Hi! Welcome back to the re-read. For anyone new to the re-read, this is where you can go over A Song of Ice and Fire bit by glorious bit. We also go over the frustrating bits, because it’s good to get riled up about things once in a while.
This post covers Chapters 33-34 of A Game of Thrones. That means this will be a Ned and Cate doubleheader. Give it up for the Starks!
(I can’t hear you.)
This is also a post in which I try to move on, repeatedly, and yet I still manage to summarize like a fantasy author. Which is to say that brief, this is not.
The intro post is here, and all the entries can be tracked with the ASOIAF tag (#ASOIAF on Twitter). All posts contain occasional spoilers for the first four books in A Song of Ice and Fire. Likewise for the comments section.
You know the drill: Summary, commentary, *headdesk*, and comments. Not necessarily in that order. Shoot first and ask later. Whatever works.
Did someone say something?
(We wants it, prrreciouss.)
Um, let's get started.
Chapter 33: Eddard
Ned is pleading with Robert in front of the small council, aghast that the king wants to have Daenerys murdered. The king has learned that Dany is pregnant, and he does not care that she is a child. Ned tells him there is no honor in killing her, and Robert is being paranoid, insinuating that the pregnancy might not even exist.
At that, Varys says that his information is correct. Ned has nothing but contempt for Ser Jorah Mormont, but Varys says he is a trusty source. Ned lists a number of ways that nothing could come of the pregnancy: if the tale is a lie, if Dany miscarries, or births a girl, or if the child dies in infancy. Robert, however, sees only the possibility of the child being a boy. Even then, Ned argues that the Dothraki would not cross the sea.
Robert asks if he should wait until an army lands on his shore. Ned replies that the supposed enemy isn't even born yet. The exasperated king asks the council to weigh in with their thoughts. Varys says the decision is unfortunate, but killing Dany would be better for the realm. Renly also says the choice is regrettable, but it should have been made years ago, and Robert was wrong to be merciful.
"Mercy is never a mistake, Lord Renly," Ned replied. "On the Trident, Ser Barristan here cut down a dozen good men, Robert's friends and mine. When they brought him to us, grievously wounded and near death, Roose Bolton urged us to cut his throat, but your brother said, 'I will not kill a man for loyalty, nor for fighting well,' and sent his own maester to tend Ser Barristan's wounds." He gave the king a long cool look. "Would that man were here today."
Robert complains that Ser Barristan was a knight of the Kingsguard, and therefore a special case. Ned counters that Dany is a fourteen-year-old girl. He knows he is pushing the matter too far, but he can't stop himself. He accuses Robert of being more afraid of a girl than he ever was of Rhaegar, and he defies him by suggesting Robert has forgotten he is a king. Almost at breaking point, Robert decides the debate has gone long enough, and asks them to vote. Varys, Renly, Pycelle, and Littlefinger side with the king. Only Ser Barristan stands with Ned.
The king thinks the matter settled, and he asks how they will get someone to kill her. Renly suggests Mormont, but Varys thinks poison would work better. The king thinks poison is a cowardly way to do things, and that's when Ned is too fed up to go on. He wonders aloud how Robert can worry about cowardice when he is plotting the death of a girl. He urges Robert to at least kill her himself. Robert decides he's had enough, and tells Ned to just deal with it. So Ned says Robert will have to do it without him. Robert is shocked, but says Ned will do what he's told or another Hand will be found.
"I wish him every success." Ned unfastened the heavy clasp that clutched at the folds of his cloak, the ornate silver hand that was the badge of his office. He laid it on the table in front of the king, saddened by the memory of the man who had pinned it on him, the friend he had loved. "I thought you a better man than this, Robert. I thought we had made a nobler king."
Robert's face was purple. "Out," he croaked, choking on his rage. "Out, damn you, I'm done with you. What are you waiting for? Go, run back to Winterfell. And make certain I never look on your face again, or I swear, I'll have your head on a spike!"
