Twenty-four days until Rogue One...dam-dum-dam-DAAM-DAAM.
We left Sansa and her mentor, Petyr Baelish AKA Littlefinger, in the middle of a meeting with the Royce family, everyone agreeing that the singer Marillion is worthless. Apparently, several members of the Royce household have been mocked in songs written by Marillion; Ser Marwyn Belmore (hey, another Marwyn!) reveals that Marillion called him 'Ser Ding-Dong' in a song. I chuckle. Lord Nestor himself claims Marillion was favored by Lady Lysa to the point he was given rich clothes and even her deceased husband's favorite falcon. All right, there's a seemingly random sentence in here that I just don't get; Lord Nestor is talking about Lysa favoring Marillion and out of nowhere we get the description of a knight's doublet ("six white candles of Waxley") but there's no Ser Waxley around/saying anything? Another editorial mistake? Following the description Petyr replies to Lord Nestor as if the knight's doublet's description wasn't trying to interrupt. Me no gettit.
Upping the tension a bit, Martin has Petyr admit he killed Marillion, to Sansa's distress; of course, Sansa is now learning from a master of deception. By saying this, Petyr makes himself seem more trustworthy; it's one of those places in the book where you can see a certain psychopathy in Littlefinger's character (or should I say 'pathological'). He doesn't even need to say anything else; the attending lords absolve him of the blame. Can't you just imagine Littlefinger winking at Sansa at this point? He's playing these lords so well, it is obvious that this is supposed to be an important lesson for Sansa, and so we may see her adapt a similar style later in the story. If we ever get it.
FINISH THE BOOK GEORGE
Marillion is fetched up from the dungeons (the Sky Cells I assume Martin means), brought by the eminent Mord, who made such an impression all the way back in A Game of Thrones. The gaoler is given a new description in case you've forgotten him. In short, he's short. And ugly. Marillion is good-looking despite a white silk bandage covering his blindness. Marillion immediately goes to his knees to proclaim his guilt in what seems a very rehearsed confession; Lord Nestor Royce buys the performance, though, and Mord drags the poor troubadour back to his sky cell. It's so nice that because we had Tyrion experiencing a sky cell (and Mord) first hand earlier in the story, we can feel and imagine what it must be like to be Marillion in this situation; the advantage of re-using sets, eh. Funny reminder: Sansa notices Mord's teeth are made of gold! A Lannister paid his debts.
Syr Marwyn Belmore (here in my copy spelled 'Maryvwn', I told you books four and five have poorer editing) is clear that he wants Marillion executed; Lord Nestor's son agrees and wants to have the man's tongue cut out first. Petyr keeps sounding apologetic, further deceiving the attendees by displaying a false personality (feeling sorry for Marillion, in this case); I guess the lesson here is that it can be wise to pretend to be weaker (more merciful), so your opposition gets the wrong impression of your true strength. Nestor says the sky cell will break the singer anyhow.
Meeting over, Littlefinger invites the Royces to stay the night, and promises food and drink in the Lower Hall. He asks the lord himself, Nestor, to join him the solar, though, to speak with him alone. He asks Alayne to come pour wine for them, and so we transition to a new scene within the majestic halls of the Eyrie (I'd love to play a dungeon crawl CRPG in the Eyrie).
Nestor tells Littlefinger that his cousin, Bronze Yohn, is coming to interrogate the singer himself. He is going to bring a few other notable nobles as well, including Symond Templeton, Lady Waynwood, Lord Belmore (Ser Marwyn's father?), Horton Redfort, Strong Sam Stone, the Tollets, the Shetts, the Coldwaters, and some Corbrays. It kinda feels like Martin all of a sudden decided to expand the list of noble families in the Vale of Arryn after years of neglecting that corner of Westeros, and now he wishes to dole out all those names at once. Not that I care. I love Martin's names, mostly. Like "Lyn Corbray". That's a badass name. Or "Jason Mallister". "Bronze Yohn" is cool, too. Anyway. The important thing here isn't the list of names, although they do enhance the feeling of a crowded Vale, but that Bronze Yohn is planning to remove Littlefinger as Lord Protector of the Vale. Apparently Yohn can raise an army of twenty thousand, which is pretty awesome considering the state of affairs elsewhere in Westeros (it's like, how easy pickings would Yohn find if he decided to, say, ride for the riverlands?). Why isn't he invading elsewhere? Petyr seems unperturbed though; perhaps because the Eyrie is impregnable, but more likely because he's already got a contingency plan in place.
