Despoina and Arion
In the Chthonic Cycle – Persephone of Winterfell, I showed how symbolically Lyanna fits Persephone, including the horse riding by the conflation of Despoina with Persephone. The later was Demeter’s daughter by Zeus, but Demeter had other children by different fathers. When Poseidon lusted after Demeter, she ran away from him in a mare’s form. But as the stallion Poseidon Hippios, he caught up with her and fathered twins on her – Arion and Despoina born as foals. Immortal Arion became the fastest stallion, but Despoina grew up eventually in female form. If Demeter and Persephone were the “two queens” of the Classic Eulysian Mysteries, then Demeter and Despoina were the goddesses venerated in the much earlier, pre-Classic Arcadian Mysteries. Persephone’s surname was Kore, which means “maiden” and a stalk of corn (grain in this case) was her main symbol. The two combined made her the “corn maiden”. Despoina is a surname, an epiteth like Kore, meaning “mistress” (as in “mistress of the house”), but unlike Persephone her true name is unknown.
While Despoina ended up being conflated by Persephone in later times, the items found at her sanctuary at Lycosura suggest she might have had a completely different significance. One had to enter a temple of Artemis1 with the bronze image of Hecate2 in order to get Despoina’s temple at the heart of the sanctuary. In front of it stood a statue for Demeter, Despoina and the Great Mother Goddess, Cybele. Beyond the sanctuary was Despoina’s sacred grove. A marble relief depicts the “veil” of Despoina that mimics weaving and depicts female figures performing a ritual dance. So, instead of Persephone’s box with a secret, there is a veil. The dancing figures all have animal faces, either being women wearing animal masks or actual hybrid animal-women figures. Similar processions are depicted at the Mycenian palace of Knossos. Her name is said to recall that of the Minoan-Mycenian “Mistress of the Labyrinth”, and the unicursal labyrinth symbol seems to have meant the “creation” of life.
Even though we don’t know every precise detail regarding the rituals of the Eulisyan Mysteries, at least we know that it revolves around the gift of agriculture, of corn and vine. In contrast, Despoina is an almost complete mystery to us and her meaning was lost in time. But it seems likely that as Poseidon’s daughter, she is related to springs (water sources), while the veil suggest she has significance regarding animals, creation, and weiving. Did life stem from her? Was she the Greek and Minoan bronze-age Grail? And is George ascribing a similar mystery to Lyanna when he not only uses the classic Persephone symbolism for her, but has both Roose Bolton and Lady Barbrey Dustin refer to her as a centaur or half a horse in aDwD, or describes the Knight of Flowers wearing a cape of blue forget-me-nots who makes his grey lithe mare dance?
Lady Barbrey Dustin: “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
Roose Bolton: “…Not even Lord Rickard’s daughter could outrace [Domeric], and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first.” (aDwD, Theon III)
Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. (aGoT, Eddard VII)
George has incorporated half-animal, half-horse and dancing elements in the portrayal of Lyanna and her brother Brandon, that seems to stem from the mysterious unnamable Despoina and her brother Arion. Both Lyanna and Brandon were much more tied to the North and Winterfell with it hot “springs”. The way Lady Dustin talks of them, Lyanna and Brandon sound like two peas in a pod in nature, and Ned too considers them as being closer in nature to each other, than to him.
Her father sighed. “Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. (aGoT, Arya II)
Wildness is not something easily associated with Persephone, but more easily reconciled with Mistress’s veil of the dance of females with animal faces. Despoina seems to have a much wilder nature than Persephone. A wolf is a wild animal, but if you were to ask people to pick the first animal that comes to mind in association with the adjective “wild”, how many would say “wild horses” (and sing “could not drive me away from you” to themselves)?
The lantern light in her eyes made them seem as if they were afire. “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. … And my lord father was always pleased to play host to the heir to Winterfell. My father had great ambitions for House Ryswell. He would have served up my maidenhead to any Stark who happened by, but there was no need. Brandon was never shy about taking what he wanted. I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain.
“The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though … there was nothing sweet about that pain. He never wanted her, I promise you that. He told me so, on our last night together … but Rickard Stark had great ambitions too. Southron ambitions that would not be served by having his heir marry the daughter of one of his own vassals. Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon’s brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well. I was left with young Lord Dustin, until Ned Stark took him from me.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
When a mature woman like Lady Dustin still remembers Brandon taking her maidenhood as if it was yesterday, then he as the love of her life, so much that she still believes the lies of a known womanizer on their last night together regarding him never wanting Catelyn Tully. Meanwhile, she regards Lord Dustin as a “leftover”. If Lady Dustin gifted the man left to her with the pride of her father’s herd, the red stallion, would she have done any less for Brandon? In this manner, it is almost as if Brandon-Arion was symbolically present, riding alongside of Ned Stark, at the Tower of Joy where their sister Lyanna-Despoina/Persephone died.
