If I have to do another Catelyn, you have to promise me the next one will be Tyrion. (I checked, it’s not. Neither is the one after that. This is why I didn’t read the book in order in the first place!)
Catelyn has the hottest room in the castle, and that’s not a euphemism for sex, it’s just a statement to her innate southern wussiness when it comes to weather. Sex has been happening, though; it winds down in unromantic terms as the chapter opens. Catelyn hopes Ned’s “seed” inside her doesn’t go to waste and gets put to baby-making use. I gag because it’s gone from unromantic to slightly gross. Mercifully, the conversation is moving on to politics.
Ned doesn’t want to be the Hand wiping the ass that the Iron Throne has rubbed raw. Catelyn has a strong sense of civic duty, and she’d quite like her daughter to be queen some day. I know I’m hard to Catelyn, so I’ll give her her due, she’s not being prideful or silly here, she’s being very practical. Insulting and refusing an absolute ruler is not a safe thing to do, and why shouldn’t she have high ambitions for her daughter when they’re obviously realistic. It’s actually Ned who comes off the worse, because he immediately starts whining about how he was born a second son and his brother should be the one dealing with all these problems. I’m on Catelyn’s side in her lack of compassion for such a stunning display of immaturity. You’ve had fifteen years to learn how to be the man you need to be, Ned, time to grow up. She’s not so hard, though, as to not sympathize with his burdens.
They’re interrupted by Maester Luwin. Maesters are basically the Christian church of mediaeval Europe without the religion: they’re scholars, healers, and advisors to nobility. Luwin is disturbing their privacy because a box with a secret message marked For Catelyn’s Eyes Only has materialized in his study. The message is important, so Catelyn reads it then climbs out of bed naked in a hurry to burn it. Ned and Maester Luwin are scandalized, but Catelyn is nothing if not practical and certainly not given to prudish hysterics: if the Maester can handle the sight of her nether parts when he’s pulling a baby out of them, he can handle some side-boob and naked back while she’s lighting a fire. The more important thing is that Lysa has written to say that the Lannisters murdered Jon Arryn. Luckily, Lysa and Catelyn had the foresight to develop a secret code when they were children so that Lysa can now safely put treasonous things like these down on paper. Catelyn thinks this seals it: Ned must take the opportunity to go south and investigate. Ned too thinks this seals it: he must avoid the vice-filled south like the plague.
Luwin is on Catelyn’s side. Ned buckles and gives under the double pressure, but he’s not happy about it. The south has not been kind to the Starks. When Ned said that Catelyn will stay behind, the shoe’s on the other foot. She didn’t think he’d go without her, but he reasonably needs someone other than his small children to stay behind and rule his vast protectorate while he’s off ruling the kingdom. Isn’t it amazing that fourteen-year-old Robb isn’t considered old enough to rule the world? If Ned goes on like this, he might even concede that three-year-old Rickon should be allowed a toy or two. This concession to youth only goes so far, Robb can’t rule but he needs to learn how to, ASAP, and it’s up to Catelyn and Luwin to teach him. Winter is coming, after all. (Drink!)
The concession to Rickon’s age is not toys but him staying behind with his mom. Sansa, Arya, and Bran get to go south to the land of ripe fruit and naked women. Catelyn is getting a heaping handful of “be careful what you wish for,” because Ned’s made peace with his destiny and is full steam ahead now. Sansa will have to marry Joffrey so that no one suspects them of being anything than utterly loyal. Arya, who’s nine, has to learn how to be a proper lady in the few years she has left before she gets to make a lovely child bride to someone. It’s Bran Catelyn can’t bear to let go, but Ned needs him to make friends with the Lannister kids. So, Ned gets the two girls and Bran, and Catelyn gets to keep Robb and Rickon. It’s like they’re getting a divorce and splitting kids his and hers. Aren’t they forgetting someone? I’m sure they are… I know they have a lot of kids, but wasn’t there one more in that pack somewhere?
“What of Jon Snow, my lord?”
That was it. Yeah, what about Jon, Ned? Catelyn’s immediately pissed off to hear the name spoken. See, she doesn’t mind that Ned cheated, she’s very understanding about it. She minds that Ned wasn’t an asshole who gave fuck-all about his child’s needs and took responsibility instead. How dare you, Ned! Only, she loves Ned, so it’s not like she’s going to be mad at him about it, no, the logical thing is to be an utter bitch to the child who had no say in any of the things that happened fifteen years ago. Catelyn doesn’t know who the mother is, but rumour has it the lady’s name is Ashara Dayne (with beautiful violet eyes, of course), a woman whose brother Ned had to kill during the rebellion. Noble Ned carried the brother’s sword back to the sister, and nooky is alleged to have taken place. Does it sound like a Harlequin romance novel or what? Catelyn asked Ned if any of it was true, he bit off her head about it metaphorically and then bit off more heads, possibly literally, and the rumour mill ground to a halt.
