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The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 2

zincpiccalilli:

Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular.

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The North Remembers

The Riverlands: Wolfish Hearts

Lady Stoneheart’s Revenge

There is a spy in Riverrun who reports to the Brotherhood Without Banners. His name is Tom o’ Sevens (or Tom Sevenstrings of Sevenstreams) and, since Jaime took a shine to him, he’s been hearing news of enemy movements straight from the lion’s mouth as well as skulking about camp and keep.

Ser Ryman [Frey] came stomping up the gallows steps in company with a straw-haired slattern as drunk as he was. […] On her head, a circlet of hammered bronze sat askew, graven with runes and ringed with small black swords. […]

[Jaime:] A sot, a fool, and a craven. Lord Walder had best outlive this one or the Freys are done. “You are dismissed, ser.”

“Dismissed?”

“You heard me. Go away.”

“But… where should I go?”

“To hell or home, as you prefer. See that you are not in camp when the sun comes up. You may take your queen of whores but not that crown of hers.” Jaime turned from Ser Ryman to his son. “Edwyn, I am giving you your father’s command. Try not to be so stupid as your sire.”

“That ought not pose much difficulty, my lord.”

“Send word to Lord Walder. The crown requires all his prisoners.” […]

A crowd had gathered below the scaffold, including a dozen camp followers in various states of disarray. Jaime noticed one man holding a wood harp. “You. Singer. Come with me.”

The man doffed his hat. “As my lord commands.”

No one said a word as they walked back to the ferry, with Ser Ryman’s singer trailing after them. (Jaime VI, AFFC)

Tom learns two things in the above scene: 1) Ryman Frey, Lord Walder’s heir, is leaving Riverrun, likely to return to the Twins. 2) The Red Wedding hostages held in the Twins may soon be transferred into Lannister custody and presumably taken to King’s Landing. A possible third discovery is that the Kingslayer is a competent commander, the only man with sufficient authority to bring the quarrelsome Freys to heel. Tom wastes little time—no more than the two days or so it takes Riverrun to surrender—contacting his fellow outlaws about Ryman’s travel plans. By Jaime’s next chapter, Lady Stoneheart’s ambushed Ryman and his party.

[Jaime] did not go straight back to the castle but crossed the Tumblestone once more to call on Edwyn Frey and discuss the transfer of his great-grandfather’s prisoners. The Frey host had begun to break up within hours of Riverrun’s surrender, as Lord Walder’s bannermen and freeriders pulled up stakes to make for home. The Freys who still remained were striking camp, but he found Edwyn with his bastard uncle in the latter’s pavilion.

The two of them were huddled over a map, arguing heatedly, but they broke off when Jaime entered. “Lord Commander,” Rivers said with cold courtesy, but Edwyn blurted out, “My father’s blood is on your hands, ser.”

That took Jaime a bit aback. “How so?”

“You were the one who sent him home, were you not?”

Someone had to.“Has some ill befallen Ser Ryman?”

“Hanged with all his party,” said Walder Rivers. “The outlaws caught them two leagues south of Fairmarket.”

“Dondarrion?”

“Him or Thoros or this woman Stoneheart.”

Jaime frowned. […] These outlaws are growing bold, if they dare hang Lord Walder’s heir not a day’s ride from the Twins.“How many men did Ser Ryman have with him?” he asked.

“Three knights and a dozen men-at-arms,” said Rivers. “It is almost as if they knew that he would be returning to the Twins and with a small escort.” […]

“If you will pardon me for intruding on your grief,” [Jaime] said, in a dry tone, “we have other matters to consider. When you return to the Twins, please inform Lord Walder that King Tommen requires all the captives you took at the Red Wedding.”

Ser Walder frowned. “These prisoners are valuable, ser.”

“His Grace would not ask for them if they were worthless.”

Frey and Rivers exchanged a look. Edwyn said, “My lord grandfather will expect recompense for these prisoners.”

