In Part 1, we discussed the historical and political circumstances surrounding the choice of a bride for Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone. In Part 2, we explored the marriage and relationship of Rhaegar and his wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell. By 282 AC, the princess had fulfilled all of her marital duties: not only did she display the gentle manners and kind disposition of a model queen, but she had also produced a male heir, Aegon (as well as a daughter, Rhaenys).
The continuation of the royal Targaryen line, however, likely meant little and less to the noble lady living hundreds of miles away from the forbidding shores of Dragonstone or the bloody walls of the Red Keep. Nor could this maiden have been more different from the sweet and demure Elia. She was Lyanna Stark, the rose of Winterfell.
The Wolf and the Lady: Lyanna Stark
Lyanna Stark (image credit to Riavel – DeviantArt here)
To understand Lyanna’s involvement in the story of Rhaegar, it is first necessary to understand Lyanna herself. Here, as with Elia, the portrait of her is not a single image but a diptych, and each of these sides merits equal consideration.
The image most popularly associated with Lyanna is that of the wild girl, brimming with “wolfsblood”, the elder version of her fierce niece Arya:
“Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. “Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. – Eddard Stark, to Arya Stark, “Arya II”, A Game of Thrones
This is the Lyanna Bran sees, in childhood, through the weirwood:
Now two children danced across the godswood, hooting at one another as they dueled with broken branches. The girl was the older and taller of the two. Arya! Bran thought eagerly, as he watched her leap up onto a rock and cut at the boy. But that couldn’t be right. If the girl was Arya, the boy was Bran himself, and he had never worn his hair so long. And Arya never beat me playing swords, the way that girl is beating him. She slashed the boy across his thigh, so hard that his leg went out from under him and he fell into the pool and began to splash and shout. “You be quiet, stupid,” the girl said, tossing her own branch aside. “It’s just water. Do you want Old Nan to hear and run tell Father?” She knelt and pulled her brother from the pool, but before she got him out again, the two of them were gone. – Bran III, A Dance with Dragons
This is also the young lady who defends Howland Reed from his aggressors at the Tourney of Harrenhal:
“They shoved him down every time he tried to rise, and kicked him when he curled up on the ground. But then they heard a roar. ‘That’s my father’s man you’re kicking,’ howled the she-wolf.”
“A wolf on four legs, or two?”
“Two,” said Meera. “The she-wolf laid into the squires with a tourney sword, scattering them all. The crannogman was bruised and bloodied, so she took him back to her lair to clean his cuts and bind them up with linen.” – Meera Reed, to Bran Stark, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords
This, in summation, is Lyanna the “she-wolf” – bold, headstrong, a lady of action, but also defiant (of her father and the conventions of her station) and rash (rushing against three squires alone).
Yet this is not the only picture of Lyanna we received as readers. There is a softer, more beautiful, more lady-like side to Lyanna whom those close to her also remember – a Lyanna resembling not so much her headstrong niece Arya, but her courteous and gentle elder niece, Sansa:
“The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head” – Meera Reed, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords
In fact, the very first mention of Lyanna in the series highlights not her wildness, but her beauty and the strength of those who loved her:
Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child-woman of surpassing loveliness. Ned had loved her with all his heart. Robert had loved her even more. She was to have been his bride.
“She was more beautiful than that,” the king said after a silence. His eyes lingered on Lyanna’s face, as if he could will her back to life. (“Eddard I”, A Game of Thrones)
Nor was Lyanna herself immune to beauty:
“I bring her flowers when I can,” he said. “Lyanna was … fond of flowers.” (“Eddard I”, A Game of Thrones)
Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses. (“Eddard XV”, A Game of Thrones)
So, as with Elia, the reader must balance two conflicting views of Lyanna: the wild and willful she-wolf, and the beautiful (and beauty-loving) lady. Again, why has this disconnect arisen?
