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TYCHO NESTORIS - The Man and His Mission

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TYCHO NESTORIS : THE MAN AND HIS MISSION - Part I

Tycho Nestoris is one of those characters about whom, at first glance, there doesn't seem to be much to say ... well, except that he's pretty colourful. I've taken part in a couple of much earlier discussions, where we speculated whether he might be a Faceless Man, but didn't go into the question in great depth. I think it's worth exploring that question and to what extent we can deduce just what his actual agenda is.

If he is a Faceless Man, depending on how long the memories (and perhaps knowledge) of his "mask" can stay with him, he might need very little briefing as far as banking ethics and the extent of his authority are concerned - while having the added benefits of FM powers of observation, character assessment, a steely nerve and adaptability to strange or harsh environments.

In their roles as assassins, FM are to give "the gift" only their target.. but as espionage agents, as we see in the case of poor Pate in Oldtown, they have license to kill in order to infiltrate. It would not be out of order to suspect that they may be free to commit further judicious killings to protect whatever mission they are on.

A Little Background ...

Although I think the HoB&W is it's own separate entity,  I beleive it must work with the IB and/or the Sealord, frequently. Together, they may form a sort of loose (or not so loose) triarchy. Of course the IB or Sealord would want to avail themselves of the FM's expertise (on all levels) in matters of extreme importance to the state. There also appears to exist a powerful merchant's lobby (is it an actual guild ?) that can bring pressure to bear from time to time (suggested in TWoIaF and the Mercy chapter).

I'm sure Faceless Men must have been among the founders of Braavos , though some may have remained in Valyria. While the Moonsingers prophesied and led the way to a safe location, I don't see how a whole fleet of slave ships could have risen in revolt without one or more infiltrators / impostors on each ship to facilitate the takeover. So I think the current FM, in addition to being a religious sect, spies and assassins, are also patriots, very willing to serve Braavos, as well as Him of Many Faces. 

Although "Valar Morghulis" / "Valar Dohaeris" are connected specifically to their God for the HoB&W and Faceless Men, it makes sense to me that the response "Valar Dohaeris", to most Braavosi, refers to serving Braavos. To illustrate - a ship's captain transporting the bearer of an iron coin, or a fishmonger being asked to take in a young girl, knows that it's (in some way) in service to Braavos, not specifically to the god of many faces , who after all, may not be that person's god. All men meet "Him" at the end, but not all men must serve him, particularly. Though Braavosi may be in awe, and even afraid of faceless men, giving service is not something they do simply out of fear. ... In this way, Brusco or Izembaro might not be that closely involved with the HoB&W, might never have been called upon before and may never be again.. or they might be called upon semi-regularly.. something like jury duty for us. ;) 

In the circumstances under which Braavos was founded, it would have been crucial that every citizen be willing to give all their efforts, talents etc. in service to Braavos, if Braavos was to survive and flourish. In other words, "Valar Dohaeris" enshrines the ideal of serving the common good.

Until we know more about the extent of the political information Braavos has, what position they think they're in vis a vis Dany and what they think could be coming with winter - according to any outside legends or prophecies they're aware of ... or perhaps, other prophecies of the Moonsingers - we have to rely on logic and reading between the lines when considering all things Braavosi.

A Revelation to Me ..

What suddenly struck me a while back, was the fact that in the Theon chapter, Tycho agreed to Stannis signing the loan contract in blood. This would be utterly, utterly impractical .. and yet Tycho is completely unperturbed  ... "If it please Your Grace, it will please the Iron Bank."  ... (as if to say, Yeah, sure .. blood, spit..whatever..) Tycho, what nonsense! That would never please the Iron Bank, if it was only all about lending and repaying money.

Our admired author is a crafty devil, and though Stannis' signing in blood immediately stood out to us, it perhaps stood out for the wrong reasons. .. What were so many of us consumed by, at the time the Theon chapter came out? .. The cursed "pink" letter ! ...The debate was raging - Was it signed in blood or wasn't it? ... Did Ramsay send it or didn't he? ... Um, well, some said - Jon's not stupid, he would have noticed, ..and some insisted - Jon is too stupid to notice, and hysterical, to boot.  ... Oh, wait - now Stannis is signing in blood? .. Maybe Stannis sent the letter ... on and on it went, and still continues.  

As an aside: I now see all those questions as completely immaterial  (Oh, I still think Stannis did send "a" letter.. just not the version that reached Jon ) ... and it's worth noting that Ramsay doesn't write in his own blood, anyway.

It doesn't matter a whit whether the pink letter was, or wasn't signed in blood. It may not matter whether Jon is right or wrong about the letter's author (or for that matter, whether we are right or wrong). What will matter most to Jon's storyline is what "truth" Jon thought was "in there" and what he intended / intends to do about it. (My own expectation is that Jon's condititon will be good enough to follow through on his plans and he will indeed confront Ramsay on his way to CB.)

I think there's another, more meaningful comparison to be made - between Stannis signing a loan agreement with the IB in his own blood and Tyrion offering to sign his IOUs to the Second Sons in his own blood. The Second Sons would have none of it, because in their experience, "blood makes piss poor ink". I think the IB would be at least as wary as Brown Ben Plumm. 
 

When Jon receives Ramsay's"wedding announcement"... The brown ink came away in flakes when Jon brushed it with his thumb....  I think even this will eventually be seen as a clue shedding light on Stannis' signing and therefore, Tycho's mission at the Wall , rather than the pink letter.

So why would the IB send a man all that way, risking life and limb, to offer help to Stannis, only to come away with a document that is likely to become invalidated in a relatively short time? With the difficulties of campaigning in winter, and a long winter expected, by the time Stannis might win the throne, they might have a document with no signature.

This is all too slap-dash for me. I have to entertain the possibility that Tycho, having deciding authority, reckoned that an agreement with Stannis was not going to be really important in the long run - or just possibly, Stannis never was the primary person he was sent to "treat" with.

Like others (e.g. sweetsunray, in her worthy thread on Tycho and Hardhome), I think Tycho probably knew about Hardhome before he set out - but I don't think Arya was the main source of that information. Once the Goodheart had been seized, the captain, crew and captives would have been questioned. .. But, it is also possible that Tycho only learned about Hardhome when he got to Eastwatch. We know Jon had already impressed ships and was having some repaired, in readiness for the mission.These would have been visible to new arrivals.. Cotter Pyke may or may not have mentioned something, and in any case, gossip is probably as rife at Eastwatch as it is at CB. ... Still, my bet is he knew prior to leaving  

However, I don't think his ships were intended to be a rescue mission for the wildlings at Hardhome. Three ships would hardly form a serious rescue party (Jon thinks his eventual 11 are really inadequate.) ... Although Braavos is dead set against the slave trade, they have very limited space, a largely urban society, and a language barrier between themselves and the wildlings. If taken to Braavos, the culture shock to the wildlings would be pretty severe. Most of their skills would be of little use or value. Braavos might have some difficulty in absorbing even the number of slaves seized from the Goodheart, let alone the thousands still trapped at Hardhome. ...Westeros is simply vast by comparison, has much more variety in lifestyles and shares the same language with the wildlings... and Westeros has suffered considerable loss of population through the War of the 5 Kings. It would be best for everyone if the wildlings could be settled in Westeros.

