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Lady Dacey

Powdered hands

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Why would one powder their hands? Isn't that impractical?

every character that interacts with Varys sans-disguise comments on his powdered hands. They never remark it as queer, weird or uncommon, no one seems to think it's out of character for the eunuch to powder his hands. It simply goes with his lavender scent and his silk slippered feet. But also, we don't see any other character doing that, we don't ever get a mention of it anywhere else throughout the books.

powdered cheeks make sense - it's make up, to look blushing or pale or whatever was the vogue at the time... but hands? Is Varys a gymnast (that's a joke)? Does he have grayscale? Burned hands? Tattoos? Is he trying to leave thumbprints everywhere he goes? What's the point?? Any ideas? 

Edited by Lady Dacey

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Powdered hands feel smoother to the touch of others and look brighter and more harmonious, so yes: it's make up for hands and something very feminine to do. That's why nobody finds it strange, as they expect such a behaviour from an eunuch, even more as they know that Varys was born as a commoner and sold as a slave, so maybe they even expect his hands to be more harsh then a eunuch would like.

For Varys himself this makes it even more simple to avoid being recognized when in one of his less noble disguises.

That's all: He plays the feminine eunuch, and plays his role well. No big mystery here.

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In real life powder on your hands is to stop them from being sweaty...

But I agree this is an odd detail with Varys and one I haven’t really figured out... I mean, is he wearing makeup to change his skin color? Thus the exposed bald head and hands are always mentioned?

It like how does he change his face as Rugen so that Ned can rub his stubble? Is he a faceless man? Because that’s no normal disguise.

The fact that we don’t know his eye color and skin color is extra suspicious too.

Edited by LiveFirstDieLater

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15 minutes ago, Morte said:

it's make up for hands and something very feminine to do.

And yet we known of no woman in the seven kingdoms to powder her hands... doesn't feel like a regular westerosi lady thing to me, no... 

@LiveFirstDieLater changing his skin colour might be the reason though. If he powders his hands and face he could make his skin look lighter or darker, aiding his disguises. It's possible to wear a fake beard, even a very real-looking one (actor do Irma all the time) but the fact that it's "stubble" makes it more complicated. He's not a faceless men though, Shae can see through his disguise for exemple.

Edited by Lady Dacey

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25 minutes ago, Lady Dacey said:

And yet we known of no woman in the seven kingdoms to powder her hands... doesn't feel like a regular westerosi lady thing to me, no... 

@LiveFirstDieLater changing his skin colour might be the reason though. If he powders his hands and face he could make his skin look lighter or darker, aiding his disguises. It's possible to don a fake beard, but the fact that it's "stubble" makes it more complicated. He's not a faceless men though, Shae can see through his disguise for exemple.

Ok, so it’s totally speculation but I suspect he was once in training as a faceless man and they are the ones who took his manhood... but of course I certainly don’t have proof. But his little power riddle just stinks of Faceless men to me... the answer being all men must die. The answer Varys gives of power residing where men believe it to reside is clever and all, but doesn’t answer the original question of who lives and who dies...

Quote

"It has crossed my mind a time or two," Tyrion admitted. "The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It's a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword."

"And yet he is no one," Varys said. "He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel." 
"That piece of steel is the power of life and death."

And maybe relevant to Varys being a eunuch (Note: I do think Jaquen is Syrio, a faceless man)

Quote

"Boygirl," Syrio Forel said. "You are a sword, that is all."

As for Shea seeing through the disguise, I’m not convinced that faceless men disguises are perfect by any means, they are just something more real than a glamor. The true seeing,if you will, can still see through the disguise.

It also may have played into Varys sending Tyrion up to Tywin’s room when Shea was there... getting rid of her along with Tywin (extra relevant if Tywin was already dying of poison).

I just don’t know why covering his skin color would be relevant to the story... or why he’d have to or want to keep it a secret.

Edited by LiveFirstDieLater

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10 minutes ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

In real life powder on your hands is to stop them from being sweaty...

But I agree this is an odd detail with Varys and one I haven’t really figured out... I mean, is he wearing makeup to change his skin color? Thus the exposed bald head and hands are always mentioned?

It like how does he change his face as Rugen so that Ned can rub his stubble? Is he a faceless man? Because that’s no normal disguise.