One potential answer lies with the man through whom we largely remember Lyanna: her brother, Eddard. Doubtless, Ned loved (and still loves) his sister, yet his is not an unbiased opinion. First, from the ages of eight to eighteen, Ned lived not at Winterfell, but at the Eyrie, with his foster father Jon Arryn. This is not to say, of course, that Ned never saw his home for ten years; however, his visits back to the North would not likely have been frequent. In Westeros, wards live as the virtual children of their foster parents, integrated into the household. Prince Doran’s fostering his son Quentyn with Lord Yronwood (at Yronwood, a seat not nearly as far from Sunspear as the Eyrie is from Winterfell) was seen by his consort Mellario as permanent enough to merit a falling out between the princely couple (and Mellario’s eventual return to Norvos):
Lady Mellario had never forgiven Prince Doran for taking her son away from her. “I like it no more than you do,” Arianne had overheard her father say, “but there is a blood debt, and Quentyn is the only coin Lord Ormond will accept.”
“Coin?” her mother had screamed. “He is your son. What sort of father uses his own flesh and blood to pay his debts?”
“The princely sort,” Doran Martell had answered. (“The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows)
For Ned, then, absence from his sister may have made his heart grow fonder to her, nostalgia supplanting real understanding of Lyanna’s character. Nor would this nostalgia have been improved by the time the series begins, when Lyanna has been dead for nearly two decades.
Additionally, Ned’s understanding of his sister has also been colored by the tragedy of her death, which has haunted Ned to this day:
As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming. “Eddard!” she called. A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death. (“Eddard X”, A Game of Thrones)
There is a lyric dreaminess to this memory, a level of symbol and unreality that haunts many of Ned’s memories of his sister:
He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him pass with eyes of ice, and the direwolves at their feet turned their great stone heads and snarled. Last of all, he came to the tomb where his father slept, with Brandon and Lyanna beside him. “Promise me, Ned, “ Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood. (“Eddard XIII”, A Game of Thrones)
Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing at his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke, trembling, in the dark.
Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses. (“Eddard XV”, A Game of Thrones)
Martin even spoke to Ned’s perception of his sister through dreams (rather than more straightforward, “home movie”-like memories):
However, what are the Kingsguards doing fighting Eddard? Eddard would never hurt Lyanna, nor her child. The little one would be safe with Eddard as well, him being a close relative. So I ask you, was there someone else with Lyanna and Jon?
… I might mention, though, that Ned’s account, which you refer to, was in the context of a dream… and a fever dream at that. Our dreams are not always literal.
So the primary character through whom we readers experience Lyanna is doubly disconnected from her. Ned not only would not have spent much of his childhood with her, but his most prominent memories of her are connected with sadness: the “dying smiles” at Harrenhal and the death-blue roses she clutched as she died. Moreover, Ned’s actual memories of Lyanna are painful and poignant, remembrances couched in nightmares of a beloved lost sister, gone too soon, whose legacy has been a burdened decade-and-a-half promise on his shoulders.
Daughter of Winterfell: Lyanna and “Southron Ambitions”
Rickard Stark (image credit to Elia Mervi – DeviantArt here)
We readers may never know the true Lyanna, then, but unlike Elia, we at least have one quote from the lady herself:
“Robert will never keep to one bed,” Lyanna had told him at Winterfell, on the night long ago when their father had promised her hand to the young Lord of Storm’s End. “I heard he has gotten a child on some girl in the Vale.” Ned had held the babe in his arms; he could scarcely deny her, nor would he lie to his sister, but he had assured her that what Robert did before their betrothal was of no matter, that he was a good man and true who would love her with all his heart. Lyanna had only smiled. “Love is sweet, dearest Ned, but it cannot change a man’s nature.” (“Eddard IX”, A Game of Thrones)
Before we understand Lyanna’s hesitation at her betrothal, however, we must understand the betrothal itself. Around 279 AC, Lyanna’s father, Rickard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, betrothed his only daughter to Robert Baratheon, Ned’s childhood friend and – more importantly, for Lord Rickard – Lord of Storm’s End.
On its face, the betrothal might not seem unusual. Ned and Robert had developed a close relationship as foster brothers under Jon Arryn’s tutelage in the Eyrie, and the paramount Lord of the Stormlands was surely a fair prize for the only daughter of the ruler of the north.