Here's Looking at Tycho..

I've gone from thinking that there wasn't a lot to say about Tycho on my first read, to hardly knowing where to begin now. So, I'll start with his description :
... a tall gaunt stick of a man, his height accentuated by an outlandish three-tiered hat of purple felt... 

... He spoke the Common Tongue flawlessly, with only the slightest hint of accent. Half a foot taller than Jon, the Braavosi sported a beard as thin as a rope sprouting from his chin and reaching almost to his waist. His robes were a somber purple, trimmed with ermine. A high stiff collar framed his narrow face.  ...ADwD

Naturally, in his three tiered hat (and in his 3 ships), I see an echo of the tripartite structure I suspect exists in Braavos (others may not agree).

We know his somber purple reflects the upper echelons of Braavosi society and the ermine trim is something we naturally associate with nobility, or at least great wealth. Even though , when Jon addresses him as "Lord Tycho", he corrects Jon with "No Lord, I", the ermine asserts that he actually is the equivalent of a Westerosi Lord (and he doesn't correct Jon's use of  "lord" on future occasions, accepting the implied status).

His height, gauntness and strange beard can make him seem comical at first, but they help to point out his presence at the Wall as highly unusual .. and in spite of his bizarre and amusing appearance, somewhere in the back of our minds we frequently associate long beards with wisdom and knowledge.  Braavosi are racially diverse, and have no distinguishing "Braavosi" physical characteristics , so his height may be a sign that he "stands tall" in other ways, as well. These are subtle hints, but quite intentional, I think.

Later, in Stannis' camp (The Sacrifice).. Asha is surprised into laughter by his personal appearance and his appearing in those surroundings.He seems awkward and out of place ... so long-legged that it was a wonder his feet did not drag along the ground... ...atop his head was perched the queerest hat.. But the idea of a mask , or something hidden about him is suggested by... A scarf concealed the tall man’s features, ... and his graceful dismount could imply that this is a man who is not always closeted away indoors counting shekels and is comfortable in more active and extreme conditions..  The tall man slid gracefully from his garron.. 

I want to draw attention to .. A high stiff collar framed his narrow face.  ... So, his neck is encased in something stiff, which suggests being "stiff necked" (impossible to be moved beyond a certain point).. Yet we'll see he seems pretty flexible in his dealings with Jon.

Last, but not least ... He spoke the Common Tongue flawlessly, with only the slightest hint of accent.  ... That kind of fluency is not likely to be gained by study alone. (I can't speak from personal experience - I speak only one language - but I believe those that say true fluency comes with immersive use.) So. either Tycho the banker has spent time in Westeros.. or if he's a FM, the FM has spent time in Westeros, or both. This leads us to..

What Can Tycho Know ?

In the words of Maynard Plum, "The answer to that last is, quite a lot." It only stands to reason that TPTB in Braavos would want to know as much as possible about their most important trading partner. Just going back as far as Robert's Rebellion, they certainly know what happened then and who the major players were. Starks, Lannisters, Tullys, etc. would all have been on their radar then, if they weren't before. It would have been noted when Ned, one of the leaders of the rebellion, withdrew from the political scene   ... and noted again, when Robert brought him back as his Hand. It's more than likely they would have had an agent in King's Landing (or more than one) and may have had first hand accounts of Ned's execution, and the destruction of the household he had brought with him.

In the Mercy chapter,

we see that the play "The Bloody Hand" features 2 kings "the fat one and the boy" (Robert and Joffrey) We know "the fat one" dies courtesy of a demonic boar...and since the play portrays Tyrion as a villain (or at least an anti-hero), and the play is entitled "The Bloody Hand", it surely makes reference to events

between the deaths of the two kings , including Ned's death and the RW .. and probably Tywin's death as well.

I would think TPTB in Braavos would make it their business to have at least as much knowledge of current events as a playwright, and no doubt more.

If the IB and the HoB&W are in co-operation , then the IB surely must know where Arya is. They know that Sansa is believed to be alive, and they know that Ned's bastard has risen to command at the Wall. They probably don't know about Bran and Rickon. Eyes and ears in KL would have known of Roose's appointment as Warden of the North and that his legitmized son was to be married to "Arya Stark". Even if Braavos didn't know of "fArya's" existence by the time Tycho set out, Tycho will have no doubt that she's a counterfeit when he hears of her.

The Dragon in the Room..

"...one hears queer talk of dragons.”
“Would that we had one here. A dragon might warm things up a bit.”
“My lord jests. You will forgive me if I do not laugh. We Braavosi are descended from those who
fled Valyria and the wroth of its dragonlords. We do not jape of dragons.”
.. Tycho and Jon , ADWD

Braavos also probably has cause to fear (or at least worry about) the wrath of dragons of both varieties.To my mind, there's ample cause to believe that Dany and Viserys were "turned out" as a result of a change of Sealord and Robert's demands. (who knows which came first...) Robert would no doubt have preferred to have the young Taragaryens killed, but failing that, Braavos at least withdrew it's support... putting them at risk.

TPTB in Braavos would know that the marriage pact with Dorne signalled the intent to reclaim the IT for Viserys. They have to at least suspect that Dany will want to claim it in her own right, and may eventually succeed, especially if she has dragons to aid her. She is anti-slavery, as they are, which could make them natural allies, but she may hold a grudge over being turned out.. and I wonder if thoughts of appeasement are not beginning to occur to them. They may once have fled "the wroth of the dragonlords", but they also paid reparations and brokered a peace with them. They have been allied with Aegon in the past.

I have a feeling that though they're backing Stannis at the moment, they may see it as only an interim arrangement.

Part II, focusing on the interaction between Tycho and Jon and Part III, focusing on Tycho an Stannis  and some comparisons and possible conclusions will be following tomorrow and the next day.

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Tycho Nestoris, the Man and his Mission - Part II

Tycho and Jon.. 

“Lord Tycho,” Jon called. “A moment, please.”
The Braavosi halted. “No lord I. Only a simple servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos.”
“Cotter Pyke informs me that you came to Eastwatch with three ships. A galleas, a galley, and a cog.”
“Just so, my lord. The crossing can be perilous in this season. One ship alone may founder, where three together may aid one another. The Iron Bank is always prudent in such matters.”