Drunken Slaughter in King’s Landing
Jaime rides a blood bay destrier, a red stallion, while confronting Ned in the streets of King’s Landing about Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion.
Littlefinger walked his horse forward, step by careful step. “What is the meaning of this? This is the Hand of the King.”
“He was the Hand of the King.” The mud muffled the hooves of the blood bay stallion. The line parted before him. On a golden breastplate, the lion of Lannister roared its defiance. “Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure what he is.” (aGoT, Eddard IX)
During this incident, Ned ends up wounded at the leg. In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is the last of a line of keepers of the Holy Grail. The Fisher King has a leg wound that does not heal and immobilizes him insofar he cannot move on his own anymore. And while the Fisher King is injured, so bleeds and suffers his kingdom, growing as barren and infertile as he is. Most likely a complete essay can be written about Ned Stark and his son Robb Stark as a Wounded King & Fisher King duo, but then I would digress too far. I mention the Arthurian Fisher King, because the nature of the Fisher King’s injury and how it is begotten reveals a sin or a grave mistake the Fisher King made. For example, if the Fisher King is wounded in the thigh or near the groin, he has committed the sin of taking a secret wife – a grail guard is forbidden to have a wife at all.
Ned’s horse slipped under him and came crashing down in the mud. There was a moment of blinding pain and the taste of blood in his mouth.
He saw them cut the legs from Jory’s mount and drag him to the earth, swords rising and falling as they closed in around him. When Ned’s horse lurched back to its feet, he tried to rise, only to fall again, choking on his scream. He could see the splintered bone poking through his calf. It was the last thing he saw for a time. The rain came down and down and down.
When he opened his eyes again, Lord Eddard Stark was alone with his dead. His horse moved closer, caught the rank scent of blood, and galloped away. Ned began to drag himself through the mud, gritting his teeth at the agony in his leg. (aGoT, Eddard IX)
Ned Stark takes a serious leg wound in his fall. As I argue in the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert, it seems it became gangrenous in the unsanitary circumstances of the dungeons, where he already shows signs of sepsis. By the time Ned is paraded at the steps of Baelor’s Sept his guards need to hold him up, for he cannot stand by himself anymore and his cast is black and rotten. It certainly qualifies as a Fisher King wound, especially considering the trouble the Riverlands are in already and the North soon will be.
Ned’s leg wound is an open bone break at the calf, which is as far removed from the groin as can be. His sin or mistake is not of a sexual nature. This would confirm that Jon is not his bastard son, or that he has ever had an improper sexual relationship even with a woman. It is a very serious wound though, requiring a long time to heal, and it basically leaves him without a “leg to stand on”. The wound is not caused by anyone else’s spear, arrow or sword, but the fall of his horse – that gallops off as riderless as Dustin’s red stallion. George never clarifies the color of Ned’s horse, but he does specify in the chapter when Ned visits Tobho Mott’s forge that it is Ned’s favorite horse. So, while there is an angry confrontation between a Lannister and himself, Ned’s own favorite horse causes his physical “downfall”. This starts to sounds quite metaphorical.
A Day in a Hand’s Life
Let’s, put those metaphor goggles on, and enjoy the ride.3 I’m taking you to the Tourney of the Hand, on the second day of the Tourney when Ned Stark attends it. There are three final jousts to be expected to determine the winner. The first joust of the day is between Jaime Lannister on his red stallion and the Hound
“A hundred golden dragons on the Kingslayer,” Littlefinger announced loudly as Jaime Lannister entered the lists, riding an elegant blood bay destrier. The horse wore a blanket of gilded ringmail, and Jaime glittered from head to heel. Even his lance was fashioned from the golden wood of the Summer Isles. (aGoT, Eddard VII)
Littlefinger bets on Jaime – or shall we say the red stallion – but eventually Jaime loses the joust. So, Littlefinger “bet on the wrong horse”. Who else was Littlefinger betting on in King’s Landing? It is debatable whether Littlefinger was speaking genuinely when he proposed Ned Stark to do the same thing as Renly, and in a few years time set aside Joffrey for Renly. While Petyr Baelish and Renly often makes japes about one another, they also seem to get along rather well. So, perhaps it was genuine. If so, then Littlefinger also bet on the wrong horse called Ned Stark to help make it happen. Since this joust occurs in Ned Stark’s point of view however, and his leg wound was caused by his “favorite horse”, the most relevant question is which political horse was Ned Stark betting on? And who was Ned Stark jousting against in King’s Landing? Just five paragraphs before Littlefinger calls out his bet, Ned Stark thinks the following to himself.