What is strange, however, is that the practice of marrying scions of the great houses – Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Arryn, Tully, Tyrell, and Martell – to one another is largely uncommon. Rickard himself married another Stark his first cousin once removed; Tywin Lannister married another Lannister, his first cousin. In both the Lannister and Stark lineages going back a sesquicentury, the habit seems to have been for marriages between lordly families and their bannermen. Occasionally, individuals from these houses do marry outside of their families’ realms – Rickard’s grandmother was a Blackwood, for example, and Tywin’s grandmother was Rohanne Webber – but these matches are much outnumbered by those that occur within the Great House’s rule.
So a match between a Baratheon of Storm’s End and a Stark of Winterfell is certainly unusual, at least in their recent histories. Yet this betrothal itself fits into a larger scheme among several great lords – Rickard Stark, Hoster Tully, Jon Arryn, and potentially Tywin Lannister – to create a power bloc among the great houses such as had not been seen in recent (or possibly all) united Westeros’ history.
The scheme seemed to have begun around 271 AC, when Ned and Robert went to serve as foster sons of Jon Arryn. As noted above, the practice of fostering children (specifically sons) with other lords to establish loyalty and good relations between the fathers is a common one in Westeros. Curiously, however, in nearly every example besides that of Robert and Ned, the sons so fostered would go to a lord from the same geographical location: Jaime Lannister to Sumner Crakehall, Doran Martell to the Gargalens of Salt Shore, Brandon Stark to the Dustins of Barrowton. When this practice was interrupted, there would often be a larger motive beyond mere goodwill fostering to explain: Petyr Baelish, son of a minor lordling from the Fingers, was fostered with Hoster Tully as Tully’s personal favor to the elder Baelish for their service together in the War of the Ninepenny Kings; Doran planned to send his daughter Arianne to Tyrosh as the Archon’s foster daughter, so that she could meet with her secret fiance Viserys Targaryen.
That the future Lord of Storm’s End and brother to the future Lord of Winterfell would serve as sons in all but blood to the childless Lord of the Eyrie, then, is a clear signal that this fostering is different. Who decided that these three major houses should be bound together? While Jon Arryn seems possible to have been the scheme’s mastermind, we have no definitive answer. Barbrey Dustin, nee Ryswell, believed it was Rickard’s maester, a Hightower (and Citadel archmaester) bastard named Walys, who planted the idea in Rickard’s mind:
“Once he forged his chain, his secret father and his friends wasted no time dispatching him to Winterfell to fill Lord Rickard’s ears with poisoned words as sweet as honey. The Tully marriage was his notion, never doubt it, he -” (Barbrey Dustin, “The Prince of Winterfell”, A Dance with Dragons)
“The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though … there was nothing sweet about that pain. He never wanted her, I promise you that. He told me so, on our last night together … but Rickard Stark had great ambitions too. Southron ambitions that would not be served by having his heir marry the daughter of one of his own vassals.” (Barbrey Dustin, “The Turncloak”, A Dance with Dragons)
To what extent Lady Barbrey actually knew who started the scheme is mere speculation; she is an embittered woman, still possessive of Brandon nearly two decades after his death. We can say for certain (because Maester Yandel relates it in The World of Ice and Fire) that Rickard Stark made a trip south in 264 AC, visiting at least King’s Landing; a likewise visit to Hoster Tully and Steffon Baratheon would not have been impossible at this time.
One potential problem, however, with this idea of a great house alliance was the close relationship Aerys had enjoyed in childhood and young adulthood with his cousin Steffon Baratheon (and Tywin Lannister):
As a boy, Tywin Lannister had served as a royal page at King’s Landing. He and Prince Aerys, together with a younger page, the prince’s cousin Steffon Baratheon of Storm’s End, had become inseparable. During the War of the Ninepenny Kings, the three friends had fought together, Tywin as a new-made knight, Steffon and Prince Aerys as squires. (“Aerys II”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Yet the problem may not be as imposing as it appears. While Steffon and Aerys were friends as boys, Aerys did not take long after his coronation to start exhibiting the erratic behavior that would eventually develop into full madness. He proposed grandiose plans, then abandoned them quickly, along with a string of mistresses. Tywin Lannister, Hand since 262 AC, had taken over the government, but even this friend of Aerys earned little favor with the king after 268 AC. If Steffon Baratheon had noted how quickly the king’s favor could turn to displeasure, he might not have counted even his close childhood companionship with Aerys as a guarantor of safety. Bound to several other great houses, however, the likelihood of survival against this capricious (and increasingly dangerous) king would have been much more assured.