“Perhaps before you leave we might have a quiet word?”
I am at your service, Lord Commander. And in Braavos we say there is no time like the present. Will that suit?”

As previously noted, while Tycho may not use the title "Lord",  he's definitely not just a "simple" servant of the IB .. but when it comes to the ships, I think Tycho's simple explanation rings true. With the wealth at the IB's disposal, they can certainly afford to take such precautions, and Tycho stresses prudence as an ideal of the IB.. it is "always prudent in such matters." (The word prudent will feature in some interesting comparisons later.)

Going back to the scene where Tycho arrives, we see that Jon has been preparing to meet him ... “Not at all, my lord. You are most welcome.”More welcome than this queen, if truth be told. Cotter Pyke had sent a raven ahead to advise them of the banker’s coming. Jon Snow had thought of little since. ... This is not surprising, because even Bowen Marsh earlier opined that the best solution to the NW's food problem would be to ship it in - if they had the coin.

What is surprising is that after what Tycho later acknowledges to have been a "long day in the saddle", he responds to Jon's polite .. “Perhaps before you leave we might have a quiet word?”.. with .. I am at your service, Lord Commander. And in Braavos we say there is no time like the present. Will that suit?”... He's immediately ready to get down to business, as if he was anticipating it... and as if he, too, considers it a matter of urgency.

At first, Tycho says it would be inappropriate to reveal his business with Stannis.. but then goes on to say enough to let Jon know what it is, and be able to work out the consequences - the IT has ceased payment on Robert's loans, and..

Since young King Tommen and his counsellors have become so obdurate, we mean to broach the subject with King Stannis. Should he prove himself more worthy of our trust, it would of course be our great pleasure to lend him whatever help he needs.

We should note that.. Much of this Jon had surmised the moment he learned that the Iron Bank had sent an envoy to the Wall.

Jon offers to help Tycho get to Stannis for a price. Tycho seems slightly amused.He seems to expect Jon to ask for the use of his ships  (perfectly understandable, after he's seen the ships Jon has impressed at Eastwatch, and no doubt already knowing of Hardhome). Interestingly, we get no description of any physical reaction on his part (unlike the cases of Jon's discussions with Stannis or Tormund) which makes Tycho seem calm, unsurprised and accepting, throughout. He even  prompts Jon to go further.. “A hazardous voyage, I assume. For a start, you said?

His opening position on the loan is "not possible, my lord" and we see Jon preparing to.. haggle like a crone with a codfish. We know that... It took the better part of an hour before the impossible became possible, and another hour before they could agree on terms.

Alright, what was there to haggle over ? What did Jon have to barter with ? We can say, lumber, furs, etc., but a lot of production was not likely to happen before spring, even in normal circumstances.. and now, perhaps never, with the Others approaching. Besides, to simply identify the natural resources the far north has to offer shouldn't have taken an hour..

I suggest that the first hour of dickering must have included Jon's assessment of the situation at the Wall (the inadvisability of leaving thousands of wildlings stranded in the north to become wights) and his vision of how best to deal with it (shelter for the wildlings in return for at least temporary service, how to feed them and perhaps the plan to build glass gardens). That Tycho came to agreement must suggest that he bought Jon's reasoning, and his plan.

Jon later thinks that striking their bargain was "easier than it should have been". .. at the same time, he worries that .. A long hard winter will leave the Watch so deep in debt that we will never climb out .This is something that surely would have entered Tycho's mind, and surely the ability to repay ought to figure in any responsible banker's decision to grant the loan. 

Jon's thoughts also inform us that.. When princes failed to repay the Iron Bank, new princes sprang up from nowhere and took their thrones. As poor plump Tommen may be about to learn.

.. But this is a tactic the Iron Bank would be unable to use in the case of the NW.. There is no competing organization contending for the role of the Night's Watch .. and it would be difficult and risky to replace it's Lord Commander, due to it's rules of operation. We've seen that the attempt by a man as tactically astute as Tywin failed to install his choice for Lord Commander.

This leads me to see Tycho's decision to be based as much on what he discerns of Jon as on any financial considerations. It also resonates with the prudence of the Iron Bank. Tycho's actions would be imprudent, if made by any normal loans officer under normal circumstances.. yet they are prudent in light of what we know is at stake at the wall.

On top of their discussion, Tycho has witnessed Jon diffusing the first Wun Wun situation, and Jon's refusal to Have Val "paraded like a horse" for Axell. Tycho was still at the wall when Alys arrived, and surely knows something of that situation by the time he leaves.. The Wun Wun example shows Jon's firm committment to maintaining good order .. and his treatment of Val and Alys - a captive and a refugee - would be very compatible with Braavosi ethics, as illustrated by their founding. .. Jon reminds everyone of the demands of guest right, when Seyse & co. arrive. He remains polite, but firm throughout that situation and when later tested by Axell Florent.  Removing himself from Axell's presence and pressuring, he gives Axell a pretty clear warning that his behaviour could make Jon "forget the duty of a host". I think both Tycho and the reader would consider Jon acted prudently in these instances. 

There are other direct illustrations - When Jon lets Tormund's people through the wall...
Jon had never liked surrounding himself with guards, but today it seemed prudent to keep a few good men beside him.

...and with reverse reasoning - When discussing the Hardhome mission, Selyse says "Let them die." , and when Jon says he intends to lead the mission.. “How bold of you,” said the queen. “We approve. Afterward some bard will make a stirring song about you, no doubt, and we shall have a more prudent lord commander.

When Jon recounts the meeting to Marsh and Yarwick, Bowen immediately pipes up.. “Her Grace is wise. Let them die.” .. Since neither Bowen nor Selyse have been painted as wise or prudent throughout the series, their assessment of Jon is not to be trusted, when so much other evidence points to the contrary.

Jon sees Tycho as cultured and courteous, but that doesn't prevent him from assuming there's a fist inside the glove. I think Tycho would assess Jon in much the same way. 

One last item of interest from the beginning of their conversation...

“When last we heard, His Grace was marching on Winterfell to confront Lord Bolton and his allies. You may seek him there if you wish, though that carries a risk. You could find yourself caught up in his war.”
Tycho bowed his head. “We who serve the Iron Bank face death full as often as you who serve the Iron Throne.”
Is that whom I serve? Jon Snow was no longer certain.

Firstly, Tycho cannot be referring to everyday bankers, or even someone like Noho Dimittis, who was sent to request payment from Tommen / Cersei. Most courts would not be so foolish as to "shoot the messenger" .. and banks do not normally have a military wing.They may hire trained security officers, but those officers don't make banking agreements, especially with foreign powers. I think "we who serve" refers not to the  IB's employees in general , but to those who serve in Tycho's own capacity, and they must be of a very specific and unusual nature.