This was the boy he had grown up with, he thought; this was the Robert Baratheon he’d known and loved. If he could prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn, this man would listen. Then Cersei would fall, and the Kingslayer with her, and if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident. He could see it all so clearly.
Ned Stark’s favorite political horse was Robert Baratheon, his best friend, his foster-brother. It was his love for Robert that Catelyn used as an argument to convince Eddard Stark in going to King’s Landing. And Ned’s intention was to politically joust against Cersei and ultimately Tywin Lannister. So, let us for a moment regard Jaime as a stand-in for Ned and Sandor as Joffrey, Cersei or Lannisters. This seems odd, but the reason for this is because the same joust is also a foreshadowing parallel of Jaime’s arc, which I will elaborate on in a later red stallion essay. The Hound works as a stand-in for Joffrey and Lannisters, because he is not only a bannerman of theirs, but initially set up as Joffrey’s partner in crime. At Winterfell both are featured as a team of master and dog who both enjoy hurting and insulting others. In fact, they sound like a budding original Ramsay-Reek team, albeit one where the Hound does not stink and eventually turns on his master. But at the time of the Tourney, the Hound is still very much Joffrey’s dog.
The hastily erected gallery trembled as the horses broke into a gallop. The Hound leaned forward as he rode, his lance rock steady, but Jaime shifted his seat deftly in the instant before impact. Clegane’s point was turned harmlessly against the golden shield with the lion blazon, while his own hit square. Wood shattered, and the Hound reeled, fighting to keep his seat. Sansa gasped. A ragged cheer went up from the commons.
Initially it looks like Ned is the better man in the political joust, just as Jaime looks like it for actual jousting in this scene. In fact, the paragraph I already quoted regarding how this was the Robert he knew and loved like a brother shows us that Ned Stark is feeling pretty confident that he can provide Robert with the necessary evidence to set aside his Lannister queen. Ned preventing Robert to join the melee is a point for Ned against Cersei. And his confidence grows even more, when Robert reinstates him as Hand later in the book and Ned realizes the truth about Cersei’s children. He is so confident, that he cannot foresee that Cersei will outmanouver him, once Robert named him Lord Protector and regent in his will. Littlefinger is already thinking what he will spend his winnings on, after the first round, just like Ned sees “so clearly” and envisions Robert smashing Tywin’s breastplate in with a warhammer. And in fact Cersei does have to fight to keep her seat as queen, and Joffrey’s seat as heir and king.
The Hound just managed to stay in his saddle. He jerked his mount around hard and rode back to the lists for the second pass. Jaime Lannister tossed down his broken lance and snatched up a fresh one, jesting with his squire. The Hound spurred forward at a hard gallop. Lannister rode to meet him. This time, when Jaime shifted his seat, Sandor Clegane shifted with him. Both lances exploded, and by the time the splinters had settled, a riderless blood bay was trotting off in search of grass while Ser Jaime Lannister rolled in the dirt, golden and dented.
But on the second round, Cersei and Tywin shift tactics, and it comes to a confrontation where Ned will bite the dust, without having it seen coming. Of interest here is that Sandor wears an olive-green cloak over his soot-gray armor, aside from his Hound helmet.
Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an olive-green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his hound’s-head helm, were his only concession to ornament.
Olive green are not his house colors though. The Clegane sigil colors are black on yellow (Or). Littlefinger’s personal sigil is the mockingbird, but House Baelish’s sigil is that of the dark grey Titan’s head on a light green field. It is actually the sole sigil that combines dark grey with light green. Just like Sandor, Littlefinger is not a man who indulges in ornaments. And of course it is Littlefinger who deals the metaphorical losing blow to Ned Stark in the Throne Room after Robert’s death.