Ned leaves the council and heads for his chambers. He calls Vayon Poole and tells him they will leave for Winterfell that night. Ned wonders how long the king's rage will last. After all, he has held a grudge against Rhaegar for fifteen years, even though the man is nothing but a memory. And with word of Tyrion Lannister's abduction bound to reach his ears by nightfall, there's no telling what the king could do.
Ned is partially glad to be returning to his homeland, but he is angry about the way he is returning. There is still much work remaining to fix the realm. Robert and the council will either beggar the lands or lose them to the Lannisters, and the matter if Jon Arryn's murder is still unsolved. It occurs to him that he could leave King's Landing by ship, and stop at Dragonstone to talk to Stannis Baratheon, who must be in seclusion because he knows some important secret.
He calls Poole again, and asks him to find a ship, but just then, Lord Baelish arrives. Ned doesn't want to see him, but decides he can suffer the man one more time and invites him in. Littlefinger says he wont be long, because he is going to dine with a certain Lady Tanda, who wants to marry her daughter off to someone important. He also tells Ned that the king is quite upset with him, and it was left up to Littlefinger to convince the council not to use the secretive, efficient, and costly Braavosi assassins known as the Faceless Men. Instead, they will give a lordship to whoever kills Dany. The idea of exchanging titles for murder disgusts Ned, but Littlefinger doesn't think it's that bad.
"Titles are cheap. The Faceless men are expensive. If truth be told, I did the Targaryen girl more good than you with all your talk of honor. Let some sellsword drunk on visions of lordship try to kill her. Likely he'll make a botch of it, and afterward the Dothraki will be on their guard. If we'd sent a Faceless Man after her, she'd be as good as buried."
Ned frowned. "You sit on the council and talk of ugly women and steel kisses, and now you expect me to believe that you tried to protect the girl? How big a fool do you take me for?"
"Well, quite an enormous one, actually," said Littlefinger, laughing.
"Do you always find murder so amusing, Lord Baelish?"
"It's not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it's you. You rule like a man dancing on rotten ice. I daresay you will make a noble splash. I believe I heard the first crack this morning."
Ned says it's the last crack. He's leaving. Littlefinger asks when, and Ned says as soon as possible. To which Littlefinger replies that is he waits until evening, he could take Ned to a brothel that Jory has been looking for a while.
The flameout with Robert and the small council is precisely the reason why I like Ned so much. He stands up for what's right, no matter what it costs him. He is noble, and not in the sense that he is a lord, and therefore part of the genteel nobility. He is noble in that he has high morals and great character. He has an idea of right and wrong, and he will not compromise his beliefs. (Well, not yet.) He is basically a throwback to the classical and romantic ideal of chivalry when it was associated with the likes of King Arthur and his knights.
That kind of chivalry worked very nicely in stories and legends, being mostly a fabrication of late medieval poets at the tail end of the European dark ages. In real life, there were a lot fewer shining examples of chivalry.
The point is that Ned's greatest trait is also his greatest flaw. He is too single-mindedly noble to succeed in a land where nobility is liability. That kind of shtick might work in Winterfell, but in King's Landing? No chance. That's why Littlefinger is right; his actions were more effective than Ned's in saving Dany.
Does it suck that the way to get things done is to compromise your beliefs? Yes. Does it mean the system is broken? Yes. Is there anything that can be done about it? Not in the short term. If Ned had been able to play the game of thrones as well as some others, he might have been able to do some good and fix the system over the long term. Some might argue that that would be impossible since Ned's essential goodness and willingness to do good stems from his inability to deceive and therefore play efficient politics. Those people might have a point. Personally, I like that Ned stuck to his guns (erm... blades), but I wouldn't have minded if he had a bit more politically savvy. Savvy?
Oi... that sequence makes my head hurt. Moving on.
