The Old Tongue

Illyrio's motives in GoT

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Can someone please explain to me (or direct me to a thread to) Illyrio's intentions in Game of Thrones? 

He essentially sells off Dany in order to acquire a Dothraki army for Viserys so on the surface it looks like he backs the heir. However later in the series we learn of his "fostering" of Aegon who he's been educating the past, what, 15 years(?) in efforts to create the perfect ruler.

I guess what I'm asking is if the Dothraki marriage was a pre-calculated fool's errand with the purpose of disposing of more legitimate candidates for the Iron Throne. Did Illyrio know Viserys would piss off the Dothraki and was he expecting Dany to become a non-factor in her marriage to Drogo? If so, why give her something extremely valuable like dragon eggs as a wedding gift. Not only could these have funded Aegon's campaign but also could  strengthen his identity as a Targ due to the affinity they have with dragons (as well as the threat that he may be able to hatch them).

Lastly, if the plan was to dispose of D&V why send an agent like Jorah to merely report on their whereabouts instead of ensuring their demise?

What am I missing?

Edited by The Old Tongue

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From the 1993 letter that was released about a year ago, we know that A Song of Ice and Fire is divided into three main conflicts, the War of the Five Kings, the Second Dance of the Dragons, and the War for the Dawn. It seems to me that Illyrio's role in the second main conflict is similar to Petyr's role in the first, where House Lannister were the antagonists to the protagonists of House Stark, but Petyr was the big bad. In the Second Dance of the Dragons, I suspect that Aegon will emerge as the antagonist to Daenerys, but Illyrio will be revealed as the big bad. 

Illyrio appears, or is mentioned, in at least 30 chapters. We meet Illyrio very early, in Daenerys I, Game 3.

He moves with surprising delicacy for such a massive man. Beneath loose garments of flame-colored silk, rolls of fat jiggle as he walks. Gemstones glitter on every finger, and he wears a forked yellow beard, well-oiled, that shines like gold.

Here, we learn that Illyrio has been aiding the Targlings and showering them with gifts for the past six months. Viserys believes that Illyrio is doing this for profit, believing that Illyrio expects to be rewarded when he comes into his throne, but Daenerys’s misgivings, as well as the fact that they were left to run from city to city for several years before Illyrio began to succor them, suggests right away to the reader that Illyrio’s motives should be questioned.

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Dany could smell the stench of Illyrio's pallid flesh through his heavy perfumes.

When Viserys talks about making good his claim to the Iron Throne, he declares that he will kill Robert Baratheon himself, to which Illyrio replies, “That would be most fitting," but Daenerys notices “the smallest hint of a smile playing around his full lips,” which Viserys fails to notice. And Illyrio appears to feed into Viserys’s paranoia about being pursued by assassins sent by Robert Baratheon, which we learn just nine chapters later is a false belief.

A wealthy Magister in the Free City of Pentos, Illyrio deals in spices, gemstones, dragonbone, and other, less savory things. He has friends in all of the Nine Free Cities and beyond, in Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beside the JadeSea. In addition to Dothraki, bravos and sellswords from Pentos and Myr and Tyrosh, a red priest even fatter than Illyrio, hairy men from the Port of Ibben, and lords from the Summer Isles with skin as black as ebony are present at the betrothal feast.

We hear red priests signing as they light their night fires, and we hear Illyrio pay homage to the Lord of Light, but the homage rings false when he questions the belief the red priests have in the power of their god.

Also present at the betrothal feast is Ser Jorah Mormont, about whom Illyrio knows a great deal, suggesting that Jorah is in league with Illyrio.

Illyrio, who speaks Dothraki, has brokered a betrothal between Drogo, khal of the greatest of the Dothraki khalasars, and Daenerys, that will benefit Viserys’s claim to the Iron Throne...

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"We won't need his whole khalasar," Viserys said. His fingers toyed with the hilt of his borrowed blade, though Dany knew he had never used a sword in earnest. "Ten thousand, that would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers.”

Notice that Viserys suggests that he does not need Drogo’s entire khalasar of one hundred thousand, including forty thousand fighters, to make good his claim; Viserys believes he only needs ten thousand. This suggests that a higher number of Drogo’s warriors were promised, or at least contemplated, but Viserys seems to only want ten thousand.

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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Illyrio, of course, attends the wedding feast in Daenerys II, Game 11. We see Jorah and Illyrio enjoy each other’s jests, further suggesting that the two are in league with one another. We also see Illyrio, who speaks Dothraki, demonstrate an extensive knowledge of Dothraki customs.