While the description of a teetering Jaime who cannot take his skewed helmet off anymore is of course quite comical, certainly in light of Jaime’s arrogance and Ned enjoying it, it also stands out. It is almost slap-stick. Not that George never writes a slap-stick paragraph in the books. He does, for example in aCoK when Alebelly of Winterfell refuses to bathe in fear of drowning until he stinks so bad his fellow guards dump him in a bath. But George rarely write such a slap-stick scene with a main character such as Jaime, who in his own right is a tragic character. It certainly seems to be written to be memorable and to make the reader pay attention
Jaime Lannister was back on his feet, but his ornate lion helmet had been twisted around and dented in his fall, and now he could not get it off. The commons were hooting and pointing, the lords and ladies were trying to stifle their chuckles, and failing, and over it all Ned could hear King Robert laughing, louder than anyone. Finally they had to lead the Lion of Lannister off to a blacksmith, blind and stumbling.
Ned does end up being blind in the darkness of the dungeons, and he stumbles along literally and politically after his violent encounter with Jaime in the streets of King’s Landing. On top of that, Ned is also guided to a blacksmith, Tobho Mott, shortly after the Tourney to discover the apprentice armorer Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Meanwhile Sansa’s comment on the joust is heartbreaking when we consider she informed Cersei of her father’s plans to remove his daughters from King’s Landing
Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.”
The next joust is even more eye-opening. The second joust is between The Mountain that rides and the Knight of Flowers, Loras Tyrell. Although Gregor Clegane is bigger than Robert Baratheon, a comparison and thus an association is already made.
By then Ser Gregor Clegane was in position at the head of the lists. He was huge, the biggest man that Eddard Stark had ever seen. Robert Baratheon and his brothers were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor. He was well over seven feet tall, closer to eight, with massive shoulders and arms thick as the trunks of small trees. His destrier seemed a pony in between his armored legs, and the lance he carried looked as small as a broom handle.
But as the Knight of Flowers rides up, we are suddenly showered with reference after reference to Lyanna Stark. It is almost as if Lyanna joined the tourney to give a shout-out to Ned, “Remember me? Forget me not!”
When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent whisper, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father, don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday.
Loras, the Knight of Flowers wears a cloak made of blue flowers. Lyanna was fond of flowers, especially blue winter roses. Forget-me-nots are not roses of course, but they have the color associated with Lyanna’s favorite flowers. The name forget-me-not itself is metaphorical, a wordplay by George as a hint that this joust metaphor ties back to the past. Instead of a stallion, Loras rides a mare, emphasising a recollection of a female character. Grey is the sigil color of the Starks. And it is in this paragraph that Ned notes the rose that Loras had given to Sansa the day before, which is like a mini-version of the wreath of roses given to Lyanna by Rhaegar during the Tourney of Harrenhal. So, we have a slim, lithe, beautiful, female Stark, combined with blue flowers, and often remembered. It cannot but be a reference to Lyanna (and her tie to Persephone). Finally, as a mare built for speed and it doing a type of dance, we also have the Despoina connection of Lyanna.
Much like Robert was wild with passion for Lyanna, Gregor’s stallion is horny for Loras’ grey mare. Gregor’s stallion is so horny by the scent of the mare in heat that Gregor cannot control him, just as Ned despairs over Robert’s lusting for whores and mistresses.
Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The stallion was screaming and pawing the ground, shaking his head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.
The Knight of Flowers saluted the king, rode to the far end of the list, and couched his lance, ready. Ser Gregor brought his animal to the line, fighting with the reins. And suddenly it began. The Mountain’s stallion broke in a hard gallop, plunging forward wildly, while the mare charged as smooth as a flow of silk. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield into position, juggled with his lance, and all the while fought to hold his unruly mount on a straight line, and suddenly Loras Tyrell was on him, placing the point of his lance just there, and in an eye blink the Mountain was falling. He was so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of steel and flesh.
And with the fall of Robert through his death, so falls Ned Stark along with him the day after, and what ultimately be his death.
Gregor Clegane killed the horse with a single blow of such ferocity that it half severed the animal’s neck. Cheers turned to shrieks in a heartbeat. The stallion went to its knees, screaming as it died. By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist. “Stop him!” Ned shouted, but his words were lost in the roar. Everyone else was yelling as well, and Sansa was crying.
Now compare the scene as Gregor beheads his stallion with that of Ned Stark’s death scene.
He looked straight at Sansa then, and smiled, and for a moment Arya thought that the gods had heard her prayer, until Joffrey turned back to the crowd and said, “But they have the soft hearts of women. So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!”
