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Gods Are Not Mocked: Deals with the Devil at Harrenhal

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This essay is a spinoff of some of the amazing insight put forth in @Curled Finger's “Little Crannogman” discussions and @Lady Dacey’s recent thread about the religion of the Faceless Men - all linked below.    Reading/participating in these conversations triggered an association in my mind between Harrenhal, prayers, and Death – this association is fleshed out in this essay.

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/149991-harrenhall-through-a-little-crannogman’s-eyes/

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/150167-harrenhal-as-seen-through-a-little-crannogman’s-eyes-part-2/

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/150203-what’s-under-his-many-faces/

I will also link to @ravenous reader ‘s excellent essay on “The Killing Word” and the significance of “mocking” language, as it pertains to this topic as well.

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/145781-the-killing-word-a-re-examination-of-the-prologue/

Finally, there are numerous discussions on this forum and others about the history of Harrenhal, its houses and it curse.  I will not link to them as there are many, but these threads along with the linked ones above can provide great backdrop for what I talk about here so by all means do some searching & leisure reading in your spare time.   It's good stuff.

Advance apologies for the formatting; this site sucks when it comes to retaining Word formats.

PART I

To begin, a familiar tale (abridged for relevance):

A Storm of Swords – Bran II 

“That evening there was to be a feast in Harrenhal, to mark the opening of the tourney, and the she-wolf insisted that the lad attend.  He was of high birth, with as much a right to a place on the bench as any other man.  She was not easy to refuse, this wolf maid, so he let the young pup find him garb suitable to a king’s feast, and went up to the great castle.   

“Under Harren’s roof he ate and drank with the wolves, and many of their sworn swords besides, barrowdown men and moose and bears and mermen.  The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.  A black brother spoke, asking the knights to join the Night’s Watch.  The storm lord drank down the knight of skulls and kisses in a wine-cup war.  The crannogman saw a maid with laughing purple eyes dance with a white sword, a red snake, and the lord of griffins, and lastly with the quiet wolf .  .  .  but only after the wild wolf spoke to her on behalf of a brother too shy to leave his bench.   

“Amidst all this merriment, the little crannogman spied the three squires who’d attacked him.  One served a pitchfork knight, one a porcupine, while the last attended a knight with two towers on his surcoat, a sigil all crannogmen know well.”

“The Freys,” said Bran.  “The Freys of the Crossing.” 

“Then, as now,” she agreed.  “The wolf maid saw them too, and pointed them out to her brothers.  ‘I could find you a horse, and some armor that might fit,’ the pup offered.  The little crannogman thanked him, but gave no answer.  His heart was torn.  Crannogmen are smaller than most, but just as proud.  The lad was no knight, no more than any of his people.  We sit a boat more often than a horse, and our hands are made for oars, not lances.  Much as he wished to have his vengeance, he feared he would only make a fool of himself and shame his people.  The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be, and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck…”

The daughter of the castle was the queen of love and beauty, with four brothers and an uncle to defend her, but all four sons of Harrenhal were defeated on the first day.  Their conquerors reigned briefly as champions, until they were vanquished in turn.  As it happened, the end of the first day saw the porcupine knight win a place among the champions, and on the morning of the second day the pitchfork knight and the knight of the two towers were victorious as well.  But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.”

Bran nodded sagely.  Mystery knights would oft appear at tourneys, with helms concealing their faces, and shields that were either blank or bore some strange device.  Sometimes they were famous champions in disguise.  The Dragonknight once won a tourney as the Knight of Tears, so he could name his sister the queen of love and beauty in place of the king’s mistress.  And Barristan the Bold twice donned a mystery knight’s armor, the first time when he was only ten.  “It was the little crannogman, I bet.” 

“No one knew,” said Meera, “but the mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces.  The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.” 

“Maybe he came from the Isle of Faces,” said Bran.  “Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories, the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair.  Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers.  “I bet the old gods sent him.” 

“Perhaps they did.  The mystery knight dipped his lance before the king and rode to the end of the lists, where the five champions had their pavilions.  You know the three he challenged.” 

“The porcupine knight, the pitchfork knight, and the knight of the twin towers.” Bran had heard enough stories to know that.  “He was the little crannogman, I told you.” 

“Whoever he was, the old gods gave strength to his arm.  The porcupine knight fell first, then the pitchfork knight, and lastly the knight of the two towers.  None were well loved, so the common folk cheered lustily for the Knight of the Laughing Tree, as the new champion soon was called.  When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, ‘Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough.’ Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armor were returned.  And so the little crannogman’s prayer was answered .  .  .  by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?”

“That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his.  But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared.  The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished.  The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree.  It was the dragon prince who won that tourney in the end.”

 

In the tale of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, we learn of Howland Reed praying to the old gods of North and Neck for vengeance re: his “dishonoring at Harrenhal” by the three Riverlands squires.   Although The crannogman was ‘saved’ by the wolf maid, who beat them with her tourney sword, clearly the insult still stings and he needs more.     His prayers are seemingly answered by the appearance of a mystery knight, who arrives sporting a shield with a laughing weirwood face, and promptly defeats the three knights whom the squires that bullied Howland served.      The knight demands that the knights punish the squires for their behavior; after it is done, the knight disappears almost as quickly as he appeared, leaving only the shield that identified him behind.      In this way, Howland gets his vengeance.

Although this tale is new to Bran, the underlying premise of the tale (or parts of it) is actually NOT new to us, the readers.     We have actually encountered a similar scenario before - in a prior book, through the eyes of a different Stark.

