LemUncloak(ed): The True Identity of Lem Lemoncloak

Lem by Amok

Lem by Amok

Who among us hasn’t wondered at the true identity of the charming Lem Lemoncloak? One of the leaders of the Brotherhood without Banners, Lem appears on the page with no true name and no history, although we have names and stories for many of his fellows, including several of far less significance to the narrative. Some time ago a chance combination of musings inspired by the questions of fellow posters at westeros.org led me to connect Lem with another character whose name is mentioned but once and who is alluded to on only one other occasion. What would lead one to connect Lem with Ser Richard Lonmouth, erstwhile squire and companion of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen? To be honest, at first it was nothing more than the colour of his cloak combined with the conviction that the knight of skull and kisses is meant to be significant. But it turns out that there are quite a few textual hints that support the connection. While I initially laid this theory out on my own, much credit must be given to posters at westeros who picked up this cracked pot and ran with it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that with their help, this pot will now hold water.

In ASoS chapter 43, the Ghost of High Heart demands payment for her news:

“A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak…His mouth will taste of lemons and mine of bones

Earlier, the GoHH was consulted regarding Lord Beric’s whereabouts. At that meeting, the little woman who speaks of everyone in terms of their sigils and representations of their Houses, had this exchange with Lem:

“Dreams,” grumbled Lem Lemoncloak, “what good are dreams? Fish women and drowned crows. I had a dream myself last night. I was kissing this tavern wench I used to know. Are you going to pay me for that, old woman?”

“The wench is dead,” the woman hissed. “Only worms may kiss her now.” ASoS, chapter 17

With the bard Tom o’ Sevens the connecting reference at both meetings is a song. For Lem … kisses.

The arms of House Lonmouth have been described as “quartered of six: red lips strewn on yellow, yellow skulls strewn on black.” It was the connection of kisses, skulls (bones) and yellow with Lem which provided the “aha!” But the connections do not end there.

When Arya first meets him, she thinks he has the look of a soldier:

The man beside him stood a good foot taller, and had the look of a soldier. A longsword and dirk hung from his studded leather belt, rows of overlapping steel rings were sewn onto his shirt, and his head was covered by a black iron half-helm shaped like a cone. He had bad teeth and a bushy brown beard, but it was his hooded yellow cloak that drew the eye. Thick and heavy, and stained here with grass and there with blood, frayed along the bottom and patched with deerskin on the right shoulder, the greatcloak gave the big man the look of some huge yellow bird. ASoS, chapter 13

From lack of direct reference, it appears that he was not one of the original company that set out from King’s Landing with Lord Beric, but one of those who joined the Brotherhood in the Riverlands. Yet he does make a possibly revealing comment in this exchange:

Anguy the Archer said, “We’re king’s men.”

Arya frowned. “Which king?”

“King Robert,” said Lem, in his yellow cloak. ASoS, chapter 13

How to explain a large man loyal to Robert who has the look of a soldier, wears a distinctive yellow cloak and was living in the Riverlands prior to Lord Beric’s mission? Let’s take a look at the bare facts of Richard Lonmouth. We know that he was once Prince Rhaegar’s squire and companion:

Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar’s squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions. ASoS, chapter 8

We also know that House Lonmouth was a stormlands house, and that Ser Richard was a one-time drinking companion to the Lord of the Stormlands, Robert Baratheon:

The storm lord drank down the knight of skulls and kisses in a wine-cup war. ASoS, chapter 24

Knowing Robert’s reputation as a prodigious drinker, Ser Richard must have been of a similar bent, to engage him so. Lem is a large man also known to enjoy his drink:

Lem Lemoncloak pushed forward. He and Greenbeard were the only men there tall enough to look the Hound in the eye. ASoS, chapter 34

“You must have been drunk, or asleep.”

