. If a character is a bear-character because he wears a bearskin, such as Tyrion, then a person wearing sheepskins is a sheep. What was the other skull hanging on the gate? A ram’s. Both Craster and Vargo are ram-characters, since both a male goat and a male sheep are called ram. Even the rest of the description fits for a ram – broad flat nose, droopy moouth, and his hands sound more like short and stubby. There you go, hello Craster.

craster_ram.jpg

They are both greedy men. Greed is the key. They differ however on what they are greedy about. With his chain of golden coins, Vargo is greedy after matter – gold, sapphires and the largest castle in all of Westeros, Harrenhal. Craster is equally proud to be master of his own keep, sitting on the sole chair, but he wears only one golden ring around his arm and he does not care about his home being a leaky, muddy sheeppen or pigsty covered in layers of shit. Instead, Craster is sexually greedy, having nineteen wives.

Dywen clacked his teeth some more. “Might be I do. Craster’s got ten fingers and one cock, so he don’t count but to eleven. He’d never miss a couple.”
“How many wives does he have, truly?” Grenn asked.
More’n you ever will, brother. Well, it’s not so hard when you’re breeding you own. There’s your beast, Snow.”

“Are you one of Craster’s daughters?” [Jon] asked.
She put a hand over her belly. “Wife now.”…[snip]…”I’ll . . . I’ll be your wife, if you like. My father, he’s got nineteen now, one less won’t hurt him none.” (aCoK, Jon III)

The running joke is how Craster won’t miss one of his wives, but they all know he would be able to count to nineteen and begrudges any man one of his.

I highlighted the last sentence Dywen says to Jon, referring to Ghost returning from his unsuccesful morning hunt. While it supposedly points to another context (Ghost), it is still very uncannily true about the sort of man Craster is. He looks human, but his nature is, well, beastly.

Mormont to Jon: “Does Craster seem less than human to you?”
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”

And I do not mean ‘animal-like’ here, because that would be insulting to animals, but The Beast. (Cue in the Number of the Beast. What? Grenn was asking for a number, no?) Satan or the Devil is pictured how? With a ram’s head and a goat’s legs. Who was this image based on? The Greek Pan. Pan was dualistic in nature: a hunter god and a virile pastoral god who fucked sheep, which is exactly the difference between Vargo and Craster. Pan’s parentage was unclear (as is Craster’s, we know even less of Vargo), and he was the sole god who managed to die (of the Greek Pantheon). And when Greek hunters had ill success on the hunt they would scourge his statue. So, Pan was the hunters’ scapegoat for failure! There are also several legends that involve “hearing”. One is about a competition between Pan’s flute and Apollo’s lyre. Except for King Midas, everybody else judges Apollo the winner. Because Midas has no “ear for music”, Apollo changes his ears into that of a donkey’s.

Of course rams are not in fact part of the bear-hunt folklore, except for the proverbial scapegoats. George made the scapegoat an actual ram figure (a goat) in the song, and fits these rams with other mythological rams.

Now, if Craster is a ram, then his children are lambs. Both Edd and Sam talk about food: Craster’s children and lamb.

“Lord Mormont’s in the hall,” [Dolorous Edd] announced. “He said for you to join him. Best leave the wolf outside, he looks hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children. Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot…”

By the time the telling was done, it was dark outside and Sam was licking his fingers. “That was good, but now I’d like a leg of lamb. A whole leg, just for me, sauced with mint and honey and cloves. Did you see any lambs?
“There was a sheepfold, but no sheep.”
“How does he feed all his men?”
“I didn’t see any men. Just Craster and his women and a few small girls. I wonder he’s able to hold the place. His defenses were nothing to speak of, only a muddy dike…”

“For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he started giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till . . .” She lowered her eyes and stroked her belly. (aCoK, Jon III)

So, basically, Edd is talking about wanting lamb, while Sam is talking about a leg of Gilly. And since Craster’s children are lambs, he can offer sheep to the Others. As an aside, while an army of Ice Spiders may give many the creeps, what about a flock of murderous Ice Sheep? And in case you think that is ridiculous, you might want to read up on your Cupid & Psyche, where Psyche has to gather golden hairs of murderous and deadly sheep.

Guest Right

“I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe.”

This is something that Craster tends to claim often and loud about himself. His gods certainly are not the Old Gods though. Every wildling village has a weirwood tree, but there is not one within the vicinity of Craster’s sheep hovel. No, his gods are the Others, necromancers that enslave the dead. Cue in wise Edd again:

“Dywen now, he says we need to learn to ride dead horses, like the Others do. He claims it would save on feed. How much could a dead horse eat?” Edd laced himself back up. “Can’t say I fancy the notion. Once they figure a way to work a dead horse, we’ll be next. Likely I’ll be the first too. ‘Edd,’ they’ll say, ‘dying’s no excuse for lying down no more, so get on up and take this spear, you’ve got the watch tonight.’ Well, I shouldn’t be so gloomy. Might be I’ll die before they work it out.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Meanwhile Craster enslaves his daughters to be his wives.

Craster grabbed a passing woman by the wrist. “Tell him, wife. Tell the Lord Crow how well content we are.”
The woman licked at thin lips. “This is our place. Craster keeps us safe. Better to die free than live a slave.”
Slave,” muttered the raven.

Smart bird! Craster is right up there with the Bloodstone Emperor and the Night’s King: aiding and abetting (and worshipping) necromancers, involved with black sorcery, enslaver, incest, rape, wife-beating, human sacrifice, … Lying is one of his least crimes. He tramples about every belief of First Men, certainly wildling beliefs.

Ygritte to Jon”Craster’s blood is black, and he bears a heavy curse.” (aSoS, Jon III)

But somehow the Night’s Watch and readers think this man follows guest-right customs and would not anger the gods for breaking it. Hmm….

Well let us inspect Craster’s application of guest-right, shall we? When Craster and Jeor finally sit down on the terms of the Night’s Watch staying at Craster’s, Craster expects the Night’s Watch to want a roof and pigs. Mormont only confirms the roof. Craster offers one night, meat and beer for twenty. The Old Bear accepts only the roof for one night and offers Craster supplies (food and wine), plus one axe as a welcoming guest gift. How about that! Craster loses nothing, just space and gains food, drink and an axe. That is a mighty good bargain for Craster, who does not have two hundred men and horses aplenty tagging along in need of food. And Gilly mentions the next morning how Jeor also gave Craster a crossbow, which I take is Jeor’s parting gift.

