A Crown of Winter Roses

As discussed in Episode 05 of Radio Westeros: A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose

Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost…

While Ned is imprisoned in the Black Cells in AGoT, he has a dream about the Tourney of Harrenhal which highlights the connection between Lyanna Stark and blue roses, and introduces a possible romantic element to the Rhaegar and Lyanna story.

Fast forward for a moment to ASoS and Meera Reed tells Bran Stark the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Much has been written about the identity of the Knight, and we discussed it in our podcast “A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose.”  It’s commonly (though not universally) accepted that Lyanna Stark donned armor and sought to teach the bullying squires she had caught tormenting young Howland Reed a lesson in honor. Meera goes on to tell Bran of the aftermath of the Knight’s victory and disappearance:

That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his. But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared. The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished. The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree. It was the dragon prince who won that tourney in the end.

This passage lends a lot of weight to the idea that Rhaegar might have unmasked Lyanna as the KotLT which further leads to the possibility that there might have been a window for a spark of mutual attraction to develop if and when he found her. Whether or not romance blossomed immediately, Rhaegar’s knowledge of Lyanna’s actions would give him cause to want to honor her in some way. Add to that Bran’s conviction to Meera Reed that the mystery knight should have won the tourney. If Lyanna was the Knight, in a sense she did when Rhaegar crowned her, though in a very different way, and of course, as Meera indicates, the end of the story is rather sad.

The passage from Ned’s dream also gives us a huge clue as to the link between Lyanna and blue roses. That link is hinted at in Ned’s first chapter in the crypts of WInterfell when he recalls his sister’s death, linked to the smell of blood and roses, and tells Robert “I bring her flowers when I can… Lyanna was … fond of flowers.” Then in Ned’s Tower of Joy dream, in the aftermath of Jaime Lannister’s ambush, the connection is drawn more strongly. The first line “He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of blood and the last “A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death” work together to connect Lyanna, blue roses and blood.

In fact, not only are blue roses linked to Lyanna on numerous occasions, but in most cases blood and promises are also present. Ned has another dream, the day Robert returns from the Kingswood with his fatal wound. He is in the crypts of Winterfell and sees Lyanna’s statue:

Promise me, Ned, “ Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood.

And the Black Cell dream continues with this passage:

“Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing at his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke, trembling, in the dark. Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses.”

All the way back in Ned’s first PoV in the Winterfell crypts, we saw this memory:

Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black.

Every mention of blue roses in Ned’s point of view blue links to Lyanna, and also involves promises, blood or both. A final example of the connection between Lyanna and blue roses is in Theon’s dream of the dead in ACoK, when he sees a “slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore” who could only be Lyanna.

This dream can be interpreted as a hint to the reader that Lyanna’s crypt statue most likely depicts her wearing that crown of roses. Since the story of the KotLT and the Harrenhal tourney has not been told inside Winterfell (as we know from Bran) it seems unlikely the rose story would have gotten around. Logically, Theon will only know whatever the “official” story of Lyanna’s death is and would have no inkling of any romantic attachment between R+L. For what it’s worth, “spattered with gore” seems to imply that someone else was wounded near her (causing gore to spatter her gown) in the moments before her death, most likely indicating Theon has heard some version of the fight at the ToJ, which would only be natural since several northerners died there. And yet in Theon’s dream, as in Ned’s thoughts and fever dreams, there is the connection made to blue roses. Thus it seems that the crown of roses is depicted on the statue, which very few people would have seen outside of the family.

So back to Ned, he heavily associates Lyanna, blue roses, promises and blood, and it seems like the author is trying to tell us something. What’s really curious is that the association begins with Rhaegar Targaryen giving her blue roses. Overall the blue rose seems to symbolize the union between Rhaegar and Lyanna. Given that RLJ asserts Jon is the direct product of that union, the blue rose can be applied as a metaphor for Jon himself, something Rhaegar has given her, as he gave her the original crown. Of course the blood and promises would indicate Lyanna’s death and the promise Ned made to her, both of which R+L=J assumes relate directly to Jon Snow.

Extending the blue rose symbolism slightly beyond Rhaegar and Lyanna, and attributing it to Jon, we see another blue rose in Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying:

“A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice … “

It’s Jorah Mormont who later clarifies that this blue flower was in fact a blue rose. And that blue rose again fits Jon very well, with his proximity to a Wall of ice. So there’s a brief take on the symbolism of blue roses and their connection to Lyanna Stark. For a more in depth look at blue roses, a friend of ours has done a lot of writing on the subject at westeros.org, in a thread called Jon Snow and the Blue Winter Rosetta Stone.

 

Jon Snow: Arthur/Galahad, The Prince that was Promised/Azor Ahai Reborn

-Galahad, Arthur Rackham

In ASoIaF we are told about the Prince that was Promised, who may also equate with the eastern legend of Azor Ahai Reborn. The signs of the Prince’s coming are believed to be:

  • The birth of a prince from the line of the dragon (gender may not matter, per Maester Aemon)
  • Born amidst smoke and salt
  • A bleeding star
  • Return of dragons

Of Azor Ahai, we have this, from Melisandre:

“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”

and

“When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt…”

The bleeding star and smoke and salt are what connect the two prophecies. To indicate the Prince will also wield a sword, we have Rhaegar’s pronouncement:

“I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.”

In both cases, we seem to be dealing with a messianic figure.

In Arthurian legend, King Arthur himself stands in the role of Messiah, the King that was and will come again to save his people. In other words: the Prince that was promised to return. This messianic figure occurs frequently in European tradition. Finn Mac Cumhaill in Ireland, Arthur in Britain, Bran the Blessed of Wales, Ogier the Dane, Saint Wenceslas of Bohemia, Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, the mighty Charlemagne of France and a host of others are all reputed to be sleeping under a mountain or lost beyond a Wall or sea, waiting for the final need of their people to return for their salvation.