We also learn that, through Illyrio, Khal Drogo has promised Viserys a crown. While this is a foreshadowing of the crown of molten gold Drogo actually gives Viserys, the passage clearly suggests to the reader that Drogo has bargained for his bride by promising to support materially Viserys’s claim. But we can only trust Illyrio so far. So, whether Drogo actually promised to support Viserys’s claim in exchange for his Targaryen bride, or Drogo actually promised Illyrio a number of Dothraki fighters, or Illyrio brokered the marriage to secure Drogo’s friendship in hopes of obtaining his material support, we cannot know with certainty. In any event, Illyrio tells us that Drogo will not aid Viserys until after he presents Daenerys to the dosh khaleen, and then, only “if the omens favor war," suggesting that Viserys should be prepared to wait “another few years." And notice that Jorah supports Illyrio in his counsel to Viserys.

Once again, we see a hint that Illyrio has some ulterior motive. When Viserys claims that he is “no lesser man,” but “the rightful Lord of the Seven Kingdoms,” and that “[t]he dragon does not beg," Daenerys notices...

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Illyrio smiled enigmatically and tore a wing from the duck. Honey and grease ran over his fingers and dripped down into his beard as he nibbled at the tender meat.

A bit later, we encounter the three egg MacGuffins. . .

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"Dragon's eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai," said Magister Illyrio. "The eons have turned them to stone, yet still they burn bright with beauty."

We are told expressly that these three dragon’s eggs are ancient, petrified eggs from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai, and we recall that Illyrio is a trader in dragonbone with a trading network that stretches to the fabled lands beside the Jade Sea.

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"I shall treasure them always." Dany had heard tales of such eggs, but she had never seen one, nor thought to see one. It was a truly magnificent gift, though she knew that Illyrio could afford to be lavish. He had collected a fortune in horses and slaves for his part in selling her to Khal Drogo.

Here we learn that the three dragon’s eggs are worth the fortune in horses and slaves that Illyrio collected from Drogo for brokering the marriage pact. Does this mean that Illyrio gave Daenerys to Drogo, so Drogo gave Illyrio a fortune in horses and slaves? If so, then Drogo would not “owe” Viserys a crown, would he? On the other hand, should we believe that Daenerys’s property was, in fact, the property of her husband and khal, and that by giving Daenerys such “a truly magnificent gift,” that Illyrio had upset the gift-giving balance back in his favor? 

Keep in mind this could be nothing more than a plot device. In his 1993 letter, outlining his earliest concept of A Song of Ice and Fire, we see that The George initially intended to have Daenerys stumble upon a nest of petrified dragon’s eggs on the edge of the Dothraki Sea. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Eddard II, Game 12, King Robert informs Lord Eddard that Lord Varys has sent word of the wedding. Very curiously, the source of the information is revealed to be Jorah, who Robert claims “is now in Pentos, anxious to earn a royal pardon that would allow him to return from exile," and that "Lord Varys makes good use of him." Now, we can connect Illyrio and Jorah to Varys. Of course, the casual first-time reader should assume here that Jorah is Varys’s agent spying Illyrio and the Targlings for King Robert. But given what we learn later, we know that Varys is actually a double agent in league with Illyrio, and thus using information from Jorah to influence events at court.

Back in Daenerys I, Game 3, we learned that Rhaegar’s heir was murdered during the sack of King’s Landing. Here Eddard informs us “that Rhaegar's little girl had cried as they dragged her from beneath her bed to face the swords. The boy had been no more than a babe in arms, yet Lord Tywin's soldiers had torn him from his mother's breast and dashed his head against a wall.”

Despite Robert’s hatred of all Targaryens, we learn that he did not send assassins after the Targlings as Viserys suspected; but rather Jon Arryn had persuaded not to do so. When Eddard pointed out that there was not much they could do about it anyway, Robert agreed . . .

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The king's mouth twisted in a bitter grimace. "No, gods be cursed. Some pox-ridden Pentoshi cheesemonger had her brother and her walled up on his estate with pointy-hatted eunuchs all around them, and now he's handed them over to the Dothraki."

. . .

"This Khal Drogo is said to have a hundred thousand men in his horde. What would Jon say to that?"

"He would say that even a million Dothraki are no threat to the realm, so long as they remain on the other side of the narrow sea," Ned replied calmly. "The barbarians have no ships. They hate and fear the open sea."