“Might be that I could tell you where to seek Mance Rayder. If I had a mind.” The brown smile again. “But we’ll have time enough for that. You’ll be wanting to sleep beneath my roof, belike, and eat me out of pigs.”
A roof would be most welcome, my lord,” Mormont said. “We’ve had hard riding, and too much wet.”
“Then you’ll guest here for a night. No longer, I’m not that fond o’ crows. The loft’s for me and mine, but you’ll have all the floor you like. I’ve meat and beer for twenty, no more. The rest o’ your black crows can peck after their own corn.”
“We’ve packed in our own supplies, my lord,” said the Old Bear. “We should be pleased to share our food and wine.”
Craster wiped his drooping mouth with the back of a hairy hand. “I’ll taste your wine, Lord Crow, that I will. One more thing. Any man lays a hand on my wives, he loses the hand.”
…[snip]…
Mormont beckoned [Jon] closer. “Send [Sam] here after he’s eaten. Have him bring quill and parchment. And find Tollett as well. Tell him to bring my axe. A guest gift for our host.”
…[snip]…
“Old Lord Crow, him with the talking bird, he gave Craster a crossbow worth a hundred rabbits.” (aCoK, Jon III)

This is not a true guest-right custom though. It is guest-right standing on its head. It is the host who provides food, beverage, welcome gifts and departing gifts. But here, the guests end up providing the food, drink and gifts. George was very sly in revealing proper guest-right custom, certainly in relation to Craster. Guest right is often talked of, but the actual practice of it is revealed in steps, book by book:

  • aGoT only affirms that guest-right is denied by the host laying bared steel on his lap (or table) in Bran IV.
  • aCoK only confirms that a guest who eats solely his own food that he brought along is not bound to guest-right rules, per Jon’s thought not to eat Craster’s food, in Jon III.
  • aSoS reveals that the host provides bread, salt (in butter, cheese or sausage) and wine at his table or board, calls them guests, and that the consummation of it by the guest seals the claim to guest-right in Catelyn VI. This is confirmed in Jon I when Jon ate chicken and bread and drank mead with Mance; for the parlay with the Lords Declarant at the Eyrie in aFfC, Alayne I; Prince Doran ensuring Balon is a protected guest in aDwD, the Watcher; when Lord Wyman Manderly offers the imprisoned Davos bread and “salt” and wine (which Davos refuses) in Davos IV.
  • aFfC reveals that the person or side who unsheats his sword and threatens the other’s life (verbally or physically) counts as breaking of guest-right, and lifts the protection, in Alayne I. When Lyn Corbray unsheats Lady Forlorn, challenges and threatens Petyr Baelish, his fellow Lords Declarant fold in shame and fear. Petyr Baelish makes it very  clear that he is within his right to arrest them as traitors after that and that they cannot fall back on claims of safe passage.
  • aDwD reveals that guest-right ends with the host giving his guests a parting gift and send them on their merry way, with Lord Manderly doing exactly that, before he has the Freys killed.
  • tWoW, Alayne I reveals that the host offers welcoming gifts at the feast before the start of the Tourney

Guest-right is only invoked when it includes bread in combination with salted food and wine (or mead), given by the host to the guest, and consumed at the host’s table or board. The display of bare steel either denies or ends guest-right protection, both towards the host and the guest.

Meanwhile, George uses Craster and Gilly’s comments about guest-right in aCoK to misrepresent the custom to the reader, before we actually learn the truth of it in other arcs. If you go by Craster’s words in Jon III of aCoK, you get the impression that guest-right is more about the host being protected against a guest’s possible violence, and that having a roof over your head and be allowed to sit at a fire makes you bound to guest-right as well as protects you from harm by the host. That of course is complete rubbish, otherwise Catelyn would not have insisted on bread & salt at the Twins, before they were shown to their rooms.

“Black brothers are sworn never to take wives, don’t you know that? And we’re guests in your father’s hall besides.”
“Not you,” she said. “I watched. You never ate at his board, nor slept by his fire. He never gave you guest-right, so you’re not bound to him.” (aCoK, Jon III)

If you go by Gilly’s words you would end up thinking that eating your own food and drinking your own wine at a man’s board and table makes the host bound to his guest and the guest to his host, and his host’s rules. But again that is rubbish. Why did Lord Wyman Manderly take all of his own food with him when he joined Lord Bolton in the first place? So, that he was free to conspire against his host and his host’s guests.

We already know that Craster is despised by all other wildlings, seen as heavily cursed for his incest. Craster does not follow the Old Gods, nor the customs of First Men. Craster only cares about his guests believing themselves to be bound by guest-right insofar he feels secure they will not attempt to harm or insult him and his. To Craster it is some prerogative that he gives by calling people guests and allowing them to sleep at his fire, while they feel compelled not to harm him, even if nothing what is agreed on actually constitutes guest-right.

Now, in the morning, an hour before departure, we get even more guest-right reversal. Only after sleeping under his roof by his fire are the guests given Craster’s food at his board, even though they are about to leave.

The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight. Its owner was sprawled unconscious in the sleeping loft above, but the women were all up, moving about and serving…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”

So, we have Jeor eating bread and salted meat at Craster’s board. That should finally establish guest-right. But then that axe lies bare steel on the same board, or table. Having the axe lie there, denies guest-right safety to Craster’s guests. Meanwhile, Craster feels secure enough that his guests feel bound to their much-ado-guest-right and will not harm him for he sleeps at the loft, not even bothered one bit.