Galahad is the son of Elaine of Corbenic and Sir Lancelot. Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles and the two are closely associated with grail mythology and are often equated with the Fisher King and the Grail Maiden.  Pelles, according to Malory, had reason to believe that his daughter Elaine’s son Galahad would become the greatest knight the world has known and lead “a foreign country… out of danger,” something Jon Snow has already done for the Wildlings. (Bonus: In Welsh tradition Galahad is descended from Bron, one of the original followers of Joseph of Arimathea, whose name is a very close cognate to the name Bran, held by numerous illustrious Stark ancestors.) Galahad himself is closely analogous to Arthur, earning a mystical sword and wide repute as a knight at a young age.

Getting back to the parallels between the messianic figures of tPtwP/AAR and Arthur/Galahad we should first deal with the “bleeding star.” In both traditions in ASoIaF there is a bleeding star which many assume to be a red comet. Indeed, we see a red comet blazing across the Westerosi sky around the time of the birth of Daenerys’ dragons. While the comet has different names and significance in various regions, the most common associations seem to be fire and blood or, as Old Nan puts it “…dragons, boy” undeniably relating it to House Targaryen. Yet on several occasions it is also likened to a sword, including by Septon Chayle of Winterfell “…the sword that slays the seasons.” Meanwhile, in Arthurian legend there is a very important comet, also associated with blood and dragons. Legend has it that Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon took his name from a red, dragon-like comet seen in the sky over Britain as his brother and king lay dying. “Pendragon” literally means “chief dragon” or “war leader” but can also be interpreted as “hanging dragon.” This red comet alternately presaged the death of Aurelius Ambrosius, the rise of Uther and the birth of Arthur. In all instances, it is closely associated with the British version of “dragons.” Incidentally, there are some scientists who believe that a comet’s tail passing over northern Europe in the sixth century caused a bombardment of debris that led to a period of climate change and darkness where crops failed and disease killed people in the tens of thousands. In fact early chronicles are rife with descriptions of sixth century comets, which are most often associated with fire, blood and dragons. One can’t help but notice the similarity to the comet and the impending long winter in ASoIaF. These same scientific discoveries have led to theorists who postulate that the myths of Arthur’s sword, his many battles and his mysterious departure are really expressions of the passing of a large comet over Britain, which brings us to the parallel of the swords. The magical sword is another common theme in northern European legend, with swords made by the legendary Norse blacksmith Wayland Smith found in the possession of everyone from Sigurd and Roland to Ogier the Dane and King Arthur. Both Arthur and Galahad possess magical swords that they retrieved from a stone by a test of worthiness only they could pass. Compare to “Lightbringer”, the legendary sword of AAR and the renowned Stark greatsword “Ice” (the original, not Eddard Stark’s Valyrian steel model) While it is early to tell, it has been predicted that Jon Snow will find himself in possession of one of these swords.

Checking in with the list of PtwP and AAR portents and parallels, we have Jon Snow and Arthur as princes of the line of dragons, predicted to wield or wielding a magical sword, and dragons returning to the world (literally in Westeros, in the form of the descendants of Constantine II in ancient Britain.) We have a long summer ending and a red comet in the sky in both worlds, more or less, and “the cold breath of darkness” is certainly about to hit the world of Westeros like a ton of bricks, while according to chronicles the sixth century saw drought, unusual summer frosts and “failure of bread.” So what of salt and smoke? Those are actually the easiest signs to find as salt can be found in tears (plenty of those in Westeros and Arthurian legend, including Bowen Marsh’s) and smoke is also ever present (witness Jon’s wound “smoking” in his final ADwD chapter and the monk Gildas describing the smoking island of Britain in 540AD) On the other hand, it’s also been suggested that the salt and smoke represent an interpretation of snow and icy breath by someone who had never experienced a cold climate, which certainly prevails in northern Westeros and sixth century Britain. Finally, since R+L have been shown to parallel both Uther and Ygraine (traditional) and Elaine and Lancelot (upon closer inspection), from parentage to comets to swords either Arthur or Galahad works for Jon Snow. Of course, his story has yet to play out upon the page so there will be new depths to explore in the future.

Lord Stark: The Fisher King

 

                                   I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland

The Fisher King is sometimes known as the Wounded King and is nearly always presented with a leg or groin wound. Because the wound causes a loss of fertility, his kingdom becomes barren (as in “The Wasteland”) and he has little to do but fish in the river outside his palace. He is Keeper of the Grail, but must wait for the chosen one to heal him. Only when he is healed is the chosen one (alternately, Peredur, Percival or Galahad) allowed to “achieve” the Grail. The legend of the Fisher King is closely related to the story of Bran the Blessed and his magical cauldron from the Mabinogian, a mythical cycle thought by many to be closely related to the Stark family. Interestingly, the Mabinogian uses a severed head as the motif, rather than a lower body wound. Celtic scholars believe some Celts practiced a cult of head worship, as that is where they believed the soul resided. In fact, Diodorus Siculus, in his 1st century History, relates: “[Celts] cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses.” We have seen this motif with the story told about the Freys’ treatment of Robb Stark and Grey Wind.

In some versions of the story we are presented with a father and son pair, representing the wounded King and his fishing counterpart. I propose that Ned Stark, whose leg wound precedes his death which leaves his “kingdom” almost literally a wasteland, represents the wounded aspect of the Fisher King. Lord Rickard stands in as the patriarch of the clan in whose keeping the “sangreal” or cauldron has been left, only to be offered to one who has proven himself worthy. Of course, it is Lyanna herself who stands in for the cauldron, as in Celtic mythology the cauldron represents a womb. Robb Stark represents the severed head on the platter (the original “sangreal”), presented to the Welsh hero Peredur, who later recognizes it as his cousin. Jon Snow, as the son of Lyanna Stark and cousin of Robb, ties together the two versions of the Grail: the cauldron/womb and the vessel/platter.