A Clash of Kings - Arya IX

Arya climbed.  Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father's men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air.  A broken branch became Joffrey.  She struck at it until it fell away.  The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons.  When her arm grew weary, she sat with her legs over a high limb to catch her breath in the cool dark air, listening to the squeak of bats as they hunted.  Through the leafy canopy she could see the bone-white branches of the heart tree.  It looks just like the one in Winterfell from here.  If only it had been .  .  .  then when she climbed down she would have been home again, and maybe find her father sitting under the weirwood where he always sat.

Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground.  The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night.  Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk.  It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate.  Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly. 

Arya went to her knees.  She wasn't sure how she should begin.  She clasped her hands together.  Help me, you old gods, she prayed silently.  Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell.  Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever. 

Was that enough? Maybe she should pray aloud if she wanted the old gods to hear.  Maybe she should pray longer.  Sometimes her father had prayed a long time, she remembered.  But the old gods had never helped him.  Remembering that made her angry.  "You should have saved him," she scolded the tree.  "He prayed to you all the time.  I don't care if you help me or not.  I don't think you could even if you wanted to."

“Gods are not mocked, girl."

 The voice startled her.  She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword.  Jaqen H'ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees.  "A man comes to hear a name.  One and two and then comes three.  A man would have done."

Arya lowered the splintery point toward the ground.  "How did you know I was here?"

"A man sees.  A man hears.  A man knows."

She regarded him suspiciously.  Had the gods sent him? "How'd you make the dog kill Weese? Did you call Rorge and Biter up from hell? Is Jaqen H'ghar your true name?"

"Some men have many names.  Weasel.  Arry.  Arya."

She backed away from him, until she was pressed against the heart tree.  "Did Gendry tell?"

"A man knows," he said again.  "My lady of Stark."

Maybe the gods had sent him in answer to her prayers.  "I need you to help me get those men out of the dungeons.  That Glover and those others, all of them.  We have to kill the guards and open the cell somehow—"

"A girl forgets," he said quietly.  "Two she has had, three were owed.  If a guard must die, she needs only speak his name."

"But one guard won't be enough, we need to kill them all to open the cell." Arya bit her lip hard to stop from crying.  "I want you to save the northmen like I saved you."

He looked down at her pitilessly.  "Three lives were snatched from a god.  Three lives must be repaid.  The gods are not mocked." His voice was silk and steel.

 

As has been discussed many, many times, Arya seems to share several qualities & personality traits with her Aunt Lyanna, and it has been speculated that Arya’s journey throughout the series may also have echoes of that taken by/inflicted upon her Aunt Lyanna.       I believe Arya’s interaction with Jaqen may be one of those  hidden echoes, though indirectly – in this instance, her experience may parallel that of Howland Reed, the little crannogman aided and befriended by Lyanna Stark.

After the unexpected death of her father, Arya hitches a ride to the North with Yoren and his recruits for the Night’s Watch.    It is here that she meets Jaqen H’ghar, a captive chained inside a wagon with two other men retrieved from the Black Cells of King’s Landing :   the hideous Rorge and the even more hideous Biter  ( and we can argue over whether or not these two also represent some kind of lesser god/demon, making the wagon captives some kind of unholy trinity).

During the battle with Amory Lorch and his men at God’s Eye Town on the south shore of the lake, the wolf girl Arya Stark saves these three wrongdoers from a fiery death; this is an inversion to wolf girl Lyanna Stark defeating the squires bullying Howland Reed at Harrenhal, on the north shore of the God’s Eye, prior to her disappearance in the riverlands.

Some time later, Arya is taken captive by the Mountain and his men, and returned to Harrenhal – she becomes a prisoner of the castle.    Jaqen reappears (along with his two grotesque minions) and grants her three “death wishes” to right the balance of the lives she stole from the Red God.        This is, quite literally, giving the Devil his due – a point I will return to shortly.

"A man pays his debts.  A man owes three." 

"Three?" 

The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life.  This girl took three that were his.  This girl must give three in their places.  Speak the names, and a man will do the rest." 

Arya’s choices for her first two deaths – Chiswyck, Gregor Clegane’s man-at-arms, and Weese, understeward of the Wailing Tower -  have been selfish ones.   Although Chiswyck and Weese have treated everyone brutally, they both wronged Arya personally through their abuse and cruelty, so she gives Jaqen these names of these very minor players in the game instead of making a more altruistic choice of someone important/higher in command, like the Mountain or Amory Lorch.    Her selections and rationale are befitting that of a 9yo girl, but as the reality sinks in of her power over fate, she slows down and more carefully considers her third wish.

 

But now she wondered if that was truly the reason she had hesitated.  So long as she could kill with a whisper, Arya need not be afraid of anyone .  .  .  but once she used up the last death, she would only be a mouse again.

 

We see here that although she understands the importance of the third and final wish, and the need to approach the choice with more gravity, it is clear that the choice itself will still be somewhat selfish and self-serving in nature.  Arya (again, as befitting a 9yo girl) is looking out for herself one way or another. 

 

Some unexpected arrivals prod Arya into making her final selection – the captive northmen brought to the castle by the Bloody Mummers.

 

A Clash of Kings - Arya IX

 

Arya was thinking how long it had been since she'd had a slice off a pork roast when she saw the first of the prisoners. 