"You who serve the Iron Throne" seems an odd idea when applied to Jon - both personally and as LC , considering "the NW takes no part". But Jon asks himself the wrong question. It's not a matter of "whom I serve", but of "what I serve". In striving to protect the realms of men, Jon is serving the Iron Throne indirectly . The Seven Kingdoms will be served by Jon protecting the realms of men, regardless of who occupies the throne.

This tells me that Tycho understands the existing threat and Jon's posititon very well - better than most Westerosi, and definitely better than the present regime in King's Landing. Stannis is the only contender for the crown who has any inkling of this .. So does that figure into the IB's decision to offer him support ?.. And which loan, the one to Stannis or the one to Jon, is of greater importance in the mind of the IB and Braavos ?

There is more to be gleaned from Tycho's meeting with Stannis..

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Tycho Nestoris, the Man and his Mission - Part III

Tycho and Stannis..

When reflecting on what happens when princes fail to repay the IB, Jon thinks..

If Stannis was not too stiff-necked to accept their terms, the Braavosi would give him all the gold and silver he required, coin enough to buy a dozen sellsword companies, to bribe a hundred lords, to keep his men paid, fed, clothed, and armed. Unless Stannis is lying dead beneath the walls of Winterfell, he may just have won the Iron Throne.

Judging from the events of the released Theon chapter, Stannis was not too stiff-necked to accept the terms and judging from Stannis' obvious chagrin, Tycho stuck to the letter of those terms. He was more stiff-necked with Stannis than he was with Jon.

There's a noticeable difference in tone between Tycho's interactions with Jon and those with Stannis. Here's what we see of that discussion in the Theon chapter (hidden to save space)..

 

Spoiler

The king's voice was choked with anger. "You are a worse pirate than Salladhor Saan." .... .... "My brother's debts," the king was muttering. "Joffrey's too, though that baseborn abomination was no kin to me."

"Your Grace," a second voice said softly.  "Pardon, but your ink has frozen."  The Braavosi, Theon knew.  What was his name?  Tycho... Tycho something... "Perhaps a bit of heat... ?"

"I know a quicker way."  Stannis drew his dagger.  For an instant Theon thought that he meant to stab the banker.  You will never get a drop of blood from that one, my lord, he might have told him.  The king laid the blade of the knife against the ball of his left thumb, and slashed.  "There.  I will sign in mine own blood.  That ought to make your masters happy."
     "If it please Your Grace, it will please the Iron Bank."
     Stannis dipped a quill in the blood welling from his thumb and scratched his name across the piece of parchment.  "You will depart today.  Lord Bolton may be on us soon.  I will not have you caught up in the fighting."
     "That would be my preference as well."  The Braavosi slipped the roll of parchment inside a wooden tube.  "I hope to have the honor of calling on Your Grace again when you are seated on your Iron Throne."
     "You hope to have your gold, you mean.  Save your pleasantries.  It is coin I need from Braavos, not empty courtesy.  Tell the guard outside I have need of Justin Massey."
     "It would be my pleasure.  The Iron Bank is always glad to be of service."  The banker bowed.

 

A little heat would have helped the ink to flow and a little warmth in the conversation may have lessened the stiffness in Tycho's neck..  We know he can set terms on his own authority -  e.g. interest rates, grace periods, etc.. Stannis may have been acting against his own interests in his treatment of Tycho. Except for agreeing to the terms, his treatment of Tycho rivals the hauteur and disdain that Cersei shows to Noho Dimittis.

Stannis calls him a pirate, outright .. and might as well call him a bloodsucker by signing in blood. "That ought to make your masters happy" implies vindictiveness on the part of the IB, and "your masters" reduces Tycho to the status of a slave (surely offensive to anyone from Braavos).

This is insulting to Tycho, to the IB and whatever other powers Tycho may represent.. Of course, we can say that's irrelevant, that it's the bottom line, the money, the contract that matters and, as Stannis opines , pleasantries and courtesy are empty...  but it is always better (and costs nothing) to be polite to those who are willing to help you.

When Tycho says,  "I hope to have the honor of calling on Your Grace again when you are seated on your Iron Throne.", all Stannis takes from that is ... "You hope to have your gold, you mean. " .. But if Stannis should win the throne, if he truly is the King the IB (and Braavos) would like to see on the IT, terms could conceivably be renegotiated at that point, to fit the situation .. They could be, if an amicable relationship exists between parties. Courtesy is by no means always empty. 

Stannis declares that coin is what he needs from Braavos (nothing more). That will not be true if he becomes King - he will need goodwill in trade and diplomacy from Braavos, then. ... And it's not true even now - it's thanks to Tycho's determination to reach him that Stannis just received much-needed warning of Arnolf's intentions - saving lives and giving Stannis at least a fighting chance of success.

That GRRM puts "from Braavos" (not "from the Iron Bank") in Stannis' mouth , gives us a further hint that the IB is not acting just for itself, in the normal interests of a financial institution, but for Braavos, as a state.

We only hear part of their conversation, but judging from Stannis' tone, I doubt a word (or thought)  of gratitude passed his lips. Stannis' sense of entitlement is all consuming. He sees himself as king, calls himself King, issues commands where requests or suggestions might be more appropriate (even for a king). In his mind, he is the rightful King, but to Braavos (with their long history of dealing with Targaryens), that right cannot be so evident. Tycho is an envoy, designated signatory and representative of the IB (and arguably, the whole state), yet Stannis commands him, more than once, as if Tycho owed Stannis fealty ,or even as if he was one of Stannis' servants.

Throughout their conversation, Tycho maintains his customary equanimity, but I think we can detect a hint of veiled sarcasm in his responses. I've mentioned his dubious ... "If it please Your Grace, it will please the Iron Bank."... This is followed by...
Stannis : "You will depart today.  Lord Bolton may be on us soon.  I will not have you caught up in the fighting."  ... This is an order, not a request or suggestion, and implies that Stannis' wishes are paramount. Tycho's needs or wishes are of no concern.
Tycho's response: "That would be my preference as well." ... Tycho's use of "my preference" quietly asserts that he is his own man , on his own mission , and what Stannis wills is not Tycho's only consideration. That he and Stannis happen to be in agreement on the subject, doesn't make Stannis' assumed right to command any more palatable. Stannis sits no throne, as yet - he sits starving in a blizzard. 