When we revisit Craster’s Keep after the Fist with Samwell, we have this:

They’d covered poor Bannen with a pile of furs and stoked the fire high, yet all he could say was, “I’m cold. Please. I’m so cold.” Sam was trying to feed him onion broth, but he could not swallow. The broth dribbled over his lips and down his chin as fast as Sam could spoon it in…[snip]… About the hall, a ragged score of black brothers squatted on the floor or sat on rough-hewn benches, drinking cups of the same thin onion broth and gnawing on chunks of hardbread. (aSoS, Samwell II)

The men are only given meager onion broth by Craster, so meager that Bannen dies from starvation. You can eat, but be so underfed, that you still starve and die. This is the official medical conclusion why Chris McCandless died in his bus in the Alaskan wild: that though he did eat, he was so malnourished and underfed he gradually lost ability to search and find enough food, until he could not leave the bus at all anymore, and died.

Does giving onion broth to your guests establish guest-right? In combination with hardbread it does. However, guest-right does not just bind the guest to not harm his host, it also binds the host to make sure his guests do not come to harm. And does Craster do that? No.

“That one’s dead.” Craster eyed the man with indifference as he worried at a sausage. “Be kinder to stick a knife in his chest than that spoon down his throat, you ask me.”
“I don’t recall as we did.” Giant was no more than five feet tall—his true name was Bedwyck—but a fierce little man for all that. “Slayer, did you ask Craster for his counsel?”…[snip]…”Food and fire,” Giant was saying, “that was all we asked of you. And you grudge us the food.”
Be glad I didn’t grudge you fire too.”

He had sausages for himself and his wives, he said, but none for the Watch. (aSoS, Samwell II)

He begrudges them food, lets his guests starve, and he suggest that one guest kills another guest with a blade. None of that is the behavior of a host who respects guest-right.

“Bugger his wound.” Dirk prodded the corpse with his foot. “His foot was hurt. I knew a man back in my village lost a foot. He lived to nine-and-forty.”
“The cold,” said Sam. “He was never warm.”
“He was never fed,” said Dirk. “Not proper. That bastard Craster starved him dead.”

And yet, despite the hardbread and salt (assumed to be in the onion broth), it can be argued that though a cruel host, Craster is not breaking guest-right (not yet). I highlighted how the brothers had to eat the meager food on the floor and seated on benches, without actually eating at his board or table. So, they ate his meager fare, were starved, but denied a place at his table. Hence there is not actual guest-right established, yet again. And we know this, because his table is only actually installed later in the chapter.

His wives and daughters dragged out the benches and the long log tables, and cooked and served as well.

When Craster learns that the men of the Night’s Watch will leave the next day, he has his wives roast the horses of the Night’s Watch (their food) that were slaughtered because they were too weak to go on. He also two loaves of bread of his larder handed out for a feast. The host’s bread being eaten at his table while seated by him is what invokes guest-right properly. It is the first and only time we witness the proper custom being performed.

All the same, I’ll see you off proper, with a feast. Well, a feed. My wives can roast them horses you slaughtered, and I’ll find some beer and bread.”

Craster owned but one chair…[snip]…Lord Commander Mormont took the place at the top of the bench to his right, while the brothers crowded in knee to knee; a dozen remained outside to guard the gate and tend the fires….[snip]…When Craster’s wives brought onions, he seized one eagerly…[snip]… There was bread as well, but only two loaves. When Ulmer asked for more, the woman only shook her head. That was when the trouble started.
“Two loaves?” Clubfoot Karl complained from down the bench. “How stupid are you women? We need more bread than this!”…[snip]…”Then stuff bread in your ears, old man.” Clubfoot Karl pushed back from the table. “Or did you swallow your bloody crumb already?”

So, they are all seated at Craster’s table, had a slice or crumb of bread, a slosh of beer, and salt with their own horsemeat. Clubfoot Karl may complain all he likes about the amount of bread, but simply a nibble (per Catelyn at the Twins) is enough to establish guest-right. At this point both Craster and the men of the Night’s Watch are bound by guest-right.

Though insults fly around, nobody makes a verbal threat nor physical one to Craster or Mormont. The person who breaks or ends guest-right is Craster himself. He draws his axe, waves it around and vaults to assault his guests, and only then the mutineers’ knives are drawn.

. . . but Craster stood, and his axe was in his hand. The big black steel axe that Mormont had given him as a guest gift. “No,” he growled. “You’ll not sit. No one who calls me niggard will sleep beneath my roof nor eat at my board. Out with you, cripple. And you and you and you.” He jabbed the head of the axe toward Dirk and Garth and Garth in turn. “Go sleep in the cold with empty bellies, the lot o’ you, or . . .” .

“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right…[snip]…Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. One instant Craster was coming after him spitting curses. The next he was spitting blood. Dirk had grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back, and opened his throat ear to ear with one long slash.

No, Craster does not care about guest-right, at least not towards his guests. Craster breaks guest-right, and turns the bear’s gift against the guests, not in defense, not because he is threatened, but because he is insulted. He very much verbally denies these men guest-right. So, while Dirk is a murderer when he slits Craster’s throat, slaughters him like a ram by opening his throat from ear to to ear with one long slash, he did not break guest-right. (And no, I’m not saying Dirk, Karl, Ollo, the Garths are good persons, only that they did not break guest-right)

When Mormont cries foul on his men for murdering the host, after the host himself already waved an axe, denied certain people guest-right and attempted to assault Karl with the axe, then Mormont’s assertion is wrong. People who are told by the host they are no guests while waving bare steel at them do not break guest-right when they murder him.

The Lord Commander stood over Craster’s corpse, dark with anger. “The gods will curse us,” he cried. “There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man’s hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we—”

 As for Sam – he is from the Reach, southron and hardly knows the ins and outs of this First Man custom.

We are guests, Sam reminded himself. Gilly is his. His daughter, his wife. His roof, his rule.

They were guests, but not bound to guest-right, not until the feast, and it was over when Craster pulled out the axe and broke guest-right himself. And even if you are inclined to take guest-right in its broadest sense as Sam and Mormont does, Craster would have murdered a man under his own roof over an insult while he was one man against forty, if Dirk had not stepped in.