By his bearing and the proud way he held his head, he must have been a lord.  She could see mail glinting beneath his torn red surcoat.  At first Arya took him for a Lannister, but when he passed near a torch she saw his device was a silver fist, not a lion.  His wrists were bound tightly, and a rope around one ankle tied him to the man behind him, and him to the man behind him, so the whole column had to shuffle along in a lurching lockstep.  Many of the captives were wounded.  If any halted, one of the riders would trot up and give him a lick of the whip to get him moving again.  She tried to judge how many prisoners there were, but lost count before she got to fifty.  There were twice that many at least.  Their clothing was stained with mud and blood, and in the torchlight it was hard to make out all their badges and sigils, but some of those Arya glimpsed she recognized.  Twin towers.  Sunburst.  Bloody man.  Battle-axe.  The battle-axe is for Cerwyn, and the white sun on black is Karstark.  They're northmen.  My father's men, and Robb's.  She didn't like to think what that might mean.

 

Arya is a clever girl and perceives the opportunity here…for herself.  If she can free the northmen, they can rise up against Tywin’s men; she can then also be freed and return home to Winterfell in their company.   However, Arya is also quite aware that she is too small, young, and weak to accomplish this plan on her own.   She needs help.  

 

 

Here is where the parallel between Arya and Howland Reed begins to truly take shape (with plenty of inversion to boot, because that’s what George does).     First, the inversions:

 

H = Howland , A= Arya

 

H:  The castle of Harrenhal is now filled with people, housing those who have arrived for the celebration.

A:  The castle of Harrenhal is now mostly empty; the people who were once housed there have departed for battle.

 

H:  A guest from a noble northern house, Howland is persuaded to sit at the table with the other guests of high birth.   He mingles with the members of other northern houses.

A:  A captive from a noble northern house, Arya is forced to sleep and dine in the cellar.    Arya cannot mingle with members of other northern houses, because they are imprisoned in the dungeons.

 

H:   At Harrenhal there is singing and dancing and merriment, sounds of people having fun.

A:   At Harrenhal there is eerie silence and ghostly noises broken by sounds of general work.

 

H:   Howland does not actively seek aid in getting revenge upon the three squires; instead, his friends the wolf maid and the pup offer to help him (their “father’s man”) challenge the squires by providing materials/assistance.

A:   Arya actively seeks help in fulfilling her plan (setting free her “father’s men”) by going to Hot Pie and Gendry for materials/assistance; they refuse her.

 

Now, the parallels:

 

H:  A young crannogman, small of stature and naïve to the ways of the big outside world.

A:  A young girl, small of stature and naïve to the ways of the big outside world.

H:   With pledges of support of his new friends, Howland goes to the lake’s edge after the night’s festivities are over, casts his gaze to the Isle of Faces with its grove of weirwoods, and “said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck .  .  .”

A:   Without pledges of support of her old friends, Arya goes to the godswood of Harrenhal in the dark of night and says a silent prayer in front of the wicked & twisted heart tree.

H:  Howland wishes (we assume, this is indirectly stated in Meera’s retelling) to have vengeance upon those who wronged him, but in a way that he won’t shame himself and his people.     He desires to be brave.

A:  Arya wishes to have vengeance on those who wronged her, and to restore pride to herself and her shamed (via capture) people.   She desires to be brave.

 

Finally, the most important parallel of all: Howland and Arya pray.

Much as he wished to have his vengeance, he feared he would only make a fool of himself and shame his people.  The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be, and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck…

Arya went to her knees.  She wasn't sure how she should begin.  She clasped her hands together.  Help me, you old gods, she prayed silently.  Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell.  Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever.

 

After Howland says his prayer to the old gods, the Knight of the Laughing Tree appears with his red and white painted weirwood shield.     The weirwood’s face is laughing, perceived as mocking the tourney, the participants, the crown itself.     The mystery knight wins the joust and demands public admonishment of the squires, which fulfills Howland’s wish of seeing them shamed as he was shamed

 

After Arya says her prayer to the old gods, Jaqen H’ghar appears with his long red and white hair and warns her against mocking the gods via her beratement.     Jaqen later assists Arya in her plan to attack the guards, which fulfills Arya’s wish to free the northmen and secure her own freedom as well.

 

We know what follows each situation here – Howland’s mystery knight causes some temporary disruption at the tourney, but after his disappearance events continue as planned.    Jaqen  -with Arya’s help and weasel soup  -  frees the captive northmen who then permanently retake Harrenhal in the name of Roose Bolton.      All seems copacetic and benign, right?  Prayer asked, prayer answered, right?

 

Think again.   (cont.)

Edited by PrettyPig

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PART II 

“The gods are not mocked." His voice was silk and steel. 

"I never mocked."

 

 

We already know of one common element between Arya and Howland’s prayers:   the party to whom the wishes are made, the old gods themselves.    Howland directs his plea towards the Isle of Faces; Arya prays in front of the heart tree in the godswood.    

 

However, what is important here is perhaps not to whom or what they aimed their prayers, but WHERE they voiced them:

 

Harrenhal.

 

"Harrenhal." Every child of the Trident knew the tales told of Harrenhal, the vast fortress that King Harren the Black had raised beside the waters of Gods Eye three hundred years past, when the Seven Kingdoms had been seven kingdoms, and the riverlands were ruled by the ironmen from the islands.  In his pride, Harren had desired the highest hall and tallest towers in all Westeros.  Forty years it had taken, rising like a great shadow on the shore of the lake while Harren's armies plundered his neighbors for stone, lumber, gold, and workers.  Thousands of captives died in his quarries, chained to his sledges, or laboring on his five colossal towers.  Men froze by winter and sweltered in summer.  Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters.  Harren had beggared the riverlands and the Iron Islands alike to ornament his dream.  And when at last Harrenhal stood complete, on the very day King Harren took up residence, Aegon the Conqueror had come ashore at King's Landing. 