Stannis follows those orders with..
Stannis: "Tell the guard outside I have need of Justin Massey."  ...  Come on, Stannis.. the guard is within earshot, and could be called in. Or, would it be so demeaning to walk with Tycho to the door and speak to the guard yourself ? Stannis has just reduced an apparent member of the Braavosi elite to the status of a household messenger, while simultaneously giving him an abrupt dismissal.
Tycho's response : "It would be my pleasure. The Iron Bank is always glad to be of service."  The banker bowed. ... For me, the sarcasm is just beginning to drip through the veil, here. I'm sure it would not be his pleasure to act as a page, or messenger boy. (Though it may be his pleasure to be finished with Stannis.) "The Iron Bank is always glad to be of service" is impersonal. It reminds me of a company motto or dictum, like The Customer is Always Right (even when the customer is being perfectly obnoxius and the employee can't wait to be rid of him). Now, for the first time, these words of Tycho's do seem like empty courtesies .. and just how respectful is his bow ? .. It deserves a closer examination.

Tycho's bows, pleasure and service ...

We see Tycho bow three times - first, to Jon ...
The banker doffed his hat and made a sweeping bow. “Lord Commander. I thank you and your brothers for your hospitality.”

This bow is extravagant. He doffs his hat - "doffs" commonly denotes that it's removed out of respect. I'd say a "sweeping" bow is probably deep (an expansive or generous gesture), and I think, safe to say, generally expresses more respect than one that is less deep. His first words are courteous, respectful and may show that he has prior awareness of the importance of the laws of hospitality in the north (something Jon soon has to point out to other members of Selyse's party).

By comparison, when Tycho arrives in Stannis' camp, he first encounters Asha and Suggs...
The tall man slid gracefully from his garron, removed his peculiar hat, and bowed.“I have the honor to be Tycho Nestoris, a humble servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos.” 

This bow is not described as sweeping, nor particularly low. It's deep enough that his hat might slip off, if not removed. He removes it, but he doesn't "doff" his hat  .. We don't see him meet Stannis, so we don't know what gestures he might have made, then. Still, I think this bow shows that he's approaching the meeting with at least a generally respectful attitude.

But by the time he leaves Stannis, it's simply .. The banker bowed... This seems no more than perfunctory. Where's his hat? Is he wearing it ? We don't see him take it off or put it on. We see him slip the parchment into a wooden tube, but make no other preparations for leave-taking , so he's probably wearing his hat during the conversation .... If he is wearing it, his bow must be pretty shallow, or he'd lose the hat. This bow might not be very much more than a nod.. a minimal observance of form.

There may be clues even  in Tycho's (ergo, GRRM's) over all use of "pleasure" and "service".  "Pleasure" comes up three times - Regarding Robert he says..  "As to King Robert … it was indeed our pleasure to assist His Grace in his need." -  "Our pleasure" refers to the IB (and perhaps Braavos). He goes on to say that should Stannis prove himself more worthy of the IB's (our) trust than the obdurate "young King Tommen and his counsellors" .... " it would of course be our great pleasure to lend him whatever help he needs.” .. The great pleasure is not so much in risking more gold on Stannis, who may or may not achieve his goals, but in retaliating to Cersei's insulting and foolish high-handedness. (This is finacial retaliation, while diplomatic retaliation as well, is seen in the "Mercy" chapter.)

The third occurrance of "pleasure" I want to refer to is a little more ambiguous. It comes when Jon excuses himself from Tycho's presence, while escaping Axell's persistence ....

".. Lord Tycho, pray excuse me.”
“Yes, of course,” the banker said. “A pleasure.”

For one thing, it would be a pleasure not to have to witness any more of Axell pressuring Jon.. but beyond that, I feel that dealing with Jon probably has been pleasurable for Tycho. Jon has demonstrated the prudence that is an IB ideal, Braavosi-like ethics, and the courtesy and restraint which often oil the machinery of tricky financial negotiations (not to mention international diplomacy).

This brings us to "service"

Looking at Tycho's quote to Stannis :  "The Iron Bank is always pleased to be of service" translates as a policy statement; one that resonates with Jon's musings on the IB's princely defaulters... "When princes failed to repay the Iron Bank, new princes sprang up from nowhere and took their thrones.".. Tycho may be giving Stannis a subtle reminder, or even a warning. The IB chooses who they wish to be "of service" to.

Now, looking back to Tycho and Jon ...

“Perhaps before you leave we might have a quiet word?”
“I am at your service, Lord Commander. And in Braavos we say there is no time like the present.
Will that suit?”

..As noted, he seems very eager to get down to business, and as for "service" - that's a personal assurance. ... He is personally at Jon's service; he's there to accommodate Jon. This could imply that Tycho was sent with the intention of offering help to Jon, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on Tycho's assessment of Jon and his plans.

When considering the contrast between Tycho's encounters with Jon and Stannis, it's worth taking into account - "..The bank's envoys cross the world, oft upon the bank's own ships, and merchants, lords, and even kings treat with them almost as equals." .. (attrib. Archmaester Matthar, TwoIaF)

Stannis falls short of this norm. Jon does not.


There is always a price, is there not?

I'm sure the Iron Bank, itself, would like to see payments resumed on the IT's debt, and would like to see it cleared ASAP, and it's plain that they don't trust "young King Tommen and his counsellors" to do it. Stannis is the perfect candidate to ensure that "The Iron Bank will have it's due", if that's the only goal.

However, the state of Braavos - depending on what it may know of Daenerys, among other things - may be quite willing to cut the IB's losses. If there's any likelihood that Dany might ultimately reclaim the throne, I think we can be absolutely sure that the IB and Braavos would not be attempting to saddle her with Robert and Joffrey's (and presumably, Stannis') debts.
...(The same may be true for "Aegon" if he succeeds.)

The founders of Braavos fled the "wroth of the dragonlords", but Braavos also negotiated an accord with Valyria - including paying reparations - prior to Uthero's Unmasking. (TWoIaF) ...Normal relations and Braavos' continuing prosperity came at a price.

And from the wiki (for brevity) ... Aegon, the Storm King Argilac Durrandon, and Braavos sided with Tyrosh, Lys, Myr, ... in an alliance that broke Volantene hegemony 

We know the part Braavos played in the Martell/ Targaryen marriage pact.

Tycho gives us a little reminder when he brings up the subject of dragons to Jon, and the "Mercy" chapter reminds us of more subtle  Braavosi / Targaryen connections in the past ... “The first Black Pearl was black as a pot of ink,” said Daena. “She was a pirate queen, fathered by a Sealord’s son on a princess from the Summer Isles. A dragon king from Westeros took her for his lover.”

Does Braavos really think that Stannis is the most likely contender to take the throne and keep it ? I have a hard time believing it. If not, the investment in him will be lost, along with the IT's current debt. I wouldn't be surprised if, somehow, Braavos saw that as part of the price for furthering their own cause.(A cause that is yet to be revealed in any direct way)

We know Braavos is probably aware of the Others at least since seizing the Goodheart, but a first hint might have come before that, if Noho Dimittis was at court when Alliser Thorne was there... and "Pate" is learning a lot in Oldtown .. Does he have a way of relaying information? (I've never been convinced that he's there to learn how to kill dragons. Braavos might well have a fair amount of dragon lore of it's own.) ... What would happen to Braavos in a long winter? Tycho mentions that ice was forming on the canals when he left. If winter stretches on and on, would their harbours freeze up ? What would that mean for their fleet? What would happen to trade then (and especially, if Westeros fell to the Others)?