When Varys suggest using the tears of Lys to kill Dany, the text says that "Pycelle's sleepy eyes flicked open. He squinted suspiciously at the eunuch." I think that was meant as a red herring, with the tears of Lys being the poison used to kill Jon Arryn, according to Varys. Not much is known of Pycelle at this stage in the game, but all of sudden he has to come under scrutiny. All for nothing, in the end, but being innocent of one thing doesn't mean the old maester isn't a shady character anyway. We'll deal with him much later.
Not much else to see here, other than I didn't realize before that Barristan also stood against murdering Dany. A minor, but interesting bit of foresight there, on Martin's part. Of course, that plotline is a loooong way away. Moving on, again.
Chapter 34: Catelyn
Catelyn and her riders are nearing the Vale of Arryn. They are being led there by some knights. One of them is Ser Donnel Waynwood, who speaks about Lysa Arryn as if she is more anxious than usual. Catelyn knows her sister is jumpy because of the Lannisters.
She considers her Lannister prisoner; Tyrion has become very friendly with the men (particularly Bronn) since the mountain clans attacked. He shows no fear even though he is a prisoner surrounded by two score knights and men-at-arms.
Could I be wrong? Catelyn wondered, not for the first time. Could he be innocent after all, of Bran and Jon Arryn and all the rest? And if he was, what did that make her? Six had died to bring him here.
Ser Donnel tells her that the maester needed to heal Ser Rodrick's wounds is at the Eyrie instead of the Vale. That's when they reach the battlements of the vale, and a knight wearing an emblem of a black fish rides to meet them. The Knight of the Gate is Brynden Tully, Catelyn's uncle. It is the first time they've seen each since Catelyn's wedding, and their reunion is warm. He grants the company entry, and they enter the Vale of Arryn.
The Vale itself is beautiful, a valley surrounded by mountains, and a high, thin waterfall can barely be seen in the distance. The Eyrie lies above that,. It would take until evening to reach the mountain, and another day for the climb. Ser Rodrick is feverish and cannot go further, so he and the others stay in the Vale while Brynden leads Catelyn to the Eyrie. She takes Tyrion with her, and is accompanied by Bronn, Marillion, and six of Brynden's men.
Catelyn and her uncle ride ahead of the others, and he asks what trouble brings her all this way. She tells him everything, and he listens. Her uncle would always listen to her. It was his constant arguments with her father, Hoster Tully, which drove him from Riverrun to the Vale. He tells Catelyn to send a bird to her father; Riverrun is near Casterly Rock, and must be warned about the threat. Catelyn asks about the mood in the Vale, and Brynden replies that people are angry. They feel insulted that Jamie was named Warden of the east when the Arryns had held the title for three hundred years.
Then there is the matter of Lysa's son, Robert. The boy is six years old, sickly, and weak. There are those who think Nestor Royce should either rule until Robert is old enough, or that Lysa should marry again. There are plenty of suitors, but Lysa is taking her time with them, and Brynden thinks she intends to rule herself and not marry any of them.
Catelyn sees no problem with that, but Brynden tells her she might feel differently after seeing Lysa. While both Catelyn and Lysa's marriages were political, Catelyn has had the happier life. Lysa has suffered through miscarriages and stillborn children. Young Robert is all she lives for, while she fears the Lannisters. Catelyn says she has brought one in chains, but her uncle is skeptical, seeing how Tyrion carries himself with confidence.
It is dark by the time the company reaches the Gates of the Moon. Impossibly high up lies the Eyrie. Tyrion remarks that if they plan to ascend at nightfall, they might as well kill him right there. Brynden tells him they will wait until morning, and then take mules as far as they can. After that, the journey is either finished on foot, or in a basket drawn up by chains. Tyrion laughs at the though of going up with the turnips, and says that he'll walk because Lannisters have pride. The remark rubs Catelyn the wrong way, and she snaps that Lannisters have "arrogance, avarice, and lust for power".