Catelyn could remember hearing Old Nan tell the story to her own children, back at Winterfell.  "And King Harren learned that thick walls and high towers are small use against dragons," the tale always ended.  "For dragons fly." Harren and all his line had perished in the fires that engulfed his monstrous fortress, and every house that held Harrenhal since had come to misfortune.  Strong it might be, but it was a dark place, and cursed.

 

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Harrenhal had witnessed more horror in its three hundred years than Casterly Rock had witnessed in three thousand.

 

You're a bold man to take Harrenhal for your seat.  Such a grim place, and huge ...  costly to maintain.  And some say cursed as well.

 

That is an ill place.  Cursed, they say.  Not that I am the sort to swallow such tales, but still, there it is.

 

Ah, and what a castle it is.  Cavernous halls and ruined towers, ghosts and draughts, ruinous to heat, impossible to garrison ...  and there’s that small matter of a curse.

 

This castle has an ill repute, and one that's well deserved.  It's said that Harren and his sons still walk the halls by night, afire.  Those who look upon them burst into flame.      Every man who holds this castle seems to come to a bad end.

 

Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways...  Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.

 

 

 

Harrenhal:  a haunted place, a cursed place.      A place of fire and blood, blood and fire.   Both Howland and Arya prayed to the gods while on the grounds of Harrenhal, a castle built of blood, a testament to the 40 years of evil and cruelty of Black Harren Hoare that went into its construction, and to the flame and horror that went into its demise when Aegon the Conqueror rode in on his dragon. 

 

Black Harren oversaw the chopping down of weirwoods thousands of years old so they could be used as timber in the castle; that wood would have suffered the tongues of Balerion’s flames just as the stones that melted, perhaps even more so.    In fact, the only weirwoods that we know of that still actually grow around Harrenhal are the ones on the Isle of Faces, and the one in the godswood to which Arya prays…but even that one seems compromised, corrupted:

Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground.  The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night.  Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk.  It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate.

 

And now, facing this tree, Arya asks the questions that I believe are key to understanding the importance of she and Howland beseeching their gods in this dark and ruinous place:

Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people?

I should pray, she thought suddenly.

 

And she does.    She makes her silent prayer to the old gods, then vocally chastises them.

 "You should have saved him," she scolded the tree.  "He prayed to you all the time.  I don't care if you help me or not.  I don't think you could even if you wanted to."

Arya issues this challenge to the “old gods” of the wood, gods that she thinks are still present in the terrible and angry heart tree of Harrenhal…and suddenly, Jaqen appears, Jaqen of his long red and white hair, as if a representative of the old gods themselves.

“Gods are not mocked, girl."

The voice startled her.  She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword.  Jaqen H'ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees.

Jaqen is the “god” that has emerged to respond to Arya’s prayer.,,,but who IS Jaqen?  Even Arya isn’t sure.

Arya lowered the splintery point toward the ground.  "How did you know I was here?"

"A man sees.  A man hears.  A man knows."

She regarded him suspiciously.  Had the gods sent him? "How'd you make the dog kill Weese? Did you call Rorge and Biter up from hell? Is Jaqen H'ghar your true name?"

"Some men have many names.”

Many names indeed.   In the Bible, the only figure that bears more names than Jesus Christ is Satan himself; Biblical mentions don’t even take into account all of the modern colloquial and regional terms, like those on  this list . (Note:  although “Satan” as we commonly know him has many identities, his TRUE name, his name before being cast from heaven, is not actually known.   Religious scholars have speculated that the pre-fall name was “Hillel” or some derivate of Heylel, “meaning "morning star", a name for Attar, the god of the planet Venus in Canaanite mythology  who attempted to scale the walls of the heavenly city but was vanquished by the god of the sun.   The name is used in Isaiah 14:12 in metaphorical reference to the king of Babylon.  Later tradition reinterpreted this passage as a reference to the fall of Satan.  The Latin Vulgate translation of this passage renders Heylel as "Lucifer" and this name continues to be used by some Christians as an alternative name for Satan.

This brings me to another colloquialism regarding Beelzebub or Old Scratch or whatever you fancy to call him:   “Speak of the devil, and the devil doth appear.”   I’m sure we’re all familiar with this idiom – coincidentally, it originated in the Middle Ages:  “this proverb (which was, and to a certain extent still is, rendered as "Talk of the Devil...") was a superstitious prohibition against speaking directly of the Devil or of evil in general, which was considered to incite that party to appear, generally with unfortunate consequences.” (Wikipedia)

In its current form, it is a way of implying that the speaker is tempting fate.

I will interject here with another story, one not included per se in ASOAIF, but familiar to many nonetheless in concept if not in name:   The Monkey’s Paw.

 

(Wikipedia)     "The Monkey's Paw" is a supernatural short story by author W.  W.  Jacobs first published in England in 1902.

In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey's paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.

The short story involves Mr.  and Mrs.  White and their adult son, Herbert.  Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw.  An old fakir placed a spell on the paw:  it would grant three wishes.  The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate.  Morris, having had a horrific experience using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr.  White retrieves it.  Before leaving, Morris warns Mr.  White that if he does use the paw, then it will be on his own head.

At Herbert's suggestion, Mr.  White flippantly wishes for £200, which will enable him to make the final mortgage payment for his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants.  The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory.  Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machinery accident.  Although the employer denies responsibility for the incident, the firm has decided to make a goodwill payment to the family of the deceased.  The payment, of £200, exactly matches the amount Herbert suggested his father should wish for.

Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs.  White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life.  Reluctantly, he does so.  Shortly afterward there is a knock at the door.  As Mrs.  White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door, Mr.  White, who had to identify his son's mutilated body, and who knows the corpse has been buried for more than a week, realizes that the thing outside is not the son he knew and loved, and makes his third wish.

