Knight of the Laughing Tree
The Knight of the Laughing Tree was a mystery knight who fought at the Tourney at Harrenhal. He defended the honor of Howland Reed by challenging and defeating three knights whose squires had bullied him, demanding that they chastise the squires in order to ransom back their horses and armor.
The Knight of the Laughing Tree is so called because of the blazon on his shield, a smiling heart tree. His true identity remains unknown.
Most of what is known about the Knight of the Laughing Tree comes from a story told by Meera Reed to Bran Stark. As an introduction to her story, Meera suggests that this knight "might have been a crannogman". And Jojen Reed adds "or not". Jojen expects Bran to have heard this tale "a hundred times" from his father, but Bran denies any knowledge of the tale. He later explains that Old Nan was the one narrating stories to him, not his father. 
According to Meera's tale, a crannogman - most likely her own father, Howland Reed - attended the Tourney at Harrenhal. Finding there Aerys II Targaryen ("the king") and Rhaegar Targaryen ("the dragon prince"). With the Targaryens were the Kingsguard ("the White Swords"), there to welcome Jaime Lannister ("a new brother") into their ranks. Based on their known composition of the time, the knights present would be Lord Commander Gerold Hightower, Jonothor Darry, Arthur Dayne, Lewyn Martell, Barristan Selmy, and Oswell Whent.  
Among the Lords present in the tourney were Robert Baratheon ("the storm lord") and Mace Tyrell ("the rose lord"). Notably absent was Tywin Lannister ("the great lion of the rock"). Meera reports that Tywin had quarelled with Aerys and intentionally stayed away. But many of the knights and bannermen of House Lannister did attend the Tourney.   Among the women present were Elia Martell ("the wife of the dragon prince") and a dozen of her lady companions.   House Whent hosted the Tourney . A daughter of the House reigned as Queen of Love and Beauty at the opening of the tourney, though her title had to be defended against challengers. Her champions were her four brothers and famous uncle Oswell Whent. 
The crannogman found himself bullied by three squires, none older that fifteen-years-old. He had already "grown to manhood", however the boys were all larger than him in size. His only offensive weapon, a threepronged spear, was easily snatched away by his opponents. He was then thrown into the ground. His assailants repeatedly mocked him, shoved him, and kicked him. Help arrived in the person of Lyanna Stark ("the she-wolf"), who shouted indignantly that Reed was her father's bannerman. She beat off his attackers with a tourney sword, scattering them away.  
Reed was wounded and Lyanna took him back to her "lair", probably a tent. She cleaned his wounds and bound them with linen. Then introduced the guest to her brothers Brandon Stark ("the wild wolf"), Eddard Stark ("the quiet wolf"), and Benjen Stark ("the pup"). That evening, Lyanna persuaded Reed to attend the feast marking the start of the tournament. She insisted that he was highborn and had as much right to attend as anyone. The "wolf maid" was not easy to refuse. Benjen found a suitable garb for Reed. Within Harrenhal, Reed ate and drank with the Starks. Their table also included certain Stark sworn swords, notably members of Houses Dustin ("barrowdown men", men from the Barrowlands or Barrowton), Hornwood ("moose"), Mormont ("bears"), and Manderly ("mermen").  
During the feast Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, a noted musician, performed a sad and beautiful song that made Lyanna weep; when Benjen teased her for crying, she poured wine over his head. A recruiting officer of the Night's Watch was there, trying to convince knights to join the Watch. Robert Baratheon was involved in a drinking contest with Richard Lonmouth ("the knight of skulls and kisses"). Meera notes in passing that Robert won the contest. Reed focused his attention on Ashara Dayne ("a maid with laughing purple eyes"), a companion of Elia, who was dancing in turns with various partners. First a member of the Kingsguard (either her brother Arthur Dayne or infatuated Barristan Selmy), secondly Oberyn Martell ("a red snake"), third Jon Connington ("the lord of griffins"), and lastly Eddard Stark. Eddard was too shy to ask her for a dance, so Brandon asked her on behalf of his brother.   
Still during the feast, both Reed and Lyanna recognized the three bullying squires. One serving a pitchfork knight (House Haigh), one serving a porcupine (House Blount), and the last boy serving a knight of two towers (House Frey). She pointed them out to her brothers. Benjen offered to find Reed a horse and armor in order to avenge himself. Reed failed to reply, torn with indecision. His pride demanded vengeance. But he was afraid of loosing and making a fool of himself. Bringing shame to his people in the process. He was no knight, not used to horses and lances. Before going to sleep, Reed prayed to the Old Gods. Then went to sleep at the tent of Eddard, as the "quiet wolf" had offered him hospitality.  
