A Game of Thrones-Chapter 30
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After viewing the body of Ser Hugh, Ned and Ser Barristan Selmy struggle to convince King Robert not to compete in the melee. The Hound wins the tourney when he saves the life of the Knight of Flowers. Later, Varys visits Ned to reveal that Robert was meant to die in the melee.
Ned and Ser Barristan Selmy see that Ser Hugh is taken by the silent sisters. Barristan Selmy explains that he stood vigil for the fallen knight himself, as the boy had no one else except a mother far away in the Vale of Arryn. Ser Hugh had been Lord Jon Arryn’s squire for four years and had been knighted by King Robert Baratheon after Jon Arryn’s death. Ned wonders if the boy was killed on purpose by a Lannister bannerman to prevent Ned from interviewing him.
Ser Hugh’s armor is new, forged especially for the tourney, and worth good money. Ser Barristan does not know if Ser Hugh had even finished paying the smith. Ned replies that the boy paid dearly, and orders the silent sisters to have the armor sent to the boy’s mother. Ser Barristan continues to walk with Ned and informs him that King Robert intends to fight in the melee. Ned already knows. When Ser Barristan suggests that drunken words are often forgotten in the morning, Ned insists that Robert will remember.
As they approach the king’s pavilion, they hear Robert raging at his squires, Tyrek and Lancel. When they enter the tent, Robert complains that his squires cannot even put a man’s armor on him properly, but Ned tells him the boys are not at fault—Robert is too fat for his armor. Robert tells Ned in mock anger that he should not call his king fat, and then sends the two squires off to get a breastplate stretcher from Ser Aron Santagar. After the squires run out, Robert and Ser Barristan laugh and even Ned smiles at the thought of the boys asking for the non-existent device.
Ned asks if the two squires are from House Lannister. The king admits they are, and Ned notes to himself that there are too many Lannisters around the king. Putting the thought aside, Ned asks about the angry words between the king and his wife. Robert takes this opportunity to complain about Cersei’s audacity in telling him he should not participate in the melee, and he claims Lyanna Stark would not have done such a thing. Ned insists Robert did not really know Lyanna, and that she would have told him he had no business fighting in the melee. This does not dissuade Robert, who insists that—unlike Ned—he still has juices running in his veins. When Ser Barristan speaks up to explain that no man would dare to strike a king during the melee, Robert is furious and sends Ser Barristan away, but orders Ned to stay and to drink.
Robert laments to Ned that he was never so alive as when he was winning the throne or so dead as after it was won. He declares that Ned or Jon Arryn should have been the king, but Ned reminds Robert that he had the best claim. The king declares that he had not wanted to marry after Lyanna’s death and that it was Jon Arryn who recommended Cersei Lannister. Robert admits that Cersei is beautiful, but insists that she is cold and that Jon Arryn was a fool for recommending the marriage; Robert only agreed to it so he'd have the wealth and might of Tywin Lannister on his side should Viserys Targaryen ever return to claim the throne.
Robert also apologizes to Ned for the death of Sansa’s direwolf, admitting that he is sure Joffrey lied regarding the incident. He continues that he dreams of giving up the crown and becoming a sellsword in the Free Cities, but the thought of Joffrey on the throne with Cersei whispering in his ear stops him. Robert asks Ned how he could have made a son like Joffrey. Ned responds hollowly that Joffrey is only a boy and that Jon Arryn often despaired of Robert himself when he was a child. Robert admits this to be true and claims that he turned into a good king. When Ned does not respond, Robert declares that Ned could at least say he is a better king than Aerys. Ned admits the truth in that. Robert insists that he and Ned still have many years yet to set things right and make him a good ruler.
Changing the subject, Robert asks who Ned believes will win the joust. Robert comments that the Knight of Flowers is a son to be proud of and regales Ned with the story of when the young knight unhorsed Jaime Lannister in a previous tourney. Then the king mentions that Renly has told him about the Knight of Flowers’ lovely, fourteen-year-old sister Margaery.
During breakfast, Robert talks with Ned about when they were boys. The stories bring a smile to Ned, who realizes he is speaking to the Robert he grew up with and if he can prove his accusations this man will listen. The thought of the downfall of Cersei and Jaime even makes the food taste better, and Ned feels better than he has in a long time.
Ned arrives at the tourney and sits by his daughter Sansa. In the first joust, Littlefinger bets against the Hound since a dog will not bite the hand that feeds it. He loses the bet when the Hound defeats Ser Jaime on the second pass after almost losing in the first. Sansa tells Ned that she knew the Hound would win, and Littlefinger asks her to tell him who will win the second match.
By the time they lead Ser Jaime—who can no longer see through his mangled helm—off the field, Ser Gregor Clegane is in position. He is the biggest man Ned has ever seen, even dwarfing Hodor. Ned recalls Gregor as a man of ominous reputation; supposedly he dashed in the skull of the infant Aegon Targaryen and boasted that he raped and murdered the boy’s mother Princess Elia afterwards. There are also rumors of queer circumstances surrounding the deaths of two wives, a sister, his father, and the burning of his brother’s face.
Clegane’s opponent is the slim and elegantly armored Knight of Flowers, Ser Loras Tyrell, who wears a cape of woven flowers. After comparing Ser Loras and his opponent, Sansa asks her father to ensure that Ser Loras is not hurt. Ned assures her that the lances are designed to break to prevent injury, but cannot help but think of Ser Hugh.
