Before I begin the summary and critique for Arya III there are two prior chapters where we gain knowledge of how Arya’s training with Syrio is progressing, and some important info on the moon symbolism that has been discussed earlier. These chapters are Eddard V and VII and I’ll briefly detail the relevant passages for later analysis.Eddard V
– This is the chapter where Ned meets with Pycelle to discuss Jon Arryn’s death. Leaving the meeting, he encounters Arya on the steps of the Tower of the Hand, trying to balance on one leg. According to her teacher, water dancers can stand on one toe for hours, and they never fall, and Arya is determined to work on her balance. She inquires if Bran can come to live with them at the Red Keep, but Ned tells her that Bran needs to regain his strength. We then learn of what occurred when they received the news that Bran had awakened:
The night the bird had come from Winterfell, Eddard Stark had taken the girls to the castle godswood, an acre of elm and alder and black cottonwood overlooking the river. The heart tree there was a great oak, its ancient limbs overgrown with smokeberry vines; they knelt before it to offer their thanksgiving, as if it had been a weirwood. Sansa drifted to sleep as the moon rose, Arya several hours later, curling up in the grass under Ned’s cloak. All through the dark hours he kept his vigil alone. When dawn broke over the city, the dark red blooms of dragon’s breath surrounded the girls where they lay. “I dreamed of Bran,” Sansa had whispered to him. “I saw him smiling.”
When her father tells her that Bran can no longer be a knight but might one day be able to sit on the king’s council, sail a ship or become High Septon, Arya puts forth her own interest in those opportunities:
“Can I be a king’s councilor and build castles and become the High Septon?”
“You,” Ned said, kissing her lightly on the brow, “will marry a king and rule his castle, and your sons will be knights and princes and lords, and, yes, perhaps even a High Septon.”
Arya screwed up her face. “No,” she said, “that’s Sansa.” She folded up her right leg and resumed her balancing. Ned sighed and left her there.
– The second day of the Hand’s tourney. Ned has managed to convince Robert not to fight in the melee and there’s relative peace and contentment when it’s all over:
That night at the feast, Eddard Stark was more hopeful than he had been in a great while. Robert was in good humor, the Lannisters were nowhere to be seen, and even his daughters were behaving. Jory brought Arya down to join them, and Sansa spoke to her sister pleasantly. “The tournament was magnificent,” she sighed. “You should have come. How was your dancing?”
Arya reports that she is sore all over and happily shows off a large bruise on her leg, leading Ned to worry that Syrio might be too rough a teacher. He considers getting another teacher, but Arya is adamant that she wants to continue with Syrio. She tells her father while standing on one leg, “Syrio says that every hurt is a lesson, and every lesson makes you better.”
Summary – Arya III
Ned frowned. The man Syrio Forel had come with an excellent reputation, and his flamboyant Braavosi style was well suited to Arya’s slender blade, yet still … a few days ago, she had been wandering around with a swatch of black silk tied over her eyes. Syrio was teaching her to see with her ears and her nose and her skin, she told him. Before that, he had her doing spins and back flips. “Arya, are you certain you want to persist in this?”
She nodded. “Tomorrow we’re going to catch cats.”
The chapter opens with Arya doing just this – chasing cats. It’s evidently been a few days since she first made this revelation to her father, as she’s managed to catch nearly all of the wild cats in the Red Keep, and is now on the hunt for the wildest one of them all, a vicious “one eared black tom.”
Arya padded down the alley, balanced lightly on the balls of her bare feet, listening to the flutter of her heart, breathing slow deep breaths. Quiet as a shadow, she told herself, light as a feather. The tomcat watched her come, his eyes wary.
It’s not a leisurely exercise. Arya’s hands and knees are scratched and bruised, and her clothing is torn and dirty. When she went to Syrio Forel with bleeding hands, his only advice is for her to move quicker, whilst he dabs her wounds with Myrish fire, a substance that burnt so badly she felt like screaming. Arya takes heed though, and has managed to bring all the cats back to Syrio, except the black tom. One of the gold cloaks tells her:
“That’s the real king of this castle right there, older than sin and twice as mean... One time the king was feasting the queen’s father, and that black bastard hopped up on the table and snatched a roast quail right out of Lord Tywin’s fingers. Robert laughed so hard he like to burst. You stay away from that one, child.”
Of course, this doesn’t deter Arya, and she manages to corner the cat and make a successful capture:
When she was three steps away from him, the tomcat bolted. Left, then right, he went; and right, then left, went Arya, cutting off his escape. He hissed again and tried to dart between her legs. Quick as a snake, she thought. Her hands closed around him. She hugged him to her chest, whirling and laughing as his claws raked at her leather jerkin. Ever so fast she kissed him right between the eyes, and jerked her head back an instant before his claws would have found her face. The tomcat yowled and spit.
Arya’s moment of triumph is interrupted by the appearance of the royal children, Tommen and Myrcella with their septa and two Lannister house guards. The cat seizes the chance to escape and Arya – mistaken for a boy and not wanting to scandalize her family due to her ragged appearance– also decides to flee. She manages to evade both the Septa and the gold cloaks, repeating Syrio’s maxims in her head as she does so:
As Godwyn reached for her, Arya moved. Quick as a snake. She leaned to her left, letting his fingers brush her arm, spinning around him. Smooth as summer silk. By the time he got himself turned, she was sprinting down the alley. Swift as a deer.
Her flight leads her into an unknown part of the castle, and she is initially terrified by the huge shapes she sees in the darkness, but soon manages to conquer the fear she feels. She tells herself that it’s only a skull and can’t hurt her, but then feels as though the large teeth of the monster are digging into her shoulder and sets off running again. This time she comes upon a deep shaft and discerns two men approaching out of the well, talking with one another.
Arya peered over the edge and felt the cold black breath on her face. Far below, she saw the light of a single candle. Two men, she made out. Their shadows writhed against the two sides of the well, tall as giants. She could hear their voices, echoing up the shaft.
She can only hear snatches of the conversation at first until they come into focus. One man is “grossly fat” with fingers adorned by jewels and an accent from the Free Cities. The other is stout, with a round scarred face, dressed in mail over boiled leather. Arya thinks there is something familiar about him.
If one Hand can die, why not a second?” replied the man with the accent and the forked beard. “You have danced this dance before, my friend.”
“Before is not now, and this Hand is not the other,” the scarred man said as they stepped out into the Hall…
Arya follows the two men as their conversation continues, until they get out of earshot and she crawls for a long time, ending up at the mouth of a sewer. Bathing in a river to clean herself, she makes her way back to the Red Keep, asserts that she’s the hand’s daughter to the incredulous guards at the gate, and is finally admitted to see her father. Ned tells her he had half the Stark guard out looking for her, but Arya is anxious to let her father know what she overheard:
“I didn’t go out the gates,” she blurted. “Well I didn’t mean to. I was down in the dungeons, only they turned into this tunnel. It was all dark, and I didn’t have a torch or a candle to see by, so I had to follow. I couldn’t go back the way I came on account of the monsters. Father, they were talking about killing you! Not the monsters, the two men. They didn’t see me, I was being still as stone and quiet as a shadow, but I heard them. They said you had a book and a bastard and if one Hand could die, why not a second? Is that the book? Jon’s the bastard, I bet.”
Ned, however, doesn’t credit Arya’s story as anything more than a childish error, and they are soon interrupted by Yoren, who arrives to request men for the Watch and with serious news for the Hand about his wife’s activities. Arya is dismissed by her father and the chapter ends with one of the Stark guards reassuring her that wizards die the same as any other man, “once you cut their heads off.”