Therefore it is unsurprising that, in 276 AC, Hoster Tully betrothed his eldest daughter, Catelyn, to Brandon Stark, heir to Winterfell. Hoster Tully was an ambitious man, having also proposed to wed his brother to Bethany Redwyne (although he had been rejected by Brynden himself); with his daughter as the next Lady of Winterfell, Hoster had secured an alliance between the largest of the Seven Kingdoms and the realm’s fertile heartland. Nor was Hoster’s ambition settled by this match:
“The first time I saw Riverrun, I was a squire green as summer grass,” Jaime told his cousin. “Old Sumner Crakehall sent me to deliver a message, one he swore could not be entrusted to a raven. Lord Hoster kept me there for a fortnight whilst mulling his reply, and sat me beside his daughter Lysa at every meal.” (Jaime V, A Feast for Crows)
What was in the Crakehall letter? Likely Tywin Lannister’s invitation to discuss wedding his son and heir to Hoster’s younger daughter, Lysa:
Cersei took him aside and whispered that Lord Tywin meant to marry him to Lysa Tully, had gone so far as to invite Lord Hoster to the city to discuss dower. (Jaime II, A Storm of Swords)
So immediately before 281 AC (when Jaime joined the Kingsguard), Tywin and Hoster were conspiring to marry their children, connecting another family in the great web of alliances. Tywin’s (and Cersei’s) relationship with the Iron Throne will be explored more in Part 5; however, it suffices to say here that with the king’s behavior growing increasingly unpredictable, and his mental health sharply decreasing after the Defiance of Duskendale, Tywin’s hold on power was not as secure as at the beginning of his tenure as Hand. Additionally, Tywin’s great scheme – that of marrying his daughter Cersei to Rhaegar – had failed, the prince instead marrying Elia Martell in 279 AC. Frustrated by the king’s snub and deep mistrust of him, Tywin may have looked to the lords Tully, Stark, Baratheon, and Arryn as an alternate securing of power.
This betrothal never occurred, Cersei Lannister instead conspiring to have her brother named a Kingsguard knight. Yet one more betrothal lay in the ambitious lords’ future: that of Robert Baratheon, the young storm lord, and Lyanna Stark, Rickard’s daughter.
Jon Arryn had taken Robert and Ned under his wing as his own foster sons; Hoster Tully had secured Catelyn as the next Lady Stark (and had nearly done the same for Lysa and the Lannisters); and Rickard Stark had betrothed Lyanna to Robert, to one day rule the stormlands at his side. It was a Westerosi version of the Holy Roman Empire’s favorite motto: bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube (let others wage war; you, O happy Austrai, marry). Only the Reach and Dorne stood outside this powerful alliance. Such a collection of great houses could have a substantial impact on the power dynamic in Aerys II’s Westeros.
The Stormlord’s Beloved: Lyanna and the Problem of Love
What did the young maiden in the middle of all this scheming think? No one who remembers her ever notes Lyanna as a particularly politically minded woman. Indeed, the only opinion we know she had is that she said to Ned, on the occasion of her betrothal. While Rickard’s scheme focused on the political advantages of these marriages, Lyanna’s reaction reinforces her individualism. The Lord of Storm’s End might be a great nuptial prize, but he was a faithless man, and Lyanna was not eager to have him.