And he’ll have it, as soon as I grow a new hand, thought Jaime. “We all have expectations,” he said mildly. (Jaime VII, AFFC)

Many of the riverlords have but grudgingly bent the knee because their kinsmen are still captive, in much the same way as Manderly pays lip service to the Boltons, even suffering the presence of Freys in his court, until his eldest son and heir, Wylis, is returned to him. Lord Piper, for instance, who storms out of Jaime’s war council, probably wants nothing more than to run Edwyn through with his sword unless it be a homecoming for his firstborn son, Marq. No Frey would be safe from bloody retribution should the Red Wedding hostages escape en route to King’s Landing. And the BWB may soon be in position to facilitate just such a prison break, having been forewarned of the move thanks to Tom.

This, however, is not the only operation the BWB could undertake. For Tom remains in Riverrun at the end of AFFC.

Lord Emmon [Frey] assembled all of Riverrun in the yard, Lord Edmure’s people and his own, and spoke to them for close on three hours about what would be expected of them now that he was their lord and master. From time to time, he waved his parchment, as stable boys and serving girls and smiths listened in a sullen silence and a light rain fell down upon them all.

The singer was listening, too, the one that Jaime had taken from Ser Ryman Frey. Jaime came upon him standing inside an open door, where it was dry. […] “I would have expected you to depart with the Freys.”

“That one up there’s a Frey,” the singer said, nodding at Lord Emmon, “and this castle seems a nice snug place to pass the winter. […] “

“You should get on famously with my aunt,” said Jaime. “If you hope to winter here, see that your playing pleases Lady Genna. She’s the one that matters.”

“Not you?”

“My place is with the king. I shall not stay here long.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, my lord. I know better songs than ‘The Rains of Castamere.’ I could have played you… Oh, all sorts o’ things.” (Jaime VII, AFFC)

Now, recall that Daven Lannister is betrothed to a Frey: “I’ll wed and bed my stoat, never fear. I know what happened to Robb Stark.” (Jaime V, AFFC) Jaime rides to Raventree, where in ADWD he treats with the Brackens and Blackwoods, but Daven’s last seen in Riverrun, and it’s speculated that he plans to marry there before taking the riverroad home to Casterly Rock. If so, well, Lady Stoneheart perhaps intends to invite herself and her men unannounced to a second Red Wedding. Lady Genna will not thank Jaime for sticking a big, fat target on her back, and Lord Walder himself might decide to attend the festivities for an opportunity to gloat over the subjugated castle of his former liege lords, the Tullys. Tom’s talk of other songs—better ones than “The Rains of Castamere,” that infamous musical cue for slaughter and mayhem—is pretty damn ominous.

Yet there’s more! And here’s where things get really interesting, IMO.

[Jaime] turned back to Lady Mariya [Darry, wife of Merrett Frey]. “The outlaws who killed your husband… Was it Lord Beric’s band?”

“So we thought at first.” Though Lady Mariya’s hair was streaked with grey, she was still a handsome woman. “The killers scattered when they left Oldstones. Lord Vypren tracked one band to Fairmarket but lost them there. Black Walder led hounds and hunters into Hag’s Mire after the others. The peasants denied seeing them, but when questioned sharply they sang a different song. They spoke of a one-eyed man and another who wore a yellow cloak… and a woman, cloaked and hooded. […] The peasants would have us believe that her face was torn and scarred, her eyes terrible to look upon. They claim she led the outlaws.”

“Led them?” Jaime found that hard to believe. “Beric Dondarrion and the red priest…”

“…were not seen.” Lady Mariya sounded certain. […]

“How far did Black Walder track this hooded woman and her men?”

“His hounds picked up their scent again north of Hag’s Mire,” the older woman told him. “He swears that he was no more than half a day behind them when they vanished into the Neck.” […]

“I would not put it past the crannogmen to shelter outlaws,” [said Ser Danwell Frey]. (Jaime IV, AFFC)

The one-eyed man is Jack-Be-Lucky, the other man is Lem Lemoncloak and, of course, the hooded woman is Lady Stoneheart. Nor is this the first time that some incarnation of Catelyn Stark has visited Hag’s Mire.

