IntroductionThe Crownlands seat of Rosby may not appear at first blush dynastically important among the lordships of Westeros. Called by Brienne “scarce more than a wide place in the road”, Rosby is sworn to the king on the Iron Throne, but its resources and influence are local at best. Its last lord, Gyles, was notable only for his perennial sickliness, and his death was marked with barely a dismissive wave of the hand by the Queen Regent.
Yet Grand Maester Pycelle voiced concerns twice over the late Lord Gyles’ ward, and his comments should be heeded. While Cersei might have blithely disregarded Gyles Rosby’s ward as no serious concern to the inheritance of a relatively unimportant Crownlands seat, she may have cause to rue such sentiments in the future. Indeed, Cersei may find that the ward of Rosby is a more staunch foe of hers than she could have ever realized – one whose political allegiance stands in stark contrast to her own.
Welcome to the next installment in a new series for Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire, Heirs in the Shadows. In this series, BryndenBFish and I will examine a number of individuals who may press blood claims to different Westerosi seats, and the arguments and tactics various plotters will use to install their chosen pawns in these places. Part 1 of this series looked at the Young Lion, Tyrek Lannister, as a probable puppet Lord of Casterly Rock under Aegon VI. Part 2 will explore someone not vanished but hiding in plain sight, waiting for the right moment to assert his political will.
House Rosby of Rosby
Some background on the seat of Rosby itself may serve to give context – and potential foreshadowing – to the Rosby inheritance problem faced in A Feast for Crows. Rosby is at least as ancient a seat as the Andal Invasion, and likely older than that: the second Justman king to rule the Riverlands added Duskendale, Rosby, and the future site of King’s Landing to his Kingdom of the Rivers and Hills, while the second Hoare king made the Rosbys vassals to the ironborn river kings. Perhaps predictably, given the cruelty of King Harren Hoare, the Rosbys were eager to be rid of their ironborn overlords; Rosby was one of the first Westerosi houses to bend the knee to the Targaryens, surrendering to Rhaenys without a fight.
The Rosbys remained true to the Targaryen regime, but had also not been shy about demonstrating independent political opinions. During the Dance of the Dragons, for example, Lord Rosby, along with Lord Stokeworth, had initially been a supporter of Rhaenyra’s, but both switched to supporting Aegon II (presumably after Criston Cole’s harrying the “black” Crownlands seats); Rhaenyra subsequently had both executed. Her decision, though, would not come without cost to herself. At the end of the war, when Rhaenyra fled King’s Landing under cover of darkness, she expected to find shelter and support among her Crownlands lords. Instead, she found the gates to Rosby firmly closed to her, and Stokeworth’s castellan allowed her only a single night’s stay.
Rosby’s wealth is not great, but what makes Rosby potentially strategically important is its use during wartime. King’s Landing relies on imports to survive. During peacetime, the Reach and Riverlands serve as fertile breadbaskets for the health of the capital; if either – or, Seven forbid, both – are cut off from the city, however, King’s Landing must turn to Rosby and Stokeworth to supply itself. Such limited supplies can lead to mass food shortages in the capital, but the food provided by the Rosbys and Stokeworths is the capital’s only alternative to outright starvation.
The latest man to hold sway over this minor but notable house was Gyles Rosby. For most of the War of the Five Kings, Gyles served largely as a barely visible observer to events at the King’s Landing court. Though Prince Tommen spent the Battle of the Blackwater safely ensconced behind Rosby’s walls, Lord Gyles waited out the battle in the Red Keep with Cersei, Sansa, and the women. Unexpectedly, however (doubtless for him most of all), Gyles rose to power in A Feast for Crows: Queen Regent Cersei, deeply distrustful of the potential Tyrell appointee for the master of coin position, named Lord Gyles to the honor instead.
The position was not an easy one, made less so by the Lord of Rosby’s debilitating cough. Hounded by an envoy from the Iron Bank (to which the crown owed, and still owes, massive debts, and which debts the crown would not repay until the War of the Five Kings was definitely finished), Lord Gyles eventually found the pressure of the appointment too taxing on his frail system. Overcome, Gyles eventually perished from his cough.
