Mice in Pentos
Varys originally started out as a thief in Myr, but after a rival thief informed on him, he fled to Pentos. There, Varys met Illyrio Mopatis, and together they formed a team. Varys would spy on lesser thieves and steal from them, whilst Illyrio offered help to the victims of those thieves, for a reward.
After a while, Varys stopped spying and stealing himself, but started to train his "mice". Varys preferred the orphan boys and young girls, the smallest, those who were quickest and quiet. He taught them to climb walls and slip down chimneys. He also taught them how to read.
When Varys explained to Illyrio how secrets were worth more than silver or sapphires, the mice started stealing letters, ledgers and charts. Even later, the mice were taught to read the letters and leave them where they were.
Birds in King's Landing
Word of Varys' talents reached the Red Keep in King's Landing, where King Aerys II Targaryen had grown mistrustful of his heir, wife and Hand. Varys thus came to King's Landing to serve Aerys, as the Master of Whispers. Whilst no longer living in the same city, Varys and Illyrio kept working together. It is Illyrio who provides Varys with his new spies, called little birds in King's Landing. It is hinted that the children who become little birds have their tongues cut out, to prevent them from telling their secrets to others. The birds are provided to Varys in those conditions.
A Game of Thrones
Petyr Baelish warns Eddard Stark that Varys' birds are watching him. This particular bird is a young boy, who was squatting by the steps of the armory door, honing a sword with an oilstone. He had a view of the Tower of the Hand from this position.
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
While questioning Sansa Stark about Joffrey Baratheon, Lady Olenna Tyrell demands her fool Butterbumps to sing as loud as he possibly can, to prevent others, including Varys's birds, from hearing anything that is being said. This is successful, as the one to tell Tywin Lannister about the Tyrell secret plan to marry Sansa to Willas Tyrell is Littlefinger (informed by his spy Dontos Hollard), not Varys.
A Feast for Crows
Cersei Lannister, fearing that her brother Tyrion is hiding inside the hidden passages of the Red Keep, doesn't realise the people she hears are actually Varys's birds, who are still operating from behind the walls.
A Dance with Dragons
Varys sends one of his birds to fetch Kevan Lannister and bring him to the chambers of Grand Maester Pycelle. Once there, Varys mortally wounds Kevan, and has several of his little birds finish the job.
Varys: I must have gold, and another fifty birds.
Illyrio Mopatis: So many? The ones you need are hard to find... so young, to know their letters... perhaps older... not die so easy...
Varys: No. The younger are safer... treat them gently...
Illyrio Mopatis: ...if they kept their tongues...
Varys: ...the risk...
Mice in the walls, she would tell herself, no more than that.
It had to be the godswood. No other place in the Red Keep is safe from the eunuch's little birds... or little rats, as I call them. There are trees in the godswood instead of walls. Sky above instead of ceiling. Roots and dirt and rock in place of floor. The rats have no place to scurry. Rats need to hide, lest men skewer them with swords.
It is one thing to deceive a king, and quite another to hide from the cricket in the rushes and the little bird in the chimney.—Varys
References and Notes
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 5, Tyrion II.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 32, Arya III.
- Q&A Before/After reading ConQuest 44 (May 25, 2013)
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 18, Catelyn IV.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 25, Eddard V.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 3, Tyrion I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 6, Sansa I.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 16, Sansa II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 19, Tyrion III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 61, Sansa V.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 32, Cersei VII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Epilogue.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 15, Tyrion III.