"My brother is undoubtedly arrogant," Tyrion Lannister replied. "My father is the soul of avarice, and my sweet sister Cersei lusts for power with every waking breath. I, however, am innocent as a little lamb. Shall I bleat for you?"
The company is greet by Lord Nestor Royce, but he claims that Lysa has heard of their arrival and demands that Catelyn ascend that night. Brynden thinks the notion is foolish, and an invitation to a broken neck.
"The mules know the way, Ser Brynden." A wiry girl of seventeen or eighteen years stepped up beside Lord Nestor. Her dark hair was cropped short and straight around her head, and she wore riding leathers and a light shirt of silvered ringmail. She bowed to Catelyn, more gracefully than her lord. "I promise you, my lady, no harm will come to you. It would be my honor to take you up. I've made the dark climb a hundred times. Mychel says my father must have been a goat."
The girl's name is Mya Stone. Stone is bastard's name in the vale, and thinking of it reminds Catelyn about Jon. The thought makes her feel angry and guilty at the same time. She says she will trust Mya to lead her up. The others are escorted away, and Tyrion brought to a cell, while Mya leads Catelyn to the mountain path. Mya warns her that people get frightened and hold on too tightly to the mules, but Catelyn says she was born a Tully and married to a Stark, therefore she doesn't frighten easily.
The way up is dark, because torches would ruin Mya's night vision. She tells Catelyn that Mychel says she has the eyes of an owl, and then adds that Mychel Redfort is her love. A squire now, they will wed when he is a knight. Catelyn smiles, but sadly thinks that the marriage will not happen; the Redforts are a old family, and would never allow Mychel to wed a bastard.
They reach the first keep (Stone), change mules, and continue the climb. The way is more treacherous on the way up to the second keep (Snow). Beyond that, the way is almost life threatening on the way to the third waycastle (Sky). From there, the way up to the Eyrie is through a ladder-like tunnel going up about 600 feet. Catelyn has hand enough, and she asks to be pulled up in a basket. She is greeted upon arriving at the Eyrie by Ser Vardis Egen, and by Maester Colemon, who says he sent word to Lysa because she wanted to know the moment Catelyn arrived.
"I hope she had a good night's rest," Catelyn said with a certain bite in the tone that seemed to go unnoticed.
Lysa is waiting for her in her solar, and she is all smiles to see her sister, but Catelyn thinks that the five years since their last meeting have not been kind to Lysa. Younger than Catelyn by two years, she looks older now, and has a thicker body. Catelyn merely says that she looks good, but tired. Lysa agrees, and asks Colemon to leave them.
The instant they are alone, Lysa changes, rounding on Catelyn for daring to bring Tyrion to the Vale without permission. Catelyn is taken aback, saying that the Lannisters are their problem. Lysa says she sent her message as a warning, and she never intended to fight them. Just then, Robert Arryn arrives, woken from his sleep by the raised voices. Lysa calls the boy over, fussing with his clothes and hair.
"Isn't he beautiful? And strong too, don't you believe the things you hear. Jon knew. The seed is strong, he told me. His last words. He kept saying Robert's name, and he grabbed my arm so hard he left marks. Tell them, the seed is strong. His seed. He wanted everyone to know what a good strong boy my baby was going to be."
Catelyn wants Lysa to act quickly, thinking war might be on the horizon, but Lysa doesn’t want any of that talk around her baby. Robert, for his part, seems scared of Catelyn. Lysa offers him her breast to suck on. Catelyn stares in shock, realizing why there was grumbling about the boy, and why King Robert had tried to get the boy fostered with the Lannisters. Catelyn tries to reason with Lysa again, but she sees that her uncle had been right. Lysa just wonders what to do about Tyrion, now that she has him.
"Is he a bad man?" the Lord of the Eyrie asked, his mother's breast popping from his mouth, the nipple wet and red.
"A very bad man," Lysa told him as she covered herself, "but Mother won't let him harm my little baby."
"Make him fly," Robert said eagerly.