The crowd roared, and Arya felt the statue of Baelor rock as they surged against it. The High Septon clutched at the king’s cape, and Varys came rushing over waving his arms, and even the queen was saying something to him, but Joffrey shook his head. Lords and knights moved aside as he stepped through, tall and fleshless, a skeleton in iron mail, the King’s Justice. Dimly, as if from far off, Arya heard her sister scream. Sansa had fallen to her knees, sobbing hysterically. (aGoT, Arya V)
And so, the finale day of the Hand’s Tourney is actually more of a mummer’s play of the Hand’s Life, with the mummers being horses and jousters. Ned Stark betted on his favorite stallion, Robert Baratheon, but both were haunted by the aftermath of their rebellion and Lyanna (as I analyse in The Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert), and Robert was not the king Eddard had hoped him to be, and both men fall and die in a short time one after the other. This is what Littlefinger has to say about favoring certain horses.
“Tyrell had to know the mare was in heat,” Littlefinger was saying. “I swear the boy planned the whole thing. Gregor has always favored huge, ill-tempered stallions with more spirit than sense.” The notion seemed to amuse him.
While Ned’s alive in the dungeons as a captive and Joffrey sits the throne preparations are made by three other men. Stannis is harnassing a fleet to attack King’s Landing, compounding any ship that passes Dragonstone, intent on taking what he believes is his right, since he knows Joffrey is not even Robert’s. Renly flees to Highgarden and weds Margaery Tyrell with the intention to take the throne by might. He belives he would make the best king. And Robb Stark rallies his bannermen, crosses the Twins in return for the promise of a marriage to one of Walder Frey’s daughters and captures Jaime who is besieging Riverrun, in the hope to exchange Jaime for his father.
So, let us return to the scene where Gregor becomes a sore loser.
In the middle of the field, Ser Gregor Clegane disentangled himself and came boiling to his feet. He wrenched off his helm and slammed it down onto the ground. His face was dark with fury and his hair fell down into his eyes. “My sword,“ he shouted to his squire, and the boy ran it out to him.
Gregor is angry, because he fully believes he’s been cheated out of the champion’s title (and money). He’s the biggest, the most savage. In his mind, he should have won the Tourney, and then some “boy” cheats him out of it with some horse trick. We can thus see a parallel between Gregor and Stannis who feels cheated by basically everyone. In the paragraph that introduces Gregor to us during the Tourney from Ned’s point of view, Ned compares Gregor to Robert and his brothers in size, not just Robert Baratheon alone.
Just like nobody would like to see Gregor win the Tourney, most insiders – Renly, Varys, Littlefinger and others – do not want Stanis to win the Iron Throne.
Stannis studied her, unsmiling. “The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who deny that are my foes.”
“The whole of the realm denies it, brother,” said Renly. “Old men deny it with their death rattle, and unborn children deny it in their mothers’ wombs. They deny it in Dorne and they deny it on the Wall. No one wants you for their king. Sorry.” (aCoK, Catelyn III)
So, Gregor is set up to take on the stand-in role of a Baratheon brother in the tourney metaphors. It is also Stannis Baratheon who claims a sword for himself – Lightbringer, during the burning of the wooden statues of the Seven.
“Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!“…The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. Then he was retreating, the sword held high, jade-green flames swirling around cherry-red steel. (aCoK, Davos I)
Of course, Stannis’ sword is not the real Lightbringer. Azor Ahai forged Lightbringer by stabbing his wife Nissa Nissa in the heart, and it caught fire as it was covered by her blood, her courage, her love and life force. So, when Gregor is said to clutch a bloody sword in his hand it is just a sword covered in blood, not a fire and blood sword.
By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist…It all happened so fast. The Knight of Flowers was shouting for his own sword as Ser Gregor knocked his squire aside and made a grab for the reins of his horse. The mare scented blood and reared. Loras Tyrell kept his seat, but barely. Ser Gregor swung his sword, a savage two-handed blow that took the boy in the chest and knocked him from the saddle. The courser dashed away in panic as Ser Loras lay stunned in the dirt. But as Gregor lifted his sword for the killing blow, a rasping voice warned, “Leave him be,” and a steel-clad hand wrenched him away from the boy.