Certainly, Lyanna’s attitude would not have been what would have been expected of her, or indeed any noble lady. Consider how Catelyn reacted to infidelity in her newly married life:
Many men fathered bastards. Catelyn had grown up with that knowledge. It came as no surprise to her, in the first year of her marriage, to learn that Ned had fathered a child on some girl chance met on campaign. He had a man’s needs, after all, and they had spent that year apart, Ned off at war in the south while she remained safed in her father’s castle at Riverrun. Her thoughts were more of Robb, then infant at her breast, than of the husband she scarcely knew. He was welcome to whatever solace he might find between battles. (“Catelyn II”, A Game of Thrones)
So long a man is decorous about his infidelities, a woman in Westerosi society has no right of complaint against him. Robert may have been particularly licentious even by Westerosi standards (we have met five of his bastards in POV, and he may have as many as nine others still alive on the continent), but he had the right to do so, societally.
So where did Lyanna’s resistance to her betrothal to Robert come from? Well, on the one hand, Lyanna was an unconventional woman in Westerosi society. This was a young woman who would gladly (if furtively) practice swordplay with her younger brother, who rode exceptionally, who was not afraid (like her niece would later) to take up (wooden) arms against those who would bully the defenseless. So in one sense, it is unsurprising to have Lyanna offer a non-conventional opinion on her place in a male-dominated world.
Yet Lyanna did not simply reject marriage altogether. She specifically did not want to marry Robert – and not because he doesn’t love her, either. What bothered Lyanna was the disconnect between what Robert professes and his actual action. He might have sworn to the heavens that he loves her, but Robert was a faithless man.
So again, why did this, in particular, sit so heavily on Lyanna’s mind? Remember that Lyanna was not entirely immune to the charms of romance – after all, she wept when Rhaegar played his silver-stringed harp so sweetly at Harrenhal. Lyanna was no southron lady, but like her noble counterparts below the Neck she likely heard and knew the romantic songs that pervaded Westerosi society. In the songs, the heroes are always handsome knights, the ladies are always fair, and love is always beautiful and real. Any Westerosi girl would be susceptible to comparing her betrothed to the heroes of the songs; Sansa Stark, for example, partly bases her love for her betrothed Joffrey on his resemblance to the heroes of songs:
The way he had rescued her from Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs, like the time Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’ honor against even Ser Morgil’s slanders. The touch of Joffrey’s hand on her sleeve made her heart beat faster. (“Sansa I”, A Game of Thrones)
She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to hate. He wore a deep blue doublet studded with a double row of golden lion’s heads, and around his brow a slim coronet made of gold and sapphires. His hair was as bright as the metal. Sansa looked at him and trembled, afraid he might ignore her or, worse, turn hateful again and send her weeping from the table. Instead Joffrey smiled and kissed her hand, handsome and gallant as any prince in the songs” (“Sansa II”, A Game of Thrones)
Robert, by contrast, was as far from this image of chivalry and courtly manners as could be for a highborn lord:
“When you heard [Rhaegar] play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”
“What of the Usurper? Did he play sad songs as well?”
Arstan chuckled. “Robert? Robert liked songs that made him laugh, the bawdier the better. He only sang when he was drunk, and then it was like to be ‘A Cask of Ale’ or ‘Fifty-Four Tuns’ or ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair.’” (Arstan Whitebeard, to Daenerys Targaryen, “Daenerys IV”, A Storm of Swords)
Robert was a drinker, a whoremonger, a bawdy man with no sense of taste or decorum. Instead of Lyanna being rescued from the strict Stark household under Rickard, she faced being handed over by her impermissive father to exactly the opposite sort of man from the heroes of songs. Love, simply declared, would never compensate for Robert’s unchivalrous attitude. Little wonder Lyanna faced her betrothal with apathy at best, alarm at worst.
Before they could be married, however, two events would need to occur. One, her brother Brandon would need to be married to Catelyn Tully. Even before that, the entire Stark clan (minus Rickard himself) would need to travel to Harrenhal, to witness the greatest tourney in Westeros since the golden jubilee tourney of Jaehaerys I. What would happen there would change the lives not only of Lyanna and Rhaegar, but the entire realm.
In Part 4, we will examine the Tourney of Harrenhal in the Year of the False Spring.