The knocking suddenly stops.  Mrs.  White opens the door to find no one is there.

So what does this have to do with anything?  Well, my point is this:

When they made their pleas on the grounds of Harrenhal, Arya and Howland prayed to the wrong gods.     Or rather, the wrong god answered them.    And, unbeknownst to either,  they entered a pact with the devil – a Faustian bargain for which the devil will have his due. 

 Ironically, the location of Harrenhal, the black castle associated with demons and the dark arts, is directly across the Trident (yes, a river in Westeros, but also an instrument referred to as the Devil’s Pitchfork)  from the Crossroads.    Harrenhal  built near the crossroads, where the Devil appears in search of souls up for bargain -   the “crossroads” per old folk legend being heavily associated with demons and supernatural deals.

(Wikipedia):

In folk magic and mythology, crossroads may represent a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place.  Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally "neither here nor there", "betwixt and between".  

In conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality, in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn, and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills.

To drive into this a bit more, let’s look at a couple of KotLT passages:

The lad was no knight, no more than any of his people.  We sit a boat more often than a horse, and our hands are made for oars, not lances. 

 “The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be, and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck .  .  .” 

 But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.”

 

So in the KotLT tale, Howland Reed knows he doesn’t possess the requisite skills to participate in the joust and personally exact his comeuppance on the squires.   He goes to the God’s Eye late one night, looks to the Isle of Faces, and says his prayer.    Then, the KotLT shows up at the tourney at the onset of dusk, basically – a liminal time when the veil between natural and supernatural world is thinnest.      The wish is voiced at night; the wish is granted as twilight descends, as the veil between worlds grows thin  and allowing perhaps something not of this realm to slip through.    Had the gods sent him?

Now let’s examine Arya's first personal encounter with Jaqen at Harrenhal:

A Clash of Kings - Arya VII

She spent the rest of that day scrubbing steps inside the Wailing Tower.  By evenfall her hands were raw and bleeding and her arms so sore they trembled when she lugged the pail back to the cellar.  Too tired even for food, Arya begged Weese's pardons and crawled into her straw to sleep.  "Weese," she yawned.  "Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling.  The Tickler and the Hound.  Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei." She thought she might add three more names to her prayer, but she was too tired to decide tonight.

Arya was dreaming of wolves running wild through the wood when a strong hand clamped down over her mouth like smooth warm stone, solid and unyielding.  She woke at once, squirming and struggling.  "A girl says nothing," a voice whispered close behind her ear.  "A girl keeps her lips closed, no one hears, and friends may talk in secret.  Yes?"

Heart pounding, Arya managed the tiniest of nods.

Jaqen H'ghar took his hand away.  The cellar was black as pitch and she could not see his face, even inches away.  She could smell him, though; his skin smelled clean and soapy, and he had scented his hair.  "A boy becomes a girl," he murmured. 

"I was always a girl.  I didn't think you saw me."

"A man sees.  A man knows."

She remembered that she hated him.  "You scared me.  You're one of them now, I should have let you burn.  What are you doing here? Go away or I'll yell for Weese."

"A man pays his debts.  A man owes three."

"Three?"

"The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life.  This girl took three that were his.  This girl must give three in their places.  Speak the names, and a man will do the rest."

 

 

So after seeing Jaqen for the first time since the fire earlier that day, she goes to sleep thinking of three more names to add to her list, and is awoken by Jaqen in the pitch black room  - Jaqen, who just so happens to be there to grant her a wish of three lives.    Speak to the Devil at the Crossroads, and the Devil appears.

Then, her wishes are granted:

A Clash of Kings - Arya VII

The men all roared, none louder than Chiswyck himself, who laughed so hard at his own story that snot dribbled from his nose down into his scraggy grey beard.  Arya stood in the shadows of the stairwell and watched him.  She crept back down to the cellars without saying a word.  When Weese found that she hadn't asked about the clothes, he yanked down her breeches and caned her until blood ran down her thighs, but Arya closed her eyes and thought of all the sayings Syrio had taught her, so she scarcely felt it. 

Two nights later, he sent her to the Barracks Hall to serve at table.  She was carrying a flagon of wine and pouring when she glimpsed Jaqen H'ghar at his trencher across the aisle.  Chewing her lip, Arya glanced around warily to make certain Weese was not in sight.  Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself.

She took a step, and another, and with each she felt less a mouse.  She worked her way down the bench, filling wine cups.  Rorge sat to Jaqen's right, deep drunk, but he took no note of her.  Arya leaned close and whispered, "Chiswyck," right in Jaqen's ear.  The Lorathi gave no sign that he had heard.

Nothing happened the next day, nor the day after, but on the third day Arya went to the kitchens with Weese to fetch their dinner.  "One of the Mountain's men fell off a wallwalk last night and broke his fool neck," she heard Weese tell a cook.  “Drunk?”

"No more'n usual.  Some are saying it was Harren's ghost flung him down." He snorted to show what he thought of such notions.

It wasn't Harren, Arya wanted to say, it was me.  She had killed Chiswyck with a whisper, and she would kill two more before she was through.  I'm the ghost in Harrenhal, she thought.  And that night, there was one less name to hate. 

 

 

 A Clash of Kings - Arya VIII

"Weasel," Weese said that afternoon. "Get to the armory and tell Lucan that Ser Lyonel notched his sword in practice and needs a new one. Here's his mark."

"Weasel." Weese's voice cracked like a whip.  She never saw where he came from, but suddenly he was right in front of her.  "Give me that.  Took you long enough." He snatched the sword from her fingers, and dealt her a stinging slap with the back of his hand.  "Next time be quicker about it."