Ashara Dayne: The Lady of Shallott

The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
Dead into tower’d Camelot.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Lancelot is closely associated with three women named Elaine (one of many applications of triplism in the Arthurian cycle) As previously mentioned, Elaine of Corbenic becomes the mother of his son, Galahad. His mother is Elaine, the wife of King Ban of Benioc. When they are forced to flee their lands, Lancelot is taken by the Lady of the Lake and raised, as was Arthur, in ignorance of his identity. Elaine of Astolat (better known to many as the Lady of Shallott) falls in love with Lancelot at a tournament, is rejected by him and later when she dies of a broken heart, her body is floated downstream to Camelot, where the reason for her death becomes known to the court and all mourn the tragedy of her demise. While not completely analogous, this story has strong elements of the Ashara Dayne story as we know it: a noble young woman, a lover at a tourney, death from a broken heart and her body floating away. Of the possible candidates I would place Brandon Stark here in the role of Lancelot. A young man who fought in the tourney and was unhorsed by Rhaegar, as Lancelot was unhorsed by his cousin Bors at the Astolat Tourney. In the case of Elaine and Lancelot, she tended the wounds he sustained. This is a possible scenario for Ashara and Brandon, although never mentioned, and a situation parallel to that of Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling may have arisen. Brandon, we have every reason to believe, did not possess the extreme sense of honor that his nephew, the son of the honorable Eddard, would later show. He would leave in the morning, pleading his commitment to Catelyn Stark and leave Ashara to cope with the consequences. Taking Ashara’s story and its parallels to Elaine of Astolat at face value doesn’t rule out other possibilities, such as a faked death or a baby swap. Rather, the analogy  enhances all possible scenarios.

Elia Martell: Gwenhwyfar Redux

The Accolade, Edmund Leighton

Earlier, the parallel of Arthur Dayne to Sir Lancelot was explored. Elia was posited in the role of Gwenhwyfar, with Lyanna Stark in the role of Elaine. In keeping with Elaine’s theme of disguise, Lyanna transforms into Gwenhwyfar to Rhaegar’s evolving Lancelot. The offspring of R+L, at once Arthur to their Uther and Ygrain, can thus also be viewed as the embodiment of Galahad, as we will see. Yet this scenario leaves discussions of Elia at unsatisfactory loose ends. Inspired by a thorough re-read of all references, we come back to themes of Gwenhwyfar in the character of Elia Martell.

Gwenhwyfar’s story has earth goddess themes, with links to the early Welsh triple goddess and strong parallels to Persephone. The name Gwenhwyfar can be translated to “White Fay (Spirit)” which supports her supernatural origin. Most of the earliest references to the character come from the Welsh triads where, as the three queens of Arthur indicate, we find a strong association with the triple goddess. In the story of Culhwch and Olwen she is referenced as one of Arthur’s “otherworld” weapons, while several other triads reference her involvement in the battle of Camlann and her “faithlessness” as a wife. Speculation surrounding some of these references is that Gwenhwyfar is representative of Arthur’s sovereignty, which is in keeping with divine origins.

Elia Martell is described by Barristan Selmy as:

a good woman … kind and clever, with a gentle heart and a sweet wit. (ADwD, chapter 23)

Her marriage with Rhaegar was marked by “fondness” rather than passion, most likely the union of a well schooled prince and princess who, while they didn’t choose each other, had no real complaints of each other. Aerys, in his paranoia, may have felt he needed the union with Dorne to keep them faithful, in much the same way a British king may have “needed” to wed a representative of the British earth goddess. The characterization of Gwenhwyfar as a faithless wife in the triads seems to come from nowhere, unless one considers the practice of the representative of sovereign goddess taking an annual mate. While on the one hand this furthers Gwenhwyfar’s association with a divine character, it also opens the door to later tales of Gwenhwyfar’s infidelity with Lancelot and therefore the hinted parallel of Elia and Arthur to Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot.

What makes this parallel fascinating, and even possible, is that there is very little agreement in the sources about the nature of Gwenhyfar and Lancelot’s infidelity (see the variation in ideas of courtly love, for instance) and not much consistency in portrayal of their characters. Gwenhwyfar is alternately strong, passive, assertive, insipid, judgmental, gentle, shrewish, maternal, treacherous and tragic. Similarly, there is a lot of confusion about the character of Elia Martell among the ASoIaF fandom.  Much of the characterization of Elia Martell is highly reminiscent of Gwenhwyfar: she is sweet, gentle, maternal (though of uncertain childbearing ability) and inspires great love and loyalty among those who knew her, but is also assumed to be weak or passive because of her husband’s actions. Some assume she drove Rhaegar away with her feebleness, others suggest she passively accepted being set aside. While on the one hand the parallel supports an earthy, maternal image for both, it also becomes very much about the lack of information and confusion about the motives and character of each woman.

After a thorough examination of the Arthurian source  material pertaining to Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, one is left with the distinct impression that there is much that remains untold, hidden in the mists of time. Similarly, we must reach the same conclusion about Rhaegar and Elia: we don’t have sufficient insight into their private lives to pass character judgments. Even what we know of the outcome remains shrouded in mystery. At the end of the day, there’s room to believe Elia had opinions and a strong identity of her own and to accept that there is much and more we don’t yet know about R+E and suspend judgment, as we indeed must for Arthur and Gwenhwyfar.