This is very confusing: If the Dothraki hate and fear the open sea, why would Drogo agree to send tens of thousands of Dothraki fighters to help Viserys, or any other claimant, to claim the Iron Throne across the Narrow Sea?

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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Daenerys recalls an important scene involving Illyrio and her brother in Daenerys III, Game 23.

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Her brother was miserable out here. He ought never have come. Magister Illyrio had urged him to wait in Pentos, had offered him the hospitality of his manse, but Viserys would have none of it. He would stay with Drogo until the debt had been paid, until he had the crown he had been promised. "And if he tries to cheat me, he will learn to his sorrow what it means to wake the dragon," Viserys had vowed, laying a hand on his borrowed sword. Illyrio had blinked at that and wished him good fortune.

So, Illyrio wanted Viserys to remain in Pentos. I do not subscribe to the reverse psychology theory, which posits that Illyrio wanted Viserys to go off and die in the Dothraki Sea, so he told him to stay in Pentos. That’s cockamamie to my mind. Illyrio’s blink suggests that he was surprised by Viserys’s intention to go with Drogo. Illyrio clearly expected Viserys to remain in Pentos, where Illyrio could ply him with Lysene bed slaves and Arbor gold.

But here is an interesting question: If Viserys had remained in Pentos, would Jorah have gone with Daenerys? He swore his sword to Viserys after all. I suspect that The George did not work this out completely. We know that Daenerys is off to become the Mother of Dragons and the head of a motely host of Dothraki, unsullied, and freedmen, as well as a collection of sellswords, and possibly even Victarion’s Ironmen. And we know that The George, against Illyrio’s wishes, wanted Viserys to get his molten crown in Vaes Dothrak. And, in that way, The George would have Jorah go with Drogo, eventually siding with Daenerys, but keeping tabs on her for Illyrio until they reach Qarth.

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We see Illyrio, incognito, one more time before we meet him again, much later, with Tyrion Dance in Arya III, Game 32. Here we learn that Varys is in league with Illyrio.

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" . . . found one bastard," one said. "The rest will come soon. A day, two days, a fortnight . . . "

This tells us that Varys does not want Eddard to discover the truth of the “twincest.”

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"And when he learns the truth, what will he do?" a second voice asked in the liquid accents of the Free Cities.

"The gods alone know," the first voice said. Arya could see a wisp of grey smoke drifting up off the torch, writhing like a snake as it rose. "The fools tried to kill his son, and what's worse, they made a mummer's farce of it. He's not a man to put that aside. I warn you, the wolf and lion will soon be at each other's throats, whether we will it or no."

 

Here we see that Varys believes that the fools, plural, meaning Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion, attempted to assassinate Bran. But we learn by the “purple wedding” that it was Joffrey. In any event, we see that Varys has a great deal of respect for Eddard’s fortitude, if not for his cunning.

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"Too soon, too soon," the voice with the accent complained. "What good is war now? We are not ready. Delay."

"As well bid me stop time. Do you take me for a wizard?"

 

Notice who gives the command: Illyrio, and who follows the order: Varys. Varys is working for Illyrio, not the other way around.

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The other chuckled. "No less." . . .

"What would you have me do?" asked the torchbearer, a stout man in a leather half cape. . .

"If one Hand can die, why not a second?" replied the man with the accent and the forked yellow beard. "You have danced the 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. . . .

 

I love this exchange. When the casual, first-time reader reads this, he understands the Hand in question to be Jon Arryn, and that Varys must have caused Jon Arryn’s death, especially since we just learned that he does not want the new Hand learning about the “twincest,” and we learn as we read, that Jon was killed after learning about the “twincest.” But substitute another Jon, Jon Connington, in for Jon Arryn, and you can see what Illyrio was suggesting: That Varys attempt to co-opt Eddard into their ulterior plot.

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"Perhaps so," the forked beard replied, pausing to catch his breath after the long climb. "Nonetheless, we must have time. The princess is with child. The khal will not bestir himself until his son is born. You know how they are, these savages."

Recall, that Drogo will not aid Viserys until after he presents Daenerys to the dosh khaleen, and then, only “if the omens favor war." Perhaps, this was what the author was hinting at when he had Illyrio tell Viserys that he would have to wait. Perhaps Illyrio understood that the real gift to Drogo was not a Targaryen bride, but a dragonlord heir, the stallion who mounts the world.

