This is the final part of what should’ve been a one part review. That appears to be my style. I always have much more to say. I’ll be giving a synopsis of The Mystery Knight, the last novella in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms with a review/analysis of that part in addition to one of the entire collection. If you missed the first two reviews you can find The Sworn Sword behind that link above and The Hedge Knight is right here.
The story starts with Dunk and Egg leaving Stoney Sept and heading north in hopes to take up service with Lord Beron Stark who has sent out a call for men to help with the Greyjoy raids off the northern coast. On the way there, the two encounter a lords train led by Lord Gormon Peake of Starpike who has nothing but rude words for the hedge knight and his bald squire. Included in the party is another lord named Alyn Cockshaw and a well dressed man who claims to be a hedge knight called Ser John the Fiddler (the link contains a spoiler!). Though Peake and Cockshaw insult and challenge Dunk, Ser John treats him courteously and invites him and Egg to attend the wedding of Lord Ambrose Butterwell as there is to be a joust to celebrate his wedding to a Frey of the Crossing, and the prize is to be a dragon’s egg.
Dunk already harbors ill will towards Lord Gormon as Ser Arlan, the knight for whom he squired, lost his former squire and nephew to Peake on the Redgrass Field during the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Egg tells Dunk that though Lord Gormon’s arms have three castles on an orange field, the Peake family used to own three, but two were forfeit when he sided with House Blackfyre.
Dunk decides to forestall his trip to the north and attend the wedding. On the way there, he befriends three fellow hedge knights about the same mission: Ser Maynard Plumm, Ser Kyle the Cat of Misty Moor, and a young, prickly hedge knight named Ser Glendon Ball who claims to be the bastard son of the famous knight Quentyn “Fireball” Ball, a warrior of great renown who fought during the Blackfyre Rebellion.
The wedding takes place at Whitewalls where Lord Frey arrives with his toddler aged heir (Walder Frey who even then is described as “chinless”) and his fifteen year old daughter who weds Lord Ambrose. Egg informs Dunk that Lord Frey took no part in the Rebellion; however, one of his sons fought for the red dragon and the other for the black. In this way, Frey was assured to be on the winning side, but both of his sons died on the Redgrass Field. Even a hundred years ago, Freys were equivocators…
At the wedding a troupe of dwarfs entertain the guests, and during the bedding Dunk is drafted by Ser John the Fiddler to carry the bride up, which he does with alacrity. Afterwards, while he’s catching his breath, Ser John approaches him to inform the hedge knight that he recognized Dunk on the road from a dream of him in the white armor of the Kingsguard. The cryptic Fiddler insists that his dreams always comes true, as he dreamt his brothers dead once and a dragon hatching from an egg at Whitewalls.
Dunk decides to enter the tourney as a mystery knight. The name he takes is the Gallows Knight due to the shield he was forced to replace his old broken one with. This was done in case anyone had heard of Duncan the Tall from Ashford as many men were still sore from his involvement in *spoiler* Prince Baelor’s death there. *end spoiler* Unfortunately, Dunk is defeated in his first tilt against Ser Uthor Underleaf who is known as the Snail Knight due to his sigil. Dunk is truly lucky not to have been killed by Ser Uthor as his lance hits him right between the eyes, knocking the hedge knight out and nearly splitting his head (which would’ve been a poetic way for Dunk to end as *spoiler* that was how Prince Baelor died). *end spoiler* After he recovers, he goes to Ser Uthor to give him the victor’s spoils of his horse and armor as he cannot afford to ransom either back. The Snail Knight tells Dunk that he was bribed to kill him and that the hedge knight has made an enemy in Whitewalls though Ser Uthor will not say whom. Before the jousting can continue though, word spreads throughout the castle that the dragon egg has been stolen and Ser Glendon is imprisoned for the crime.
*****SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT*******
When Dunk returns to his camp he notices that Egg is missing as well and whilst searching, the hedge knight is almost killed (again) by Lord Alyn Cockshaw who reveals himself to be Ser Uthor’s briber as he was jealous of Ser John’s interest in Dunk due to his dream. Though Dunk manages to throw him down a well, the big knight takes a wound in return. Maynard Plumm comes to Dunk’s aid, and it’s discovered that Plumm is one of Lord Bloodraven’s many spies. John the Fiddler’s true name is Daemon after his father Daemon Blackfyre.