Game

The white wolf hunted well away from the line of march, but he was not having much better fortune than the foragers Smallwood sent out after game. The woods were as empty as the villages, Dywen had told him one night around the fire. “We’re a large party,” Jon had said. “The game’s probably been frightened away by all the noise we make on the march.”
“Frightened away by something, no doubt,” Dywen said. (aCoK, Jon II)

Mormont leaned forward. “Every village we have passed has been abandoned. Yours are the first living faces we’ve seen since we left the Wall. The people are gone . . . whether dead, fled, or taken, I could not say. The animals as well. Nothing is left. (aCoK, Jon III)

The villagers might have packed up and left to meet with Mance Rayder, but the forest game is another matter. Something is going very wrong here and it should involve bears, who are guardians of the forest game as well as providers of it. A healthy forest has bears denning and roaming free. A forest without bears (and wolves and beavers) will eventually become lifeless. Only two “players” North of the Wall are in posession of a bear – Craster has recently eaten a bear (and hosted Old Bear Mormont for a day and a night), the Others have wighted a snow bear. Craster is the sole one who is still well fed, with pigs and rabbits running around, and food aplenty in a secret larder… for the moment. Just those two bear elements reinforce a bargain was struck between Craster and the Others, from which Craster benefited, and empties the forest.

“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster gives his sons to the Others. Since there are no witness reports of crawling baby wights, Craster’s sons are indeed turned into Others. By helping the Others to multiply, they do not attack him.

In aSoS, Craster claims he is safe, but for how much longer would he have been safe? The more Others there are, the emptier the forest is, and the more they come calling at Craster’s for sons. Craster is greedy. But the Others are greedier. He has already been put into a position where he has to sacrifice food – all his sheep are gone in aCoK, no dog is mentioned anymore in aSoS, nor any pigs. It seems he has been given dogs and pigs to Others. He is indeed getting down on food. That troubles him so much that Craster actually smiles when he has a son. For a man who does not generally want sons, Craster sounds very relieved when Gilly births a son, and of course very reluctant to give him up to be brought up with the Night’s Watch.

The Old Bear broke off as Craster emerged from between the deerhide flaps of his door. The wildling smiled, revealing a mouth of brown rotten teeth. “I have a son.”
“Son,” cawed Mormont’s raven. “Son, son, son.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The Secret Larder

Now that I have presented enough evidence about Craster’s character, including the fact that Craster does not care one twit about guest-right, nor fears attempting to murder a man of the Night’s Watch while he is in the obvious minority, I will now present the evidence that hints that Craster is also a cannibal.

While the Night’s Watch has to live on onion broth (and the onions appear half rotten besides), Craster and his wives live on black sausages.

They all needed more food. The men had been grumbling for days. Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. Sam had thought of begging for something more nourishing for the wounded men at least, but he did not have the courage.

Craster gnawed on his hard black sausage. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Well, Craster did have pigs running around before, so nothing strange there. And he had sheep-sausages during the first visit as well. And yet…

When the men of the Night’s Watch hold a burning funeral for Bannen, George reminds us that human flesh tastes like pork.

When he looked at the fire, he thought he saw Bannen sitting up, his hands coiling into fists as if to fight off the flames that were consuming him, but it was only for an instant, before the swirling smoke hid all. The worst thing was the smell, though. If it had been a foul unpleasant smell he might have stood it, but his burning brother smelled so much like roast pork that Sam’s mouth began to water, and that was so horrible that as soon as the bird squawked “Ended” he ran behind the hall to throw up in the ditch.

A link is established between pork and humans, like in the aCoK chapter Jon III a link was made between lamb and Craster’s children. But notice also the allusion that dead Bannen sits up and attempts to fight off the flames. It does not matter whether Bannen had truly become a wight or that Sam is just hallucinating it. The important point is that in one paragraph a meta-link is created between wights and pork. If Sam’s vision of dead Bannen sitting up was true it shows that even if Others send no pre-existing wights to attack Craster, the wighting power or magic has grown strong enough that any dead person automatically becomes a wight after a short while. Neither Craster nor the Others can prevent that from happening if a man dies on his floor. If this is the case then it is understandable why Craster is bitching about men dying on his floor.

That link between pork and dead human flesh is repeated a second time, almost half a page later, when Edd checks on Samwell and takes a piss in the meantime at the ditch. Where Samwell’s paragraph is about the smell, Edd actually talks of eating human flesh.

“Never knew Bannen could smell so good.” Edd’s tone was as morose as ever. “I had half a mind to carve a slice off him. If we had some applesauce, I might have done it. Pork’s always best with applesauce, I find.” Edd undid his laces and pulled out his cock. “You best not die, Sam, or I fear I might succumb. There’s bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I never could resist a bit of crackling.” He sighed as his piss arched out, yellow and steaming.

Since Edd talked of eating Craster’s children in the other Craster chapter in aCoK, it is likely that Edd’s words parallels more than one scene in aCoK. The morning that Jon woke up outside Craster’s, he smelled bacon and made his morning water, before wolfing down his breakfast. The breakfast Jon ate was fare of the Night’s Watch, not Craster’s, and so his bacon was sure to be true bacon.

Someone had gotten a fire started; he could smell woodsmoke drifting through the trees, and the smoky scent of bacon…[snip]…A few yards away he made water into a frozen bush, his piss steaming in the cold air and melting the ice wherever it fell…[snip]…Grenn and Dywen were among the brothers who had gathered round the fire. Hake handed Jon a hollow heel of bread filled with burnt bacon and chunks of salt fish warmed in bacon grease. He wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the night. (aCoK, Jon III)

Then, Jon seeks out Mormont and finds him having Craster’s breakfast. What is the breakfast? Bread, “bacon” and sheepgut sausage. And we have that Chekhov axe lying in full sight too. I already quoted parts of that scene in the gues-right section, but I will quote a larger part of it here.

“Ignore that wretched beggar bird, Jon, it’s just had half my bacon.” The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”
I will not eat Craster’s food, he decided suddenly. “I broke my fast with the men, my lord.” Jon shooed the raven off Longclaw. The bird hopped back to Mormont’s shoulder, where it promptly shat. “You might have done that on Snow instead of saving it for me,” the Old Bear grumbled. The raven quorked.

Thrice we have a scene about bacon (smell or sight) combined with someone either peeing or shitting. Mormont’s raven cannot pee, only shit. Ravens do eat human corpses, so a raven would know what a human tastes like. Mormont’s raven is said to be more of a fan of vegetarian grub – fruit and corn. However, that morning it ate half of the Old Bear’s bacon. Did the raven want to make sure what the bacon’s nature truly was?

