Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 1 of “The Mystery Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms,” which originally appeared in the anthology Warriors, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois.
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
[Note: This part covers pages 1-26 (to the scene break on that page), or in the trade paperback edition, from pages 649-685. Sorry if that doesn’t match your particular edition.]
The Mystery Knight: Part 1
As Dunk & Egg leave Stoney Sept, they come across a traitor’s head on a spike, which they recognize as the septon they’d heard preaching against Lord Bloodraven, the King’s Hand. The septon had claimed that Bloodraven was a sorcerer who had murdered most of the royal family with “a shadow.” Dunk remembers meeting Bloodraven once, and the stories which claimed he could use crows for spies and wolves for assassins, and change into a dog or mist or anyone he liked. Egg thinks the septon deserved his fate for talking treason, but Dunk opines that if they executed all the “fools and liars” in the Seven Kingdoms it would be half empty.
Six days later, they encounter a lord with his entourage on the road, who has a coat of arms Dunk recognizes from somewhere, but cannot place. The lord is rude to Dunk and seems about to start something, but one of his knights defuses the situation and introduces himself as Ser John the Fiddler. He claims to be a hedge knight, but Dunk thinks he has never seen a hedge knight so richly attired. Exclaiming over his size, Ser John invites Dunk (over his companions’ objections) to accompany them to Whitewalls, where a tourney is being held to celebrate the marriage of a Lord Butterwell. Dunk hesitates, but something about Ser John makes him wary, and he refuses. The entourage moves on, and Egg tells Dunk that the lord was Gormon Peake, Lord of Starpike. Dunk remembers then that his old master Ser Arlan had told him that Peake was the one who’d killed his nephew and squire, Roger of Pennytree, during Daemon Blackfyre’s revolt sixteen years previous. Dunk decides he’d like to go to the tourney after all.
They are refused room at the inn, and end up camping with three other hedge knights heading to the tourney: Ser Kyle the Cat, Ser Maynard Plumm, and Ser Glendon Ball. The other knights tell Dunk that the prize for winning the tourney is a dragon’s egg. They discuss how the Starks and Lannisters are planning separate campaigns to drive out the krakens, and Kyle denounces Bloodraven’s lack of action on that front. Maynard points out that he is on guard against his half-brother Bittersteel, in exile with Daemon Blackfyre’s sons in Tyrosh. Kyle opines that King Aerys is weak, and that when he dies there will be civil war between Bloodraven and Prince Maekar for the crown. Maynard counters that Prince Rhaegel is next in line, not Maekar, but Kyle says that either Maekar or Bloodraven will kill him soon enough. Egg pipes up angrily in defense of his father Maekar, but Dunk shuts him up. Later, Glendon takes offense at Kyle calling Blackfyre’s men “traitors”, and reveals himself to be the son of Ser Quentyn “Fireball” Ball, who fought on Daemon’s side, and declares that he will be the one to win the dragon’s egg.
While waiting for the ferry the next day, Dunk warns Egg to be wary of Ser Maynard, whom he distrusts, and is shocked when Egg casually mentions that he has a dragon’s egg of his own, given him at birth. Egg tells Dunk about Ser Glendon’s father, Quentyn Ball, who was instrumental in convincing Blackfyre to rebel. Once they reach Whitewalls, Dunk is let into the feasthall but Egg is not. Glendon is almost not admitted and is very sullen about it, and even more so that he is required to sit with the hedge knights “below the salt”. Ser Maynard comments that Dunk’s size is drawing attention. Lord Butterwell arrives with his child bride, and there is much toasting and feasting. Dunk notes that Glendon dumps his wine on the floor rather than toast Bloodraven, and he is not the only one.
An even more richly-dressed Ser John the Fiddler comes to join them, sitting next to Dunk, and declares he will be the winner, saying “every tourney needs a mystery knight.” Eventually a rather drunk Dunk leaves the hall to take a piss, but gets lost in the unfamiliar keep, and ends up accidentally overhearing a conversation:
“…beggar’s feast you’ve laid before us. Without Bittersteel…”
“Bittersteel be buggered,” insisted a familiar voice. “No bastard can be trusted, not even him. A few victories will bring him over the water fast enough.”
Lord Peake. Dunk held his breath . . . and his piss.
“Easier to speak of victories than to win them.” This speaker had a deeper voice than
Peake, a bass rumble with an angry edge to it. “Old Milkblood expected the boy to have it, and so will the rest. Glib words and charm cannot make up for that.”
“A dragon would. The prince insists the egg will hatch. He dreamed it, just as he once dreamed his brothers dead. A living dragon will win us all the swords that we would want.”
“A dragon is one thing, a dream’s another. I promise you, Bloodraven is not off dreaming. We need a warrior, not a dreamer. Is the boy his father’s son?”
“Just do your part as promised, and let me concern myself with that. Once we have Butterwell’s gold and the swords of House Frey, Harrenhal will follow, then the Brackens. Otho knows he cannot hope to stand…”
The voices were fading as the speakers moved away.
Dunk wonders if “the boy” means Ser Glendon. Back in the hall, Ser Maynard claims that the marriage was forced because Lord Frey’s four-year-old son caught his daughter rutting with a kitchen scullion. Dunk doesn’t understand why Lord Butterwell would settle for a girl “soiled” by a servant, but passes out before he can contemplate it more.
He wakes up when the bedding starts. Ser John volunteers Dunk to carry the bride up to the wedding chamber, to Dunk’s shock, and he is uncomfortably aroused by the time he gets her there while she’s being pawed by all the other attendees. In the chamber, Dunk sees the dragon’s egg and picks it up to examine it. He is yelled at by a knight with a black beard and boils, whose voice Dunk recognizes as the man talking to Peake earlier. Dunk apologizes, puts the egg down and leaves, going up to the roof to avoid the other revelers, feeling rather ill.