Loras ends up being referred to as “the boy” several times. There are three boys in Stannis’ mind that either try to cheat his rightful throne away from him, while another is taking half his kingdom for himself – they are Joffrey, Renly and Robb. Of those three, Stannis attacks two – the boy Joffrey wins the game of thrones over Stannis by Cersei’s trickery – a mare in heat who seduced her brother who has more spirit than sense. Young Renly (twenty one) gets the largest army behind him to win a throne for him after he weds Maergary Tyrell, a flowery mare coming into heat and dancing to Loras’ and Mace’s tunes. They all use tricks and deceit to gain kinghood, and each time an alliance with a woman lay at the foundation of the deceit. Hence Loras personifies them both. Stannis attempts to grab the reigns of Joffrey’s seat on the Iron Throne. King’s Landing would have fallen and been sacked during the Battle of the Blackwater if not for the timely rescue by Tywin and the Tyrells. Joffrey barely keeps his seat. On the other hand, Stannis manages to deal a savage blow to Renly, taking him out of his seat and game, making Margaery and the Tyrells flee.
The next Tourney paragraph shows us how the boy-king Joffrey was saved: because of two brothers quarreling and fighting each other, instead of their common enemy. Had Renly not opposed his own brother, there would have been little hope for the Lannisters. If the Hound had not intervened, Loras Tyrell would have been dead. Of course the difference is that Sandor intervenes on Loras’s behalf, whereas Renly intervenes on his own behald.
The Mountain pivoted in wordless fury, swinging his longsword in a killing arc with all his massive strength behind it, but the Hound caught the blow and turned it, and for what seemed an eternity the two brothers stood hammering at each other as a dazed Loras Tyrell was helped to safety. Thrice Ned saw Ser Gregor aim savage blows at the hound’s-head helmet, yet not once did Sandor send a cut at his brother’s unprotected face. (aGoT, Eddard VII)
Eventually, the Tyrells enter the political scene again and join Tywin Lannister and hand the victory to Joffrey. And if before Joffrey was not liked in King’s Landing for all the dumb, cruel stuff he pulled, the commons love and cheer him, if only because they feared Stannis sacking the city more than Joffrey.
But Sansa had the right of it after all. A few moments later Ser Loras Tyrell walked back onto the field in a simple linen doublet and said to Sandor Clegane, “I owe you my life. The day is yours, ser.”
“I am no ser,” the Hound replied, but he took the victory, and the champion’s purse, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, the love of the commons. They cheered him as he left the lists to return to his pavilion.
As for Stannis. Just like Gregor he does not take the defeat and intervention well, but leaves King’s Landing and eventually Dragonstone all the same. Tywin and the Tyrells do not even bother with a chase or counter-attack on Dragonstone, not until well after Stannis is long gone.
Ser Gregor’s blow cut air, and at last he came to his senses. He dropped his sword and glared at Robert, surrounded by his Kingsguard and a dozen other knights and guardsmen. Wordlessly, he turned and strode off, shoving past Barristan Selmy. “Let him go,” Robert said, and as quickly as that, it was over.
The Melee of the Riverlands and the North
The Tourney does not completely end there. There is still an archery competition and the melee. The commoner Anguy of the Dornish Marches wins. He joins Beric and Thoros of Myr to arrest Gregor Clegane for his atrocities in the Riverland, becoming a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Everybody has eyes for the jousting, where great knights or warriors of great houses fight one another with a lance. The melee though is described as being no more than a common brawl between men of no allegiance. Thoros wins the melee, but the paragraph also appears very much a metaphor.
The melee went on for three hours. Near forty men took part, freeriders and hedge knights and new-made squires in search of a reputation. They fought with blunted weapons in a chaos of mud and blood, small troops fighting together and then turning on each other as alliances formed and fractured, until only one man was left standing. The victor was the red priest, Thoros of Myr, a madman who shaved his head and fought with a flaming sword. He had won melees before; the fire sword frightened the mounts of the other riders, and nothing frightened Thoros. The final tally was three broken limbs, a shattered collarbone, a dozen smashed fingers, two horses that had to be put down, and more cuts, sprains, and bruises than anyone cared to count. Ned was desperately pleased that Robert had not taken part.
The wars are not just fought by Great Houses and great Knights. Most of it is done by levies, freeriders, hedge knights, sellswords, and even commoners who change allegiance often. And even long after the Great Houses have killed each other, wed each other and hand around titles, the lesser and little factions keep brawling amongst each other. This is exactly what we see happen in the Riverlands and the North, including the formation of temporary alliances that break down again, until one is left standing. First the Freys and Boltons fight alongside Robb Stark, but then they turn their coat, slay him at the Red Wedding, each taking on a power role in their respective region. Boltons and Freys claim the Stark seat Winterfell and Tully seat Riverrun respectively. Meanwhile the Bortherhood Without Banners starts out politically neutral, divided in operative cells in the different areas of the Riverlands, but becomes more politically active under Lady Stoneheart.
