The great thing about GRRM is that even Sansa’s fairy tale lala-land chapters contain much more than just Sansa’s personality and views. All those things that ruined the fantasy for her — the young knight getting killed by the Mountain and the Hound ranting about how his brother did it on purpose just because he could — are now ruining Ned’s day too and not just because some young knight died at a tourney in his name. The knight just happened to be the late Jon Arryn’s newly knighted squire and Ned never got to speak to him because the man was arrogant and it apparently galled Ned too much to give in to his airs. Next time you really need information, Ned, get it first and get offended later.
Ned is with Ser Barristan and once their business with the dead Ser Hugh is finished, they walk through the camp and discuss Robert’s plan to fight in the melee. Ser Barristan expresses a self-delusional hope that Robert will opt to pretend he never said it, but Ned knows better. He’s proven right when they walk in on Robert abuses a couple of squires who are trying to get him into his armor. One of the squires is Lancel Lannister, Jaime and Cersei’s cousin, who later gets to “role-play” Jaime with Cersei, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. The other is some sort of Lannister too and Ned’s not too happy about the abundance of Lannisters in Robert’s life. The squires diplomatically blame the problems on the armor being too small. Diplomacy does not exist in Ned’s vocabulary, so he informs Robert that he’s too far for his armor. I think Ned might honestly believe that Robert is either too delusional or too stupid to notice his own weight. Robert sends the boys off to fetch him a breastplate stretcher and they waste no time putting some distance between themselves and these horrible people. After they’re gone, Robert, Barristan and Ned laugh at the poor kids. I get the feeling the “breastplate stretcher” is a snipe hunt.
Robert’s mad at Cersei for trying to stop him from fighting and whines that Lyanna would never have. As despicable as Cersei generally is, even Ned is with her on this one: Robert fighting in the melee is a stupid idea. Ser Barristan points out that no one would dare honestly fight the king. They need to show Robert that bit of A Knight’s Tale where people keep forfeiting against the Black Prince. Robert seems honestly surprised by this, which is probably the first time we see honest-to-good delusional stupidity as opposed to drunken bluster from him. He’s so angry that he throws Ser Barristan out and orders Ned to drink. He’s angry at Ned, and at the late Jon Arryn, for making him be king. According to Ned, Robert had the better claim of them all, although I don’t remember why, I’m not sure it’s really important. Robert’s also angry about being married to Cersei, a political match orchestrated by Arryn. To top it all off, he hates his son so much that the idea of Joffrey on the throne is the only thing that’s stopping him from running away. Actually, I think we can all agree with him on that one. (This bit is fairly anvilicious, what with all the “how could I have made a son like that” and all. Then again, I’m not sure this storyline was ever about subtlety.)
His anger spent, Robert smells bacon and cheers up. Bacon would cheer me up too, I think I’m starting to feel a kinship towards Robert. At breakfast, Robert reminisces about the good old days and Ned fantasizes about finding proof that the Lannisters murdered Arryn so that he can de-Lannister Robert for good. Maybe they could even have a little civil war, that would make Robert really happy. By the time breakfast is over and it’s time for Ned to join Sansa in the spectator stands to watch the last jousting matches, he’s in a pretty good mood.
The Hound versus The Kingslayer (Littlefinger bets 100 gold on Jaime, Renly takes the bet)
Winner: The Hound.
The Mountain That Rides (devourer of babies) versus The Knight of Flowers (the prettiest knight of them all)
Winner: The Hound.
What? Oh, alright. Loras rode a mare in heat, so the G. Clegane’s stallion went nuts and Loras needed barely a tap to send the Mountain flying off his horse. G. Clegane was really angry, so he killed his horse, then tried to kill Loras, and S. Clegane stepped in to stop him and they sword-fought until Robert put a stop to it. Loras then forfeited to the Hound in gratitude.
Two chapters are spent on jousting, but only two paragraphs on the other events. A young unknown named Anguy wins the archery round and Thoros of Myr wins the melee. At the feast, all the Starks are happy: Ned due to the continued absence of Lannisters, Sansa because she loved the tourney, and Arya because she loves her swordfighting lessons. Ned’s not so sure about the efficacy of said lessons because Syrio’s style of teaching Arya how to move nimbly and how to perceive her surroundings with her other senses seem silly to him. Oh, Ned. Even his swordfighting is bland and boring. This is a fantasy epic, Ned, try to use your imagination a little.
Settled in his room, Ned thinks some more about the dagger, Bran, and Jon Arryn and his thoughts circle back to Gendry and then Robert’s other non-Lannister children. Having gotten a high-born woman pregnant, Robert acknowledged the resulting child as his and sent the boy to be fostered at Storm’s End. His first was so long ago that it happened back in the Vale and so Ned was around to remember, it was a girl who would now be in her late teens — Mya Stone, who’ll pop up in the books from time to time.
Ned’s solitude is interrupted by a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Lord Varys, eunuch in disguise (if the Transformers theme didn’t start playing in your head, I don’t know you). Up until now, Ned has of course been gullible enough to assume that Varys is as soft as he appears, but Varys has decided to let Ned see another side of himself now. According to him, the whole debacle with the melee was a Lannister murder plot against Robert. He lays it all out in a way that makes sense and Ned wants to spring into action and warn Robert. Varys doesn’t want to act without solid proof, but he forges an alliance with Ned, promising that his network will be able to give them ample warning before the next attempt. At this point, poor, stupid Ned has started trusting Varys enough to ask him about Jon Arryn’s death. Varys says the poison was something called “tears of Lys” and points the finger at the recently deceased ex-squire. But why, cries Ned, why kill him now? Because he was asking questions, which is what you’ve been doing, Ned. You might want to take Varys’s wariness of paths that end at the edge of Ser Ilyn Payne’s blade to heart.