Catelyn honestly (but no less bitchily for it) tells Ned that she hates Jon’s guts and will not bother to put on a show of tolerance in Ned’s absence. Ned asks if her if she could please try and be less vile of a human being, but Catelyn won’t budge. Before their fight gains steam, Luwin cuts in with a timely mention of Jon’s desire to join the Night’s Watch. Catelyn thinks it’s a perfect solution, not because Jon would have a place in the Watch or because Ben would gain a son he could never have, but because the celibacy oath means Jon wouldn’t father any sons to contest her grandchildren’s place. I get it that Catelyn has strong motherhood instincts, but Jon is a child and Catelyn is the Wicked Stepmother. Luwin prods Ned towards consent, Catelyn keeps mum about her utter lack of empathy towards Jon’s plight, and Ned makes up his mind to let Jon go to the Wall.
Arya is dismayed at her crooked stitches, luckily, she’s talking about the sewing kind and not the medical kind. The castle’s young girls are being instructed in the womanly arts by Septa Mordane. Like the Maesters, Septas and Septons are equivalent to mediaeval church clergy, but in this case, the comparison is religious. The main faith of the realm is devotion to a single deity with seven faces (father, mother, warrior, maiden, smith, crone, and stranger), hence the “sept” part.
Arya is bitter about her lack of accomplishments in the field of womanly arts as compared to Sansa. This is what happens when you try to pigeon-hole your children into strict gender roles, they get into shouting matches about their half-brother’s parentage. That is to say, Arya felt frustrated about her crooked stitches and left out, so she asked what Sansa and her friends were whispering about. Turns out they were whispering about Joffrey, who’s pretty and that’s all girls that young have yet learned to care about. Oh yeah? Well Jon thinks Joffrey is a little snot! Oh yeah? Well Jon’s mommy had him out of wedlock so it doesn’t matter what he thinks. (Can we guess which child absorbed Catelyn’s vitriol re: Jon?) This attracts the Septa’s attention, and the reveal of her crooked stitches to public shame is too much for Arya, so she takes off.
The sisters aren’t close. Sansa looks very much like Catelyn and is accomplished in all the things that ladies are expected of ladies. Unsurprisingly, Arya feels closer to Jon. Like Jon, she has the Stark looks (when Arya was little, she thought it meant she was a bastard too, imagine the look on Catelyn’s face if she ever found out), and although she’s not a bastard, she feels ill-fitted into the world because she’s good at “boy” things. Arya also feels close to her wolf, named Nymeria after a warrior queen. Sansa’s wolf’s name is Lady. Arya and her puppy head to a vantage point from which they can watch Robb beat Joffrey during practice in the yard and find Jon and FYC there. Jon’s not allowed to potentially bruise a person of royal blood. The logical thing would be to then tell the person of royal blood to train and make himself a better swordsman then. The mediaeval fantasy thing to do is to exile the bastard out of sight. It’s actually Bran and Tommen who are fighting, wearing padding that makes them look like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story. Joffrey is watching from the sidelines and Jon points out the symbolism of his heraldic decorations: the Lannister lion equal in prominence to the Baratheon stag. Remember, Jon notices things. They joke about putting the Tully and Stark spirit animals together (it would look like a wolf eating a fish), meanwhile Bran fells Tommen and it’s time for Joffrey and Robb to enter the ring.
Joffrey’s showing off what a hotshot he is by insisting that wooden swords are boring and real weaponry is where it’s at. Ser Rodrik, Winterfell’s master-at-arms, wisely compromises on blunt-edged tourney swords. Sandor Clegane, he of the face with the burn scars, tries to start shit, but Rodrik won’t hear it. Joffrey acts like this means Robb isn’t man enough to face him, and Theon does his one none-dickish thing by holding Robb back from killing the heir to the throne until Joffrey is out of reach.
The spectacle over, Jon tells Arya to surrender herself to Septa Mordane’s clutches and teases her about needlework. Arya is in no mood to be teased and her mood’s about to get worse because when she gets back to her room, Catelyn’s there to do some parenting.