The current alliances in the Riverlands and North are tenious at best, but most likely nothing but a mummer’s show. The sole alliance we can be sure about is that between Boltons and Freys, and even then Roose Bolton is eager to send the Freys out into a snowstorm to meet Stannis three days’ ride away from Winterfell. Manderly already killed three Freys, worked them into a pie and served it at the wedding feast of Ramsay and fArya. Umbers have grey men inside Winterfell playing the ally of Roose, and green boys outside of Winterfell allying with Stannis. Lady Dustin sounds like a Stark-hater and a staunch supporter of Roose, but she hates Ramsay for killing her nephew Domeric, and why is she so interested in clearing the rubble in front of the crypts and the missing swords? She doth protests too much to many a reader. Roose cannot trust any so-called ally inside Winterfell, and Stannis cannot be sure that his allies will keep supporting him once they gain the upperhand and have a Stark ruling from Winterfell.
As for the Riverlands. Some houses did not even turn up at the siege of Riverrun by the Freys and Lannisters. The Blackfish escaped. Blackwood still had the Stark banner up. Mallister too is still under siege by Black Walder. Those houses who were present at the siege were more interested in eating the food than actually helping the Freys. And if their hostages are freed as they are on their way from the Twins to King’s Landing, Vance, Piper will rally agains the Freys and Lannisters at the first opportunity.
The fearless red priest, Thoros of Myr, symbolizes the Brotherhood Without Banners the most. Without Thoros, Beric would not have been resurrected and the Brotherhood would never have formed or organized themselves, let alone acquire the trust of the common people. Thoros symbolizes the R’hllor religion the Brotherhood follows and he is the highest ranked commoner (actually used to be a slave in Essos) and a fearless warrior hero to boot. Hence, his victory at the melee hints that the Brotherhood will win the Riverlands, that we migth see him breach the walls of either Riverrun or the Twins much as he did at Pyke during Balon’s rebellion, and that possibly Thoros’ type of R’hllor worship (the moderate, tolerant version) will win many followers, at the very least in the Riverlands.
Two horses have to be put down. It is either an allusion to House Stark and Tully, or House Bolton and Frey. The Blackfish has escaped Riverrun and it looks like he may set up a rescue of Edmure and Jeyne Westerling together with the Brotherhood. All the Stark children assumed to be dead are very much alive. So, those houses are not done yet, nor is the melee in the Riverlands and North over and done with, even if the Lannisters, Freys and Boltons think so. It appears to me that it is an allusion to House Frey and House Bolton.
George uses horses and events that feature horses – such as tourneys – as metaphors and (foreshadowing) parallels for the point of view character. I’ve shown here how the last two jousts at the Hand’s Tourney are used as parallels to the past regarding Lyanna as well as foreshadows the later events in Ned’s final chapters of his life, including his own beheading, but also what follows after Ned’s death. This is not only true for Eddard Stark, but is also true for Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, Sansa Stark and Daenerys. And the next articles will cover the horse parallels for these characters. It also bodes ill for a character when they ride a red stallion. It is the wrong horse to bet on, as they tend to end up riderless.
A Promising List of Red Stallions
What follows is a list of characters that ride or own a red stallion or are connected to a red stallion. If you come across other ‘red stallions/horses’ you are always welcome to notify me, but at least this list gives us something to ponder about.
- Joffrey: blood bay courser – false prince, dead
- Jaime: blood bay destrier (aGoT), blood bay palfrey (aFfC, either Honor or Glory) – fell from his horse during tourney, ended up as captive at Riverrun (and thus without a horse), missing in the Riverlands, most likely abducted by the BwB
- Lord Dustin: red stallion – died at ToJ, red stallion returned to Lady Dustin, riderless
- Drogo: red stallion, referred to as “my red” – fell from his red sick from gangreen. A khal who falls from his horse loses his khalasar. The riderless stallion was sacrificed for Mirri’s ritual. Suffocated by Dany and the horse burned along on his pyre.