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"If he does not bestir himself soon, it may be too late," the stout man in the steel cap said. "This is no longer a game for two players, if ever it was. Stannis Baratheon and Lysa Arryn have fled beyond my reach, and the whispers say they are gathering swords around them. The Knight of Flowers writes Highgarden, urging his lord father to send his sister to court. The girl is a maid of fourteen, sweet and beautiful and tractable, and Lord Renly and Ser Loras intend that Robert should bed her, wed her, and make a new queen. Littlefinger . . . the gods only know what game Littlefinger is playing. Yet Lord Stark's the one who troubles my sleep. He has the bastard, he has the book, and soon enough he'll have the truth. And now his wife has abducted Tyrion Lannister, thanks to Littlefinger's meddling. Lord Tywin will take that for an outrage, and Jaime has a queer affection for the Imp. If the Lannisters move north, that will bring the Tullys in as well. Delay, you say. Make haste, I reply. Even the finest of jugglers cannot keep a hundred balls in the air forever."

Did you notice that Varys has learned of the “catnapping” before anyone outside of the Inn at the Crossroads? More to the point, though, Varys urges his master to hasten Drogo’s material support of their ulterior plot.

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"You are more than a juggler, old friend. You are a true sorcerer. All I ask is that you work your magic awhile longer." They started down the hall in the direction Arya had come, past the room with the monsters.

"What I can do, I will," the one with the torch said softly.

 

Again, notice who gives the command, and who follows the order.

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"I must have gold, and another fifty birds."

. . .

"So many?" The voices were fainter as the light dwindled ahead of her. "The ones you need are hard to find . . . so young, to know their letters . . . perhaps older . . . not die so easy . . . "

"No. The younger are safer . . . treat them gently . . . "

" . . . .if they kept their tongues . . . "

" . . . the risk . . . "

 

Here we learn how Varys gets his little birds, and how he has children mutilated to serve his ends.

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Eddard VIII, Game 33, we learn that Jorah has informed Varys, presumably through Illyrio, that Daenerys is pregnant. . .

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“Ser Jorah would not dare deceive me,” Varys said with a sly smile. “Rely on it, my lord. The princess is with child.”

Why wouldn't Jorah dare deceive Varys? Presumably because Varys, through Illyrio, would have Jorah killed. 

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“Gods! You are stubborn as an aurochs, Stark.” The king looked around the council table. “Have the rest of you mislaid your tongues? Will no one talk sense to this frozen-faced fool?"

Varys gave the king an unctuous smile and laid a soft hand on Ned’s sleeve. “I understand your qualms, Lord Eddard, truly I do. It gave me no joy to bring this grievous news to council. It is a terrible thing we contemplate, a vile thing. Yet we who presume to rule must do vile things for the good of the realm, howevermuch it pains us.”

So, not only does Varys inform king and council that Daenerys is pregnant, which could be explained by Varys needing to maintain trust, but here we see him encourage the king to attempt to assassinate her. 

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“Kinder,” Varys said. “Oh, well and truly spoken, Grand Maester. It is so true. Should the gods in their caprice grant Daenerys Targaryen a son, the realm must bleed.” 

What is the reader to make of this? This could simply be Varys playing yes-man. Or this could be Varys setting up a Rube Goldberg plot to provoke Drogo. One might think Varys would not want a challenger to his preferred claimant, but then Varys would not have prevented the assassination. Given that Varys was so concerned about Drogo bestirring himself soon, it seems most likely that Varys was attempting to provoke Drogo into action. Still it seems awfully risky. If Varys had not been able to foil the assassination attempt, Drogo might not have felt inclined to support Illyrio's ulterior motive any longer. Moreover, the way the attempt unfolded, we know Drogo would have been killed as well. 

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“Mormont craves a royal pardon,” Lord Renly reminded them.

“Desperately,” Varys said, “yet he craves life even more. By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death to draw a blade. If I told you what the Dothraki would do to the poor man who used one on a khaleesi, none of you would sleep tonight.” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now, poison … the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.”

Here we see Varys protect his asset in Jorah and notice that he suggests the method that is apparently used by the wineseller. 

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In Daenerys IV, Game 36, the Targlings enter Vaes Dothrak, and Jorah expands our understanding of Dothraki gift-giving. . . 

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Ser Jorah grunted. “Yes, Khaleesi, but … the Dothraki look on these things differently than we do in the west. I have told him as much, as Illyrio told him, but your brother does not listen. The horselords are no traders. Viserys thinks he sold you, and now he wants his price. Yet Khal Drogo would say he had you as a gift. He will give Viserys a gift in return, yes … in his own time. You do not demand a gift, not of a khal. You do not demand anything of a khal.”