Ser Gregor has tremendous difficulty controlling his stallion, while Loras demonstrates his horsemanship on his mare. When the pass begins, Clegane’s mount breaks into a hard gallop immediately, while Ser Loras’ mare charges smoothly. They meet while Gregor is still struggling with his mount, shield, and lance. Ser Loras' lance strikes Gregor perfectly, sending him down with his mount. Ser Loras’ lance is not even broken, and the crowd cheers when he raises his visor in victory.
Gregor gets up in a rage, demands his sword, and nearly beheads his horse with a single blow. He then strides toward Ser Loras and sends the Knight of Flowers to the ground with his first blow. He is about to deliver a killing blow when the Hound intercedes. Gregor sends multiple sword blows toward his brother’s head, but the Hound stops each one, remaining on the defensive. The Hound drops to his knee when he hears the King’s voice over the crowd. The blow from Gregor passes through air, and finally Gregor comes to his senses, drops his sword, glares at King Robert, and storms off. In gratitude, Ser Loras forfeits the championship to the Hound, so there is no final joust. The crowd cheers for the Hound for the first time in his life.
As they head towards the archery field, Littlefinger points out that Ser Loras had to know his mare was in heat and that such a thing would disrupt Ser Gregor’s stallion. A boy named Anguy wins the archery event, and Ned sends Alyn to offer him a position among his guards, but the boy refuses. Thoros of Myr, who fights with a flaming sword, wins the melee that starts with nearly 40 men and lasts three hours. When the list of injuries is reported, Ned is pleased that Robert did not take part.
That night at the feast, Ned remains more hopeful than he has been in a long while. Robert is in a good humor, the Lannisters are nowhere in sight, and even his daughters are behaving. Sansa speaks to Arya pleasantly and even asks how her dancing has gone. Arya happily explains that she is sore all over and shows a nasty bruise on her leg. Sansa declares that Arya must be a terrible dancer.
Later, Ned examines Arya’s bruise himself while she stands on one leg, at which she has improved. He asks if Syrio Forel is being too hard on her, but Arya replies that every hurt is a lesson and every lesson makes you better. Ned is concerned, even though Syrio came with an excellent reputation and the Braavosi-style suits Arya’s slim blade. He recalls finding Arya wandering the castle blindfolded because Syrio was teaching her to see with her ears, nose, and skin. Arya has also been practicing spins and back-flips. Ned offers to have someone else take over her lessons, but Arya insists she wants Syrio. Ned knows that any decent master-at-arms could give Arya the basics of sword fighting without the blindfolds, cartwheels, and hopping around on one leg, but he also knows there is no use arguing with Arya.
Ned returns to his solar, thinking of what he has learned. He takes out the dagger and wonders why Tyrion Lannister, or anyone else, would want Bran dead. He is sure that Bran’s fall is somehow linked to the death of Jon Arryn, but the truth eludes him. Jory is still in the process of searching the whorehouses, and Ned is sure Gendry is a bastard son of Robert. There is also Edric Storm, a bastard Robert was forced to recognize because his mother was highborn. He also remembers Robert’s first child from when Robert was still a boy himself. Yet no bastard can threaten Robert’s trueborn children, since bastards have few inheritance rights.
A knock at the door brings a stranger, who turns out to be Varys in disguise. Ned is amazed; he has never seen Varys wear anything but silk, velvet, and perfume yet now the eunuch wears coarse-spun clothes, mud-caked boots, and smells of sweat. Ned exclaims that he would never have recognized Varys. The eunuch says this is good because he would rather the queen’s spies not know about their meeting either.
Varys reveals to Ned that the Lannisters had hoped to kill Robert during the melee. When Ned asks why Cersei would forbid Robert to compete if she planned to have him killed, Varys points out that the surest way to make Robert compete would be to forbid it. Ned is furious that Varys did not tell him, but soon admits that he would have gone straight to Robert, who would have fought to show his enemies he did not fear them.
Varys explains to Ned that there are two sorts of people in the Red Keep: those loyal to the realm and those loyal to only to themselves. Varys says he now knows Ned to be loyal to the realm because he dissuaded the king from entering the melee. Varys also reveals that Cersei fears Ned because Robert will never harm him, not even at her command, whereas Robert would execute Varys in a twinkling at queen’s request since the king has little love for sneaks, spies, and eunuchs.
Ned argues that Robert must have other friends and that his brothers are surely loyal. Varys replies that hating the queen and loving the king are not quite the same thing. Varys goes on to say that Ser Barristan loves his honor, Grand Maester Pycelle loves his office, and Littlefinger loves Littlefinger. Varys adds that the Kingsguard are a paper shield: Ser Boros Blount and Ser Meryn Trant are the queen’s men, Ser Barristan is old, and the loyalties of the rest are also suspect. Ned insists that they must warn Robert, but Varys reminds him that without proof they will only lose. Ned insists that the plotters will try again, and Varys agrees, stating that together they might be able to stop them.
As he rises to leave, Varys reminds Ned to continue treating him with his accustomed contempt. As Varys reaches the door, Ned asks how Jon Arryn died. Varys tells him that a rare and costly poison called the Tears of Lys was used. Varys goes on to say that he suggested a taster, but Lord Arryn refused. When Ned asks who administered the poison, Varys claims that it was probably his squire, Ser Hugh, who now lies dead. After Lysa left for the Eyrie, Hugh remained and had the money to buy new armor.
As a final question, Ned asks Varys what Jon Arryn had been doing that led to his murder. Varys replies, "Asking questions."