Jon decides not to eat Craster’s food. At the time we are led to believe this is for guest-right pruposes. But as I pointed out, Craster’s axe on the table is a veiled denial of guest-right to anyone eating his fare. More, Jon never returned to Craster’s and never will, since Craster is dead now. Jon not eating Craster’s food thus has no significance with regards to preventing Jon from breaking guest-right. It can only have significance in the sense that he never ate Craster’s “filling fare”. Is it possible that the bacon served that morning, was not true bacon at all, but from human origin? Perhaps the raven shat on Mormont, because he had eaten human flesh, said to be pork?

It would not be the only scene in the series where people end up eating human flesh, believing it to be pork. Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor also eat “pork” after Coldhands returned with meat to the village’s hall in aDwD. Most readers though would figure out that what Meera, Jojen and Bran eat is not the pig-animal, but a pig of a mutineer and deserter of the Night’s Watch, since Coldhands had just killed several of the mutineers, and Bran had just skinchanged Summer who ate the remains of a killed mutineer.

His nose twitched to the smell of roasting meat. And then the forest fell away, and he was back in the longhall again, back in his broken body, staring at a fire. Meera Reed was turning a chunk of raw red flesh above the flames, letting it char and spit. “Just in time,” she said. Bran rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and wriggled backwards against the wall to sit. “You almost slept through supper. The ranger found a sow.”
Behind her, Hodor was tearing eagerly at a chunk of hot charred flesh as blood and grease ran down into his beard. Wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers. “Hodor,” he muttered between bites, “hodor, hodor.” His sword lay on the earthen floor beside him. Jojen Reed nipped at his own joint with small bites, chewing each chunk of meat a dozen times before swallowing. The ranger killed a pig. (aDwD, Bran I)

When the brothers of the Night’s Watch begin to speak aloud of what they think Craster has in his secret larder, they list more than what I quoted below, including oats, corn, barley, dried berries, cabbages and pine nuts, and mutton. But I only quoted what was pork related and the apples to make the accompanying applesauce for Edd. If Craster is down to eating his “pork” sausages though, the men’s fantasy is getting overheated. The sheep have been given to the Others, and by the time we return there with Sam we see neither dog nor pig running around. Those probably were also given to Craster’s gods. I do not think Craster’s secret larder is as richly filled as the men of the Night’s Watch believe it is.

“Hams,” Garth of Oldtown said, in a reverent voice. “There were pigs, last time we come. I bet he’s got hams hid someplace. Smoked and salted hams, and bacon too.”
“Sausage,” said Dirk. “Them long black ones, they’re like rocks, they keep for years. I bet he’s got a hundred hanging in some cellar.”
…[snip]…
“Apples,” said Garth of Greenaway. “Barrels and barrels of crisp autumn apples. There are apple trees out there, I saw ’em.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Gilly’s mother and sisters give Samwell and Gilly food before they escape Craster’s Keep and make for the Wall. At the wildling village with the weirwood tree that Sam hopes is Whitetree, but is not, only a few black sausages are left. We then get a description on how to eat them and what they taste like.

Nothing was left but a few black sausages, as hard as wood. Sam sawed off a few thin slices for each of them. The effort made his wrist ache, but he was hungry enough to persist. If you chewed the slices long enough they softened up, and tasted good. Craster’s wives seasoned them with garlic.(aSoS, Samwell III)

You may argue that the black sausages are hard because of the cold, but that would not make them woody. And Craster needed to gnaw and chew and worry on his black sausages inside the keep as well. And if they wished, Sam or Gilly could keep the sausages from freezing. The woodiness, the hardiness and the blackness of the sausages suggest they are made of the blood from wights.

[Sam] looked as though he was going to be sick. “This man … look at the wrist, it’s all … crusty … dry … like …”
Jon saw at once what Sam meant. He could see the torn veins in the dead man’s wrist, iron worms in the pale flesh. His blood was a black dust. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Admittedly I call them “pork” sausages in the beginning. It is never actually spelled out what they are made of. They are simply called black sausages, which are blood sausages. We just don’t know whose or which blood. It’s even more peculiar that Sam, who likes to eat, refrains from making any further reference to the black sausage source. Sam says they taste good, and that they are seasoned with garlic. For a man who loves food and loves talking of food, “good” is peculiarly non-descript. I think this even furthers the idea that they are of a source that Sam does not wish to identify (or he’d retch). And that GRRM wishes to leave it out in the open what they truly are

Far earlier, I quoted, well, a lot of quotes. So, I will repeat the crucial quotes together with others I have not included before. I think you will see the picture.

Craster to Jeor Mormont: If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.

Dolorous Edd to Jon: Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. (aCoK, Jon III)

Dirk speared a chunk of horsemeat. “Aye. So you admit you got a secret larder. How else to make it through a winter?”

“The blackest crows are down in the cellar, gorging,” said the old woman on the left, “or up in the loft with the young ones. They’ll be back soon, though.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Obviously those blackest crows, the mutineers, would not come across wights or body parts in the cellar, because sausage is all that is left of those rangers. The sausages are a wight’s secret grave. Bran’s last chapter in aDwD shows us that wights can be eaten, and that bones or limbs cease to be animated once the bone marrow is gotten into.

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)

The above description suggest that wight meat and blood that is separated from the bones can be eaten without issue. The sole alternative to send a wight to his grave, aside from burning it, is breaking every bone of its body. No wonder that Craster’s axe lost its bite and he needed a new one to replace his own and Othor’s. Well, that and a maul.

Jon had to laugh. “Craster’s one man. We’re two hundred. I doubt he’ll murder anyone.”
“You cheer me,” said Edd, sounding utterly morose. “And besides, there’s much to be said for a good sharp axe. I’d hate to be murdered with a maul. I saw a man hit in the brow with a maul once. Scarce split the skin at all, but his head turned mushy and swelled up big as a gourd, only purply-red. A comely man, but he died ugly. It’s good that we’re not giving them mauls.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Ygritte would say, “Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.”