This seems to reinforce the idea that Varys and Illyrio need to provoke Drogo into action since, even if the gift giving balance is in Illyrio’s favor, he cannot complex Drogo to act as soon as he might wish. 

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 “Now,” the knight said, “I am less certain. They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly … and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar.”

“Is that truly so many?” 

“Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the Trident,” Ser Jorah admitted, “but of that number, no more than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders, and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. When Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling for blood? How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?”

Here we learn the potential utility of a Dothraki horde in Westeros, and why Illyrio has gone to such lengths to add Drogo as an ally. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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When Daenerys VI Game 54 opens, Viserys has already been "crowned," but interestingly Illyrio does not yet know this. Presumably Jorah would have sent word back, but not before Varys's would-be assassin departed with the caravan out of Pentos.

Daenerys attempts to persade Drogo into winning the Iron Throne for their son, but Drogo refuses, expressing no desire to cross the Narrow Sea. We have to wonder whether Drogo is still just delaying to honor a commitment to Illyrio until the birth of his heir, or whether Drogo believes that his end of the bargain is moot now that Viserys is dead. 

In any event, Jorah is anxious to meet a newly arrived caravan from Pentos to see if Illyrio has sent any communication. He shrugs off Daenerys, though, preferring to see the caravan captain alone. 

Note here that the wine seller apparently expects that Daenerys will share the wine with Drogo. . . 

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“Khal Drogo and I will share it together. Aggo, take this back to my litter, if you’d be so kind.” The wineseller beamed as the Dothraki hefted the cask.

Note here that the caravan captain was not surprised. Does this mean he was in on it? Was he a fail safe in case Jorah could not prevent the assassination? 

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A dozen caravan guards had come running. With them was the master himself, Merchant Captain Byan Votyris, a diminutive Norvoshi with skin like old leather and a bristling blue mustachio that swept up to his ears. He seemed to know what had happened without a word being spoken. 

In the wake of the attempt, Drogo vows . . .

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“And to Rhaego son of Drogo, the stallion who will mount the world, to him I also pledge a gift. To him I will give this iron chair his mother’s father sat in. I will give him Seven Kingdoms. I, Drogo, khal, will do this thing.” His voice rose, and he lifted his fist to the sky. “I will take my khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water as no khal has done before. I will kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak to bow down beneath the Mother of Mountains. This I vow, I, Drogo son of Bharbo. This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.” 

Is this what Illyrio and Varys intended? Keep in mind that when the bargain was struck, Viserys was alive. When the assassination was ordered but set up to be foiled, Viserys was alive. When Drogo vowed to conquer the Seven Kingdoms for Rhaego, Viserys was already dead. 

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Bloody hell, LM!  Where can I sign up for your class?!  :bowdown:

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In regards to supporting Dany and Aegon:

Two eggs in the basket are better than one or none. Sorry, but that's just good business sense, and he IS a businessman.

As to his goals? No idea. Not enough information. Yes, he could really want to be "Master of Coin" as he suggests to Tyrion, but that's almost a hollow victory. What else could he want to make him go so far as he has?

Vengeance. Against who, I have no clue. He has money, he has servants, he has power, he has castles. Vengeance is the only reason that makes sense.

If someone stuck a gun at my head and forced me to guess, the vengeance has something to do with the death of Aerys. It's not Jamie Lannister I'd have to say but the "Baratheon contingent"...someone in that. Could it be Stannis? Tywin? The Lannisters in general? Any Baratheon? The Starks? even, dare I say, Varys?

Edited by Edward Riley

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So, after Drogo vows to conquer Westeros, we are left to wonder whether this is what Illyrio and Varys intended. Is this what Illyrio and Varys intended? But Drogo only vowed to do this when Viserys was already dead, and we will learn later on that Illyrio had told the Golden Company that Viserys would join them with fifty thousand Dothraki. 

Thus, it seems possible that Illyrio and Varys intended for the foiled assassination to bestir Drogo into beginning preparations for a joint invasion. 

In Daenerys VII, Game 61, we see that this is extremely likely since Jorah tells Daenerys. . . 

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"I've told the khal he ought to make for Meereen," Ser Jorah said. "They'll pay a better price than he'd get from a slaving caravan. Illyrio writes that they had a plague last year, so the brothels are paying double for healthy young girls, and triple for boys under ten. If enough children survive the journey, the gold will buy us all the ships we need, and hire men to sail them."