Five days later, [Robb’s] scouts rode back to warn them that the rising waters had washed out the wooden bridge at Fairmarket. […]

Robb looked to Catelyn. “Is there another bridge?”

“No. And the fords will be impassable.” She tried to remember. “If we cannot cross the Blue Fork, we’ll have to go around it, through Sevenstreams and Hag’s Mire.” (Catelyn V, ASOS)

By chapter’s end, Robb’s host has passed through Oldstones and Sevenstreams before bogging down in Hag’s Mire. Jason Mallister catches up with them, and there Robb calls his last council as King in the North. Readers have long wondered what became of Robb’s signed and witnessed decree naming his heir, likely a legitimized Jon.

[Robb] picked up a sheet of parchment. “One more matter. Lord Balon has left chaos in his wake, we hope. I would not do the same. But I have no son as of yet, my brothers Bran and Rickon are dead, and my sister is wed to a Lannister. I’ve thought long and hard about who might follow me. I command you now as my true and loyal lords to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision.” (Catelyn V, ASOS)

It does not go north with Galbart Glover and Maege Mormont, who expressly carry false letters, and is often feared lost at the Twins in the chaos following the Red Wedding. Another possibility, however, is that the document was secreted away in Hag’s Mire and has now been retrieved by Lady Stoneheart. Who in turn, for a real kicker of an ironic twist, delivers the suspected proof of Jon’s kingship to Greywater Watch for safekeeping, care of Howland Reed, who then knows more of the crowns Jon’s entitled to than any other man living in the world of ASOIAF.

Which all, if true, means Lady Stoneheart is more capable of rational thought than previously believed. As the theory goes, her initial bloodlust having been satiated, UnCat’s begun to remember more of her former life, specifically Robb’s will that Jon succeed him as king. Catelyn was adamantly against this but, after the Red Wedding and arising from her watery grave terribly changed, she has far better targets for her hatred than her late husband’s bastard. Jon at least loved her family dearly, too, thought of Ned as his father and Robb as his brother. He would protect Sansa and Arya from all who’d do them harm if the girls are ever found and, by his own admission, wants to bring death and destruction down upon House Lannister (Samwell I, AFFC / Jon II, ADWD), barred from seeking revenge only by his stubborn honor and vows to the Night’s Watch.

The time of the Brotherhood Without Banners and like outlaw bands is limited. Winter is coming and, even with the support of the smallfolk, a life of brigandry against the Lannisters and Freys will be hard to continue. Who can carry on Lady Stoneheart’s quest for vengeance? And just maybe revive the hopes of the defeated northmen and riverlords in the cause Robb died for? For independence from the Iron Throne that has since sanctioned the breaking of sacred guest right to murder their kin?

At any rate, UnCat seems unusually contemplative in her final AFFC scene, I feel. And, most strikingly, she has what’s been identified by description as Robb’s crown, taken back from Ser Ryman, who won’t be missed.

A trestle table had been set up across the cave, in a cleft in the rock. Behind it sat a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded. In her hands was a crown, a bronze circlet ringed by iron swords. She was studying it, her fingers stroking the blades as if to test their sharpness. Her eyes glimmered under her hood. (Brienne VIII, AFFC)

Lady Stoneheart’s no doubt sincere in her desire to see Jaime dead. Consider, however, that whether she outright kills him or sends him off on a wild goose chase after rumors of Sansa, she’ll have removed from the field about the only effective enemy commander, duly appointed representative of the Iron Throne. And this as the BWB is apparently readying for action, spy in place at Riverrun while Lannister and Frey forces disperse across the riverlands, (over)confident in the war’s successful finish.

Is there reason in Lady Stoneheart’s madness? Perhaps. Beric Dondarrion was capable of it, but UnCat was far further gone when revived and mad with grief at the moment of death besides. OTOH, she’s cognizant enough to lead the BWB, to recognize her foes and hold Brienne to her promise of service, however cruelly done.

Unfortunately for the Lannisters and Freys and maybe the Boltons, as well, north of the Neck though they are, Lady Stoneheart is not alone in plotting their demise.

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Next Time: On Strange Disappearances and Appearances!

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