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 2 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 26-46, or in the trade paperback edition, from pages 685-713. Sorry if that doesn’t match your particular edition.]
The Mystery Knight: Part 2
Egg is reading about coats of arms when Dunk returns to their pavilion. Dunk notices he is injured, and Egg reluctantly tells him he got into a fight with another squire who claimed that Maekar killed Baelor on purpose. Dunk tells him that “words are wind”, but Egg says some words are treason, and this is a traitor’s tourney. Dunk tells him to let it go, and to enter him in the lists as “the Gallows Knight”, referring to his new shield that he has not yet had time to repaint with his own sigil. Dunk does not really remember what happened the night before.
A miserably hungover Dunk watches the jousts before him the next day, ignoring Egg’s attempts to talk him out of competing. Ser Glendon wins his match handily despite being under-armored and badly-mounted, and Ser Kyle deliberately throws his match to Lord Joffrey Caswell in hopes of being taken on as one of the lord’s armsmen. Dunk’s match is against Ser Uthor Underleaf, and he loses spectacularly, knocked out from a blow from the other knight’s fist. He wakes four hours later in a cellar, tended by the old maester, who tells him his squire was very upset, as well as “his fiddling friend.”
Distraught at his loss, Dunk arrives back at the field in time to see John the Fiddler, in rich panoply, square off against Ser Franklyn Frey and defeat him easily. Feeling sick, Dunk seeks a well, and finds Ser Kyle with Ser Maynard Plumm. Kyle tells him Lord Caswell cast him off as “weak,” leaving him with no horse or armor. He and Maynard both advise Dunk to flee, but Dunk thinks of his childhood as a thief, and is determined not to be that anymore, and says he will not.
“Would you rather die with honor intact, or live with it besmirched? No, spare me, I know what you will say. Take your boy and flee, gallows knight. Before your arms become your destiny.”
Dunk bristled. “How would you know my destiny? Did you have a dream, like John the Fiddler? What do you know of Egg?”
“I know that eggs do well to stay out of frying pans,” said Plumm. “Whitewalls is not a healthy place for the boy.”
Plumm thinks the Fiddler is going to win the dragon’s egg, and Dunk agrees with him.
Egg is overjoyed to see Dunk and hugs him. Dunk is depressed by the fact that his armor and horse are now Ser Uthor’s property, and wonders how he will be a knight with no mount or arms. Egg suggests that they could go back to Summerhall and take service with his father, but Dunk cannot abide the idea of slinking back to Maekar in defeat, and says perhaps they should part ways. Egg says he wants no master besides Dunk. Dunk insists on going to Uthor to deliver the ransom immediately.
At Uthor’s surprisingly lavish tent, Uthor tells Dunk about Glendon’s history, claiming that his mother was a common whore, and that he gained his knighthood in exchange for his own sister’s maidenhood. He has a counteroffer for Dunk in lieu of his armor and horse, which he disdains. He proposes that Dunk travel with him and throw jousting matches against him in return for a cut of the wagers against Uthor. Dunk is disgusted, and replies that he lost his armor, not his honor, and also that Uthor is no true knight. Uthor shocks him then by revealing that he was paid to give him a head strike, and more for a death blow, but the sum was paltry enough that Uthor didn’t bother. Dunk cannot imagine who would want him dead, but Uthor tells him he has more enemies than he knows.
“I may not have been at Ashford Meadow, but jousting is my bread and salt. I follow tourneys from afar as faithfully as the maesters follow stars. I know how a certain hedge knight became the cause of a Trial of Seven at Ashford Meadow, resulting in the death of Baelor Breakspear at his brother Maekar’s hand.” Ser Uthor seated himself and stretched his legs out. “Prince Baelor was well loved. The Bright Prince had friends as well, friends who will not have forgotten the cause of his exile. Think on my offer, ser. The snail may leave a trail of slime behind him, but a little slime will do a man no harm… whilst if you dance with dragons, you must expect to burn.”
On leaving Uthor’s tent, Dunk is unable to find Egg. He encounters Ser Glendon, and invites him to go with him to the north to take service with the Starks against the ironmen, but Glendon says he means to earn a white cloak with the Kingsguard. Dunk thinks Glendon’s chances at such a thing are as slim as his, but wishes him luck. Glendon tells him that Lord Peake had offered him a place at Starpike in return for throwing a joust against the Fiddler, but refused, and that Peake had called him a fool with no friends. Dunk tells him he has one, and Glendon replies that it is “good to know there are some true knights still.”