For a moment she had been a wolf again, but Weese's slap took it all away and left her with nothing but the taste of her own blood in her mouth.  She'd bitten her tongue when he hit her.  She hated him for that.

"You want another?" Weese demanded.  "You'll get it too.  I'll have none of your insolent looks.  Get down to the brewhouse and tell Tuffleberry that I have two dozen barrels for him, but he better send his lads to fetch them or I'll find someone wants 'em worse." Arya started off, but not quick enough for Weese.  "You run if you want to eat tonight," he shouted, his promises of a plump crisp capon already forgotten.  "And don't be getting lost again, or I swear I'll beat you bloody."

You won't, Arya thought.  You won't ever again.

Arya whirled and ran, , her feet flying over the cobbles all the way to the bathhouse.  She found Jaqen soaking in a tub, steam rising around him as a serving girl sluiced hot water over his head.  His long hair, red on one side and white on the other, fell down across his shoulders, wet and heavy. 

She crept up quiet as a shadow, but he opened his eyes all the same.  "She steals in on little mice feet, but a man hears," he said.  How could he hear me? she wondered, and it seemed as if he heard that as well.  "The scuff of leather on stone sings loud as warhorns to a man with open ears.  Clever girls go barefoot."

"I have a message." Arya eyed the serving girl uncertainly.  When she did not seem likely to go away, she leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear.  "Weese," she whispered. 

 

Pale light filled the yard when Lord Tywin Lannister took his leave of Harrenhal.  Arya watched from an arched window halfway up the Wailing Tower.

A shiver crept up Arya's spine as she watched them pass under the great iron portcullis of Harrenhal.  Suddenly she knew that she had made a terrible mistake.  I'm so stupid, she thought.  Weese did not matter, no more than Chiswyck had.  These were the men who mattered, the ones she ought to have killed.  Last night she could have whispered any of them dead, if only she hadn't been so mad at Weese for hitting her and lying about the capon.  Lord Tywin, why didn't I say Lord Tywin?

Perhaps it was not too late to change her mind.  Weese was not killed yet.  If she could find Jaqen, tell him…  Hurriedly, Arya ran down the twisting steps, her chores forgotten.  She heard the rattle of chains as the portcullis was slowly lowered, its spikes sinking deep into the ground .  .  .  and then another sound, a shriek of pain and fear. 

A dozen people got there before her, though none was coming any too close.  Arya squirmed between them.  Weese was sprawled across the cobbles, his throat a red ruin, eyes gaping sightlessly up at a bank of grey cloud.  His ugly spotted dog stood on his chest, lapping at the blood pulsing from his neck, and every so often ripping a mouthful of flesh out of the dead man's face.

 

 

There’s a pattern here of death wish/death fulfillment occurring either at night or near/during the liminal thresholds of dusk and dawn, very similar to what we see with Howland’s nighttime prayer to the old gods and the arrival of the mystery knight in late afternoon into evening.     

 

This pattern continues before Arya names her third and final name.    She knows her time with Jaqen is fleeting, but now she is beginning to suspect something is up with her Lorathi savior, although she’s still pretty okay with it :

 

But thinking of the village made her remember the march, and the storeroom, and the Tickler.  She thought of the little boy who'd been hit in the face with the mace, of stupid old All-for-Joffrey, of Lommy Greenhands.  I was a sheep, and then I was a mouse, I couldn't do anything but hide.  Arya chewed her lip and tried to think when her courage had come back.  Jaqen made me brave again.  He made me a ghost instead of a mouse.

She had been avoiding the Lorathi since Weese's death.  Chiswyck had been easy, anyone could push a man off the wallwalk, but Weese had raised that ugly spotted dog from a pup, and only some dark magic could have turned the animal against him.  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. 

 

 

cont.

 

Edited by PrettyPig

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PART III

I would like to return now to the Monkey’s Paw – and the underlying theme of the Monkey’s Paw tale:  three wishes, and the price paid for their realization.    The concept of three wishes granted by a supernatural power is prevalent in folk tales and cultures worldwide, so it isn’t a surprise that we see it in Westeros as well.    Arya is certainly familiar with it:

Jaqen still owed her one death.  In Old Nan's stories about men who were given magic wishes by a grumkin, you had to be especially careful with the third wish, because it was the last.  Chiswyck and Weese hadn't been very important.  The last death has to count, Arya told herself every night when she whispered her names.

The underlying premise of The Monkey’s Paw and other “three wishes” tales is people thinking they can change fate through intentional action or manipulation of action (the concept of predeterminism being alive and well here, obviously).    From the tale:

“It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,” said the sergeant-major, “a very holy man.  He wanted to

 show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. 

 

Interfering with Fate – mocking Fate, if you will.   As noted above, however, there is always a price:  gods are not mocked.

The sergeant-major from  The Monkey’s Paw goes on to tell the dark secrets of the paw:

“He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.”

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” said Herbert White, cleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth.  “I have,” he said, quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” asked Mrs.  White.

“I did,” said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

“And has anybody else wished?” persisted the old lady.

“The first man had his three wishes.   Yes,” was the reply; “I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death.   That’s how I got the paw.” 

 

In the tale, the sergeant-major is the second owner of the paw; after the first owner wishes for death,the paw falls into someone else’s possession.     I am reminded here of Arya and her final encounter with Jaqen H’ghar, when he bequeaths upon her a very special token:

 

"A god has his due.  And now a man must die." A strange smile touched the lips of Jaqen H'ghar. 

"Die?" she said, confused.  What did he mean? "But I unsaid the name.  You don't need to die now."