The fact that we don’t know his eye color and skin color is extra suspicious too.

Agree with all this. I don't really know if eunuchs could grow beards, but most people would assume they can't - so why trip us up by giving Varys stubble? Is the whole eunuch story a lie too?

Anyway, I think the powder serves as metaphor as well, representing powder snow, or hoar frost on the skin. A symbol of ice corruption probably, but these people might actually get frozen.

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2 hours ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

Ok, so it’s totally speculation but I suspect he was once in training as a faceless man and they are the ones who took his manhood... but of course I certainly don’t have proof. But his little power riddle just stinks of Faceless men to me... the answer being all men must die. The answer Varys gives of power residing where men believe it to reside is clever and all, but doesn’t answer the original question of who lives and who dies...

 

And maybe relevant to Varys being a eunuch (Note: I do think Jaquen is Syrio, a faceless man)

As for Shea seeing through the disguise, I’m not convinced that faceless men disguises are perfect by any means, they are just something more real than a glamor. The true seeing,if you will, can still see through the disguise.

It also may have played into Varys sending Tyrion up to Tywin’s room when Shea was there... getting rid of her along with Tywin (extra relevant if Tywin was already dying of poison).

I just don’t know why covering his skin color would be relevant to the story... or why he’d have to or want to keep it a secret.

Hmm... while I think it's reasonable that Tywin may have been poisoned and doomed anyway, I don't buy the 'Syrio is actually Jaqen' theory. 

Now, even if Varys is a faceless men, the kind of disguise we've seen him wearing surely isn't the same as the faces at the house of black and white: 

Quote

 

"Bring me the face," said the kindly man. The waif made no answer, but she could hear her slippers whispering over the stone floor. To the girl he said, "Drink this," and pressed a cup into her hand. She drank it down at once. It was very tart, like biting into a lemon. A thousand years ago, she had known a girl who loved lemon cakes. No, that was not me, that was only Arya.
"Mummers change their faces with artifice," the kindly man was saying, "and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with. Keep your eyes closed." She felt his fingers brushing back her hair. "Stay still. This will feel queer. You may be dizzy, but you must not move." 
Then came a tug and a soft rustling as the new face was pulled down over the old. The leather scraped across her brow, dry and stiff, but as her blood soaked into it, it softened and turned supple. Her cheeks grew warm, flushed. She could feel her heart fluttering beneath her breast, and for one long moment she could not catch her breath. Hands closed around her throat, hard as stone, choking her. Her own hands shot up to claw at the arms of her attacker, but there was no one there. A terrible sense of fear filled her, and she heard a noise, a hideous crunching noise, accompanied by blinding pain. A face floated in front of her, fat, bearded, brutal, his mouth twisted with rage. She heard the priest say, "Breathe, child. Breathe out the fear. Shake off the shadows. He is dead. She is dead. Her pain is gone. Breathe."

Faceless man or not, what we've seen Varys doing is mummers tricks, most definitely. 

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2 hours ago, Springwatch said:

I don't really know if eunuchs could grow beards, but most people would assume they can't - so why trip us up by giving Varys stubble? Is the whole eunuch story a lie too?

I think there's a good possibility that Varys is not, in fact, a eunuch. The beard stubble is a good clue. Being thought of as a eunuch, in cock-obsessed Westeros, puts Lord Spider down as a figure of contempt, a non-man. Someone who can be ignored (great for a spy, or spymaster), insulted, and disrespected.

10 minutes ago, Lady Dacey said:

Faceless man or not, what we've seen Varys doing is mummers tricks, most definitely. 

I agree. Remember, as a boy prior to being "cut" (if he in fact was), Varys was a professional mummer. I don't buy the Faceless Men connection. Too baroque. We've seen Varys in uncommonly good disguises throughout the books; a good bet is that he's also been in places where we - and other characters - have simply failed to notice it was him.

Getting back to the powdered hands, Varys goes all the way, wearing robes (vs breeches), heavy overpowering perfumes, and probably a powdered face and head as well. Nobody who "knew" him from the Red Keep would imagine him any other way - rough looking, bad smelling, dressed in a "manly" way. This makes his use of disguises even more effective.

Re: no Westerosi woman powders her hands. Maybe. But Varys is not from Westeros.