 

 

Rhaegar Targaryen: The Many Faced Abductor

In most versions of the Gwenhwyfar abduction story, the abductor is Melwas (or Meleagant) also known as the “Summer King”, whose name means “princely youth.” Melwas holds Gwenhwyfar captive in his tower for nearly a year. In later versions, the kidnapper is Arthur’s own nephew/son Mordred and the end comes with the Battle of Camlann, with Arthur killing Mordred and receiving in turn the grievous wound that leads to his departure for Avalon. But it is also important to recognize that in some versions of the Lancelot story, the kidnapper is Lancelot himself and is simultaneously a kidnapping and a rescue. In these versions of the story, Gwenhwyfar has been sentenced to be burned to death due to her betrayal of the king and Lancelot transports her to Joyous Gard for her own safety. This is too strong a parallel to ignore and I wonder again: what if Aerys knew of Lyanna’s deception? Would his son and Kingsguard stand by as he threatened to burn a highborn maiden for an imagined slight? We know from Ser Jaime that this was his preferred method of dealing with all who displeased him — the King’s “Justice” in those days was fire. We also know that he was paranoid and held a grudge. What if Aerys himself, a year following the tourney, sent men to seize Lyanna Stark as she travelled to Riverrun for her brother’s wedding, with the intent of bringing her to face the King’s “Justice”? Might Rhaegar and the KG closest to him not have staged a rescue? Can we find the logic in shifting the role of Lancelot to Rhaegar?

The Melwas version also has clear parallels to the Rhaegar-Lyanna story, if we once again shift analogies and treat Rhaegar (the reported abductor) as Melwas (the “princely youth”) The captivity and its length are direct parallels, as is the dramatic Battle of the Trident with the Battle of Camlann. Gwenhwyfar went to her deathbed filled with guilt for the lives lost in her name, as I have always imagined Lyanna Stark must have done. I think here is the justification for shifting the role of Lancelot to Rhaegar: the reverse path from Mordred/Rhaegar, who perished at Camlann/Trident, to Melwas/Rhaegar, the “princely youth” who held the queen in his tower for a year, to Lancelot, who rescued the queen from the fire, all playing the same role of abductor. Considering the parallels between Rhaegar and Lancelot adds a new dimension to the adulterous nature of R+L, as seen in Chretien de Troyes “Knight of the Cart.” 

 

Lyanna Stark: Elaine of Corbenic into Gwenhwyfar

Lancelot has a son called Galahad with a woman named Elaine of Corbenic. The father of Elaine of Corbenic is the Fisher King, sometimes called King Pelles, the guardian of the Holy Grail. Legend has it that he is descended from Bron who was a follower of Joseph of Arimathea, who brought the Grail to Britain. He is also thought to be derived in part from the character of Bran the Blessed in the Welsh Mabinogian. Bran possessed a magic cauldron that could resurrect the dead. This brings to mind the North, with the connection between the cauldron and the resurrected dead of the Land of Always Winter, the name Bran, and Welsh mythology in general. Given that, I would assume a Stark connection to the characters of Elaine and Pelles.

Malory describes Elaine as “passing fair and young.” Compare that to Eddard Stark’s memory of his sister “Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child woman of surpassing loveliness.” (AGoT, ch.4) After Lancelot rescues Elaine from a “scalding bath” she falls in love with him. Applying this to Lyanna, could she have been in trouble with a Targaryen? Did Aerys actually discover the truth behind tKotLT only to have someone save her from punishment at the tournament? Was Rhaegar’s crowning her QoLaB a symbolic message to his father that she was under his protection? In the story of Elaine of Corbenic and Lancelot, Elaine must ultimately resort to a magical disguise to trick him into lying with her and conceiving Galahad. I propose that, with typical Martinism, the analogy is now given a different twist.

Lancelot is closely connected with a traditional folk story that has three main elements: a child raised by a water sidhe, the reappearance of the (now grown) hero at a tournament on three consecutive days in three different disguises, and the rescue of a kidnapped queen.

If we assume the Lyanna Stark is tKotLT and also analogous to Elaine of Corbenic, we see that she is associated with disguises. The disguise Elaine assumes is of Gwenhwyfar. If we assign the role of sidhe child to the crannogman and agree that Lyanna’s disguise as tKotLT and defeat of three champions satisfies the second element we have two of the elements of the original topos present. This may be a hint that Lyanna is now moving into the third element or the role of Gwenhwyfar, the captive queen.

*A note on the etymology of Corbenic, which I believe ties Corbenic, Elaine and the Fisher King very closely to the Starks. There are a number of possible linguistic connections, among them the Brythonic Caer Bran (literally Fort of Bran, or Fort of the Raven) and the middle French corbin, also meaning Raven, thought by many to be an allusion to Bran the Blessed with whom the Fisher King is closely connected.

Arthur Dayne as Sir Lancelot

At first glance, who better to fulfill the role of First Knight than Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, almost universally reckoned to be the finest knight who ever lived? Wikipedia cites this scholarly description of Lancelot:

According to Pamela Raabe, in Chretien de Troyes’ work Lancelot is portrayed as not only the bravest of knights, but one that everyone he meets is forced to describe as uniquely perfect. (Raabe, Pamela (1987) Chretien’s Lancelot and the Sublimity of Adultery. Toronto Quarterly. 57:259-270)

Compare with:

The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who would have killed me but for Howland Reed. (Eddard Stark to Bran Stark, ACoK, ch.21)

I learned from Ser Arthur Dayne , the Sword of the Morning, who could have slain all five of you with his left hand while he was taking a piss with his right. (Jaime Lannister to Loras Tyrell, ASoS, Ch.67)

Another detail about Lancelot: His castle and the location of his final resting place? Joyous Gard. Formerly called Dolorous Gard, the name was changed to Joyous Gard after Arthur and Gwenhwyfar visit as his guests. If it were a tower, it might well be called… the Tower of Joy.