The axe murderer

Craster tried to murder a man with an axe, while forty men sat eating at his table. Would Craster hesitate to attack a man by himself if said ranger witnessed what gods Craster sacrificed his sons to, or attempted to interfere? Would Craster hesitate attacking one or two, after six rangers split up and went outside in search for their missing brother? He would not. Because of the actual little information we have, this is the highly speculative section of the essay, and by no means conclusive.

So, we have Jafer being killed with an axe that hit him in the side of his neck and near took his head off. Dywen suggested it might be Othor’s axe, and since Dywen’s suggestions and observations often seem to be the correct ones, I think we should follow Dywen’s hint and that we should at least conclude that Jafer was indeed killed by Othor’s axe. But who wielded Othor’s axe?

To take a man’s head near off and kill him with one axe blow, especially standing, moving about and trying to defend himself seems a hard thing to do. Just remember how many times Theon had to strike three times with the axe to cut Harlen’s head off, and Harlen was hunched down and holding his head still.

Theon had to take the axe himself or look a weakling. His hands were sweating, so the shaft twisted in his grip as he swung and the first blow landed between Farlen’s shoulders. It took three more cuts to hack through all that bone and muscle and sever the head from the body, and afterward he was sick, remembering all the times they’d sat over a cup of mead talking of hounds and hunting. (aCoK, Theon V)

That the axe wound was taken to the side of the neck, suggests that Jafer was seated or hunched down, and caught unawares. The stroke going so deep not only means force, but that Jafer was holding his head still in this seated position, staring or watching something, and was approached silently until almost the last moment. Then he suddenly looked up to regard his murderer in the eye as the axe fell. Gravity helped, and Jafer looking up at that moment has the axe land in the side of his neck. (courtesy to Darkstream for the discussion)

Othor is called a big man, and because of the Will-Waymar scene in the prologue it is tempting to imagine a similar scenario, where Othor had become a wight and caught Jafer hiding and watching from the Others. It was Othor’s axe, thus we are inclinded to believe Othor wielded it after becoming a wight, taking Jafer by surprise. However, George is very skilled in setting up a suggestive parallel that later turns out to be false: Lysa claims Cersei poisoned Jon Arryn, Jaime threw Bran out of the tower and Littlefinger claims the Valyrian Steel dagger used to assassinate Bran. Voila it ought to be clear as day who, why and how. Just follow Occam’s Razor. But then it turns out that Lysa murdered her husband herself, that the dagger was Robert’s and that Joffrey gave it to the catspaw, because Joffrey thought to do what his father had said would be a mercy in a by-the-by.  Occam’s Razor does not tend to apply.

Furthermore, wights rarely use weapons at all. Wights kill mostly with their hands – rip or claw a head off or disembowel someone. Their preferred method to kill humans is to strangle them and rip the head off.

The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. 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)

His guard was sprawled bonelessly across the narrow steps, looking up at him. Looking up at him, even though he was lying on his stomach. His head had been twisted completely around…[snip]… The guard’s sword was in its sheath. Jon knelt and worked it free.

Ghost leapt. Man and wolf went down together with neither scream nor snarl, rolling, smashing into a chair, knocking over a table laden with papers…[snip]…[Jon] glimpsed black hands buried in white fur, swollen dark fingers tightening around his direwolf’s throat. Ghost was twisting and snapping, legs flailing in the air, but he could not break free. (courtesy Darkstream)

When he 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)

[Maslin] was still shrieking for quarter as the wight lifted him in the air by the throat and near ripped the head off him. (aSoS, Samwell I)

His fumbling fingers finally found the dagger, but when he slammed it up into the wight’s belly the point skidded off the iron links, and the blade went spinning from Sam’s hand. Small Paul’s fingers tightened inexorably, and began to twist. He’s going to rip my head off, Sam thought in despair…[snip]… The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more . . . some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides . . . but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. (aSoS, Samwell II)

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…[snip]…”HODOR!” he bellowed, and slashed again. This time he took the wight’s head off at the neck, and for half a moment he exulted … until a pair of dead hands came groping blindly for his throat. (aDwD, Bran II)

The only time we hear of a weapon being used by a wight is when headless Jafer took out Jaremy’s dagger and planted it in Jaremy Rykker’s bowels (courtesy MacGregor of the North). Bowels is a typical targeted area for a wight. The dagger was a lucky draw or grasp during the fight by the headless wight and some fleeting memory what to do with it once it felt the dagger in its hands.

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)

To become a wight, a man first has to die, and would fall to the ground for a while. Let us imagine that Othor died with his axe in his possession, he dies and sags down or drops, and the axe … would slip out of his hands. By the time Othor gets back up as a wight, he would not search or look for his axe, walk a distance with it and then take someone’s head off. No, he would just get up, leave the axe lying on the forest floor, and try to strangle the first man he comes across. The axe would be forgotten. And indeed, Othor is not carrying his axe with him when they find him. More, Othor could have taken the sword from Jon’s guard, but did not. I therefore am inclined to dismiss Othor as the man who killed Jafer with Othor’s axe.

Instead we get another parallel. How does Craster acquire Mormont’s axe? It was given to him as a “guest gift” by Jeor. Now imagine Benjen’s rangers arriving at Craster’s searching for Waymar. They came upon abandoned wildling village after wildling village. Craster does his usual, “Meh, I might know something, but yadayadayada. I could use me a new sharp axe.” And Othor’s axe becomes Craster’s axe to buy the informaton from him. That night, Craster has a son and he goes out to sacrifice it to the Others in the woods. Jafer Flowers happens to be outside, to take a piss round the back, notices Craster, follows him and witnesses who Craster’s gods are. And then Jafer hears something, looks up, and Crasters lets Othor’s axe drop. Craster is not a big man. But when Jafer is seated or hunched down that matters little. What matters is that he has force, is used to butchering animals, and gravity does the rest. It would certainly fit George’s less straightforward murder scenario’s far better.

So, what about Othor then? Here is the description of Othor’s wounds:

Jon remembered Othor; he had been the one bellowing the bawdy song as the rangers rode out. His singing days were done. His flesh was blanched white as milk, everywhere but his hands. His hands were black like Jafer’s. Blossoms of hard cracked blood decorated the mortal wounds that covered him like a rash, breast and groin and throat. Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires.(aGoT, Jon VII)

Nobody makes an explicit statement of the type of weapon used on Othor, or whether a weapon was even used it at all. All that we positively know is that they were all three mortal wounds, pierced skin and cover him like a rash. The pierced skin mention at least excludes a maul or hammer.