"I do.  My time is done." Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed.  His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before.  And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls. 

Arya's mouth hung open.  "Who are you?" she whispered, too astonished to be afraid.  "How did you do that? Was it hard?"

He grinned, revealing a shiny gold tooth.  "No harder than taking a new name, if you know the way."

"Show me," she blurted.  "I want to do it too."

"If you would learn, you must come with me."

Arya grew hesitant.  "Where?"

"Far and away, across the narrow sea."

"I can't.  I have to go home.  To Winterfell."

"Then we must part," he said, "for I have duties too." He lifted her hand and pressed a small coin into her palm.  "Here."

"What is it?"

“A coin of great value.”

Arya bit it.  It was so hard it could only be iron.  "Is it worth enough to buy a horse?"

"It is not meant for the buying of horses."

"Then what good is it?"

"As well ask what good is life, what good is death? If the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him—valar morghulis."

"Valar morghulis," Arya repeated.  It wasn't hard.  Her fingers closed tight over the coin.  Across the yard, she could hear men dying.  "Please don't go, Jaqen."

"Jaqen is as dead as Arry," he said sadly, "and I have promises to keep.  Valar morghulis, Arya Stark.  Say it again."

"Valar morghulis," she said once more, and the stranger in Jaqen's clothes bowed to her and stalked off through the darkness, cloak swirling.  She was alone with the dead men. 

 

After the owner “wishes” for death, the wish is granted – Jaqen ‘dies’ and becomes someone else.    The token - the Paw, the iron coin -  passes to its new (and perhaps final) owner.       (I’m further intrigued here by the repetition of the phrase valar morghulis – it is voiced two times each; first Jaqen, then Arya…the second time after a prompting by Jaqen.    Almost ritualistic, although Arya wouldn’t know this – making me think again of oral pacts & verbal contracts, sealing the deal with a spoken word.  A killing word, in this case, to make @ravenous reader’s argument.)

 

A couple of other things to touch upon with regard to wish fulfillment.    The grumkins would be proud of Arya – she used her third wish quite carefully indeed:

"The name .  .  .  can I name anyone? And you'll kill him?"

Jaqen H'ghar inclined his head.  "A man has said."

"Anyone?" she repeated.  "A man, a woman, a little baby, or Lord Tywin, or the High Septon, or your father?"

"A man's sire is long dead, but did he live, and did you know his name, he would die at your command."

"Swear it," Arya said.  "Swear it by the gods."

"By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it." He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood.  "By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it."

He has sworn. "Even if I named the king . . ."

"Speak the name, and death will come.  On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come.  A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies." He knelt beside her, so they were face-to-face.  "A girl whispers if she fears to speak aloud.  Whisper it now.  Is it Joffrey?"

Arya put her lips to his ear.  "It's Jaqen H'ghar."

Even in the burning barn, with walls of flame towering all around and him in chains, he had not seemed so distraught as he did now.  "A girl .  .  .  she makes a jest."

"You swore.  The gods heard you swear.”

"The gods did hear." There was a knife in his hand suddenly, its blade thin as her little finger.  Whether it was meant for her or him, Arya could not say.  "A girl will weep.  A girl will lose her only friend."**

"You're not my friend.  A friend would help me." She stepped away from him, balanced on the balls of her feet in case he threw his knife.  "I'd never kill a friend." **

Jaqen's smile came and went.  "A girl might .  .  .  name another name then, if a friend did help?"

"A girl might," she said.  "If a friend did help."

The knife vanished.  "Come."

"Now?" She had never thought he would act so quickly. 

"A man hears the whisper of sand in a glass.  A man will not sleep until a girl unsays a certain name.  Now, evil child."

I'm not an evil child, she thought, I am a direwolf, and the ghost in Harrenhal.  She put her broomstick back in its hiding place and followed him from the godswood. 

 

First, it is significant that Jaqen swears to the gods by placing his hand in the mouth of the weirwood – the twisted and ragey weirwood that Arya thinks looks too cruel and hateful to be a god.   (Personally, I believe she’s right.)   Next, Jaqen swears to all the gods – something of an “I am Legion” association, really.  Does this make the oath extra special…or extra meaningless?   If the pledge is based on a lie, i.e. his belief in all these gods, is it really a pledge?  Does the oath have any weight, or is it merely another empty promise for which the Devil is known?  

(**I will also interject here with a pop culture Easter egg:    GRRM is a big fan of The Grateful Dead.  One of the Dead’s ‘Gratest’ hit songs?  “Friend of the Devil”.   I set out running but I'll take my time; A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine…”)

The real meat of this passage, though, is Arya gettting one over on her ‘only friend’ Jaqen – a story nearly as old as that of dealing with the devil in the first place, TRICKING the devil so as to undo the bargain or avoid the consequences of the bargain.   Arya tricks Jaqen by marking him for death with her third wish; having been outsmarted by a 9yo girl, Jaqen agrees to help Arya fulfill her REAL last wish:  to free the northmen and retake Harrenhal.    Once the castle has been claimed, Jaqen is released from his oath and the bargain is complete. 

"A girl does not understand?"

"Yes I do," she said, though she didn't, not truly. 

 The Lorathi must have seen it on her face.  "A goat has no loyalty.  Soon a wolf banner is raised here, I think.  But first a man would hear a certain name unsaid."

"I take back the name." Arya chewed her lip.  "Do I still have a third death?"

"A girl is greedy." Jaqen touched one of the dead guards and showed her his bloody fingers.  "Here is three and there is four and eight more lie dead below.  The debt is paid."

"The debt is paid," Arya agreed reluctantly.  She felt a little sad.  Now she was just a mouse again.