In Chretien de Troyes tale “The Knight of the Cart” which introduced the Lancelot-Gwenhyfar affair to the medieval world, Lancelot rescues Gwenhwyfar, who has been abducted by Melwas (Meleagant) His quest portrays the struggles to balance his role as King Arthur’s warrior within the framework of courtly love and his affair with Gwenhwyfar. In order to reach her to effect the rescue, he must travel in a cart which the audience understands to be a mode of transport usually reserved for criminals. This foreshadows the consummation of the affair, which occurs after the rescue. Essentially, Lancelot breaks his contract with his king and becomes a criminal or social outcast through his actions. Critically, his role as the King’s First Knight does not change, but has been sullied.

This parallel posits Rhaegar as Arthur married to Elia as Gwenhwyfar. By all accounts, R+E (like A+G) had a marriage of mutual respect and fondness, if not passion. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning and “bravest of knights” is Lancelot, King Arthur’s First Knight who before he learned his true name was known only as “The White Knight.” Is there is a possible parallel here with Arthur Dayne and Elia Martell? How does Lyanna Stark fit in? As usual, with GRRM things are not so straightforward, as our next installments will show.

 

A Ghost in Winterfell

Winterfell by Lino Drieghe © Fantasy Flight Games
As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 18

 

In Theon Greyjoy’s chapter “A Ghost in Winterfell” in ADwD, we find one of the great minor mysteries of the ASoIaF fandom.  It begins with a series of deaths. A Ryswell man at arms, Aenys Frey’s old squire, and a Flint crossbowman. Theon does not believe any of the excuses made for these deaths, thinking to himself each time that foul play was a more likely answer.

When Ramsay Bolton’s own man Yellow Dick is found dead, with his actual dick cut off and stuffed into his mouth, there can be no doubt that a bad actor is responsible for these deaths. Things are starting to go badly wrong for Roose Bolton, the snow is making the men anxious, the Freys and Manderlys are fighting and the stables have collapsed. It is during this chaos and friction that Theon flees a meal in the great hall and has a curious encounter.

When Theon steps outside he has a moment of peace in the falling snow that is strangely evocative of Sansa’s “snow castle” scene from the Eyrie. Then he walks on and meets a man:

Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face-to-face their eyes met briefly. The man put a hand on his dagger. “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”

“I’m not. I never … I was ironborn.”

“False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?”

“The gods are not done with me,” Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements. Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. “Lord Ramsay is not done with me.”

The man looked, and laughed. “I leave you to him, then.”

That short passage has inspired the eternal question — who is the hooded man? Many identity theories have been floated about the fandom, from Benjen Stark to Hal Mollen to Brynden “Blackfish” Tully. And while there is some value in ideas like Robett Glover, the brother of the lord of Deepwood Motte who was last seen trying to raise troops in White Harbor, and an idea which proposes the hooded man is simply in Theon’s imagination, our call is someone much closer to home, someone who would have very good reason to be in Winterfell, who may be much changed from the last time Theon saw him, and who Theon actually thinks is dead, making him a perfect candidate for an alternate interpretation of the chapter title. Harwin, son of Hullen, is both a possible alternate as “A Ghost in Winterfell” and a strong candidate for being the hooded man Theon encounters.

Probably the first question to address is why Harwin? That answer lies with Lady Stoneheart. Starting in ASoS, in the Merrett Frey epilogue, it’s made clear that she and the BwB are searching for her daughter Arya in the Riverlands. Remember that, besides Sandor Clegane, the BwB are the last people to knowingly see Arya Stark alive. The search continues into AFfC, when the BwB question Brienne about Arya, and we also learn that they have been gathering orphans in the Riverlands and housing them at the Inn at the Crossroads. It’s been speculated this is most likely an effort to discover Arya among the orphaned and displaced young people of the Riverlands.

Lady Stoneheart and the BwB would know that Arya was last seen with Sandor Clegane prior to the Red Wedding, but they will have also heard the news that some weeks after the Red Wedding, Roose Bolton set out for the north with a young woman in a closed carriage, reputed to be Arya Stark being taken home to marry his son Ramsay. In that light, it makes perfect sense that Lady Stoneheart would send a spy to Winterfell to see if this was truly her daughter, and if so to effect her rescue. Who better to send than the one member of the BwB who not only knew Arya well, but grew up in Winterfell and was an expert horseman?

Harwin is last mentioned by name in AFfC when Thoros tells Brienne that Harwin begged him to raise Catelyn Stark when they discovered her in the river three days after her death. And while there is a “young northman” in the cave when Brienne is brought before Lady Stoneheart, we think there’s a chance that young man is Hal Mollen, Catelyn’s sworn sword who was last seen heading into the Neck with Ned’s bones in ACoK.

The young man in the Brienne scene, whose voice is “frosted with the accents of the north”, is never identified by name. There has been opportunity for Hal to have rejoined his lady’s service, since Lady Stoneheart is noted to have been in Hag’s Mire and the Neck recently. In addition, it’s interesting that this young man says to Brienne:

“Can it be that my lady has forgotten that you once swore her your service?”

Hal Mollen witnessed Brienne’s oath to Lady Catelyn in ACoK, and since this comment seems to come from personal knowledge rather than something Lady Stoneheart said, we give pretty good odds to this man being Hal Mollen, and to Harwin having been sent on a mission sometime earlier, possibly during that trip into the Neck. But the theory doesn’t hinge upon that being true, since by most reckonings nearly two months pass between Brienne’s trial and the hooded man sighting. Which seems more than enough time for an expert horseman who knows the lay of the land well to make his way to Winterfell.

So having established motive and opportunity for Harwin, let’s look at the scene itself. It’s not immediately clear if Theon recognises the man. He wonders if this is the killer who has claimed four victims to that point, and thinks of him only as “the man.” But it’s very obvious the hooded man knows him. He clearly recognises Theon, and calls him “Turncloak” and “Kinslayer” — epithets that one could certainly expect from someone who lived in the Winterfell household. Theon denies being a kinslayer as usual, since he knows he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon. And as usual this is met with disgust and  the hooded man says “False is all you were” and wonders “How is it you still breathe?” Now, we know that Theon’s torture by Ramsay was known in the Riverlands,  Roose had made no secret of it. The man doesn’t seem surprised, and even laughs, when he sees Theon’s maimed hand, and seems to take some pleasure in leaving Theon to Ramsay.