“Us? Drunk?”  Tom drank a long draught of ale. “Never.” ASoS, chapter 13

We are never told which side Ser Richard joined Robert’s Rebellion on.  Myles Mooton fought for the Targaryens and was killed at Stoney Sept by Robert Baratheon himself. Even the last we hear of Lonmouth doesn’t give a clear indication. Following the appearance of the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the Harrenhal tourney:

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 the helm was no friend of his … 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. ASoS, chapter 24

Here we have no clear indication of which House he would side with: that of his friend and mentor Rhaegar Targaryen or that of his drinking buddy and overlord Robert Baratheon. But perhaps the words of House Lonmouth might be a hint that Ser Richard did indeed take a side.

The Choice is Yours

In his role of hangman for the Brotherhood, Lem is carrying out sentences based on a choice. In the case of Merret Frey, Lem gives the choice to Lady Stoneheart:

“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” He turned to the dead woman and said. “What do you say, m’lady? Was he part of it?” ASoS, Epilogue

At Brienne’s “trial” the choice is given by the northman, while the sentence is carried out by Lem:

The northman said, “She says that you must choose. Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer. The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose.” AFfC, chapter 42

Lem is involved in choices being offered by the BwB, while there is also enough evidence to speculate he has made other fateful choices in his past. While “choice” can be seen as a major theme of ASoIaF, the fact that it is prominently featured in the house words of a minor house seems almost like a flag saying “look closely here”! Looking closely in this case has certainly led to some interesting theorizing.

Treading into speculative territory with the theme of choice, I’m going to suggest that Richard chose his overlord, Robert Baratheon and fought on his behalf during the Rebellion.  Just after Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie are taken in by the BwB the company arrives at the Inn of the Kneeling Man. Here the young people are given ale by the innkeeper’s wife because she has no milk or clean water to offer:

“…the river water tastes of war, with all the dead men drifting downstream. If I served you a cup of soup full of dead flies, would you drink it?”

“Arry would,” said Hot Pie. “I mean, Squab.”

“So would Lem,” offered Anguy with a sly smile. ASoS, chapter 13

Why would Anguy say such a thing? Could it be that Lem once drifted in the river with the dead? Much later the Elder Brother on the Quiet Isle tells Brienne his story of being left for dead in the river after the Battle of the Trident, and washing up downriver, alive and reborn to a new life. Could something similar have happened to Lem?

Later, Lem reveals some local knowledge that just might indicate he was in the area as these events occurred:

“Lord Lychester’s sons died in Robert’s Rebellion,” grumbled Lem. “Some on one side, some on t’other. He’s not been right in the head since.” ASoS, chapter 17

And finally at the Peach, the brothel in Stoney Sept where Robert may have taken refuge before the battle, Tansy has this to say to Lem:

“…Lem is that you? Still wearing the same ratty cloak are you? I know why you never wash it, I do. You’re afraid all the piss will wash out and we’ll see you’re really a knight o’ the Kingsguard!” ASoS, chapter 29

If Lem is Richard Lonmouth, he might have been present at Stoney Sept with Robert and be known to Tansy from that event.  If she had knowledge of him being a knight in service to the man who went on to become the king, it might well explain her “Kingsguard” joke. But why vanish from the page then? Speculation brings us back to AFfC, and Brienne’s POV. In chapter 25 Septon Meribald describes to Brienne, Pod and Ser Hyle the inner turmoil of the broken man.

“…even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe … They take a wound, and when that’s half-healed they take another … And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone … And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world … And the man breaks.”

Meribald makes it clear that anyone can break, at any time. Every man has his limit and it’s just possible Ser Richard reached it in the aftermath of the Trident.  Two references make me believe this could be what happened to Lem:

“Bugger that,” said Lem Lemoncloak. “He’s our god too, and you owe us for your bloody lives. And what’s false about him? Might be your Smith can mend a broken sword, but can he heal a broken man?” ASoS, chapter 39

“You are not the only one with wounds, Lady Brienne. Some of my brothers were good men when this began…” AFfC, chapter 42

