Lady Barbrey Dustin is one of the most interesting ‘newer’ characters to appear in ASOIAF.
From the middle-ranking nobility (born Barbrey Ryswell before marrying Lord Willam Dustin), we get to know Lady Barbrey through her conversations with Theon in a Dance with Dragons (ADWD). She seems strong-willed and bitter, supporting Roose Bolton out of hatred for the Starks. Though as some have pointed out, there are some signs (such as her over-sharing with Theon), that her plans and motives may not be as they seem.
If we consider a character with a similar name from the history of Westeros, Lady Barba Bracken, we can find a number of similarities.
Barbrey Dustin is said by Roose Bolton to be ‘a woman who knows how to nurse a grievance’. As a young woman, she was a lover to Ned Stark’s older brother Brandon, who became betrothed to Catelyn Tully and who left Barbrey. She went on to marry Willam Dustin, who died fighting alongside Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy, and she expresses hatred at Ned for returning without even Willam Dustin’s bones.
Barba Bracken was a mistress of Aegon IV (the Unworthy) Targaryen, and also seems to nurse a grievance. She was mother to Aegon’s bastard son Aegor Rivers, known as Bittersteel. Aegon moves on to another mistress, Melissa Blackwood, fathering a bastard son Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven. Barba Bracken is bitter about this, saying that Melissa Blackwood has a chest “as flat as a boy”, and plots for Melissa to fall from favour.
So, both Barbrey and Barba ‘nurse a grievance’ after their high status lover abandons them for another.
Other similarities include:
They both have a sister called Bethany.
Both the Ryswells and Brackens have a horse on their sigil. The Ryswells are known for breeding good horses, and the Brackens are said to have originally been horse breeders.
The Ryswells and Brackens both seem fiery and lusty. Lady Barbrey’s brothers are quarrelsome, and Barbrey indicates the desire she had for Brandon Stark. Jonos Bracken seems angry in his scene with Jaime in ADWD. And when Jaime first enters Bracken’s tent, Jonos is having sex with a sex worker.
Their rivals, the Starks and Blackwoods respectively, have similarities. Both are descendants of the First Men, who worship the old gods and venerate the weirwood trees. They have physical similarities, with the Starks often having long faces, and the Blackwoods being tall and thin. When Jaime meets Tytos Blackwood, his quiet stoic strength seems comparable to Ned Stark.
Now we’ve seen that these two Barbs have corresponding character traits and relationships, let’s have a look at the symbolism surrounding Barba Bracken. As you might expect, this will be heavily influenced by Lucifer Means Lightbringer’s (LmL) approach and ideas, considering characters and their relationships as representing astronomical events of the heavens and natural events on the earth.
In ADWD, Hoster Blackwood tells Jaime the story of ‘the Teats’, two round hills resembling breasts in contested lands between the Blackwoods and Brackens. Apparently, Aegon the Unworthy granted them to his mistress Barba Bracken, and they became known as ‘Barba’s Teats’. Then after he had moved on to Melissa Blackwood, he heard Barba insult Melissa for being less curvy, so he granted the hills to the Blackwoods and called them ‘Missy’s Teats’.
It gets more interesting when you find out that the village of Pennytree is right in the middle of ‘the Teats’. This village is known for having a massive Oak Tree, which locals have covered with copper pennies. It’s the same village which Sir Arlan of Pennytree comes from, the hedge knight who took on Dunk as squire, in the Dunk and Egg Novellas.
Even if covering an oak tree in copper pennies just seems a traditional ritual by the villagers, this does seem significant. Because it seems like it would function as a lightning conductor, fitting in strongly with LmL’s idea of a tree struck by lightning to obtain the ‘fire of the gods’. This is the idea in mythology of some power or knowledge of the gods coming down to humans on earth. This imagery is referenced more directly in the Iron Islands myth of the Grey King, who tricked the storm god into striking a tree with lightning, so that the Grey King could bring fire to earth.
So we have a lighting conductor tree between the Teats, like a heart. Could we say like a heart tree? Ready to be struck by a bolt of lighting. Could we say like a barb of lighting?
Perhaps here we have overlaying symbolism of lighting striking a tree, comparable with a barb to the heart. And we can of course refer to the myth of Azor Ahai quenching his sword lightbringer by plunging it into the heart of Nissa Nissa. So the root ‘Barb’ in the names Barbrey and Barba might refer to both a lighting strike to a tree, and a sharp blade to the heart.
And seeing as I’ve mentioned Nissa Nissa… I’m guessing I’m not the first person to notice how this sounds phonetically similar to the name Mhysa given to Danaerys by the freed slaves in Meereen, and that this means ‘mother’. We could even spell this as Missa… And if you haven’t guessed where I’m going with this, I’m suggesting that Melissa Blackwood represents this type of character.
This is because Melissa’s name was shortened to ‘Missy’ when we hear the story of the Teats being named ‘Missy’s Teats’. So Melissa Blackwood would appear to represent a great mother figure, like an earth mother goddess who gets struck in the heart by lightning. And this seems to be linked to the figure of Nissa Nissa too.
Coming back to the Barbrey and Barba archetype, could there be more meanings and associations to delve into? Is this why Lady Barbrey allies with Roose Bolt-on (as in, bolt of lightning)? If Barbrey and Barba are both associated with barbs of lightning, and with being bitter and angry, can they represent a raging storm, or even a storm god, like we hear about in Iron Islands and Stormlands mythology?
If we look into the real world equivalent name of Barbara, we might get hints of another layer too. It comes from the Greek word ‘barbaros’, meaning foreign or strange. Is this a reference to the Others?
I’ll finish relatively shortly, but before I do…
Another reason why this is interesting is because other important characters, relationships and symbolism link in with Barbrey and Barba.
In particular, the rivalry and conflict between Barba’s son Bittersteel and Melissa’s son Bloodraven feels very significant in terms of symbolism. Bittersteel is an angry warrior, pushing his glorious brother Daemon Blackfyre to make war against their legitimate brother King Daeron Targaryen. And Bloodraven is a greenseer, gaining knowledge through the weirwood trees and fighting to defend King Daeron. With both Bittersteel and Bloodraven vying for the love of their sister Shiera Seastar. There’s lots to unpack here, and I’m sure others have already made progress on this.
Coming back to Lady Barbrey, we have other mysterious relationships which don’t quite seem to correspond to Lady Barba as mother of Bittersteel. For example, it seems that Lady Barbrey didn’t have children, but cared for Roose Bolton’s legitimate son Domeric, who might have been her sister Bethany’s son (unclear as Roose Bolton had another wife at some point). Domeric served at Barrowton as Lady Barbrey’s page. He seems very unlike Roose Bolton, caring about things like music, and he seeks out Ramsey because he’d like the company of a brother. It’s suggested that Ramsey might have poisoned Domeric, and that Lady Barbrey hates Ramsey for this. Could this be the real grievance that Barbrey has ‘nursed’? And like Lord Manderly, could her alliance with Bolton be an act, whilst she works to bring him down?
Will this this piece of plot and group of characters follow a version of the Bittersteel and Bloodraven conflict? And what symbolism does the Bloodraven and Bittersteel conflict play out? And is more discussion of Barbrey, Barba and Melissa needed?
PS As Barbrey’s Ryswell family is quarrelsome, her brothers have all taken different colour horses on their banners. With her father’s banner and those of her three brothers that makes four horses… of the apocalypse…?
PPS The Ryswell rule over an area called the Rills, and according to Dictionary.com, one definition of rills is “any of certain long, narrow, straight or sinuous trenches or valleys observed on the surface of the moon.”