These reactions seem to be all in keeping with what one would expect from Harwin. But what about Theon? It’s possible he wouldn’t recognise Harwin whom he hasn’t seen in several years, especially when we recall that Harwin was much changed and Arya barely recognised him when she first met the BwB. But it’s also possible that he does recognise him. And that is the really intriguing possibility because while Theon hasn’t seen Harwin in years, he does think of him.

In ADwD, in the chapter following his encounter with the hooded man, Theon is thinking about the ghosts that inhabit Winterfell and we get this:

That was long ago, though. They were all dead now. Jory, old Ser Rodrik, Lord Eddard, Harwin and Hullen, Cayn and Desmond and Fat Tom, Alyn with his dreams of knighthood, Mikken who had given him his first real sword. Even Old Nan, like as not.

So it seems that Theon assumes that all of the men who went with Ned perished in King’s Landing, but Harwin is the only person in his thoughts that’s actually alive. We think we’re alerted to this mistake on Theon’s part for a reason. Consider that while the chapter title “A Ghost in Winterfell” clearly applies to Theon, it’s made very plain in his thoughts that he thinks of himself as only one of very many ghosts: “there are ghosts in winterfell, and I am one of them.” Now if we consider that these chapter titles sometimes do have alternate meanings, and imagine what Theon would think if he saw Harwin, who he thinks is dead… the alternate meaning for this chapter title becomes very clear. The hooded man would literally appear to be a ghost to Theon, who is already spending a lot of time musing about ghosts and wondering about the voice he is hearing from the weirwood tree. In that light some lines that come immediately after the encounter with the hooded man make a lot of sense. First he thinks “He was trapped here, with the ghosts” and then “Leave Winterfell to me and the ghosts” and finally, when surprised in the godswood by Abel’s women:

“The ghosts,” he blurted. “They whisper to me. They … they know my name.”

So the tree has been speaking to him, but we think he has another ghost in mind as well. Imagine Theon, already haunted by the ghosts he created and hearing a voice speaking to him from the weirwood tree, seeing someone he has thought dead for these last two years. Might be good cause for him to think the ghosts are talking to him. And then in Theon’s TWoW spoiler chapter, when Theon is recalling how he tried to explain his story to Asha when they met in the snow, he thinks “He told her how he bedded down with Ramsay’s bitches, warned her that Winterfell was full of ghosts.”

Warning his sister “that Winterfell was full of ghosts” is very interesting in light of this theory that Theon had an encounter with a man he would consider a ghost. Let’s now provide some clarity on the other options that have been identified. One good question is why rule out other candidates like Robett Glover, Hal Mollen, the Blackfish and Benjen Stark? The obvious answer is that not only would Theon have recognised all of those men, having seen most of them recently during the fighting in TWot5K, but that he has never been shown to think any of them are dead, as he has Harwin, and so his reaction to seeing them might have been much different. One other thing about Harwin as an option that we think is important is that neither Roose, nor any of the lords or soldiers who are with him would be expected to recognise him, as they would Glover, Tully or Benjen Stark and even Hal Mollen who was Robb’s standard bearer when the northmen left Winterfell in AGoT. Harwin could thus easily blend in with the grooms, servants and freeriders that Winterfell is noted to be teeming with.

Consider also Theon’s reaction, wondering “if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements.” There is an almost supernatural feeling to this, and the fact that he feels no fear is appropriate given the fact that he seems so comfortable with his “ghosts.”

Speaking of Theon’s suspicion that the hooded man could be the killer, we think it unlikely. After Theon’s various interactions with Abel’s women it seems pretty clear that they were responsible for the Ryswell man at arms, Ser Aenys Frey’s squire, the Flint crossbowman and Yellow Dick. Since there isn’t anything we know of in the political situation at Winterfell to connect those four men, we surmise that they had some knowledge that made them dangerous. Since all were found outside, we further assume it was something they saw that marked them for death.

But what about Little Walder? Rowan denies that his death was down to Abel’s washerwomen, implying they are responsible for the others. We can’t rule them out because the body was discovered in the vicinity of the tower Abel met Theon in the night of the murder, but we definitely think there could be a second murderer in Winterfell who killed Little Walder. We find it highly suspicious that Big Walder is noted to be spattered in blood, when it’s just been stated that Little Walder’s blood was frozen, due to the body being found in a snowdrift. So while we can’t rule out one of Abel’s women or the hooded man as the killer,  we do think that Big Walder, who was so quick to implicate a knight from White Harbor, is definitely a strong suspect in that murder.

In conclusion,  Harwin as the hooded man makes thematic sense and is well supported by the text, but it appears that it’s probably best to look elsewhere for the perpetrators of the mysterious deaths that take place in Winterfell as tensions rise to the boiling point and Roose commands a snowy march to meet Stannis Baratheon in battle.

Brown Ben Plumm: The Boldest Sellsword of Them All

Brown Ben Plumm by The Mico
Spoilers for The Winds of Winter here!

Ben Plumm, currently the commander of the Second Sons, claims to be the veteran of a hundred battles and a former bodyguard for the Pahl family of Meereen. It was he who suggested infiltrating Meereen through her sewer network, a plan allegedly inspired by his one time escape from the sword of Meereenese champion Oznak zo Pahl.

Plumm also claims to be part Braavosi, part Summer Islander, part Ibbenese, part Qohorik, part Dothraki, part Dornish, and part Westerosi. He’s also been heard to claim that he has a “drop of dragon blood” as well. This odd claim seems to have been inspired by the fact that Queen Daenerys’ dragons have a certain fondness for him.