John the Fiddler joins him there, just as drunk, and tells Dunk he’d dreamed of him as a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard, and asks if Dunk would like that. Dunk points out that only a king can make a Kingsguard knight, and John replies that he supposes he’ll have to take the throne, then. Dunk tells him he’s drunk. John asks him if he’d rather be a lord instead, and Dunk laughs at him. John seems hurt, and says Dunk will believe him one he sees the dragon hatch.
“A dragon will hatch? A living dragon? What, here?”
“I dreamed it. This pale white castle, you, a dragon bursting from an egg, I dreamed it all, just as I once dreamed of my brothers lying dead. They were twelve and I was only seven, so they laughed at me, and died. I am two-and-twenty now, and I trust my dreams.”
Dunk remembers sadly how true Daeron’s dream about him had turned out for Baelor, and goes to leave, but John stops him and entreats him to be his man, and promises to raise him high. They are interrupted by Peake, who has John hustled off before he can say more. Peake threatens to have Dunk killed if he reveals anything John said. Dunk throws up on his shoes. Furious, Peake storms off, and Dunk shakes his head and goes back to the hall.
Okay, first: complete LOL at Dunk puking on a snooty lord’s boots, that was awesome. Hahaha.
Second: OOH, A MYSTERY.
Quite fitting, all things considered.
Okay, so obviously John the Fiddler is Not Who He Says He Is, duh, and it seems pretty obvious (at least to me) that he must be of royal blood as well, because it also seems pretty clear that Lord Peake and Ser Boilbeard (as I will call him until I get a name, because a girl’s got to entertain herself somehow) are planning Yet Another Bloody Coup. Because that went so well last time, guys.
It’s too bad no one can tell them that (as far as I know) successful coup d’etats in the Seven Kingdoms are not going to be a thing until the dude you’re backing is named Robert Baratheon. And even then it’s not going to turn out to be particularly fabulous. (She understates, dryly.)
But beyond that, I… can’t really place John. Like, if I’m supposed to know exactly who he is by this point, well, I totally don’t, sorry. There’s another psychic Targaryen prince wandering around? And one who Egg evidently doesn’t even recognize? I mean, I know the Targaryen genealogy is more of a bramble on acid than a tree, but you’d think that Egg would be obliged to know all the people floating around with a claim to the throne…
…well, but then there was that whole business with Aegon the Unworthy having like a million bastards and then legitimizing them all, wasn’t there. So I guess it might not be all that unreasonable that Egg wouldn’t know him after all.
Though if John is a Targaryen bastard, that jibes oddly with Peake’s contempt for Bittersteel for the exact same reason. If he distrusts bastards so much, why would he be backing one for his rebellion? Not to mention, I have no idea what’s up with having John waltz around claiming to be a humble hedge knight while simultaneously flaunting threads that are the Westeros equivalent of Hugo Boss. Because that’s not suspicious or anything. I mean, come on. This is not exactly a strategy that screams successful covert op, dudes.
So, they’re… hiding him but not hiding him, I guess. Which makes no sense to me at the moment, but presumably All Will Come Clear later on.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about his premonition that Dunk will become a Kingsguardian! Sweet! But, my immediate thought was that John’s got the timing wrong, and Dunk will end up being Egg’s appointee to the Kingsguard, once however Egg gets the throne happens. (I’m pretty sure I knew from things said in the series proper that Egg eventually becomes king, but even if I hadn’t I would have totally assumed it anyway, so whatever.)
Egg lowered his voice. “Someday the dragons will return. My brother Daeron dreamed of it, and King Aerys read it in a prophecy. Maybe it will be my egg that hatches. That would be splendid.”
“Would it?” Dunk had his doubts.
Not Egg. “Aemon and I used to pretend that our eggs would be the ones to hatch. If they did, we could fly through the sky on dragonback, like the first Aegon and his sisters.”
Aw, Aemon. His death was easily the most moving thing in AFFC, and this reminded me of how much he obviously loved the crap out of Egg, and vice versa. Sniffle.
Also, no eggs are hatching! Why is there all this egg-hatching prophecy when I am mostly sure no eggs hatch until Dany shows up and does her thing about a hundred years down the road?
Hrmp. Maybe John’s timing re: his dreams is really off, and he’s simultaneously seeing things happening now, years ahead, and a century-ish in the future. If so, that’s a pretty sucky mental tarot deck he’s got there, sorry, man. (Or, more likely, his dreams are all symbolic and shit, just like Daeron’s turned out to be re: Baelor, and the “egg hatching” means something other than the literal egg literally hatching. Maybe Egg does something, or gets outed?)
In other news, it seems Martin fell in love with another obscure word while writing this. I’ve only gotten through a third of TMK and have come across the word “undy” three times already. The Intarwebs tell me that it’s a heraldic term that means “wavy”. Which, okay, fair, I guess we just happen to be around a lot of undy heraldry at the moment, but it amused me anyway.
And hah, that “Bear and the Maiden Fair” song shows up again. You’ve got to love that ASOIAF really does have a running gag – and one that’s actually funny to boot.
And last and definitely least:
“It’s wild boar,” the woman said, “well peppered, and served with onions, mushrooms, and mashed neeps.”
This has nothing to do with anything, but I Googled to find out what the hell “neeps” were, and this page was the first result, and I spent about the next ten minutes giggling and reading to myself in a no doubt utterly atrocious accent. Hah.
And on that very productive note, we out! Have a lovely fall week, and I’ll see you with Part 2 (which is pages 26-46, or 685-713 in the TPB) next Thursday!