Lysa stroked her son's hair. "Perhaps we will," she murmured. "Perhaps that is just what we will do."
Argh! SO many frustrating points here. First and foremost is the death of Jon Arryn, aka the plot that won't die. Four entire books go by, and you know how many people know the truth of the death after all that time? TWO! Well, two who are still alive. There is remarkably little to show for that particular murder, unless you count the huge amount of trouble caused by it. You could say that almost all of the trouble in these books was begun by that one act, but that's oversimplifying things, and I won't go there. But it still frustrates me. Just so you know.
Almost as frustrating, yet entirely different, is Lysa Arryn and her horrible little kid. Maybe I shouldn't call him that. If we consider Joff to be the child monster against which all other child monsters in this series are measured, then little Robert is not so bad. He's incredibly spoiled, and still young, but I'd only go as far as saying he's spoiled. I wouldn't call him outright evil.
His mother, on the other hand... well, she makes Cersei of the later books look not half bad by comparison. (Note: in the comments for Part --, I stated that Stannis was one of my Bottom three characters. I call for a retcon. Please substitute Lysa for Stannis.) Breastfeeding a six-year-old? That is all kinds of icky and I'm just going to push that issue aside for the meantime, because Lysa and Robert give me the heebie-jeebies.
Before I move on from the Arryn's, Make him fly, or any variation thereof, has to be one of the lines that irritates me the most. I'd put it right up there with You don't want to wake the dragon, and You know nothing, Jon Snow. Now I can move on. Yet again.
Brynden Tully is a pragmatic and decent man. He's the cool uncle. There should be more people like him in Westeros. And Catelyn should have figured that he knew what he was talking about when he said Lysa would be difficult to reason with.
Possible throwaway line concerning Catelyn that nevertheless caught my attention: "Sometimes she felt as though her heart had turned to stone." Yeah, yeah, it's a popular turn of phrase. BUT. You know. Unless you don't know, in which case I'm not saying anything. This time.
Warden of the East: This is the second time this title has been mentioned. Both times people are upset that King Robert gave the title to Jamie. But I don't think anything ever comes of it. I mean, ever. I can't remember if Jamie is still Warden by the end of AFfC, or if he was stripped of the title, or if it even matters because the seven kingdoms aren't unified, but I think it's just a plotline that never went anywhere. Strange.
Also introduced in this chapter is Mya Stone. She says her father must have been a goat. And how. Good King Robert, the goat. I don't know if she's Robert's first child, but she's older than Gendry, at least. We meet her wearing mail and seeming a little boyish. From her brief introduction, it seems she managed to avoid the stigma of being boyish, unlike Arya and Brienne.
Speaking of Mya, I don't understand why Catelyn feels guilty when she thinks about Jon. Could it be because of the way they parted, or because he's on the Wall?
The climb up to the Eyrie is ridiculous. Who would ever build a castle on the tippy top of a mountain so steep that you'd have to go through wind and snow on a path that not even mules could cross. It's fantasy, I know, but just think what the builders went through. Were the Arryn's even thinking of the first rule of real estate (location, location, location) when they divvied up the land? Imagine the exchange:
"Royce, I want you to be lord over this gorgeous valley with the flat lands and warm weather, and I'll take the land up on the mountain."
"What, you mean up on the slope?"
"Up where there's snow and howling wind?"
"Up where the mules won't go?"
"You know, I don't have all day. Higher."
"Way up above the clouds?!"
"You always take the good stuff, Arryn."
And because I'm feeling silly, I'll leave you with a real estate ad for the Eyrie.
For Sale: Luxury castle. Your own private getaway. Get your meals delivered in baskets. Occasional maintenance needed on chains, winches, and plumbing systems. Gorgeous view. Bonus: Private walkout window!
That's it for today. And if you like Ned Stark so much that you never want anything bad to happen to him, don't come back on Monday for Part 15. (I'm kidding. Please come back. I love Ned, too. He'll be ok for a little longer. Mostly.) Peace.