I’ve already suggested that Anguy’s “sly” comment may indicate that Lem went into the river with the dead at one time. Let’s suppose that Richard Lonmouth went into the river after the Battle of the Trident, as the Elder Brother did. If he was fished out and nursed back to health by some kind soul, it would have been some time before he was able to get news of what had happened in the battle and afterwards. Would he have been devastated to know that his friend the Prince had been killed by his overlord? Would the guilt of his choice have weighed heavily on him? Certainly that would be enough to cause a break. But I think there’s even more at play here. I’m speculating that Ser Richard chose the winning side, so why wouldn’t he have emerged at some point to claim his reward from his overlord and new King? Assuming Lem is Ser Richard, I think the explanation behind his abiding hatred of Lannisters might be the final piece of the puzzle. We don’t for sure know why Lem hates Lannisters so much, or if Richard Lonmouth was ever married. But we do know that Lem Lemoncloak was married, and had a child:

“I want my wife and daughter back,” said the Hound. “Can your father give me that?” AFfC, chapter 42

Going right on assuming Lem and Richard are one and the same, I will posit that Richard Lonmouth’s family was in King’s Landing during the Rebellion. Perhaps his wife came from a loyalist family, perhaps they thought it would be a safe place to retreat to. But we know that when the Lannisters sacked the city there was no mercy for anyone, from the royal family down to the poorest smallfolk. Could his wife and daughter have been among the casualties? It might explain his need to hang “lions” and judging by his comment, his association of them with that act. Finally, Lannisters being the new good-family of his former overlord might make it once and for all impossible to come forward and publicly serve Robert.

Because a revelation of this sort would require a narrative purpose, we return to the Tourney of Harrenhal and the knight of skulls and kisses vow to unmask the knight of the laughing tree (whom most of us assume to be Lyanna Stark.) We know that GRRM uses thematic parallels frequently in his narrative. We also know that Arya Stark bears a resemblance to her aunt:

“Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her.” AGoT, chapter 22

Looking at some of the interactions between Arya and Lem, one incident in particular stands out. When Arya learns that she is in truth the prisoner of the BwB, she attempts to flee:

…when she glanced back over her shoulder four of them were coming after her, Anguy and Harwin and Greenbeard racing side by side with Lem farther back, his big yellow cloak flapping behind him as he rode. ASoS, chapter 17

It’s easy enough to imagine a similar scene with Lyanna pursued over similar ground by a group including Ser Richard Lonmouth.  Later, almost like a sly nod to this possibility Tom sings to Arya:

Tom winked at her as he sang:

And how she smiled and how she laughed,

the maiden of the tree.

She spun away and said to him,

No featherbed for me.

I’ll wear a gown of golden leaves,

And bind my hair with grass.

But you can be my forest love,

and me your forest lass.

ASoS, chapter 17

Here then we arrive at a possible narrative purpose for Lem being Richard Lonmouth. He might be able to shed light of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s first interaction, the reason Rhaegar crowned Lyanna QoLaB and possibly (if he remained in the Prince’s confidence) events that came after. At the very least he would be one of the few attendees of the Harrenhal tourney who is still alive.  This would place him in the same category as the elusive Howland Reed of One Who Knows Much and More.

In conclusion, Ser Richard Lonmouth, whose house colours are black and yellow, is never mentioned after his cameo at the Tourney of Harrenhal. During the Wot5K an outlaw of no known name or history appears in the Riverlands wearing a distinctive yellow cloak of heavy (and most likely at one time, expensive) cloth. In his arc, Lem is associated with kisses and choices, both known motifs of House Lonmouth. Based on these associations, a connection between the two can be made. Close reading further allows us to enter into some speculation to fill in the details of the intervening years. Finally, as to the significance of this theory, if he was a part of the search for the knight of the laughing tree, and some revelation was made, Ser Richard could be possessed of interesting insight into the story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

Addendum, December 2014:

With new information now available from TWoIaF, the Supreme Court of Westeros taking up the case, and E09 of Radio Westeros presenting the theory in audio format, the time seems right for a short addendum. TWoIaF tells us that Ser Richard Lonmouth was among Rhaegar’s supporters at court when there was an obvious divide between Rhaegar and Aerys:

Prince Rhaegar’s support came from the younger men at court, including Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool, and Ser Richard Lonmouth. The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell, Elia’s uncle and a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. But the most formidable of all Rhaegar’s friends and allies in King’s Landing was surely Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.