I doubt Illyrio included that tidbit in his letter as gossip or idle chit-chat. 

I can see why the bait-and-switch theory developed (that Illyrio and Varys intended for Drogo and Viserys to invade Westeros, devastating the armies and causing the people to look for deliverance and finding it in Aegon and the Golden Company). Drogo’s vow suggests that his presence in Westeros would not be appreciated, and it suggests that he would not be participating in a joint invasion with the Golden Company. But keep in mind that Viserys was dead when Drogo made this vow. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Daenerys VIII, Game 64 and Daenerys X, Game 64, we see more evidence that Jorah was in league with Illyrio. When Jorah learned that Drogo was as good as dead his first thought was to make for a port to find passage (avoiding the Dothraki Sea) to Pentos. It wasn't until after Daenerys smothered Drogo and began erecting his pyre, believing she meant to throw herself on it as well, that Jorah suggested they go off together. But even then, after he swore to serve her, he was thinking about returning her to Pentos. 

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A day or two after Varys found out that Catelyn had kidnapped Tyrion, and the day after The Ned found out, Varys advised the Small Council that Daenerys was pregnant. The common view is that Varys reported this because he wanted the Council and King to trust his loyalty, knowing he could thwart any action against Daenerys. But I suspect that Varys revealed this news to drive a wedge between The Ned and Robert to forestall The Ned's reveal about Cersei and her children. Recall that Illyrio wants Varys to delay the brewing Lannister-Stark war. 

And if Varys told king and council about Daenerys being pregnant to drive a wedge between The Ned and Robert, I think it likely that Varys set up Jaime's ambush of Ned later that evening. As soon as The Ned returns to his quarters after quarreling with Robert he sends Vayon Poole to the docks...

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He summoned Vayon Poole again and sent him to the docks to make inquiries, quietly but quickly. "Find me a fast ship with a skilled captain," he told the steward. "I care nothing for the size of its cabins or the quality of its appointments, so long as it is swift and safe. I wish to leave at once."

And as soon as Vayon walks out Petyr enters and tells The Ned to meet him at Chatayaya's...

Poole had no sooner taken his leave than Tomard announced a visitor. "Lord Baelish to see you, m'lord."

...

"When do you mean to return to Winterfell, my lord?"

"As soon as I can. What concern is that of yours?"

"None . . . but if perchance you're still here come evenfall, I'd be pleased to take you to this brothel your man Jory has been searching for so ineffectually." Littlefinger smiled.

 

Since the spider was constantly spying on The Ned, Varys surely would have known that The Ned planned to leave right away. He would have known that The Ned was going to be returning from Chatayaya's later that evening. If he had wanted to prevent The Ned from leaving King's Landing with his two potential hostages, he could have advised Jaime of The Ned's anticipated movements. The ambush clearly suggested that Jaime had very strong intel on The Ned that night. 

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"Your brother has been taken at my command, to answer for his crimes," Ned Stark said.

Littlefinger groaned in dismay. "My lords"

 

That's certainly not conclusive, but it suggests to me that Littlefinger was surprised. Varys was very interested in detaining The Ned that evening. Ned would have gone to Dragonstone where Stannis would have informed him of the truth. Not realizing Petyr's influence over the Vale through Lysa, Varys would have expected The Ned to rally Dragonstone, the Vale, the North, and the Riverlands to help Robert crush the Lannisters. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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As you can see, we have to consider Varys to understand Illyrio's motives. 

The first time we hear of Varys is in Eddard II, Game 12, when Robert tells Eddard about the dispatch from Jorah forwarded by Varys “Varys the eunuch was the king's master of whisperers. He served Robert now as he had once served Aerys Targaryen.” Robert believes that Varys makes good use of Jorah. Varys advises Robert that spies are more useful than corpses.

We meet Varys in Catelyn IV, Game 18. He is “plump, perfumed, powdered, and as hairless as an egg.” His hands are soft and moist, he smells of lilacs, and he wears purple and silver.

As Catelyn approaches King’s Landing, she tells us that “only the blood of the dragon would ever know the secrets of the” Red Keep. Petyr notes to Catelyn that “Lord Varys knows all, and that “Lord Varys knows everything.” Petyr explains. . .

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“Nothing happens in this city without Varys knowing. Oftimes he knows about it before it happens. He has informants everywhere. His little birds, he calls them. One of his little birds heard about your visit.”

