Catelyn and Ser Rodrik approach King’s Landing on Storm Dancer, captained by Moreo Tumitis. Ser Rodrik has been sick for most of the voyage, and finally had to shave his whiskers after befouling them one too many times. Once ashore, they plan to contact Ser Aron Santagar, master-at-arms for the Red Keep, whom they hope can identify the dagger. Ser Rodrik emphasizes the need for secrecy and that there are those at court who would recognize Catelyn on sight. Catelyn realizes he means Littlefinger, Lord Petyr Baelish. He had been a ward to Catelyn’s father and a brother to Catelyn herself. He wanted more than that, however, and when he learned that Catelyn was to marry Brandon Stark, he challenged the older man to a duel. Brandon was twenty, Petyr scarcely fifteen, and there was no hope that he could prevail. Catelyn begged Brandon to spare his life, so he left Petyr with only a scar. Catelyn’s father sent him away after that. He wrote Catelyn a letter after Brandon was killed, but Catelyn did not read it. Rodrik mentions that Petyr is now on the small council, and Catelyn responds that she always knew he would rise high. They decide that Ser Rodrik will go to the castle and fetch Ser Aron while Catelyn waits for him in a safe place.
Upon going ashore, Catelyn and Ser Rodrik choose an inn recommended by Captain Moreo, and Ser Rodrik departs for the Red Keep. Catelyn falls asleep and wakes to pounding on her door. She opens it to discover men of the City Watch who are under orders to escort her to Lord Petyr. When she arrives, Petyr informs her that he learned of her arrival from Lord Varys, who will join them shortly. Varys went to Petyr because he is master of coin, and most of the small council is gone, with Ser Barristan and Lord Renly off escorting King Robert and Lord Stannis gone to Dragonstone. Also, Varys knew that Petyr was friends with Lysa. Petyr asks why Catelyn is there and is not convinced by her explanation that she wanted to see her husband, as the Tully words are “Family, Duty, Honor,” and Catelyn would never leave her assigned post. Varys arrives and asks after the dagger, which he discovered through the “whispering of little birds” after Ser Rodrik met with Ser Aron, both of whom left the castle and are waiting for Catelyn at the inn. She pulls the dagger out, and Petyr reveals it was his until he lost it at the tournament held on Prince Joffrey’s name day when Ser Loras Tyrell unhorsed Ser Jaime Lannister. He says he lost the dagger to Tyrion Lannister.
From a re-read point of view there really isn’t much to comment about in this chapter. We meet Varys and Littlefinger, out resident chess-masters, here. Since we can never have a Littlefinger POV chapter (since he knows too much), we always see him through others’ eyes. However, not all those POVs are equal. Some, like Catelyn and especially Tyrion, can read him better and thus, we learn more about Littlefinger from them than from say Cersei. Sansa is something of an exception – she is terrible at reading him, but he just willingly reveals so much to her that we learn a great deal from her POV but not because of anything she does. Catelyn has the advantage of knowing Littlefinger as a child and thus knows some of the basics of who he is and what he’s about. Or at least, who he was and what he was about; assuming that he’s still the same is dangerous and if I recall correctly, it is a mistake she and Ned will pay dearly for. For the most part, her knowledge of Littlefinger has nothing in it that we need pay special attention to. However, she does pick up on the key characteristics that make Littlefinger such a competent player in the game of thrones and , sadly, a terrible human being.
I can’t help but wonder what exactly Petyr wrote in that final letter he sent to Catelyn. Most probably it was further confessions and proposals – a “Now that Brandon is dead, let’s hook up?” kind of thing. The important thing isn’t that she didn’t read it; it’s that she didn’t respond. The lack of response would certainly not have gone unnoticed by Littlefinger. All his short-term motivations here begin making perfect sense – he thought Catelyn loves him as much as he does her, since he mistakes Lysa for her and takes her (Lysa’s) maidenhead, thinking she’s Catelyn. Unfortunately, Catelyn is promised to Brandon Stark and little Petyr is distraught. He doesn’t fault Catelyn at this point – she didn’t ask for this to happen, after all. Nevertheless, he decides to fight for her hand, foolishly challenging Brandon Stark, who we know from ADWD to be a little wild and savage himself, to a duel. Brandon makes short work of him and is spared only at Catelyn’s request. Littlefinger takes this loss hard but once Brandon dies at King’s Landing, he wonders if he has a shot again and sends her a letter. Her non-response breaks his heart and he becomes the magnificent bastard we all know and love. He still has a soft spot for Catelyn, perhaps despite himself, and is determined to make Ned suffer or at least, take him out of equation. Oh, and maybe at some point he decided that it was his low-birth that was keeping them apart so he decides to become a Great Lord in his own right, thereby explaining his plotting with Lysa to begin a civil war. I can’t decide if Petyr and Varys are working together in this or if Petyr is just riding the wave. In fact, at no point can we ever be sure how much either of them knows. I’ve always been firmly in the pro-Littlefinger camp. One of the things that drew me so much to this series was how well Martin was able to craft believable characters. People can be dicks – this is a fact of life that a lot of fiction tends to overlook, except in villains. While the queue to nominate Littlefinger as a good/nice guy is suspiciously short, I nevertheless enjoy watching him watch his chess pieces scuttle around while he just sits backs and admires his handiwork. I have similar admiration for the likes of Tywin Lannister, Varys and to a smaller degree, Tyrion. There is just something about watching a well-thought out plan come together perfectly, that is extremely satisfying to me, regardless of the final consequences of those plans (like the Red Wedding, but we’ll get to that. Eventually.)
It’s not clear what exactly Ser Rodrick suspected the nature of Catelyn and Petyr’s relationship was. His phrasing is ambiguous enough and perhaps the rumour in Winterfell was that Ned had an affair with some whore because he realized that Catelyn was damaged goods but couldn’t say anything because his army depended on it. I personally don’t think this is the case, but this is Martin we’re talking about. We are also introduced to Varys in this chapter and though he doesn’t really say or do anything really important, we get an immediate sense that this is a thoroughly artificial man, and as dangerous as the master of whisperers as Bloodraven was (yes, I know Bloodraven was Hand, but both are renowned spy-masters). Both work from the shadows, but Bloodraven makes much more noise and is therefore more renowned/infamous. Interestingly, Varys hears Littlefinger lie through his teeth and says nothing about the real owner of the dagger. Perhaps he realizes immediately what an opportunity he has been handed; if these flames can be fanned a little more, the realm can be thrown into chaos almost instantly. This wouldn’t be a simply resolved chaos either – even if Robert stayed alive (and it would be insultingly easy for Varys to kill him) the division between Stark and Lannister was sure to eliminate at least one house or at the very least weaken all three houses (Baratheon too since no way would Robert sit this one out). The question though is, did Varys know at this point who the dagger belonged to and the truth of what happened in Winterfell? It seems impossible, but still, he knew of Bran’s fall and unless Ned had been around for a while at this point, it doesn’t seem likely at all.