That said, they consider it the butchery work of armed men. Rykker thinks and says it was wildling axes (take note of the fact he talks of “axes”, not “axe”) right after Jon observes Othor’s corpse.

Ser Jaremy stood. “The Wildlings have axes too.”
Mormont rounded on him. “So you believe this is Mance Rayder’s work? This close to the Wall?”
“Who else, my lord?”

Cue in the reader thinking, “The Others!” That seems a logical conclusion since the reader does not even know Craster. Craster is not mentioned in aGoT. As reader we are led to believe that it was either Mance’s wildlings or the Others. And since Othor and Jafer both turn out to be wights, it seems a sure conclusion that it was the work of Others, and we never question it when later we are introduced to our first wildling who is actually nothing like Mance’s wildlings. Since Othor has multiple wounds, we think a similar scenario played out as in the prologue: “Othor was struck down by multiple Others, became a wight and killed Jafer with his axe. Occam’s Razor!” But as I pointed out, there is an issue with Othor lumbering around as a wight with an axe.

We also have pointers that Othor is not like Waymar. Waymar was of noble birth, with a rich sable cloak and carrying a sword. One Other dueled with Waymar, while the rest of the Others watched curiously. When his sword shatters, they all make a sound that Will thinks is laughter, and they all move in on Waymar and slash him a dozen times with their pale crystalline swords.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk….[snip]… Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung. The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places. Lying dead like that, you saw how young he was. A boy…[snip]… Will rose. 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. (aGoT, Prologue)

Do we see even anything remotely like that with Othor? Jeor calls the result of Jafer and Othor’s corpses butchery, but if those blades slice through ringmail and thick clothes as if it all was silk, then they would also slice through flesh and bone as if it were butter. Surely, even if done by one or two Others, the result would be noted by Jon, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor. But they do not. And yes, I am arguing absence of evidence. And then we have Samwell witness how an Other kills Small Paul while they are on the run from the Fist.

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

Now, surely, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor and Jon would notice and remark on it if Othor had wounds like that of Small Paul. Ser Jaremy Rykker is a knight. Jeor was a lord once. Jon fights with a sword. And Dywen likes making correct observations. These men would recognize a sword wound from an axe wound. Instead, they only mention axes. When Jeor asks Ser Jaremy how they were killed, Jaremy first says, “This was done by an axe,” about Jafer’s corpse. After Jon observes Othor’s body, Jaremy says, “The wildlings have axes too,” certainly implying to Jeor, Dywen and Jon that Othor’s wounds were also caused by an axe, and nobody disagrees with him about the type of weapon. Jeor only disagrees about it being Mance and so close to the Wall. I therefore think it is safe to conclude that Othor’s wounds look to the witnesses as axe wounds, not silk slicing swords. And Others do not use axes.

Aside from the throat, the chest and groin are not areas that are targeted by wights, and they usually focus on one area and keep going for that, even if it is a dagger they accidentally happen to grab. So, we can dismiss wights having killed Othor too. Furthermore, these were all wounds taken in frontal confrontation, and the groin area suggests that Othor was standing upright at the time. The complete picture implies he faced one combattant. For that combattant to hit him in the chest and groin and neck, he had to be quick. I therefore conclude that Othor was killed by a man, and that man would have been Craster.

Also, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that people only become wights when they are killed by wights or Others. The Night’s Watch certainly does not seem to rely on this. They burn every dead person now. And here, Sam’s observation of Bannen sitting up in his burning pyre and trying to fight it becomes crucial. What if it was just the magic of the Others North of the Wall strengthening and it is simply enough that you die – from the cold, starvation, murdered by another human, choked on a chicken bone? You die, and hours later, when the moon is high, you rise as a wight North of the Wall. If you find you find yourself on a burning pyre like Bannen, you won’t get to do any harm. If you are carried South of the Wall before having become a wight, you remain dead.

When Craster yammers on how no good ever came from Black Crows coming or staying at his house, it points to a confrontation having occurred before. It is clear that Craster expresses sentiments akin to seeing black crows nosing around his home, apart from eating his food. Ranger party after party had gone missing. Rangers came nosing around.

The wildling spat. “Crows. When did a black bird ever bring good to a man’s hall, I ask you? Never. Never.”…[snip]… “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.”…[snip]…When Craster learned that his unwanted guests would be departing on the morrow, the wildling became almost amiable, or as close to amiable as Craster ever got. “Past time,” he said, “you don’t belong here, I told you that.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The scene where Craster attacks Karl is actually, yet again, a callback to that very same chapter of Jon in aGoT where they inspect the bodies of Jafer and Othor. Right after their bodies are brought back to Castle Black and Jeor informs Jon about the arrest of his father for treason, Jon goes to the hall for his dinner, and while everybody else tries to show sympathy with Jon, Thorne mocks him. Jon forgets himself, goes berserk and attacks Thorne. Here is the scene in question.

And then he heard the laughter, sharp and cruel as a whip, and the voice of Ser Alliser Thorne. “Not only a bastard, but a traitor’s bastard,” he was telling the men around him.
In the blink of an eye, Jon had vaulted onto the table, dagger in his hand. Pyp made a grab for him, but he wrenched his leg away, and then he was sprinting down the table and kicking the bowl from Ser Alliser’s hand. Stew went flying everywhere, spattering the brothers. Thorne recoiled. People were shouting, but Jon Snow did not hear them. He lunged at Ser Alliser’s face with the dagger, slashing at those cold onyx eyes, but Sam threw himself between them and before Jon could get around him, Pyp was on his back clinging like a monkey, and Grenn was grabbing his arm while Toad wrenched the knife from his fingers. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And while the scene at Craster’s involves a different location, different weapon, different person, other than that it is the same scene, with a different ending.