During the first two days of the tournament, the porcupine knight, pitchfork knight, and the knight of the two towers each won a place among the the champions. All in jousting. Late on the afternoon of the second day, a mystery knight appeared in the lists. He was "short of stature". His armor was made up of mismatched armor bit and pieces, and appeared and ill-fitting on him. His shield blazoned with the image of "a white weirwood with a laughing red face". The tale earlier mentions that Reed had with him "a leathern shield" but does not specify whether this was the same shield. He challenged and defeated all three of the previously mentioned knights. Winning custody over their horses and armor. None of them were particularly popular, so the smallfolk cheered for his victory. When the defeated trio sought to ransom back their former property, the Knight declared his terms. That they ought to teach their squires honor. His voice sounded "booming" through his helm. The trio proceeded to chastise their squires sharply. 
The Knight attracted unwanted attention. Robert Baratheon and Richard Lonmouth were determined to unmask him, while Aerys II was certain that the man was his enemy. By the next morning, the Knight had disappeared. An angry Aerys send Rhaegar to search for the vanished Knight. But only the shield of the Knight could be found, abandoned in a tree. 
The Knight of the Laughing Tree's identity is currently unknown, but Meera's story contains several potential clues. The mystery knight must have been someone who knew about Howland Reed's experience with the squires and was motivated to avenge him. Reed and all four Stark siblings knew. His height was below average, or else it would not be noted in the first place. The mismatched armor would point to the Knight not having access to regular armor, or having regular armor with tell-tale markings on it. The booming voice was most likely not the regular voice of the Knight. The weirwood image implies a connection to the Old Gods and the North.  
He was competent enough at the joust to defeat three knights who had made it through the first day of the tourney, but as none of them were particularly well-known, he need not have been unusually skilled. Meera was surprised that Bran had never heard the story before, which suggests that the Knight may have been either a Stark, or someone close to the family.
Strong possibilities include:
- Lyanna Stark. Eddard compares his tomboyish daughter Arya to Lyanna in both appearance and personality, adding that Lyanna probably would have carried a sword if their father had allowed it.  Lyanna is consistently noted to have been an extremely skilled rider.    She also seems to have had an interest in swordfighting.   Horsemanship skills are necessary for jousting and "riding at rings" is standard training for squires, preparing them actual jousting. Lyanna using the same exercise in her horse-riding training would not be impossible. Benjen could provide armor for her, as he offered to do for Reed. As an underage girl, she could be shorter than the average man. Provided she had the necessary skill and some luck, Lyanna could defeat threee knights of uncertain ability. (The best jousters don't seem to have competed prior to the final day of the Tourney.) In jousting, "the speed of the horse provides the force of the attack", not the physical strength of the rider. The theory would also explain how she met Rhaegar, the man charged with finding the Knight. And the same man who crowned Lyanna as his Queen of Love and Beauty. They had no known previous interactions.   
- Negative points of this theory would be doubts concerning the skill and youth of Lyanna. The existence of swordfighting skills, doesn't confirm the existence of jousting skills. In her fight with the squires, there would be other factors on her side. There is no mention the squires were armed. There was likely an element of surprise at work, when they found themselves under attack. If they recognized their assailant as a noble girl, they may have consciously avoided hurting her. Afraid of risking the wrath of her House. None of these factors would be present on the jousting field. Even if she had actual training, this would be the first real test for her skills. As a novice in the sport, her victory would be far from guaranteed. Lyanna would have logically tried to sound like a man. But the helm would not be enough to produce a powerful, stentorian voice. 
- Howland Reed himself. According to Meera, Reed "was small like all crannogmen". She even calls crannogmen "small people", in comparison to the "big people" around them. Therefore he would be shorter than average. He had the strongest reasons to defend his honor, so the best motive. He was no knight, but his tale notes the man was "brave and smart and strong". "Bolder than most" crannogmen. His hesitation to might may have been only a temporary obstacle. The text seems to pay attention to his prayer to the Old Gods, said while focusing at the direction of the Isle of Faces. Earlier the tale has him knowing "the magic of the crannogs" and spending an entire winter with the Green Men. His prayer may have been answered with supernatural assistance. Bran himself, the listener of the story, strongly suspects that "the little crannogman" and the Knight were the same person. That the crannogman could have been turned into a knight, "even if it was only for a day". Or that the Knight could be a Green Man, with "dark green skin and leaves instead of hair". Someone send by the Old Gods. Meera does not confirm or deny any of Bran's theories. Simply narrating "the old gods gave strength to his arm".    