When Catelyn wonders at the extent of Varys’s knowledge, he tells her that knowledge is the nature of his service, and that he gathers information from “the whisperings of little birds.” Through Catelyn, we learn that Varys is known as the “King’s Spider.” There are hints in the chapter that Varys’s exercise of power can result in charges of treason.

As to the conversation among Catelyn, Petyr, and Varys, we learn that neither Petyr nor Varys have any knowledge of the assassination attempt on Bran. Petyr does not even know about the dagger, but Varys has learned that Catelyn wants to know who owns it. When Varys fails to respond, Petyr claims the dagger was his until he lost it to Tyrion betting that Jaime would beat Loras during Prince Joffrey’s Tourney, meaning that Tyrion bet against his family. I do not believe we ever get any real indication that Varys knew that Petyr was lying.

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In Eddard IV, Game 20, Eddard provides us with additional insight into Varys. . .

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His hand left powder stains on Ned's sleeve, and he smelled as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.

Varys was not noted to pay attention to the conversation between Renly and Eddard, but when Petyr struck up a conversation, and Eddard brought up the past, “Varys shuffled over to listen.”

In Eddard V, Game 25, suspecting the Lannisters based on the secret letter Petyr had Lysa send to Catelyn, Eddard asks Pycelle whether Jon Arryn could have been poisoned. Pycelle, questioning why anyone would murder such a noble lord, attempts to deflect blame from Cersei and points toward Varys, suggesting that poison is not only the weapon of a woman, but also of a eunuch.

Pycelle adds that Varys was born a slave in Lys.

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In Eddard VII, Game 30, Varys visits Eddard in disguise and plies him with information. When Eddard asks why Varys has come to him now, Varys responds that he only learned with certainty that morning that Eddard was loyal to the realm rather than to himself. That morning, Eddard talked his friend Robert out of fighting in the melee of the Hand's Tourney, which Varys said, Cersei had goaded him into. Really? Is that why Varys approached Eddard in that fashion? 

Varys had to know from his meeting with Petyr and Catelyn, and Eddard's discovery of Gendry that Petyr was "aiding" Eddard in his investigation of Jon Arryn's assassination and the attempt on Bran's life. He knew that Eddard had stumbled on the lineage book from Pycelle, and that he was asking questions after Jon Arryn's remaining retainers. 

Now, here's the interesting thing... Catelyn captured Tyrion at the Crossroads Inn and Daenerys became pregnant. We know that Varys knew these things within a couple of days, when Arya overhears part of his meeting with Illyrio, but we don't know exactly when he found out these things. Is it possible that Varys learned these thing before he visited Eddard in disguise? 

There's one more factor to consider here... That day, Eddard and Robert seemed to rekindle their friendship, and at the post tourney feast that evening the Starks were prominent and the Lannisters were nowhere to be seen. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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Varys visits Eddard in disguise because he does not want the other two (or maybe three) players, Petyr and the Queen (and maybe Renly), to know he is meeting with Eddard. 

We also learn that Varys has mastered the secrets of the Red Keep...

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"The Red Keep has ways known only to ghosts and spiders." Varys smiled apologetically.

This suggests, of course, that Varys has a drop of dragon blood in him. 

When Vays next speaks, his cloying tones are gone, and his voice is thin and sharp as a whip. Some readers believe that Varys is telling the truth when his voice changes. But I don't see why that must be true. Varys is a master mummer; as such, he knows how to use speech to effect his part. 

He suggests to Eddard that Cersei goaded Robert into fighting in the melee, where she would have had him killed. 

When Eddard accuses Varys of doing nothing to foil Cersei's plot, Varys points out that he has no martial power of his own. When Eddard asks why Varys did not come to him before, Varys suggests that he wanted to see what Eddard would do about Robert's decision, suggesting that even if had informed Eddard, Robert would likely have fought heedlessly anyway. 

Then, Varys suggests to Eddard that they can work together to foil Cersei's attempts to assassinate Robert. 

This, I think, is important...

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"But you, Lord Stark . . . I think . . . no, I know . . . he would not kill you, not even for his queen, and there may lie our salvation."

This is why Varys respects Eddard as a force to be reckoned with. And this is why, I think, Varys is looking to drive a wedge between Eddard and Robert. 

When Eddard finally asks whether Varys knows how Jon Arryn died, Varys tells him it was the tears of Lys. How does Varys know this? Well, we know that Pycelle surmised it, and Varys probably reached the same conclusion on his own or learned it clandestinely from Pycelle. But he hints that he knew who really gave it to him...

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Ned had to know the rest. "Who gave him the poison?"