“…as Brown Ben was leaving, Viserion spread his pale white wings and flapped lazily at his head. One of the wings buffeted the sellsword in his face. The white dragon landed awkwardly with one foot on the man’s head and one on his shoulder, shrieked, and flew off again. “He likes you, Ben” said Dany.

“And well he might.” Brown Ben laughed. “I have me a drop of the dragon blood myself, you know.”

“You?” Dany was startled. Plumm was a creature of the free companies, an amiable mongrel. He had a broad brown face with a broken nose and a head of nappy grey hair, and his Dothraki mother had bequeathed him large, dark, almond-shaped eyes. He claimed to be part Braavosi, part Summer Islander, part Ibbenese, part Qohorik, part Dothraki, part Dornish, and part Westerosi, but this was the first she had heard of Targaryen blood. She gave him a searching look and said, “How could that be?”

“Well,” said Brown Ben, “there was some old Plumm in the Sunset Kingdoms who wed a dragon princess. My grandmama told me the tale. He lived in King Aegon’s day.”

“Which King Aegon?” Dany asked. “Five Aegons have ruled in Westeros.” Her brother’s son would have been the sixth, but the Usurper’s men had dashed his head against a wall.

“Five, were there? Well, that’s a confusion. I could not give you a number, my queen. This old Plumm was a lord, though, must have been a famous fellow in his day, the talk of all the land. The thing was, begging your royal pardon, he had himself a cock six foot long.”

Where does this claim originate? Tyrion Lannister believed that Brown Ben Plumm was telling the truth, and may be possessed of not one, but two, drops of dragon blood. In fact, he offered this clever assessment not long after meeting Plumm:

“You’re less purple and more brown than the Plumms at home, but unless your name’s a lie, you’re a westerman, by blood if not by birth. House Plumm is sworn to Casterly Rock, and as it happens I know a bit of its history. Your branch sprouted from a stone spit across the narrow sea, no doubt. A younger son of Viserys Plumm, I’d wager. The queen’s dragons were fond of you, were they not?”

That seemed to amuse the sellsword. “Who told you that?”

“No one. Most of the stories you hear about dragons are fodder for fools. Talking dragons, dragons hoarding gold and gems, dragons with four legs and bellies big as elephants, dragons riddling with sphinxes … nonsense, all of it. But there are truths in the old books as well. Not only do I know that the queen’s dragons took to you, but I know why.”

“My mother said my father had a drop of dragon blood.”

“Two drops. That, or a cock six feet long. You know that tale? I do.”

The history Tyrion speaks of is this: During the reign of the fourth Aegon, his beautiful cousin Elaena married the elderly Lord Ossifer Plumm at the king’s request. Although Lord Ossifer died on their wedding night, reportedly after beholding his young wife’s naked beauty, the princess conceived a child, who was born some time afterwards and named Viserys, possibly  after her uncle, the former king. The timing of the young Plumm’s birth led to the legendary tale of Ossifer Plumm’s six foot long member, as clearly many speculated that the babe was born too late to have been conceived while old Ossifer still walked the earth. Many in the Westerlands believe that Elaena’s child was in fact fathered by none other than her cousin, King Aegon IV.

As Tyrion noted, it must have been a younger son of this Lord Viserys who made his way across the Narrow Sea, there to begin the mongrelized cadet branch of House Plumm from which sprang Ben of the Second Sons. And given the timing, we have to wonder of this young Plumm might have left Westeros to support his Blackfyre cousins. One other interesting thing of note is that while it’s mentioned repeatedly that the dragons are fond of Ben, and Daenerys thinks wistfully that “even the dragons had been fond of old Brown Ben, who liked to boast that he had a drop of dragon blood himself” it is her white dragon Viserion who is shown on page being friendly with Plumm. Viserion was hatched from a cream and gold egg. A close look at Westerosi history reveals that Elaena Targaryen’s most cherished possession was a dragon egg of those same colors, a curious fact that can only make us wonder at the mysterious origins of Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragon eggs. Could the egg that hatched Viserion have once belonged to another Targaryen princess, who became Brown Ben Plumm’s great great great grandmother?

This sellsword of uncertain birth and checkered past grew to be one of Queen Daenerys’ most trusted captains. Companies of sellswords that can be bought to solidify defenses or further a military cause are common in Essos, and are usually comprised of soldiers from various origins. Men from Westeros have been known to join such companies, most often while in exile as in case of Aegor Rivers, the founder of the Golden Company, or Prince Oberyn Martell who famously served with the Second Sons. And while the slave armies of Essos have little choice in their part, sellswords will go to war for anyone who can satisfy their lust for gold. However, men who would fight and kill for gold are susceptible to one glaring weakness — loyalty. As Kevan Lannister said “a man who fights for coin is loyal only to his purse.”

Now, with just a quick glance at recent history, we can see this treachery evident in sellsword companies, even including those renowned for their loyalty. We have the Brave Companions, never well known for their honour, brought to Westeros at the behest of Tywin Lannister. All the gold in Casterly Rock couldn’t stop Vargo Hoat from turning on his employer, and switching his allegiance to House Bolton when the tide of the WoT5K was turning in Robb Stark’s favour. Then there is the case of the Golden Company, who have a long reputation of being the most loyal company in the world. The Golden Company had never broken a contract in their history until the return of their former leader Jon Connington in the company of a young man claiming to be Aegon VI Targaryen led them to break a contract with Myr and sail for Westeros. While rumours as to what led to this are swirling in Essos, Illyrio Mopatis told Tyrion  “some contracts are writ in ink, and some in blood” which supports the idea that young “Aegon” is actually a Blackfyre descendant of some sort, since the Golden Company was founded by Aegor Rivers in the wake of the rebellion of his half brother Daemon Blackfyre. Then we have the case of the Stormcrows who turned cloak against the Yunkai’i and now fight for Daenerys, under the leadership of Daario Naharis. The Second Sons also deserted Yunkai in favour of Daenerys when she planned a nighttime attack upon them after giving their leader Mero a gift of wine. There was a general rout during which their captain fled, and the Second Sons elected Brown Ben Plumm as their new commander and turned their cloaks.