When contemplating the massive debt he's incurring, Jon thinks ... but when the choice is debt or death, best borrow. ... I think Tycho / IB / Braavos' thinking might be quite similar... when the choice is making large, enormously risky loans or death , best lend. .. Like paying generous reparations to the families of Valyrian ship owners, financial loss may be a wise investment for the future.

Selyse tells Jon that Tycho has come to "treat with His Grace KIng Stannis". I wonder if his real mission wasn't always to treat with Jon and the NW, and treating with Stannis was just the cover story. Stannis was either still at the Wall, or thought to be, when Tycho left Braavos. Tycho could hardly arrive to deal with Jon and not with Stannis.. and in dealing with Stannis openly, and Jon privately (it might be hoped) would not embroil the NW in the contention for the crown. I think this idea makes the contrast between the Jon and Stannis' interactions seem much more logical.

Aside : Could this be part of the reason Jon would not be forthcoming about the loan at the meeting on the Wall? Is discretion a stipulation of the agreement?

But is Tycho a Faceless Man ?
Oh, what the hell.. I'm going to stick my neck out and say yes. Here are the signs as I see them.
Tycho says to Jon ... “No lord I. Only a simple servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos.” .. No lord, but Selyse calls him... the honorable Tycho Nestoris, an emissary of the Iron Bank of Braavos ... and we know these emissaries or envoys are treated almost as equals by kings. Tycho would certainly feel himself to be the equivalent of a lord.. but a faceless Man might well consider himself a simple servant.

This is stressed even more strongly when Tycho introduces himself to Asha.. .“I have the honor to be Tycho Nestoris, a humble servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos.”

Who else uses "I have the honour to be" ?..E.G., just from ADWD..
Marlon Manderly - “I have the honor to be Lord Wyman’s cousin and commander of his garrison.."

Illyrio - "I have the honor to be a magister of this great city.."  
Quentyn - "..I have the honor to be Quentyn Martell, a prince of Dorne.."
.. all deserving of honour in their own societies.

So it is (or was) indeed an honour to be Tycho, but when he calls himself , "a humble servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos" , the use of "humble" instantly put me in mind of Arya's conversation with Plague Face (which GRRM takes care to make very memorable by Arya's gutsy retort)...

Plague face : A servant must be humble and obedient.”
Arya : “I obey. I can be humbler than anyone.”
That made him chuckle. “You will be the very goddess of humility, I am sure.

I see this as intentional word association on GRRM's part.

(I'll have to edit and fix this later. For some reason ,the colour option is missing, font size and indent... but whole sections are indenting on their own. )

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Interesting read as always, bemused! Looking forward to the next instalments. :)

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Also looking forward to the rest, at this point I see no reason for Tycho to be a FM.

 

Also, TPTB means what?

The powers that be.

Interesting read as always, bemused! Looking forward to the next instalments. :)

Thanks, looking forward to both your opinions... on to part II

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you always follow the money, ALWAYS...that has been my take on Nacho since the beginning.

I just HATE that Massey is the one who is brokering this deal, ugh.

if fiction has taught us anything, it is that even Superman can be defeated as a result of his adversary having unlimited funds.

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On 1/15/2016 at 1:09 AM, bemused said:

Reserved for Part III

Enjoyed reading the first two parts. Looking forward to the third.

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Thanks... I've had a bit of a delay. First my computer crashed and I lost about a third of the last installment and needed to reconstruct, then my dog became suddenly very ill and I had to have her euthanised. It's a horrible wrench..Now I'm losing myself in the reconstruction.. it's excellent interim therapy.

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Lord Wraith.. No, I haven't yet. I'll wait until after I've posted Part III, which will be some time today, then I'll compare. ;)

13 hours ago, cutuphalfdead said:

That's awful. I'm so sorry.

Thank you. Sympathy much appreciated.

Rita Petita is irreplaceable , but in a few months (when I'm cried out) I'll adopt a new best buddy who will be entirely different. I'm a useless thing when I don't have a dog soul to share with.

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1. Thank you for the essay. It was a great pleasure!

I am not convinced that Jon was the ultimate goal of Tycho, because it would be to much of a miracle with the GNC on the move as well. (Even is it is not that great. This is not a fairy tale, that is why I think if something good is to happen, it wont come like a lottery thicket)

This is something though, I would like to see, but it is too good to be true. However I loved reading your thoughts on the matter. I do think there is more to Nestoris then we see in the first place, but I assumed, the final decision of the IB on who should they side with will be taken in the WoW or in the DoS. The contrast between Stannis and Jon will be seen (by the IB) in the WoW. So I could imagine Tycho finding the conclusion that Stannis is not worth it (in the long run). Stannis is a man of the old ways after all, and Westeros is at the edge of breaking. A Bravosi person, who is familiar with different political structures, and know how to navigate(/manipulate) in them, would see that the current system is doomed. So Stannis can't be the answer.

I find it very interesting however that Tycho mentioned dragons to Jon. Why? Did he wanted to find out if he knew about them? Did he wanted to know what does Jon think about the slave-keeper Valeryans and of their dragons? Daenerys, her campaign? (And considering Jon could be a Targ, these would be a reasonable questions for the anti-slave, maybe-anti-Targ Bravosi government.)

Jon said something like: "Would that we had one here. A dragon might warm things up a bit." (Edited quote: I have found the correct quote in your essey, I copy pasted the correct sentence from you.)
What else could Jon said to that? "Great! I am expecting them in the wall, for the war." Or. "Does Stannis know's that?" etc.

2. Sorry for your loss.

3. Please keep writing! I read it more than 1 times, and I was so sorry to reach the ending. I could have read it till morning. It was interesting, and new, and made me think over a lot.






 

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@bemused, Kudos for posting this long but totally enjoyable read. It's a while since I've come across any real new theories in the fandom.

That Tycho's ultimate purpose might have more to do with Jon than Stannis, I agree. But Tycho as a Facelessman, I do not see enough to go on with. We don't know enough about Braavosi nobility and the Iron Bank to think the 'humble' (an excess of it in case of Tycho) trait is limited to the servants of the many-faced god. Just because someone is normally treated equal with princes does not mean he can't be humble. Look at Baelor Breakspear for example.

The whole weirdness associated with his appearance is suggestive of a mysterious identity, but he is only viewed from the PoV's of the Westerosi people. More importantly, an Iron Bank envoy making deals with a pretender and the LC of the Wall is too overt a persona for a Facelessman to adopt, for whatever reason.