Petyr hands Lord Nestor a piece of paper, the writing leading the man to tears; Petyr claims Lady Lysa thought of Nestor as "her rock"; despite Nestor remembering Lysa scorning him, he buys Littlefinger's obvious fabrication hook line and sinker, perhaps because he wants or needs to feel valuable; "My lady valued you above all her other bannermen," Littlefinger says, and though he signed it because, you know, Lysa's doornail-dead, Lord Nestor is clearly tempted by being offered the formal title of Keeper (of the Gates). Oh yes, Littlefinger has read the man very, very well; Nestor admits lusting for the position, feeling that he has earned it. They toast, and Lord Nestor Royce is the Keeper of the Gates of the Moon. This is so not going to come and bite anyone in the ass at all. There's Arbor gold being drunk, by the way, just in case you thought Petyr was being entirely honest with Lord Nestor.
Sansa is very very tired at the end of the meeting (she's been standing around, filling and refilling the lords' cups, much like a servant - wonder if Petyr is getting off on that? "Ruling" a Stark, so to speak?), but Littlefinger asks her if she's understood what has been going on - if she understands how lies and wine (okay, Arbor gold) can help you get ahead in the game (of thrones). When she asks if everything Petyr said was a lie, he says that Lysa thought of Nestor as being dumb as a rock. That's kinda funny but is also another lesson for Sansa: lace your lies with a little truth. Petyr explains to Sansa how Nestor preferred a sweet lie over a hard truth, how he now has the man's support, and how he is essentially setting up the two Royces against each other (Nestor and Yohn). It's not terribly complicated, and you may wonder what Littlefinger would do if something went awry but his plans seem to always go his way (so far...) so yeah, one of these days Littlefinger will make a mistake and I am sure Sansa will be there to take advantage. In a more interesting and complex manner than what we were shown in Game of Thrones this year. So...devoid of the interesting political intrigue on display here.
More teachings: Some things should never be said, even when two persons both know the truth - you never know who might be listening (like...Bran?) "Game of thrones" gets a namedrop by Littlefinger, and Sansa realizes the game is too dangerous. Interestingly Sansa tells Littlefinger she's skeptical of Oswell, one of Littlefinger's serving men, and he tells her he trusts him; so even Littlefinger seems to have that weakness of trust. Oswell (Kettleblack) and Lothor Brune watch each other, so Littlefinger feels he's got control - but I wonder if Martin is setting up something here; something like Sansa turning either of them, or both, against their master. Who knows? Only time travelers who've been in a future where The Winds of Winter exists. "With my wits and Cat's beauty, the world will be yours, sweetling," Littlefinger says, making me wondering about his exact motivations (marry Sansa before taking the Iron Throne?), then Sansa's off to bed. Mmmm I wouldn't mind a bed right now. For some reason I woke at three this very night, not being able to fall asleep again.
That night little Robert Arryn climbs into her bed (Sansa chides herself for forgetting to lock the boy in); he asks her if she is his mother now, and she says "I suppose I am"; a clear indication that Sansa has begun her journey toward becoming a manipulator, molded by Littlefinger (up until a certain point of course). "If a lie was kindly meant, there was no harm in it," she thinks to herself, and that's the line closing the chapter. Is it a cliffhanger that makes me desperate for the next Sansa chapter? No, no. In fact, I am not sure about this line. Is Sansa thinking of herself as "kind" to the boy because he's lost his mother? Why is this emphasized (by closing the chapter) by George? That Sansa isn't realizing she's learning the game of thrones, at least not on a conscious level, but that her thoughts are now shifting direction? Is she more able to lie now than she was before (I guess this is what the line signifies, but I never got the feeling Sansa couldn't tell a white lie before).
All right, not the most stirring chapter perhaps but every line feels like it must be in there, and it gives us a lot of insight into Petyr's machinations, and we practically learn alongside Sansa; the Eyrie is a great and interesting location, and it's nice to see it's still important to the overall story (though it got shafted in GoT didn't it). Neat chapter, definitely improved on a re-read; there's no urgency to see where it's going, and it's easier to enjoy the chapter for what it is - a demonstration by Littlefinger for ours and Sansa's benefit, all with a cup or ten of Arbor gold.