Since this description comes during a discussion of court politics and conspiration around the time of the Tourney of Harrenhal, the implication seems to be that Lonmouth supported regime change. Next from TWoIaF is the strong hint that Lonmouth accompanied Rhaegar into the Riverlands on that fateful mission that resulted in the disappearance of Lyanna Stark:

With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands, not ten leagues from Harrenhal . . . where Rhaegar would once again come face-to-face with Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and with her light a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.

Let’s revisit Ser Barristan’s information: “Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar’s squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions” With that in mind, combined with the information in TWoIaF, we can surmise that the half dozen companions were most likely Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent (as previously revealed in the WoIaF app) Mooton and Lonmouth (both identified as close companions of the Prince on more than one occasion) and possibly Connington and Prince Lewyn Martell, whom TWoIaF indicates were also strong supporters of Rhaegar.

Given the outcome of the Rhaegar and Lyanna situation, with Aerys executing Rickard and Brandon Stark and calling for the heads of two of his Lords Paramount, we propose that Richard Lonmouth chose Robert in the Rebellion in order to effect that regime change it was earlier implied he supported. Remember that quite early on Rhaegar was well out of things and the Rebellion was technically against Aerys, aimed at removing an increasingly mad tyrant from power. Rhaegar’s eventual involvement– no doubt out of a sense of duty to his House and perhaps an effort to safeguard his children in King’s Landing– would play right into the themes of choice and the broken man that were identified earlier.

For the record it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait too long to put this theory to the test. Last we saw of the Riverlands in ADwD, one person who likely knew Richard Lonmouth was on a collision course with Lem Lemoncloak and is a strong candidate for a reveal. When Jaime Lannister resurfaces he may find himself in for a surprise reunion with someone from his past.

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For the First Time in Years: Eddard Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen

Blood and Roses  by crisurdiales

Blood and Roses
by crisurdiales

In AGoT, chapter 35, Eddard IX, Littlefinger takes Ned to Chataya’s brothel to see Robert’s youngest bastard child. After the interview, as they ride away, Ned’s thoughts become introspective:

“For the first time in years, he found himself remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.”

This is a puzzling thought, since a closer look reveals that not only has Ned thought of Rhaegar recently, he thinks of him frequently. There are six previous sustained thoughts or conversations about Rhaegar in prior Eddard POV chapters. That means in seven out of nine of his POV chapters to that point, Ned thinks about or mentions Rhaegar. So what’s going on here?

It has been noted that Ned never seems to have a negative thought about Rhaegar. This is used to support the idea that Ned knows that Rhaegar was not the kidnaping rapist Robert thinks he was. This particular thought actually goes a long way in that department– Ned compares Robert to Rhaegar and Robert comes up wanting. Since we know that Ned himself is not the type to frequent brothels (to Petyr Baelish’s evident glee– he delights in making Ned uncomfortable by taking him to these places, as we see on two separate occasions) we can assume that with this particular comparison he is thinking of Rhaegar as a man of honor like himself.

To review Ned’s previous thoughts and conversations about Rhaegar is revealing and gives a clear picture of how Ned perceives Rhaegar. Beginning in AGoT, chapter 4, Eddard I, when Ned and Robert are in the Winterfell crypts visting Lyanna’s tomb, Robert is overcome with emotion and tells Ned:

“I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her.”

 The exchange continues:

“You did,” Ned reminded him.

“Only once,” Robert said bitterly.