 

I read the whole over-politeness of Tycho a bit similar to Littlefinger's dealings with Ned and the Lannisters. The guy with money, pulling the strings but just a 'coin-clinker' to the the lords and royalty of Westeros. Remember that Iron Bank practically owns Westeros, what with all the debts incurred by the Baratheon regime.

Points that intrigued me most about Tycho Nestoris (Many of which already discussed well by the OP):

1) Tycho gets a good look at Jon's character, and the reader observe Tycho observing Jon. All the Jon-Tycho interactions are very interesting.

2) Despite claiming to be just a 'humble servant' of the IB, Tycho strikes a rather big deal with Jon. To fund the food to see all the Night's Watch and the Wildlings through the entire winter is equivalent to funding a long war! Are Iron Bank envoys expected to be resourceful and responsible to make such deals, as soon as a boy-commander of a dilapidated institution protecting a kingdom which already owes millions to the bank, makes an offer? Either Tycho is no mere servant, or the IB anticipated the Wall situation and intended to lure the LC to a deal, or the IB asked tycho to do whatever required to get Jon Snow to be their client.

3) Jon thinks getting the deal was easier than it should have been, so he suspects he did not make a good enough bargain. What was Tycho's and/or Iron Bank's gain in helping the Wall?

A few possible 'ulterior motives' that I have considered:

1) Braavos is slowly sinking underwater. In a hundred years or more, the entire city may be submerged in water. The Braavosi needs to find a new home, or learn to make floating castle like the crannogmen. Maybe their plan for the Wall is a real estate conspiracy (thank you, hollywood!) to relocate the Braavosi (to the Gift and the New Gift)  without facing interference from the Northerners or the Iron Throne.. Maybe there is some moonsinger prophecy about the promised land?

2) Braavos/IB/FM wants the Wall for some magic-related reason. Ice vs Fire, War for the Dawn, etc

3) Braavos/IB/FM wants the Wall for some politics related reason

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32 minutes ago, Hos the Hostage said:

@bemused, Kudos for posting this long but totally enjoyable read. It's a while since I've come across any real new theories in the fandom.

That Tycho's ultimate purpose might have more to do with Jon than Stannis, I agree. But Tycho as a Facelessman, I do not see enough to go on with. We don't know enough about Braavosi nobility and the Iron Bank to think the 'humble' (an excess of it in case of Tycho) trait is limited to the servants of the many-faced god. Just because someone is normally treated equal with princes does not mean he can't be humble. Look at Baelor Breakspear for example.

The whole weirdness associated with his appearance is suggestive of a mysterious identity, but he is only viewed from the PoV's of the Westerosi people. More importantly, an Iron Bank envoy making deals with a pretender and the LC of the Wall is too overt a persona for a Facelessman to adopt, for whatever reason.



 

I read the whole over-politeness of Tycho a bit similar to Littlefinger's dealings with Ned and the Lannisters. The guy with money, pulling the strings but just a 'coin-clinker' to the the lords and royalty of Westeros. Remember that Iron Bank practically owns Westeros, what with all the debts incurred by the Baratheon regime.

Points that intrigued me most about Tycho Nestoris (Many of which already discussed well by the OP):

1) Tycho gets a good look at Jon's character, and the reader observe Tycho observing Jon. All the Jon-Tycho interactions are very interesting.

2) Despite claiming to be just a 'humble servant' of the IB, Tycho strikes a rather big deal with Jon. To fund the food to see all the Night's Watch and the Wildlings through the entire winter is equivalent to funding a long war! Are Iron Bank envoys expected to be resourceful and responsible to make such deals, as soon as a boy-commander of a dilapidated institution protecting a kingdom which already owes millions to the bank, makes an offer? Either Tycho is no mere servant, or the IB anticipated the Wall situation and intended to lure the LC to a deal, or the IB asked tycho to do whatever required to get Jon Snow to be their client.

3) Jon thinks getting the deal was easier than it should have been, so he suspects he did not make a good enough bargain. What was Tycho's and/or Iron Bank's gain in helping the Wall?

A few possible 'ulterior motives' that I have considered:

1) Braavos is slowly sinking underwater. In a hundred years or more, the entire city may be submerged in water. The Braavosi needs to find a new home, or learn to make floating castle like the crannogmen. Maybe their plan for the Wall is a real estate conspiracy (thank you, hollywood!) to relocate the Braavosi (to the Gift and the New Gift)  without facing interference from the Northerners or the Iron Throne.. Maybe there is some moonsinger prophecy about the promised land?

2) Braavos/IB/FM wants the Wall for some magic-related reason. Ice vs Fire, War for the Dawn, etc

3) Braavos/IB/FM wants the Wall for some politics related reason

Your third option hit me in the head! 
 

The wall is the perfect weapon against Westeros! Is the lords or kings forget to pay back their depts, then the IB would forget to close the gates against an Other invasion. Bravos is in an other continent. They would be safe...
It is better then the nuclear weapons, because only the Others can make wight army (imo) they even can be used against the evil FIRE!! dragon-lords-kings! The perfect Ice sword against the flaming sword of Daenerys, and the whole Westeros... Yeah, I can see that...

I can see the Bravosi trying to get their hands on the wall. Arya finding out their plan, and making a cleaning at the house of Black and White... Ending the Faceless man, maybe even getting a key from the keyholders, maybe even getting money to buy food for the north?


 


 

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Do you think Peter Baelish could be in league with the Iron Bank? It may be a bit of a stretch but his family is from there and what better place to put all the money he's supposed to have siphoned while being in charge of the books in Kingslanding than the IB. If he has enough money in there does he get to be a keyholder? There has to be more going on than PB just trying to help Sansa. Perhaps he thinks the IB could install him as king eventually. How this could tie into Tycho's mission is that Peter can get info of the goings on in the North through the Braavosi.

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Thank you bemused for an interesting and thought-provoking read - like you, I had initially got the impression that there wasn't much to Tycho. BUT, there is so much to go through and to consider. We know from Arya's The Blind Girl chapter in Dance that Jon is talked about in Braavos - the black bastard of the wall - and it is intriguing to consider that Jon is considered worthy of attention by the Iron Bank. Arya says that he is spoken of in taverns and brothels - but does not specify what is said. Some talk has possibly made its way into the Iron Bank, but again - what?

I agree that it is unlikely Tycho is a faceless man, but I do think that the House of Black and White and the Iron Bank have worked in tandem in the past. Whether they still do now is unclear, but I see them being closely associated in the past. After all, a group of assassins on tap is a useful tool in ensuring that your clients pay back their loans. 

I hope we will see Tycho again in Winds, and hopefully get some more clarity on his mission and why the Iron Bank is so interested in Jon. 