- Dontos: chestnut stallion, but dressed in scarlet red silk – never even manages to mount it, false rescuer of Sansa, killed by Lothor Brune
- Addam Marbrand: red courser – searching for the escaped Blackfish south of the Red Fork, which is BwB territory and giant wolf pack territory
- Ramsay Snow/Bolton: red stallion called ‘Blood’ – pretends to be Reek in aCoK, pretends to be Lord of Winterfell through marriage with Jeyne Poole pretending that she is Arya Stark
- House Bracken: red stallion on their blazon
- House Ryswell: Ryswell brothers have different colored horseheads on their blazon, but one of them has a red stallion’s.
- Tyrion Lannister: red stallion when he leaves to battle Stannis at the Blackwater – loses the horse at some point, and though he saves the city, the battle heralds his fall from his powerful position.
- Ursula Upcliff: bloodred horse, fought against the army of the Falcon Knight in the Vale, and was an ally of Robar II Royce, king of the First Men in the Vale who hoped to drive out the Andals from the Vale. She fought Torgold Tollet and tried to curse him (she was a sorceress), and Tollet ripped her head off before she could do so. And thus the bloodred horse ended up having a headless rider. (courtesy painkillerjane69)
- Valena Toland: she rides a red horse and has red hair when she welcomes Arianne to Ghost Hill in Arianne’s first chapter of tWoW.
There are also several horses we might be tempted to confuse with red horses, but they are said to be chestnut. Two of those were ridden by Stark children – Sansa and Bran. Another by a confirmed ally, namely Sandor Clegane. It is as of yet unconfirmed whether Shadrich is an ally or potential enemy.
- Shadrich (aka Mad Mouse): chestnut courser – appears at the Vale under false pretenses, hunting Sansa by some readers believed to be in cahoots with Varys or desireing his reward. At least he seems to portray himself as such towards Brienne.
- Sansa Stark: chestnut mare, during the riot chapter – Tyrion chooses to wed her, which is partly one of the reasons he ends up accused for the murder of Joffrey.
- Sandor Clegane: chestnut mare – forgets/loses Stranger, rides double on Sansa’s chestnut mare to the Red Keep. Under Sansa’s influence he attempt to join Robb Stark and roams the Riverlands with Arya, ends up heavily injured and a broken man. He is believed to be dead, but he is strongly hinted to have survived and was last seen to live the life of a monk.
- Bran: chestnut filly “Dancer” – trained for Bran’s special saddle (designed by Tyrion). He rides Dancer when attacked by the wildlings; and when he enters the hall on horsback as Stark of Winterfell during the Harving Fest, shortly before Theon captures the castle and Bran has to go in hiding in the crypts. Dancer dies during the sack of WF and Bran leaves for BR’s cave.(courtesy Tijgy)
Thank you, Lady Barbrey for challenging me to think harder on the red stallion’s importance after I first published my essay on how Lyanna is the Persephone of Winterfell. You pointed out that the red stallion appears in several parallel arcs and mentioned you had looked up the immortal stallion Arion yourself already. I hope this essay (and the other coming red stallion essays) might be of help or an answer to your puzzlement about it. And thank you Crazy Cat Lady in Training for challenging me to look into the Fisher King symbolism, which helped to tie Ned’s leg wound with the horse metaphors and thus eventually made me realize how the Hand’s Tourney is pretty much the Hand’s Life. Thank you too Shadowcat Rivers for sharing your notes on Demeter and Hecate, which included Despoina. Though I had actually already written the first section of this essay regarding Despoina, the difference was but mere days. I was unsure to keep the in-depth part about Despoina in, or leave it just at what I mentioned in the first essay of the Chthonic Cycle. But your comment convinced me to keep it in. And thank you Sly Wren for the sand box and all those who come to play in it, to discuss ideas and pool the different meta-subjects each of us are working on together.
1. Artemis was called the “mistress of animals”. She was goddess of the hunt, hills, forest and moon. In the Classic era she was regarded as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo. But the Arcadians believed her to be Demeter’s daughter.
2. Hecate was a primordial goddess of crossroads, the three moon phases, sorcery and a psychopomp who remained a maiden. She helped Demeter in her search for Persephone. She ruled over the earth, sea and sky. A psychopomp is a character, spirit, animal or god that can travel to and from the Underworld into other worlds, either as a messenger, or as a carrier of souls.
3. For those who are somewhat unfamiliar with metaphorical reading: try to not take the scene too literal, nor the characters, nor even the wording. The scenes, actions and events are wordplays. The characters and animals are but mere stand-ins to play the parts of characters in Ned’s real life parallel.