Dunk sees Ser Tommard Heddle defeat Ser Clarence Charlton, and realizes he is the boil-and bearded knight he’d encountered the night before, and partially remembers the events surrounding him Dunk had seen. He also notes that Lords Butterwell and Frey are no longer in the audience, which is peculiar. Dunk watches Uthor engage in a deliberately drawn-out match with the Old Ox, but he is more worried about Egg.
He goes to find John the Fiddler, who promises to beat Uthor Underleaf and get Dunk’s horse and armor back for him. John also comments that Dunk has been calling him “m’lord” from the beginning, and tells him that they belong together, as he has seen in his dreams.
“Your dreams don’t lie,” said Dunk, “but you do. John is not your true name, is it?”
“No.” The Fiddler’s eyes sparkled with mischief.
He has Egg’s eyes.
“His true name will be revealed soon enough, to those who need to know.” Lord Gormon Peake had slipped into the pavilion, scowling. “Hedge knight, I warn you—”
“Oh, stop it, Gormy,” said the Fiddler. “Ser Duncan is with us, or will be soon. I told you, I dreamed of him.”
John leaves to joust with Ser Galtry, and Dunk asks Peake how much it had cost to buy Galtry. Peake says he ought to slit Dunk’s throat, but “his Grace” would take it ill. He explains that Butterwell’s wedding provided a good pretext for a gathering of “like-minded” lords who fought for the Black Dragon once. He says Aerys is weak and “bookish”, and with Baelor dead and Maekar “sulking” at Summerhall, the time is ripe to strike. Dunk points out that Bloodraven is not weak, but Peake counters that he is a sorcerer and a kinslayer, and will not retain support.
“And if the dream the prince has dreamed comes true, and a living dragon comes forth here at Whitewalls—”
Dunk finished for him. “—the throne is yours.”
“His,” said Lord Gormon Peake. “I am but a humble servant.” He rose. “Do not attempt to leave the castle, ser. If you do, I will take it as a proof of treachery, and you will answer with your life. We have gone too far to turn back now.”
THE PLOT, SHE THICKENS.
And OMG, where’s Egg? Eek. I mean, I know that logically nothing irrevocably bad is going to happen to him, because of future kinging duties, but I still worry that Not Nice things are happening to him in the meantime, because in Westeros, unfortunately, that’s really the only safe way to bet. Ugh.
Also, so Dunk’s got a contract-ish out on him, huh. I’m betting that was Peake’s doing, though, and nothing to do with Baelor’s demise, regardless of what Uthor says. Doesn’t make it any less worrying either way, of course. This is what you get for being in the wrong would-be king’s dreams at the wrong time, I always say. Except for how I never say that, because WTF Martin, but you know, whatever.
I left it out of the summary, perhaps erroneously, but I want to say how I do still love Martin’s penchant for making his characters reflect their (objectively) random sigils, such as Dunk’s observation about Uthor, whose sigil is a snail, and how he only truly shows himself once within his “shell,” i.e. his tent, which is as close to a private place as he is likely to get.
This is something Martin’s done throughout the series, wolves and lions and krakens and so on, and I’ve observed before how he’s ridden the line between “literary fiction” symbolism and genre fantasy straight-up literalism, and this is definitely one of the most obvious (and enjoyable) ways he does that. Dunk, too, in this story, in how he was unwillingly obliged to take on the sigil of the hanged man, and how that is reflected in the way he is being targeted for death here. And even Plumm’s remark about eggs (i.e. Egg) staying out of frying pans plays into that general motif. It’s all very clever and fun, and I enjoy it even as I don’t enjoy so many other things that happen in this series, so it’s a good thing it’s there, yeah?
Also, I’m going to theorize now that Maynard Plumm totally knows Egg’s true identity, because that remark about frying pans was not only thematically pleasing but also a little too pointed for me not to suspect that he knows Dunk’s squire is More Than What He Seems. And seeing as Dunk totally doesn’t trust Plumm, this is a rather disturbing turn of events, to boot. We’ll see if anything comes of it.
Anyway, so John has Egg’s eyes, does he? SHOCKING… except not really. I said before that John must be a scion of the Targaryen bramble, and Dunk’s observation here only confirms that I was right. Go me!
Though it doesn’t resolve Peake’s bastardy prejudices vis a vis his support of John, because I’m still really not clear how John couldn’t be a bastard, as opposed to a “pure-blooded” descendent, without Egg knowing him, but, well. I’m sure it will all be explained at some point.
And last but not least, this section of the story totally made Ser Glendon the Woobie of this story (don’t click that), and I am reduced to hoping that he doesn’t die as a result, but all things considered I am not holding out much hope for that, because ASOIAF.
And… honestly that’s about all I’ve got to say about this part. Hopefully all will be resolved in Part 3, the end of The Mystery Knight! Come back next week and see! Cheers!