Gyles Rosby had apparently never married, and had certainly never sired legitimate children. When the lord treasurer died, then, the succession to the Rosby lands was a point of concern for his liege – the Queen Regent, Cersei Lannister. To Grand Maester Pycelle’s surprise, however, the queen seemed unconcerned by the situation:
“As to Lord Gyles, no doubt our Father Above will judge him justly. He left no children?”
“No children of his body, but there is a ward …”
“… not of his blood.” Cersei dismissed that annoyance with a flick of her hand. (“Cersei IX”, A Feast for Crows)
Cersei offered her own, drastic solution: to claim that Lord Gyles desired to leave his lands and holdings to the crown, fill the royal coffers with the Rosby wealth, and bestow the castle on some loyal retainer (like her doted-upon admiral, Aurane Waters). Grand Maester Pycelle, however, had significant reservations to the suggestion that the crown simply appropriate Rosby’s holding, and presented a potential point of contention for Cersei’s scheme:
“Lord Gyles loved His Grace with all his heart,” Pycelle was saying, “but … his ward …”
Cersei, however, seemed unconcerned that the ward would present any difficulties:
“. . . will doubtless understand, once he hears you speak of Lord Gyles’s dying wish. Go, and see it done.” (“Cersei IX”, A Feast for Crows)
Cersei’s short-sighted political machinations while regent are not the subject of this essay, but her quick dismissal of the Rosby problem (combined with her pro-crown solution) may belie the real danger the late Gyles’ ward could pose. Pycelle’s words seem to suggest that Rosby’s ward was not merely an adult (and could thus offer resistance to the crown’s plot), but someone who would be interested in the Rosby inheritance himself as a potential heir – and would see the Lannister-run regime controlling the matter as an enemy. To stand as heir to Lord Gyles, naturally, the ward would have to be a relative – someone who could by blood relation to the poor, coughing treasurer inherit the castle and lands.
Enter Olyvar Frey.
The Ermine-Cloaked Frey
A Frey being interested in the inheritance at Rosby may appear strange on the surface. The Twins are certainly not close neighbors to the Rosby lands, nor Walder Frey an obvious heir to the Rosby legacy. While the Late Lord Frey may not stand in line for a Crownlands seat, however, one of his sons very well may: Olyvar Frey.
Olyvar Frey was born the eighteenth son of Walder Frey, and the fourth-born child of his marriage with Bethany Rosby. How Lady Bethany was related to Gyles is not clear, but whether sister, niece, or cousin, Bethany was some kin to Cersei’s chosen treasurer. House Rosby may not be noted for robustness, but Bethany managed to bear Walder four sons and a daughter. The two eldest, Perwn and Benfrey, were knights by the start of A Game of Thrones; third son Willamen was sent to the Citadel, while only daughter Roslin would later marry Edmure Tully.
What of Olyvar himself? It seems very probable that as a boy Olyvar was fostered with his kin Gyles at Rosby. Offspring and descendants of the Lord of the Crossing had lived with maternal relatives’ houses before: Merrett Frey served as page and squire to Sumner Crakehall, kin to his mother Amarei; Geremy Frey, wed to Carolei Waynwood, sent his son and daughter to Ironoaks as squire and ward, respectively. With seemingly no other family members at Rosby, Lord Gyles would be the only choice to watch over this half-Rosby Frey; with Gyles having no children, it may even be that Gyles (or Walder) was considering naming one of the Rosby Freys his heir (much in the way Leobald Tallhart wished Lady Hornwood to name her husband’s nephew Beren Tallhart the heir to Hornwood).
When Olyvar is first introduced, however, it is at the Twins, after Catelyn’s negotiation with Lord Walder:
“Lord Frey’s son Olyvar will be coming with us,” she went on. “He is to serve as your personal squire. His father would like to see him knighted, in good time.” (“Catelyn IX”, A Game of Thrones)
That statement should not suggest that Olyvar could not have been Rosby’s ward. Even when Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark were fostered at the Eyrie, they made occasional visits to their respective homes (journeys at least as long, if not longer, than that between the Twins and Rosby); moreover, once Ned and Robert reached the age of 16, the two boys were free to leave and come back to the Eyrie at their leisure. Olyvar was 17 or 18 during A Game of Thrones, a man grown, and a visit to the Twins would not have been out of the realm of possibility (or, indeed, probability).