However, the plot thickens here, as Ben Plumm and the Second Sons turned their cloaks once more, going over to the Yunkai’i when the Queen confessed that she could not control her dragons and thus would not be loosing them in the coming battle. At the end of ADwD the Second Sons were part of the forces besieging Meereen. But we learned from a Tyrion spoiler chapter from The Winds of Winter that when the tide of battle seemed to be turning in favor of Meereen, the Second Sons turned once more, with Ben declaring that they had been for Daenerys all along:

“We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.”

With this history, especially on the part on the Second Sons, one could be forgiven for wondering if it’s only a matter of time before the sellsword who clearly wants nothing more than to be on the winning side, turns his cloak again. And that same passage from The Winds of Winter gives us a subtle hint that perhaps Ben is destined to do exactly that.

As Tyrion observes Ben entering the Second Sons’ camp, we get a description:

Brown Ben Plumm wore plate and mail over boiled leather. The silk cloak flowing from his shoulders was his only concession to vanity: it rippled when he moved, the color changing from pale violet to deep purple

It’s interesting to consider the description of the cloak “changing from pale violet to deep purple” as possible foreshadowing of a turned-cloak in light of the fact that while Daenerys’ eyes are described on numerous occasions as violet, “Young Griff”’s eyes are described by Tyrion as dark purple. And when one considers the thematic significance of an offshoot of House Plumm supporting an offshoot of House Blackfyre things get even more interesting.

First, let’s recall that Viserys Plumm is rumoured to be the son of Aegon IV and Elaena Targaryen, while Daemon Blackfyre is the acknowledged son of Aegon IV and Daena Targaryen, Elaena’s elder sister. Daenerys comes from the line of Daeron II, Aegon IV’s legitimate son with his wife Naerys. Now if we assume as many do that “Young Griff” is in reality “Aegon Blackfyre” (*for a discussion of the possibilities see here) the possibility of his long lost cousin Ben Plumm becoming his supporter seems quite strong, especially if it were a position that might bring Plumm a good chance at collecting not only a reward from Aegon, but the promise he received from Tyrion upon the latter’s acceptance into the Second Sons:

Brown Ben’s note was the last. That one had been inscribed upon a sheepskin scroll. One hundred thousand golden dragons, fifty hides of fertile land, a castle, and a lordship.

We’ve just outlined that for sellswords, gold is a principal motivator. In Ben Plumm’s case, gold seems to come second only to saving his own skin, as he told Daenerys:

Silver’s sweet and gold’s our mother, but once you’re dead they’re worth less than that last shit you take as you lie dying. I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords.

In other words, a hundred thousand gold dragons would be worth nothing to Ben Plumm if he found himself in mortal danger. With that in mind, let’s consider what it might take for Ben Plumm to abandon the dragon queen once again.

Obviously in order to collect of Tyrion’s note, Ben and Tyrion both have to make it safely to Westeros, and there will have to be a regime change in King’s Landing. This is a compelling reason for Ben to have switched his allegiance back to Daenerys as the tide began to turn against the Yunkai’i. At that point in time, Dany might have seemed his best bet for getting both himself and Tyrion safely to Westeros. But what might happen if news reaches Meereen that another Targaryen has invaded Westeros and looks to be toppling the Lannisters from their perch in King’s Landing? This could be very interesting news indeed for someone who values personal survival only slightly more than cold hard cash. Because Ben Plumm just might be a position to deliver the Targaryen prince the very currency he needs to secure his claim to the Iron Throne, while securing his own future and collecting on his promise from Tyrion Lannister in the bargain.

Remember how Dany’s dragons are noted on numerous occasions to be “fond” of Ben? And that the white dragon, Viserion, was even shown to perch on his shoulder? What if Ben were to somehow abscond with that very dragon that we earlier speculated may have been hatched from an egg that once belonged to his ancestor, Elaena Targaryen? How could such a thing happen, and what might the outcome be?

Basically we see two possibilities for the how. First, Ben might decide not to wait for Dany’s eventual return and could simply kidnap Tyrion and the white dragon and make for Westeros with the intention of presenting Aegon with the dragon he needs in exchange for rich rewards and assurances of Tyrion’s ability to make good on his debt. But since we think that not only is the plot best served by Ben being reunited with Dany in Meereen, but also that Tyrion has some significant role to play there, it seems the second option fits best. That is that, if Valyrian blood is needed in order to be a dragon rider as seems to be indicated by GRRM’s comments here, Ben could be asked to bond with the dragon by the queen, since if she were to be actively seeking to use her force multipliers she would need riders for Viserion and Rhaegal. Once bonded and in possession of the dragon, he could break for Westeros for all the same reasons noted above, with the biggest difference being that his betrayal would be so much worse in this case and could even count as the “treason for gold” the Undying Ones warned Daenerys of in Qarth.

However it happens, there’s a lot of thematic sense in Ben Plumm turning his cloak once more in favor of Aegon Targaryen. Not only might it get a dragon into the hands of Dany’s rival, but it would put Ben in a position to collect his IOU from Tyrion. It could reunite the offspring of two of the Maids in the Tower in a neat twist that would be thematically fitting, and possibly fulfill one of the prophecies that have haunted Daenerys since Qarth. The textual hints are all evident, culminating in that one description from The Winds of Winter of Ben’s cloak turning “from pale violet to deep purple.” In which case, we suggest that Old Ben Plumm may turn out to be the boldest sellsword of them all.

Written with yolkboy, and featured in part on Radio Westeros Episode 15: The Battle of Fire