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1 hour ago, zandru said:

I think there's a good possibility that Varys is not, in fact, a eunuch. The beard stubble is a good clue. Being thought of as a eunuch, in cock-obsessed Westeros, puts Lord Spider down as a figure of contempt, a non-man. Someone who can be ignored (great for a spy, or spymaster), insulted, and disrespected.

I agree. Remember, as a boy prior to being "cut" (if he in fact was), Varys was a professional mummer. I don't buy the Faceless Men connection. Too baroque. We've seen Varys in uncommonly good disguises throughout the books; a good bet is that he's also been in places where we - and other characters - have simply failed to notice it was him.

Seems you two agree, and I believe most readers come away with the same conclusion... Varys is using non-magic disguise. I will agree that if he’s not really a Eunuch then it’s possible. But there isn’t really any normal way to make a facial disguise including stubble which will withstand rubbing...

1 hour ago, Lady Dacey said:

Hmm... while I think it's reasonable that Tywin may have been poisoned and doomed anyway, I don't buy the 'Syrio is actually Jaqen' theory. 

Now, even if Varys is a faceless men, the kind of disguise we've seen him wearing surely isn't the same as the faces at the house of black and white: 

Faceless man or not, what we've seen Varys doing is mummers tricks, most definitely. 

So as per above, if he’s not really a Eunuch I suppose his actions can be seen as entirely non-magical. Interestingly he’s the only character ever called a magician.

Quote

The voice was strangely familiar, yet it took Ned Stark a moment to place it. "Varys?" he said groggily when it came. He touched the man's face. "I'm not … not dreaming this. You're here." The eunuch's plump cheeks were covered with a dark stubble of beard. Ned felt the coarse hair with his fingers. Varys had transformed himself into a grizzled turnkey, reeking of sweat and sour wine. "How did you … what sort of magician are you?"

This sure seems to me to be Varys wearing another man’s face, as per the faceless men.

Wizard is another phrase not often used early in the series.

And of course Arya identifies Varys as a Wizard after overhearing him and Illyrio:

Quote

 

"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?" 
The other chuckled. "No less."

 

And she identifies Jaquen (a known faceless man) as a Wizard as well:

Quote

Yoren found Jaqen in a black cell, the same as Rorge and Biter, she remembered. Jaqen did something horrible and Yoren knew, that's why he kept him in chains. If the Lorathi was a wizard, Rorge and Biter could be demons he called up from some hell, not men at all.

Dany sees a wizard in the second to last room of the house of the undying, but it appears to have been a false version of the Heartroom and Undying. A false face if you will.

And then there is the Red Wizard Thoros, who happens to have stubble, not suggesting that’s anything but coincidence, however I included for completeness.

Quote

Arya stared at the Myrish priest, all shaggy hair and pink rags and bits of old armor. Grey stubble covered his cheeks and the sagging skin beneath his chin. He did not look much like the wizards in Old Nan's stories, but even so . . .

Then Tyrion calls Varys a wizard out of nowhere during his escape:

Quote

The eunuch sighed. "The faithful dog is kicked, and no matter how the spider weaves, he is never loved. But if you slay me here, I fear for you, my lord. You may never find your way back to daylight." His eyes glittered in the shifting torchlight, dark and wet. "These tunnels are full of traps for the unwary."

Tyrion snorted. "Unwary? I'm the wariest man who ever lived, you helped see to that." He rubbed at his nose. "So tell me, wizard, where is my innocent maiden wife?" 
"I have found no trace of Lady Sansa in King's Landing, sad to say. Nor of Ser Dontos Hollard, who by rights should have turned up somewhere drunk by now. They were seen together on the serpentine steps the night she vanished. After that, nothing. There was much confusion that night. My little birds are silent." Varys gave a gentle tug at the dwarf's sleeve and pulled him into the stair. "My lord, we must away. Your path is down."

Then there are Euron’s pet wizards, and the Myrish wizard he killed when his dragon egg didn’t hatch quickly enough. 

Victarion fishes his own wizard, Belaquo (dark flame?), out of the sea.

And Bran/Coldhands talk about Bloodraven as a wizard.

Otherwise it’s basically just hedge wizards in the series.