- Negative points for this theory would be that Howland goes from the victim of the story to its hero in minimal time. He would suddenly display skills that Meera claimed the crannogmen do not have. The theory relies on Reed having beginner's luck, justice, or the supernatural on his side. If the Green Men, the Children of the Forest, or the Old Gods intervened on this relatively minor occassion, one would expect them to also intervene in major events. While their lack of intervention is what makes the people of Westeros doubt their continued existence. The story might also undermine the loyalty of Reed to House Stark. He avenged himself, therefore he would not be bonded to the Starks by a debt of gratitude. 
- Benjen Stark. As a son of House Stark, he certainly would have been a trained fighter. Noble boys seem to start training in the martial arts at an early age, and the Starks seem to take their training seriously. He was even younger than Lyanna and probably shorter. He was the one who suggested the idea of seeking vengeance to Reed in the first place, and claimed that he could find a horse and some armor for the crannogman. He could have used this horse and armor himself. He also would not the first underage participant in a jousting match. Bran recalls that Barristan the Bold served as the mystery knight in a tourney when only ten-years-old.   
- Negative points for this theory would the voice of Benjen and his incomplete training. The voice break from the vocal pitch of a boy to the deeper pitch of a man typically takes in mid-to-late adolescence. The voice of a younger Benjen would still sound like a child, far from being powerful or stentorian.  Barristan Selmy himself recalls his first jousting match with details. He was still ten and was inexperienced even as a squire. He borrowed a warhorse and found his "ill-fitting" armor in the armory of Lord Dondarrion. He had trouble keeping his lance straight, and was easily defeated in the first tilt by Duncan Targaryen. 
- Eddard Stark. Jojen Reed insists that Bran must have heard the tale of the Knight "a hundred times". He later specifically asks "You never heard this tale from your father?" Later still, Jojen keeps insisting: "Are you certain you never heard this tale before, Bran? Your lord father never told it to you?"  The implication would be that Eddard knew this story well, even though he never passed it to his children. Raising the question if this was Eddard's own tale. While Brandon was the best swordsman and lancer in the family, Eddard would also have received combat training. He was not an impressive physical specimen, as Catelyn Tully describes him as shorter than Brandon. He was still in his late teens and might not have reached his full physical height and frame. This theory would also explain Reed's personal loyalty to Eddard. He would go on to serve as one of Ned's closest companions during Robert's Rebellion, even serving as one of the few men who followed Lord Stark to the Tower of Joy.     
Ned was a close friend of Howland Reed in later years, took House Stark's responsibility to defend its bannermen very seriously, and was certainly a well-trained fighter. However, there is nothing to indicate that he was unusually short, and the image of a laughing weirwood seems at odds with Ned's somber personality.
- Ashara Dayne. Dayne was present at the feast, where she spoke with both Ned and Brandon Stark. She might have learned of Reed's plight from one of them, and as she is rumored to have been in love with one or both brothers, could have planned to impress them by defending Reed. Whether Dayne had trained to fight is unknown, but it would not be terribly unusual for a Dornishwoman to do so, although jousting is not a Dornish tradition. Furthermore, Meera describes Dayne as having "laughing purple eyes," which resonates with the Knight's chosen sigil of a laughing weirwood.
References and Notes
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24, Bran II.
- "The Citadel: FAQ, entry 6.2.6- Who were the different people in Meera's story?" (2007
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67, The Kingbreaker.
- "The Citadel: FAQ, entry 6.2.7- Who was the Knight of the Laughing Tree?" (2011)
- Conversation topic: Knight of the Laughing Tree on Westeros Forum Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Forum1" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Forum1" defined multiple times with different content
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 22, Arya II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 17, Arya III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 32, Reek III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 41, The Turncloak.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
- Beyond the Wall, Chapter: "History on a Personal Scale" Commenting on the uncertainties of the text in the novels: "Even what appear to be straightforward elements of backstory turn out to be more complex, more shrouded in doubt, than they first appear. ... We have also seen through the heart tree that Lyanna Stark was a skilled swordswoman, capable of besting her younger brother-the future First Ranger of the Night's Watch and a very capable soldier- in mock combat. This fuels speculation that Lyanna was the mysterious Knight of the Laughing Tree... and gives another reason for why she and Rhaegar may have met and developed a connection."
- Conversation topic: Who was the Knight of the Laughing Tree? on asoiaf.yuku.com
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 59, The Discarded Knight.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V.
- "The Citadel: So Spake Marttin: About Benjen Stark" (2000): "Brandon was the best of the Starks with sword in hand, and the best jouster as well. But Benjen has other skills that serve him well as a ranger... and Ned was likely the best battle commander."
- Conversation topic: Some Questions About Knight of the Laughing Tree on Westeros Forum
- Boys tend to complete their puberty developments by ages 16-18. Increases in height past this age are uncommon, but not impossible. Teenage and early adult males may continue to gain natural muscle growth even after puberty. Further adding to their weight and frame.