It is hardly surprising, moreover, that Walder would seize such a chance if his son happened to be home on a visit from his foster-seat. Though Olyvar may seem too old for a nobly born squire – two years older than Robb, when most highborn boys begin service between nine and 12 – a fostering at Rosby would neatly explain this situation. Gyles, always accounted as a weak and sickly man, could hardly have trained Olyvar in the martial aspects of knighthood, and when the reputation of the knight has such a deep impact on that of his squire, knighting by anyone else at Rosby simply would not convey the necessary importance of Olyvar’s graduation to knighthood. Robb Stark, by contrast, was young and martial: as the new Lord of Winterfell, Robb could bestow both knightly education as well as significant honor onto any boy or man who squired for him. Olyvar could then graduate into knighthood with proper ceremony and grandeur befitting his noble blood.
To his credit, Olyvar never complained about serving a lord (and subsequently king) two years younger than himself: instead, Olyvar completed his squire duties with serious dedication. Olyvar was noted to have fought by Robb’s side in his personal guard at the Battle of the Whispering Wood, performed ceremonial functions while King Robb held court, and accompanied the king on his campaign in the Westerlands. Such was his dedication to the Young Wolf, in fact, that Olyvar was willing to overlook the great slight to House Frey with Robb’s Westerling marriage – a willingness not shared by his Frey relations:
“I never meant to. Ser Stevron died for me, and Olyvar was as loyal a squire as any king could want. He asked to stay with me, but Ser Ryman took him with the rest.” (“Catelyn II”, A Storm of Swords)
As Walder Frey and Roose Bolton plotted to murder Robb Stark, the Freys took care to remove any of their number suspected to remain loyal to the king they had once acclaimed. Olyvar and his elder brother Perwyn made the top of that list:
“I’d hoped to ask Olyvar to squire for me when we march north,” said Robb, “but I do not see him here. Would he be at the other feast?”
“Olyvar?” Ser Ryman shook his head. “No. Not Olyvar. Gone . . . gone from the castles. Duty.”
“I see.” Robb’s tone suggested otherwise. (“Catelyn VII”, A Storm of Swords)
Catelyn slapped him so hard she broke his lip. Olyvar, she thought, and Perwyn, Alesander, all absent. And Roslin wept . . . (“Catelyn VII”, A Storm of Swords)
“Duties” drew these loyalist Freys away from the Twins at the time of the Red Wedding, and “duties” apparently still keep Olyvar from home: no mention of him is made after the massacre. If Olyvar had served as a ward at Rosby before, Rosby might have seemed the natural choice for Olyvar to go to during the Red Wedding: far from the Twins and mostly politically unimportant, Rosby would serve as a temporary internal exile from which Olyvar could make no foolish moves to re-establish the Stark monarchy.
Olyvar, however, had always been remarked upon for his strong personal loyalty to Robb Stark. Would that loyalty vanish from mere unofficial imprisonment at Rosby? Or would Olyvar instead seek vengeance against those responsible for the grossly treacherous murder of the king he had so faithfully served?
The Young Ward
Olyvar’s opportunity to reassert himself began late in A Feast for Crows. Cersei had announced her plan to swallow Rosby with little consideration of what Rosby’s ward would say to the matter. The queen commented that the ward was “not of his blood”, as though to emphasize how little connection he had to the Rosby inheritance. Olyvar’s paternal house is Frey, and so Cersei – never overly scrupulous with matters she did not feel concerned her – may have never bothered to learn that Olyvar had direct Rosby descent, and thus simply termed him “not of his blood”. Nevertheless, even without the actual name of “Rosby” or descent from Gyles himself, Olyvar could pose a true threat to the Rosby inheritance issue. His Rosby blood would likely be at least as close to Gyles’ line as Falyse’s, possibly even more so (the latter being merely the late Lord Rosby’s third cousin once removed); moreover, young Olyvar would be around eighteen or nineteen, well old enough to stir up trouble if he decided to assert his Rosby rights.