They had come together at the ford of the Trident while the battle crashed around them, Robert with his warhammer and his great antlered helm, the Targaryen prince armored all in black. On his breastplate was the three-headed dragon of his House, wrought all in rubies that flashed like fire in the sunlight. The waters of the Trident ran red around the hooves of their destriers as they circled and clashed, again and again, until at last a crushing blow from Robert’s hammer stove in the dragon and the chest beneath it. When Ned had finally come on the scene, Rhaegar lay dead in the stream, while men of both armies scrabbled in the swirling waters for rubies knocked free from his armor.

“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves. “

There was nothing Ned could say to that.

Ned thinks about this scene, the death of the man who allegedly kidnaped and raped his sister (“How many times… How many hundreds of times?”), extremely dispassionately. Robert is still full of hate, but Ned manages only polite pauses and quiet sympathy. First hint that all is not as it seems! The scene proceeds into a discussion of Jon Arryn’s son being fostered by the Lannisters:

Ned would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin, but he left his doubts unspoken. Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word. […] “Lysa ought to have been honored. The Lannisters are a great and noble House.” […] “I have more concern for my nephew’s welfare than I do for Lannister pride,” Ned declared.

Here we have an example of Robert avoiding all those unpleasantries he doesn’t care to deal with, hiding behind the “nobility” of his in-laws. Ned isn’t fooled as he recognizes the true nature of House Lannister and their regard for the lives of children, and has a much more vehement reaction to the fostering of his wife’s nephew than he does to the supposed kidnap and rape of his own sister.

In chapter 12, Eddard II, Robert raises the issue of Daenerys Targaryen and her unborn child. Ned strongly objects to the murder of children.

“He remembered the angry words exchanged when Tywin Lannister had presented Robert with the corpses of Rhaegar’s wife and children as a token of fealty… It was said Rhaegar’s little girl had cried as they dragged her from beneath her bed to face the swords.”

For Ned, the murder of children was and is unspeakable. But Robert has not gotten over his hatred of Targaryens

“Unspeakable? The king roared […] “And Rhaegar… how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times?”

It is clear from Ned’s POV that the Lannister crimes far outweigh those of Rhaegar Targaryen, as the conversation continues to a discussion of Jaime as the Warden of the East. Ned is disturbed at placing so much power in the hands of one family. He recalls the aftermath of the Trident, the Sack of King’s Landing and the death of Aerys Targaryen.

“You took a wound from Rhaegar,” Ned reminded him […] “The remnants of Rhaegar’s army fled back to King’s Landing. We followed… I expected to find the gates closed to us [but] the lion of Lannister flew from the ramparts, not the crowned stag. And they had taken the city by treachery.”

At the center of the most dishonorable actions of the war in Ned’s memory is not Rhaegar Targaryen, but the Lannister family. Robert disagrees:

“Treachery was a coin the Targaryens knew well,” Robert said. The anger was building in him again. “Lannister paid them back in kind. It was no less than they deserved. I shall not trouble my sleep over it.”

“You were not there,” Ned said, bitterness in his voice. Troubled sleep was no stranger to him. He had lived his lies for fourteen years, yet they still haunted him at night. “There was no honor in that conquest.”

“The Others take your honor!” Robert swore. “What did any Targaryen ever know of honor? Go down into your crypt and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!”

“You avenged Lyanna at the Trident,” Ned said, halting beside the king. Promise me, Ned, she had whispered.

Here we have a stark (forgive the pun 😉 ) contrast between one view of honor and another. In Ned’s view, the killing of children is the height of dishonor. He harks back to his promise to his sister here, which is most likely inspired by his recollection of what the Lannisters did to Rhaegar’s children in King’s Landing. When Robert urges him to “ask Lyanna” Ned recalls the promise she extracted from him. Robert has different views of honor, informed at least in part by his interpretation of R+L. Their earlier exchange in the crypts supports the notion that Ned does not in any way share that interpretation. Robert’s notion that Lysa should have been “honored” by his plan to hand her son over to the Lannisters proves his utter obliviousness to the brutal nature of Lannister policy.