 

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A very thorough OP and follow-up thanks for this.

There are several things I think you are right about, but I have some disagreements as well.

1. I fully agree that the Sealord and associates, HoBaW, and the Iron Bank are a sort of institutional triumvirate, and that all serve Braavos, while only the FM specifically serve Death. Serving Braavos though does not necessarily mean serving only the city state, but also the ideas behind the city state of Braavos.

2. I agree that Tycho would be put off by Stannis's behaviour, and that in some ways Stannis failed his test. Yes, Stannis agreed to the Iron Bank's terms, but he failed to uphold the principles Braavos values and he signed the agreement in blood which will doom the agreement no doubt. Nice catch on that one.

3. I disagree that Tycho came to negotiate with Jon. If that were true he would not have gone to Winterfell in deep winter simply as a ruse. I am sure he came because he is aware of the threat to the Kingdoms, yes. But at the time Stannis had proved he was also aware of the threat, and had saved the Wall from the wildling assault. So the Iron Bank would have thought Stannis was a good bet because of this fact that he was taking the Northern threat seriously.

 

So IMO what really went down is that just as Jon went subtly against Stannis by killing "Mance" and preventing him from being burned alive, he also basically usurped Stannis again in his dealings with Tycho. Before Tycho arrived Jon was just the LC of the Watch, hopefully doing his job there, but Stannis was the contender for the throne. Tycho went away from negotiations impressed by Jon (still just the LC, bastard of dead Ned) but perturbed by Stannis enough to allow him to fail by signing the agreement in ink that will flake off.

I don't know how long Stannis will survive still in the books, but he will eventually fail, and possibly even because the sellswords he thinks he is hiring never arrive because of his fateful decision to sign such a key document in blood. When that happens, Jon will be known to the Iron Bank as the only leader in Westeros who is actually taking the threat seriously. So this sucessful negotiation you so thoroughly analyzed was setup...it was the moment when the IB learned about Jon rather than Jon being the point of the mission.

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I'm really glad you're enjoying this. I can't reply to everything I'd like to tonight, but here's a start..

Hos.. I agree that Tycho would cut a much too prominent figure for a faceless man, if his mission was assassination... but as a spy or an agent engaging in secret diplomacy for his government (or soon-to-be government), I think it would be far preferable to the usual "no one" disguises.

If Jon, who has been raised out of the mainstream of Westerosi political life, is aware of the IB tactic of supporting rival princes of their defaulters, surely people more involved politically would be aware, too.. (or should be, Cersei). So, Tycho arriving to treat with Stannis wouldn't seem all that unusual to political observers. Treating with Jon and the NW would. 

The more I think about it , the more I think that there must be some form of non-disclosure clause attached to the loan, at least until Jon had his forts manned, had saved as many wildlings as he could, and a certain amount of supply had reached him. This would echo Braavos' (The City of Secrets) own historic MO. They didn't reveal their location until they were certain their city was as secure as they could make it, beforehand.

It wouldn't be prudent to have Jon's agreement come into public awareness before it was even off the ground. There could be crippling repercussions... King's Landing could think Jon was about to go to war with them, and could make things difficult for Braavosi ships at Westerosi ports. .. Stannis might see Jon as a potential rival, instead of an ally of sorts... Suppliers might suddenly jack up their prices, knowing the wealth of the IB was behind the NW. .. Pirates (always a danger) would have advance warning and could be lying in wait for supply ships, and so on. Keeping the agreement secret for as long as possible would be turning to tried and true methods for Braavos and is the simplest answer to why Jon wouldn't mention the loan ,when challenged by Bowen at the meeting on the wall.

Aside: FWIW, I think Bowen had every opportunity to know about the agreement, but he couldn't say so, because that would reveal that he was spying on Jon, snooping into his LC's private papers.. actively working against him (as opposed to merely being prejudiced and uncooperative).

As far as "humble" is concerned, although there are certainly characters that behave with natural humility, they don't claim to be humble. The word is used in various common ways, too, in the text - someone is said to be of humble birth, or to have a humble occupation.. some are said to have been humbled, if fate has brought them down a peg or two.. or, the poor sections of a city may be called the humbler parts of the city, and so on... As I pointed out, for the Faceless Men (according to Plague Face), it's an ideal, and the maesters also claim it as an ideal ... Wise men may grow arrogant in their wisdom, but a maester must always remain humble  ... (from the prologue to AFfC)

But, like Arbor Gold flagging deception, you can be sure that if anyone claims to be humble, or makes a show of it, there's some degree of falsehood or deception involved (just not always the same deception). The greatest number of instances come in ADWD, leading up to the introduction of Tycho :

Humble merchants like myself are no more than stones beneath your jeweled sandals.”..(Xaro to Dany in Meereen)

When Nurse buys Tyrion and Penny, he tells them ... “I will show you to your new home. In Yunkai you will dwell in the golden pyramid of Qaggaz and dine off silver plates, but here we live simply, in the humble tents of soldiers.” .. but when they reach the camp... The humble tent of Yezzan zo Qaggaz proved to be a palace of lemon-colored silk. Gilded harpies stood atop the center poles of each of its nine peaked roofs, shining in the sun.

“His High Holiness awaits,” said Septa Unella.
Cersei lowered her head, humble and obedient. “Might I be allowed to bathe first?

“I am but a humble slave of R’hllor, the Lord of Light.”... (Moqorro to Victarion)

"I obey. I can be humbler than anyone" .. (Arya Stark, godess of humility)

And last.. “I have the honor to be Tycho Nestoris, a humble servant of the Iron Bank of Braavos.”

Further back, in AFfC, we have instances of both Cersei and Arianne deciding to put on a "humble" appearance for someone's benefit ( Cersei for the High Sparrow/Septon; Arianne for Doran), and Brienne meets the High Sparrow who claims ... “The sparrow is the humblest and most common of birds, as we are the humblest and most common of men.”  :rolleyes:

And back in ASoS, The Hound and Thoros were the first to give us something to think about...
“Thoros of Myr. You used to shave your head.” 
“To betoken a humble heart, but in truth my heart was vain.."
 ... (there's not much else of note in the first two books).

After all these other examples, how can our antennae not vibrate when Tycho introduces himself to Asha?  For me, it's exactly the kind of consistent use of key words that we've see GRRM use repeatedly.

We may not all agree on what it means in Tycho's case, but there's definitely something fishy.

ETA: Another clue I neglected earlier, comparing Tycho's status to Noho Dimittis :   When the Braavosi paused for breath, she saw her chance. “This is more properly a matter for our lord treasurer.”
That answer did not please the noble Noho, it would seem.

I'm sure Cersei thinks this sneeringly, but we shouldn't be so dismissive.

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