Dunk finds Egg in the sept with a cowering Lord Ambrose who, upon discovering Egg’s true identity, is terrified for his life. Egg gave Buttterwell the lie that he and Dunk were spies sent to investigate the tournament and that his father Prince Maekar was on his way to Whitewalls with an army. Lord Ambrose’s good-son (son-in-law) Tom Heddle shows up, tries to harm Egg, but is easily slain by Dunk who tells the boy to flee with the terrified lord. To buy time for this Dunk confronts Daemon II Blackfyre revealed, and accuses Lord Gormon of framing Ser Glendon for the theft of the dragon egg. He also brings up the information given to him by Ser Uthor that many of the joust participants had been paid to throw their matches so that Daemon would be the winner. The Blackfyre prince is enraged by this and allows Ser Glendon to prove his innocence in a trial by combat. Though beaten, tortured, and abused, Fireball’s bastard soundly defeats Daemon and knocks him in the mud, which causes some of the spectators to mockingly call him “the Brown Dragon.” Then a large army headed by the King’s Hand Lord Bloodraven encircles Whitewalls, and Daemon is captured as the present lords surrender without a fight.
Dunk meets Bloodraven outside his pavilion where the heads of Gorman Peake and Tom Heddle are displayed on spears. Egg, also in attendance, demands that his cousin reward Sers Duncan, Glendon, and the other hedge knights to which the King’s Hand notes that Egg is much more confident than when last he saw him and theorizes that he (Egg) is the dragon Daemon saw born within Whitewalls.
Lord Butterwell, cowering in Bloodraven’s presence, is allowed to keep a tenth of his wealth, but Whitewalls is forfeit to the throne and will be destroyed. At Egg’s request, Bloodraven gives Dunk the gold to ransom back his armor and horse. Dunk asks the Hand what truly became of the dragon’s egg to which Bloodraven replies that one of his agents crawled up a privy shaft to retrieve it. Dunk remarks that a man would not have fit in such a place, and Bloodraven agrees though adds that a child might…or a dwarf. Dunk then remembers the troupe of such performing at the wedding.
The final (for now) story in AKOTSK culminates in another rebellion that is quashed before it can even begin. Martin again shows us how history does nothing but repeat itself within the confines of this triad and the macrocosm of the full narrative as a whole. Knight takes place in the aftermath and ascent of a rebellion as Song does a century later. Nothing changes unless we engender change.
It is interesting how differently Ser Glendon, a bastard, and Daemon, the son of a bastard are treated. When all is settled Daemon is a royal prison where poor Ser Glendon had his fingernails pulled out for a crime he didn’t commit, but even beaten and bloody he is still a better fighter than Daemon. There seems to be a statement in the subtext about not basing worth on blood. Ser Glendon is purportedly the son of a whore and not even necessarily Fireball’s get, yet he was able to unhorse a royal while in a grievously injured state. It calls into question the whole idea of feudalism especially considering that the current king Aerys I cares only about his books and leaves the governance of the realm to Bloodraven…another bastard.
Once more Dunk manages to behave like a true knight and surprisingly survive despite all of the treachery afoot. Him and Egg almost have this protective aura about them, though since Martin only has them for viewpoint characters, he can’t just kill them off I suppose. Each also has a unique perspective based on their opposing backgrounds.
The Mystery Knight presents the idea of tourneys, weddings, and large social gatherings as covers for clandestine meetings and potentially treasonous plans (which it is theorized was the hidden motive for the Tourney at Harrenhal in the Year of the False Spring). Under the shade of wedding’s boon, numerous lords were able to get together in the aftermath of the Great Spring Sickness that in taking away much opened up ambitious opportunity.
After the Rebellion ended, the lords on the losing side had to offter up hostages to the crown. This was brought up in The Sworn Sword where we heard that Ser Eustace was required to send his daughter or face the blade. She became a silent sister and then died in the spring.
Hostages are used to keep unruly or potentially rebellious lords in line, but once dead, that leverage is gone. It’s the reason in the current stories, Cersei is so intent on maintaining the charade that she holds both Sansa and Arya though the younger Stark sister has been long lost. The more hostages you hold, the more control you exert over their house. These people are essentially currency, and so long as you have them, you are buying a house’s allegiance and compliance. In a way feudal marriages work similarly, too, though this paradigm is hopefully far more benevolent where hostage taking is what happens to the losers in war.