Chapter 16, Eddard III finds the royal party at the Darry holdings. Arya has been accused of attacking Prince Joffrey, and after days on the run has been found and brought before the Queen in the Darry audience chamber. Ned recalls:

“Ser Raymun lived under the king’s peace, but his family had fought beneath Rhaegar’s dragon banners at the Trident, and his three older brothers had died there, a truth neither Robert nor Ser Raymun had forgotten.”

Once again we have a memory of Rhaegar Targaryen and of the war fought against his House, contrasted with the actions of the Lannister family. While Ned hardly expects the Targ loyalist Darrys to support him in the matter of Arya and her wolf, in his mind, as always, the clear and present danger comes from House Lannister.

Chapter 20, Eddard IV the party has finally reached King’s Landing. After an emergency meeting of the Small Council, Ned is taken by Littlefinger to see Catelyn at her hiding place in a brothel in the city. She tells him of the attempt on Bran’s life, shows him the scars on her hands and the dagger that made them, and accuses Tyrion Lannister of hiring and arming the assassin. Ned refuses to believe that Tyrion could have acted alone and Littlefinger insinuates he did not. Ned cannot accept that Robert might have knowledge of this act…

“Yet even as he said the words, he remembered that chill morning on the barrowlands, and Robert’s talk of sending hired knives after the Targaryen princess. He remembered Rhaegar’s infant son, the red ruin of his skull, and the way the king had turned away, as he had turned away in Darry’s audience hall not long ago. He could still hear Sansa pleading, as Lyanna had pleaded once”

Here we are again, with a memory of Rhaegar paired with Lannister infamy, in both past and present. In this passage there is a clear connection between Robert’s acceptance of child slaying, Ned’s anxiety over it, the protection of innocents, and a young woman pleading for mercy. If Sansa was pleading for Lady’s life, what could Lyanna have been pleading for if not her son? Who posed the danger to Rhaegar’s children, to Lady, and allegedly to Ned’s own son Bran? None other than House Lannister. Hidden beneath the overt memories and never mentioned explicitly, yet undoubtedly heightening Ned’s anxiety given the nature of his train of thought, is the fact that the child that he promised to protect from Robert’s fury and the Lannister willingness to enable him as a killer of innocents has been sent into the far North in the company of the very Lannister now accused of trying to harm Bran.

Chapter 30, Eddard VII is even more explicit in the connection. Ned finally connects with the Robert he once knew, and seems on the verge of finding proof of Lannister perfidy once and for all. Knowing that if he finds this proof, it could mean war, he thinks

“…if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident.”

The Lannisters, architects of cruelty and dishonor in Ned’s POV, seem poised to meet their end in the face of Robert’s fury and Ned is both cautiously optimistic and relieved at the prospect.

Chapter 33, Eddard VIII finds things have taken a turn away from the “old” Robert at a Small Council meeting. Robert is resolved to send hired killers after the pregnant Daenerys Targaryen. Ned is furious and refuses to sign off on the plan. Their bitter quarrel of fifteen years previous seems to come to life all over again:

“Your grace, I never knew you to fear Rhaegar.” Ned fought to keep the scorn out of his voice, and failed. “Have the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow of an unborn child?”

This is the second time Ned mentions Rhaegar aloud. Both mentions are to Robert during moments of truth telling. The latter time is highly provocative, but in both cases the initial subject matter is Daenerys Targaryen and the killing of children. In fact, more often than not, when Ned thinks about Rhaegar Targaryen it is connected to his death, his slain children, the threat to his young sister, and the role House Lannister has played in turning Robert into a child killer.

I believe this is highly revealing of Ned’s motivating anxiety, and when he meets Barra he realises in the course of his discussion with Littlefinger the danger she is in from the Lannisters.

 “…Robert got a pair of twins on a serving wench at Casterly Rock […] Cersei had the babes killed and sold the mother to a passing slaver.”

Ned reflects that the Robert he once knew would never have condoned such a thing, but now he’s not so sure, as Robert has become “practiced at shutting his eyes to things he did not wish to see.”