"Some dear sweet friend who often shared meat and mead with him, no doubt. Oh, but which one? There were many such. Lord Arryn was a kindly, trusting man." The eunuch sighed. "There was one boy. All he was, he owed Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King's Landing and prospered. It always gladdens my heart to see the young rise in the world." The whip was in his voice again, every word a stroke. "He must have cut a gallant figure in the tourney, him in his bright new armor, with those crescent moons on his cloak. A pity he died so untimely, before you could talk to him . . . "

 

The first part of Varys’s description fits Petyr as well as Hugh, but Varys leads Eddard to conclude that it was Hugh, and that Cersei had Gregor silence him. 

When Eddard asks why Cersei had moved against Jon Arryn only after 14 years, Varys replies that Jon was asking questions, a warning to Eddard. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Eddard VIII, Game 33, Varys and Eddard both know that Catelyn has captured Tyrion, but neither says anything of it during the king's meeting with the small council to discuss Daenerys's pregnancy. As noted above, Varys has likely told king and council about Daenerys being pregnant to provoke Drogo in to action and to drive a wedge between Eddard and Robert.

Why doesn't he tell the council about Catelyn's capture of Tyrion, though? 

As soon as he walks out of the meeting, Eddard tells his steward that he wants to leave King's Landing with his daughters immediately. Notice here that Petyr seeks to delay him by offering to take him to Barra's home. Of course, Varys's little birds would pass that information along, and Varys could give Jaime, who has learned about Tyrion's capture from Tywin, Pycelle, and Cersei, the information he needs to ambush Eddard in Eddard IX, Game 35. As discussed above, Varys could not allow Eddard to leave King's Landing. 

Edited by Lost Melnibonean

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In Eddard XII, Game 45, Robert has gone off hunting, and Eddard has realized the truth of the “twincest.” Varys has to know that “Vayon Poole had arranged for Sansa and Arya to sail on the Wind Witch out of Braavos, three days hence.” Surely, Varys knows that Eddard summons Cersei to the godswood, but for the moment, he can only guess at what he says to her. Meanwhile, Petyr has mentioned a monstrous boar, and Cersei has instructed Lancel to ply Robert with strongwine.

In Eddard XIII, Game 47, Robert returns two days later, having been mortally wounded, by Petyr’s monstrous boar. Cersei and Pycelle fear what Eddard might tell Robert, but Eddard holds his tongue to ease his friend’s passing. Alone together, Robert commands Eddard to serve as Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm upon his imminent death, and Eddard vows to protect Robert’s children, but Varys surely knows this immediately. Curiously, Varys then appears, and in front of Barristan and Renly coyly suggests to Eddard that Lancel caused Robert’s death with malice aforethought. I think this exchange was for the reader’s benefit, though, since I cannot find any purpose for Varys to say such a thing to this particular audience at this particular time.

Eddard believes that Cersei will flee, but Renly knows that she will fight. Renly assumes that Robert has named Eddard regent and protector, and proposes to join forces with Eddard to strike against House Lannister, which Eddard unwisely refuses. The proposal is purposely made where Varys’s little birds cannot listen in. Eddard is less cautious. In the wee hours of the morning, he orders his man Tommard to escort his daughters on the Wind Witch later that day to deliver a message to Stannis on Dragonstone, and Varys surely surmises Eddard’s purpose. Eddard compounds his folly by declaring his intention to Petyr. Although Petyr promises to support Eddard, Varys must soon learn that Petyr intends to betray him.

Later that morning, Sansa, distressing that she will be sent back to dreary Winterfell, away from her bright prince, runs off and tells Cersei that her hostages will be boarding the Wind Witch in a few hours. Shortly thereafter, Robert expires. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I suspect Pycelle may have hurried the process along for Cersei as he did with Jon Arryn. When Pycelle informs Eddard of Robert’s death, he summons Renly, but learns that Renly and Loras fled before dawn through a postern gate and galloped south, and note that we are told Petyr arrives with the same boots he was wearing the night before, dusty from riding. Varys and Barristan arrive as well, all aware of Robert’s passing. Eddard then requests that his councilors confirm him as regent and protector, and although Barristan is quite oblivious to the machinations going on, the author hints that Pycelle, Petyr, and Varys know very well that Cersei is lying in wait. “King” Joffrey summons the small council to the throne room, where Eddard falls into Cersei’s trap, and Petyr betrays him. Of course, Petyr is the one who actually spings the trap, but that is for a different thread. The point here is that Varys is riding the tiger, rather than orchestrating events.

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