“Bloody bastard!” Sam heard one of the Garths curse. He never saw which one.
“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right.
“It’s no more than all men know,” Karl answered.
Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Are we witnessing a repeat of what happened at Craster’s between him, Jafer and Othor? Maybe. Maybe not. I do not think the parallel necessarily implies this. But it does imply Craster yet again as being involved in the murder of Jafer and Othor and Dywen’s suggestion that they were laid half a day’s ride as warning.

I speculate that at least Jafer and Othor arrived at Craster’s, with several other rangers; that Jafer witnessed vital information about the Others in relation to Craster out in the woods, but Craster discovered Jafer snooping, fell on him, caught him unawares and killed him with the axe that Othor had given him. The blow to the neck would have prevented Jafer from making any sound. Craster then returned feigning alarm and “panic” (Pan is the god of panic) that something had attacked Jafer and him, causing the rest of the rangers to leave in search for Jafer and the mystery assailant. Some met their fate at the hands of an Other, and Craster attacked Othor with Othor’s axe in a frontal confrontation, turning Othor’s gift against him. When the rangers became wights, Craster sent them to their sausage grave, except for Othor and Jafer.

I would suggest that Dywen was right – somehow Craster escorted Othor’s and Jafer’s bodies to the Wall as a warning for the Night’s Watch, to tell them: “You want to know why your rangers go missing? Well, this is what happens to your rangers! Now, stop bugging me and mine. You don’t belong North of the Wall, and you best get right with the gods.” How he did this, I do not know, let alone when.

But how about Benjen? Months before finding Jafer and Othor, we only know this tidbit about Benjen’s possible whereabouts.

Ser Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle had left to mark his way. In the stony highlands to the northwest, the marks stopped abruptly and all trace of Ben Stark vanished.(aGoT, Jon IV)

This would suggest that Benjen split up his ranger team. At the very least it sounds as if Benjen vanished near or in the Frostfangs. At the Fist though, the raven repeats “Dead,” several times during the conversation between Jeor and Jon about Benjen’s fate. This either means he wighted or was killed after he became a wight. The importance on Jon not eating the bacon at Craster’s suggests heavily that somehow he ended up at Craster’s. And I think certainly his rangers became wight-sausage and ranger-bacon, except for Jafer and Othor.

As a conclusion I will quote Jon twice in aCoK, Jon III, thinking of finally having answers to what happened to Benjen. While none of them ever seem to realize it, at least the reader can find the clues to formulate an answer in that chapter, and the other one at Craster’s Keep. And it is a very typical hint by George to reader – the answers are here!

Jon had often heard the black brothers tell tales of Craster and his keep. Now he would see it with his own eyes. After seven empty villages, they had all come to dread finding Craster’s as dead and desolate as the rest, but it seemed they would be spared that. Perhaps the Old Bear will finally get some answers, he thought.

Perhaps tonight the Old Bear will learn something that will lead us to Uncle Benjen.(aCoK, Jon III)

Summary (tl;tr)

Craster is a ram-character who shares plenty of character and features with Vargo Hoat. And much of their nature or features seem to drafted after the only (Greek) god who died, Pan. They are both like wannabe Bloodstone Emperors

Features Vargo Hoat Craster Bloodstone Emperor
Ram (male goat, or sheep)

The Goat, for his goat horned helm and braided goatee. Black Goat banner from Qohor.

A ram’s skull on the gate, described much to look like a sheep, wears only sheepskins and prefers mutton Unknown
Ear bite Brienne bites his ear, which gets infected The frostbite took his ear Unknown
Greedy A chain of linked coins, greedy for gold, sapphires and lordship over biggest castle of Westeros, Harrenhal Nineteen wives Murders his own sister to become emperor
Sexual abuse Rape, subjected to medical inspection Rape, incest Takes a tiger-woman to wife, common people gave themselves to lust and incest in his time
Enslavement Chops the feet and hands of his servants to prevent them from running off Enslaves his daughters/wives through isolation and lack of knowledge Enslaved his people
Torture Dismembers people, throws people in a bear pit, is tortured himself by losing feet and hands Beats his wives Torture
Necromancy Kept the necromancing expelled maester Qyburn in his company His gods, the Others, are necromancers. He may have helped them to victims to be wighted such as Waymar and the ranging to the Fist Practiced necromancy
Dark Arts Qyburn meddles in dark arts Sacrifices his sons to the Others to be safe from Others and wights Practiced dark arts
Cannibalism His limbs are prepared to feed to prisoners, including himself and slobbered it with great gusto Ranger bacon and black sausages made from wight blood Feasted on human flesh
Worship of evil god(s) The Black Goat of Qohor requires daily blood sacrifice of animals, criminals on holidays, children of high nobles during crisis The Others High Priest of Church of Starry Wisdom, worship of black meteor
Game foraging Forages villages twice, first for Tywin, then for Roose until people have nothing, and then he forages heads Helps to create more Others who forage the Haunted Forest and Frostfangs clear of people and animals into an army of wights Blood Betrayal ushered in the Long Night
Extortion Via the physical capture of a bear, kept alive in a bear pit, denying him a maiden Extortion of the Old Bear out of wine, food and weaponry for highly needed information Unknown
Guest Right Unknown Reverses, denies it in a veiled manner, or breaks it Unknown
Used by two sides Both Tywin and Roose use Vargo to forage the area, but care not for his demise The Night’s Watch uses him for information, the Others for sons and possible other aid, but care not for his demise Supposedly not since he was emperor

I propose that not only Craster broke guest-right just minutes before the mutiny, but that Craster also had an ugly confrontation with at least some of Benjen’s rangers, including Jafer Flowers and Othor, and caused their death directly and indirectly with Othor’s axe given to him similarly as Jeor’s axe. They ended up as wights. Crasters knew exactly what to do with them – he turned them into bacon and black sausages with axe and maul, except for Jafer and Othor. Possibly he delivered those two near the Wall as a warning, in the hope they would be found and stop the Night’s Watch from sending rangers North of the Wall to investigate and stick their nose in his business where they did not belong. Except, the Others saw a different use in them. Sadly enough this means that Benjen ended up as either bacon or sausage or both. That is why it was crucial that Jon never ate Craster’s filling breakfast. It is bad enough for someone unwittingly eating human remains of someone they never knew. But Jon eating Benjen Bacon would just be nasty.