Back to the exchange with Barra’a mother which would lead once more to thoughts of Rhaegar, it began:

“I named her Barra,” she said as the baby nursed. “She looks so like him, does she not, milord? She has his nose, and his hair…”

“She does,” Eddard Stark had touched the baby’s fine, dark hair. It flowed through his fingers like black silk. Robert’s firstborn had had the same fine hair, he seemed to recall.

“Tell him when you see him, milord, as it… as it please you. Tell him how beautiful she is.”

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

Here we have Ned making a promise to a young mother regarding her child and suspiciously, it reminds him of the promises he made to his dying sister. All the way back in Eddard I, he recalled that moment:

 “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…”

Not only does the promise remind Ned of his sister, but the young girl’s reaction is highly evocative of Lyanna’s:

She smiled then, a smile so tremulous and sweet that it cut the heart right out of him. Riding through the rainy night, Ned saw Jon Snow’s face in front of him, so like a younger version of his own. If the gods frowned so on bastards, he thought dully, why did they fill men with such lusts?

In this situation, Ned’s train of thought has gone from young girl with infant to promises to his dying sister and now to Jon Snow. Surely there is a clear connection, even a mirroring, of the two situations? His anxiety over the fate of Barra leads him to this bizarre thought about Jon Snow. Often used as proof that Ned thinks of Jon as his bastard or, alternatively, to question the conclusion that R+L=J was a legitimate union, I believe this thought is more complex. As Ned rides off, concerned for the infant and mother he has just met, he thinks of Jon Snow. Since he has just been thinking of his sister, this seems natural enough. It is the fact that he has been thinking about the promises made to his sister that I believe leads to the thought about bastards. In order to fulfill his promises to Lyanna, Ned has had to raise Jon as his own bastard, denying him something that is his by right and making him equal in status to the bastard daughter of a whore in King’s Landing. This is part of the price he has paid to keep his promise, and the reason he thinks of Jon in the context of bastards being frowned on by the gods. Like his concern for the safety of the children, this is all part of his hidden anxiety. Furthermore, we should note the phrase “Ned Stark kept his vows.” This POV assertion by Ned that he is a man who keeps his vows stands in direct contrast to the notion that this passage affirms that Jon is Ned’s bastard. Since he has earlier admitted to Robert that Jon Snow was born after his marriage to Catelyn, I believe this is a subtle hint that Ned has not forsworn himself in any way and that by raising Jon as his own son he has in fact been engaged solely in fulfilling a vow made to his dying sister. Finally, here is where the train of thought becomes quite curious. After a verbal exchange with Littlefinger about Robert’s bastards, wherein he learns about Cersei’s willingness to dispose of them, he comes to thought we opened with

“For the first time in years, he found himself remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.”

Since we have clearly established that Ned thinks of Rhaegar often, there must be some hidden explanation for this thought. As it has been demonstrated that Ned’s thoughts about Rhaegar generally center around his death, child slaying and the perfidy of House Lannister, I think the difference is that here he (“for the first time in years”) allows his thoughts to go one step further and thinks about Rhaegar as Jon’s father. His unspoken thoughts have now gone from his sister, to promises, to Jon Snow, to bastards in brothels, to Rhaegar Targaryen and, interestingly, we arrive at the conclusion that Rhaegar would not have frequented brothels. Meaning? Ned unconsciously allows himself to think about Rhaegar as the father of his sister’s child, compares him to Robert who father’s bastards in brothels and with serving wenches, and upon reflection decides that Rhaegar would not behave in this way. Surely if Ned believed that Rhaegar had fathered a bastard child on his beloved sister, he would not reach such a charitable conclusion? I believe that here, in this passing thought, we have proof from Ned’s own thoughts, as compelling as the scene from the Tower of Joy, that Ned is aware of Jon’s legitimacy. Furthermore, taken as a whole, Ned’s collective thoughts about Rhaegar support the notion that he bears no ill will for the dead prince. Interestingly, close examination has also shown that Ned has seen with clear eyes that the true enemy of the Crown in his lifetime has been House Lannister.