Indeed, the ward does act with strong conviction during A Feast for Crows (though before his foster father Gyles’ death). Falyse Stokeworth, heiress to Rosby’s neighboring seat of Stokeworth, had returned home briefly at the beginning of A Feast for Crows, but soon after traveled back to the capital. Her short journey, however, was not without consequence:
“Uncomfortable,” complained Falyse. “It rained most of the day. We thought to spend the night at Rosby, but that young ward of Lord Gyles refused us hospitality.” She sniffed. “Mark my word, when Gyles dies that ill-born wretch will make off with his gold. He may even try and claim the lands and lordship, though by rights Rosby should come to us when Gyles passes.” (“Cersei IV”, A Feast for Crows)
Falyse’s scornful description of the ward as an “ill-born wretch” should not suggest that the ward could not be Olyvar Frey, since Olyvar is of noble birth. Her stinging words may simply have been personally motivated – annoyance at a neighbor refusing what should be a given for a Crownlands heiress and courtier, a breach of good neighborly manners. Alternately, Falyse may be referring to the low reputation House Frey has earned since the Red Wedding. Although nominally allies of the Iron Throne, with Emmon Frey the new Lord of Riverrun, the naked treachery of the Red Wedding has undermined the Freys’ reputation across Westeros:
“The Twins took up the Young Wolf’s cause as well,” he reminded the Freys. “Then you betrayed him. That makes you twice as treacherous as Piper.” (“Jaime VI, A Feast for Crows)
Bronze Yohn rose in wrath. “Put up your steel, ser! Are you a Corbray or a Frey? We are guests here.” (“Alayne I”, A Feast for Crows)
Simply bearing the name of “Frey” would mark Olyvar as kin to kingslayers and breakers of anciently and sacredly held guest right. Falyse also acknowledged the possibility that the ward would try to claim the lordship on Gyles’ death – a suggestion, perhaps, that Falyse knew the ward has some blood claim to Rosby (though she was quick to underline that hers was the superior claim, a point which cannot be argued so long as Bethany Rosby’s connection to Gyles’ line is unknown). Nor should Falyse’s statement that the ward was young indicate that it could not be Olyvar; presumably, had the ward been so young as to be a child, the castellan of Rosby would have made the decision on who could stay as a guest (as Rosby’s castellan did during the Dance).
In a way, then, there would be an amusing irony to the action of Rosby’s ward if the young man was in fact Olyvar Frey. Though born to the southron customs of the Riverlands, Olyvar would be aware of the importance of guest right:
One notable custom that the Northmen hold dearer than any other is guest right, the tradition of hospitality by which a man may offer no harm to a guest beneath his roof, nor a guest to his host. The Andals held to something like it as well, but it looms less large in southron minds … Only kinslaying is deemed as sinful as the violations of these laws of hospitality. (“The North”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Learning that his own kin at the Twins had falsely offered King Robb and his mother protection of guest right, and then murdered the loyalist guests at the wedding, would thus have been deeply shocking and appalling to young Olyvar. When Falyse Stokeworth came to his door, then – a noted Lannister sympathizer and ally – Olyvar would have take the opportunity to demonstrate how strongly he still believed in guest right. Though the Lannisters and his treacherous kin might not believe in the obligations of a host to a guest, Olyvar would show that he knew what guest right meant. He would put himself under no obligations to the close associates of guest right breakers, refusing instead to protect the allies of those who so openly defied one of Westeros’ most ancient and sacred traditions.
The Rosby Inheritance
At the epilogue of A Dance with Dragons, the Rosby problem is still unsolved:
“Is there aught else?”
The Grand Maester consulted his papers. “We should address the Rosby inheritance. Six claims have been put forth—”
“We can settle Rosby at some later date. What else?”
