Eddard arrives at dinner late after a small council meeting. He joins Sansa, Arya, Septa Mordane, Jeyne, Hullen, Jory and most of his fifty guards, including Desmond, Jacks, Harwin, and Porther. Eddard tells them about the upcoming tournament, and Sansa gets excited. Eddard does not want his daughters to come, but Sansa pleads and Septa Mordane points out that it would seem odd if his daughters did not attend a tournament in his honor. Arya starts thinking about Mycah and Lady and loses her appetite. She runs from the table, darts past Tomard, and locks herself in her room. She takes out Needle and holds it. Eddard comes to her door, and Arya opens it to admit him. He sees Needle in her hand. He laments that she has “the wolf blood,” like both Brandon and Lyanna, and says it led them both to an early grave. He believes Lyanna would have carried a sword if allowed to. Arya confesses that she blames herself for Mycah’s death and also that she and Jory drove Nymeria away by throwing rocks so she would not be killed. Eddard tells her that they have enemies in King’s Landing and that she must stop feuding with Sansa and show a united front, and Arya agrees to try to be less willful. Eddard gives Needle back and leaves. The next day, Vayon brings her to the small hall, where Syrio Forel, who had been the first sword of the Sealord of Braavos for nine years, is waiting for her to begin her instruction in the art of swordfighting.
This chapter serves as a nice little slice-of-life in King’s Landing. There is no real plot advancement here but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to talk about here. In a lot of ways, I really enjoy these chapters a great deal and even more so during a re-read like this. Let’s talk about the different characters first.
This is an Arya chapter, but I want to say a little about Ned. Almost every other lord that we come across in this series is severely flawed in some major way, or we never get close enough to them to see their value. Ned, as such, remains the one true lord in our eyes – yes, he has some honour issues, and yes, he is not the best at this game but over and above all that, he is a truly good man. He embodies all the modern sensibilities that we cherish – he is modest, he is fair and he is a loving family man. He disciplines his children when necessary but also goes out of his way to accommodate them – as his hiring of Syrio Forel shows. A part of me wonders whether Arya gets preferential treatment because she looks so alike Ned’s sister and because he still has a lot of guilt and sorrow in his heart involving Lyanna. Probably not, but I don’t see Bran or Robb getting away with quite as much. Ned appears tired in this chapter and not just physically. The strains of running the kingdom are wearing him down and it’s beginning to affect his appetite – one of the classic signs of excessive stress. Despite that, he does not abandon his duties to his children and the realm though there are enough issues with both that he has a humungous task ahead of him. The few pages he shares with Arya are particularly bittersweet when you think where this story ends up going. The pain of the Starks fate tends to fade away in the later books because so much else has happened, but rereading these small, sweet moments of family joy makes the pain much sharper. Ned isn’t just a good father, he is also a good lord – his advice of sitting down with various people for meals is excellent and really goes to show why he inspires so much loyalty long after his death.
We learn a lot more about Arya in this chapter. Her fierce independence continues and is even foreshadowed when she talks about running away from King’s Landing, surviving on scraps till she can return to Winterfell. That was a particularly difficult section to read considering how close it is to happening. I personally feel an instantaneous connection to Arya because like her, I am an introvert and left handed too. I think her introversion makes it all too easy for her to fall into the trap of blaming herself for Mycah death – I would assume that extroverts would find it easier to discuss those feelings of guilt with others, or at least have more opportunities to do so. Her guilt over Mycah’s death itself is heartbreaking and it’s especially clear in these chapters just how young she is. Her age begins to become much less obvious by ADWD but here she is very much a small little girl dealing with some heavy emotional baggage. She is lucky then, that she has a great father like Ned, who is able to lift some of that weight from her shoulders. He gives her advice that the pack must stay together and I cannot say that he is wrong, but you have to wonder what will happen now that the pack has been apart for so very long. Martin has captured Arya’s emotions very well in this chapter – she is homesick and nothing that has happened since leaving Winterfell has helped in any way towards alleviating that feeling. She misses her siblings and Nymeria but more than anything, I would say that she misses being happy. Despite that, there are occasional light moments in her chapters that I love like:
Fat Tom was knocking on her door. “Arya girl, what’s wrong?” he called out. “You in there?”
“No!” she shouted. The knocking stopped. A moment later she heard him going away. Fat Tom was always easy to fool.
Syrio Forel, the man who launched a hundred thousand theories makes his first appearance here. I am not of the opinion that Syrio is special in anyway apart from being an excellent swordsman. I don’t think he is a Faceless Man, much less Jaqen Hghar (I don’t think I spelled that right) because I don’t think it really adds that much to the story (also, what would a Faceless Man even be doing in King’s Landing?). Still, Syrio is another character that is instantly likeable just because he is so refreshingly funny. While everyone else is mooring over their own problems, it’s so much easier to appreciate Syrio’s little idiosyncrasies and his speech quirks. I don’t think the theories are true, but I wouldn’t mind Syrio reappearing in the series, against all odds, just to chat with Arya for a bit and catch-up.