The lords in TMK realized that they could consider a second rebellion once the Crown’s leverage on them was relieved in tragedy, and the tourney was just a mummer’s farce to bring that together. It didn’t succeed due to Bloodraven’s impressive and extensive spy network and Daemon II was a questionable candidate at best. Honestly, he didn’t seem a bad sort personality wise. When Dunk presented the evidence that Ser Glendon had been falsely accused and the reasons behind it, he immediately wanted to see if he did have the ability to win on his own. He…couldn’t (at least not against Ser Glendon), but the fact that he allowed Fireball’s bastard to try says much for the “pretender.” He was unaware that Lord Gormon was bribing his opponents, which suggests he was not a man who wanted to be false to his nature. If he believed he was a good enough jouster to win the dragon egg, he wanted to truly prove it. Though he was not the warrior he thought he was, neither is the reigning king who has his Hand do everything for him. It is not so much how fit the king is to rule then, but rather that he has a decent network.
Bloodraven is the thread that runs through the narrative of Knight. He ties the past to the future as the only character to exist in both the time of this story and Song. He is a shadowy, omnipresent figure who was first seen by Dunk riding a “pale mare,” which is both a macro allusion to death (the pale horse), and a potential future reference to a disease of the same name. This does not bode well for Bloodraven’s character for like many of Martin’s his true motivations are unknown as are his plans for Bran.
Each story of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms delves deeper into the idea that there are two sides to war (as again Song does in it’s very title invoking Ice and Fire). THK is laid on the backdrop of the failed rebellion’s aftermath . We don’t hear much about it directly, we only know that it occurred. We are also shown two very different types of Targaryens in Aerion and Baelor. This could be due to a number of factors. Aerion is more inbred than Baelor, and therefore received a heaping of the Targaryen madness that’s always a potential fear.
At the end of TSS we are more involved in the shadows of the rebellion as Dunk discovers he was serving a man who fought for the Black Dragon. The young hedge knight is forced to stop thinking in black and white, which is a wonderful meta critique for the whole Song narrative as Martin writes almost entirely in grey. The difference between loyalists and traitors is utterly contingent on who wins the war. Is it truly fair to mete out punishment based on an outcome no one can really know? In the more current rebellion those lords that sided with the Targaryens were stripped of titles and lands while those who sided with Robert were honored, but if the chips had fallen another way, the results for those raised would’ve been far more devastating.
Finally at the end of TMK we see the elusive Bloodraven whom we’ve only heard mentioned many, many times prior so much that the man seems to exist in legend especially considering his “thousand eyes and one,” which is the answer to the riddle Dunk asks himself again and again.
There aren’t “good guys and bad guys;” there are people who believe they are owed certain things and they’re willing to fight to obtain it. If Daemon had succeeded in his rebellion, men would call him king, Ser Eustace would’ve been Lord of Coldmoat without needing to marry, his daughter, wife (and arguably his sons) would still be alive, and Gormon Peake’s house would still have three castles, among other things. Whether Daemon or Daeron’s claim was the truer doesn’t matter. What matters is whose army wins the day.
This repeats itself in Song with Robert’s Rebellion. Rhaegar is clearly the Crown Prince and the rightful heir to the throne, but he died at the ruby ford (another “red” field we could say), and Robert ascended the throne. Though there were whispers that he was a usurper and even those who called his rebellion “The War of the Usurper,” by might and strength he was the rightful king.
This prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire serves to further the idea that there are no absolutes. As Varys states in A Clash of Kings, “Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.” All that we see of wars and alliances is the shadow and pageantry of the same. It’s the great show that’s still required to make it seem like these choices truly matter. Ser Jorah, rough as he is, has some brilliance to spare for this paradigm as well when Dany asks him if the small folk truly pray for the dragon’s return replies. “The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are.” Who sits the Iron Throne only really matters to whom sits the Iron Throne, their cronies, and backers. To the everyday peasant it means nothing at all; they are far below the farce. Knight even more so than Song in having a commoner protagonist shows how true this is. Egg as a royal foil who is able to see the common point of view is being set up as the kind of king whose appointment to the the throne may actually make a difference.
Like A Song of Ice and Fire, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is masterfully rendered. Martin is a craftsman of the written word, and I expected no less than perfection from this epic prequel to his epic work. I read that there will be more Dunk and Egg stories to tie more threads together. Until then (or until The Winds of Winter arrive), I shall indulge myself with his Dreamsongs. I may not be one of the small folk, but that doesn’t mean I will not pray for the author’s next words.