It is not clear who comprises Pycelle’s list; presumably, any number of Crownlands families have ties by marriage to House Rosby. It is also unclear if the ward at Rosby is on that list, though with the only known members of House Rosby in the modern narrative being Lord Gyles and Bethany, the latter’s Frey children seem highly likely to be at least a discussion point in the succession to the seat.
Olyvar himself would not presumably be first in line to inherit Rosby; his elder brother Perwyn should legally come before him in any succession question. True, Gyles might have named Olyvar his heir to keep Perwyn in line for the Twins (the way Leobald Tallhart offered his younger son to keep elder Benfred heir to Torrhen’s Square), though that seems a low possibility: Perwyn might be ahead of his younger brother, but he and Olyvar are legally seventy-third and seventy-sixth in line to the Twins, respectively, hardly close to the Lordship of the Crossing.
Whether Olyvar considers himself the rightful Lord of Rosby, or is only holding it in trust for his likewise honorable brother Perwyn (Daven Lannistsr considers Perwyn a “decent fellow”, especially compared to dangerous Walder Rivers), Olyvar as Rosby’s ward would have sole control over the Crownlands seat in the near future. That control could pose a strong problem for Cersei as her cracking regime faces increasing external pressures. With Young Aegon marching up from the Stormlands, certain reacher lords abandoning the lion for the dragon, and the Riverlands potentially experiencing even more future unrest, the capital will once again likely see a state of siege. Rosby would be the traditional material savior of King’s Landing – but not under Olyvar Frey.
Instead, Rosby and Stokeworth may simply watch Cersei crumble at the arrival of the Targaryen pretender, turning their loyalties and refusing all aid to the queen as once those seats did to Rhaenyra. Stokeworth is ruled now by “Lord” Bronn, a consummate opportunist who would doubtless see more advancement with the Young Dragon than with Cersei and her fading allies. Olyvar, naturally, has no desire to see the sister of the man whom Roose Bolton named as he stabbed Robb remain in power. True, Aegon is not the Stark king Olyvar served so faithfully, but the young Frey’s aid to the Targaryen pretender would come less from his ideological adherence to the Targaryen cause and more from his desire to avenge his late liege. History would repeat itself, with a queen in King’s Landing once again being refused aid by the masters of Rosby and Stokeworth – two seats she had ignored and scorned in the past.
Interestingly, Olyvar may in fact discover a Stark to serve, in an unlikely place. His middle brother Willamen, trained as a maester, now serves House Hunter at Longbow Hall, a prominent house sworn to the Arryns. Also in the Vale is the disguised Sansa Stark, to whom Littlefinger plots to give the Eyrie (in marriage) and Winterfell. If Olyvar desires to see Robb’s heir seated in Winterfell, Sansa is an obvious choice. How quickly Willamen would discover “Alayne Stone” is in fact the Stark heiress is unclear, but should he do so, Olyvar could declare that Rosby knows no queen but the Queen in the North, whose name is Stark.
That George R.R. Martin takes care to layer important mysteries into the books should come as no surprise to the readers of A Song of Ice and Fire. The Rosby Inheritance is just such a mystery: mentioned often enough to stick in the reader’s mind, but not so often as to become too obvious – and seemingly focused on the largely politically unimportant question of who will rule Rosby – the Rosby problem easily invites reader speculation. Having before demonstrated the choke-hold Rosby and Stokeworth can exert on the capital, during the War of the Five Kings, and now pressing equal stresses on the King’s Landing regime, the author has managed to make the comparatively minor issue of Rosby’s heir one of great future political import.
To be sure, Olyvar Frey as the ward at Rosby – or, even more, future Lord of Rosby – must remain for now in the realm of speculation. Nevertheless, his close, known Rosby blood – unique to his branch of House Frey in seemingly all of Westeros – makes him a very likely contender for at least the former, and possibly the latter position. Bringing back a loyal tertiary character to crush Cersei’s reign even more firmly might lend a welcome narrative satisfaction to the story: though Freys had murdered King Robb and his lady mother and companions, Olyvar could demonstrate that not all Freys need be treacherous – and that those who condoned the murder of his liege would suffer the consequences.