Sorry for the rambling length, I’ll stop after this, I guess my point was that Varys is in pretty magical company being referred to as a wizard by multiple povs.

Edited by LiveFirstDieLater

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1 hour ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

The eunuch's plump cheeks were covered with a dark stubble of beard.

Thing is, it's still the same cheeks. His own plump cheeks, covered in beard. And Ned's pretty bad shape throughout this interaction... but he still recognizes Varys through the disguise. Also, when Renefer Longwaters mentions Reugen to Jamie, Jamie immediately thinks that the gaoler is acutilai Varys under disguise. I mean, he could think the man was Varys man, that he was bought or anything like that, but no, he's imediate thought is "I know who he is". If Varys is wearing someone else's face, he's doing it poorly. 

1 hour ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

Sorry for the rambling length, I’ll stop after this, I guess my point was that Varys is in pretty magical company being referred to as a wizard by multiple povs.

No need to apologize! Your post was an interesting read, well written, well constructed and well researched. You almost got me convinced of it... but then also, I think it's very, very GRRMesque to have the character most associated with magic to have no magic whatsoever, only tricks - while we have characters that are very removed from "magic" when you first look at them but that actually have powers (the Stark sibilings warg hability for exemple). 

No one ever refers to Arya as having any sort of magical hability, not even the wise priests of the House of Black and White, while she is not only a warg but also a skinchanger.

Edited by Lady Dacey

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6 minutes ago, Lady Dacey said:

Thing is, it's still the same cheeks. His own plump cheeks, covered in beard. And Ned's pretty bad shape throughout this interaction... but he still recognizes Varys through the disguise. Also, when Renefer Longwaters mentions Reugen to Jamie, Jamie immediately thinks that the gaoler is acutilai Varys under disguise. I mean, he could think the man was Varys man, that he was bought or anything like that, but no, he's imediate thought is "I know who he is". If Varys is wearing someone else's face, he's doing it poorly. 

Wait a second, look at the quote above, Ned recognizes his voice... not his face. But I will agree he is in bad shape. But this actually dovetails with Syrio/Jaquen since Arya actually comments on the similarity of their voices.

Quote

"A man does not choose his companions in the black cells," the handsome one with the red-and-white hair said. Something about the way he talked reminded her of Syrio; it was the same, yet different too. "These two, they have no courtesy. A man must ask forgiveness. You are called Arry, is that not so?"

Jaime however has the added benefit of knowing Varys and Rugen disappeared at the same time, and why, again it has nothing to do with his looks... I don’t think he even ever saw Rugen.

 

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5 hours ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

Jaime however has the added benefit of knowing Varys and Rugen disappeared at the same time

That could be easily explained if they were two people working together, simply... 

 

5 hours ago, LiveFirstDieLater said:

Wait a second, look at the quote above, Ned recognizes his voice... not his face. But I will agree he is in bad shape. But this actually dovetails with Syrio/Jaquen since Arya actually comments on the similarity of their voices.

That's interesting, I always assumed they sounded similar because of a Bravosi accent on the common tongue. 

Still, the main point of this thread was to try and figure out why anyone would apply powder to their hands. I'm still confused about it. It's mentioned SO MANY TIMES about Varys. Also, why doesn't Varys wear a disguise when he kills Pycelle and Kevan? Wouldn't it be wiser? But no, even dying Kevan takes notice of the eunuch's hands covered in powder. 

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13 hours ago, Springwatch said:

Agree with all this. I don't really know if eunuchs could grow beards, but most people would assume they can't - so why trip us up by giving Varys stubble? Is the whole eunuch story a lie too?

Anyway, I think the powder serves as metaphor as well, representing powder snow, or hoar frost on the skin. A symbol of ice corruption probably, but these people might actually get frozen.

 

10 hours ago, zandru said:

I think there's a good possibility that Varys is not, in fact, a eunuch. The beard stubble is a good clue. Being thought of as a eunuch, in cock-obsessed Westeros, puts Lord Spider down as a figure of contempt, a non-man. Someone who can be ignored (great for a spy, or spymaster), insulted, and disrespected

Voice and hair growth all depend on weather puberty hit before a man is castrated. If Varys had his balls drop by 11 or 12 and was cut by 12 or 13, a deep voice and facial hair are possible  

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