This begs the question, however:  IS the bargain complete?   Arya was owed one life – Jaqen counts off fifteen dead men to her in the space of that conversation, with more dying around them.     The balance is upset, but there is no consequence for all these additional deaths attributed to Arya?   I’m not so sure I buy that.    Arya soon finds herself again a “captive” of Harrenhal, just in a different sense to a different gaoler.   She learns that her younger brothers have been murdered by Theon Greyjoy.  She escapes Lord Bolton and Harrenhal, only to be captured by the Brotherhood without Banners.   She escapes the Brotherhood, only to be captured again by Sandor Clegane.   She witnesses the brutal murders of her mother Catelyn and brother Robb at the Red Wedding.   She learns that there will be no hope for her at the Eyrie with her Aunt Lysa, nor at Riverrun with her Grandfather Hoster or Uncle Edmure.   Finally, even Sandor Clegane, her Odd Couple captor and protector, is lost to her.  Valar morghulis.   

It should not be a surprise then that Arya’s hope for salvation, her last light in the darkness, is none other than the iron coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar.  All that remains to her is that one artifact, that monkey’s paw…the token of Last Resort that leads her to the House of Black and White, where in order to live she will be forced to give up her identity and pledge herself, her soul, her LIFE, to the God of Death.   Valar dohaeris.  The Devil has gained a new minion, the pact sealed with blood when she dons her first face - now the debt is paid.

This brings me to Howland Reed, and his prayer spoken at Harrenhal.   We know little and less about events that transpired after the tourney of Harrenhal, and most of that sparse knowledge is related to Lyanna Stark and not Howland.   In fact, we know nothing about Howland’s post-tourney actions beyond his presence at Ned’s side at the tower of joy.     Regardless, I believe that the similarity in type and location of his prayer in comparison to Arya’s will prove to have a similar result as well: a dire consequence, a debt owed, a steep payment extracted.

Did Howland’s prayer create a bargain that helped forge another link in the Robert’s Rebellion chain of events?   We certainly have evidence of some qualifying “consequences”  that share a dotted line back to Howland Reed:   Aerys’ wrath, Lyanna crowned as Queen of Love and Beauty, Lyanna taken at swordpoint and possibly raped “hundreds of times”, three Starks – Rickard, Brandon, and Lyanna herself – all dead before their time.   Could these events be the result of Howland’s self-serving yet innocent prayer on cursed ground?  

The idea of Howland’s potential contract with the Devil/Death/whatever inhabits Harrenhal invokes more questions than answers.   How many wishes did he make?   Did he accompany Ned to the tower of joy in an attempt to undo the damage?  Howland never leaves the Neck – is this in attempt to avoid the Devil and therefore avoid upholding his end of the bargain (avoidance of /ignoring the terms of a deal being a common tactic of the Devil-trickery trope, fwiw)?

(I’m reminded now of this little nugget from a 2012 GRRM interview:

Quote

[Laughs] Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy... In the Wars of the Roses, that you mentioned, there was one Lord who had been prophesied he would die beneath the walls of a certain castle and he was superstitious at that sort of walls, so he never came anyway near that castle. He stayed thousands of leagues away from that particular castle because of the prophecy. However, he was killed in the first battle of St. Paul de Vence and when they found him dead he was outside of an inn whose sign was the picture of that castle! [Laughs] So you know? That’s the way prophecies come true in unexpected ways. The more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true, and I make a little fun with that.

http://www.adriasnews.com/2012/10/george-r-r-martin-interview.html?spref=tw   )

My last thoughts on Howland Reed involve the Knight of the Laughing Tree.   Meera and Joejn, though intimately familiar with the tale, don’t appear to have concrete knowledge of the identity of the mystery knight – in fact, the siblings seem to have competing opinions about who it may have been.  This indicates Howland never told his children/confirmed it with his children – he allowed them to make assumptions of their own.    Is this because he doesn’t actually know?  Was the KotLT truly a representative of the gods of Harrenhal, a “faceless” stranger sent to answer Howland’s prayer as Jaqen answered Arya’s?    Or…has he not told them because he CAN’T – at least not without admitting that he made a grievous error that led to death and ruin?   Did Howland himself cause the “sadder story” for Lyanna Stark at which Meera hints to Bran? 

I also hope that one day we will learn who mocked the gods at the tourney of Harrenhal, and how.    Perhaps those gods were angered by Howland praying to the “frenemy” across the water instead of the one upon whose land he stood …or perhaps they took insult at a teenager or two dressing in silly armor and playing silly games, mocking the angry heart tree of Harrenhal by painting a laughing tree on a shield.   We simply don’t know…but we DO know that gods are not mocked, and doing such means there stands a price to be paid.      .

END

 

TL;DR:  The “old gods” in the vicinity of Harrenhal may not be the old gods at all; instead they may be a darker and malignant force, a remnant of the “devilry” of  Black Harren Hoare .     Arya’s interactions with Jaqen H’ghar at Harrenhal are reminiscent of a Faustian bargain with the devil; she may have unwittingly entered this bargain when she made a plea to the old gods in front of Harrenhal’s weirwood.    Although Arya’s “wish” is granted by Jaqen, she goes on to experience further tragedy and sorrow on her path, including the loss of her mother and brother.    Their deaths are preceded by the unlawful execution of her father Eddard.

Howland Reed also uttered a prayer on the grounds of Harrenhal.     His “wish” appears to be granted in the form of the Mystery Knight of the Laughing Tree.    Later, Howland also experiences tragedy and loss of those he is close to, including two Starks – father Rickard and son  Brandon.    In an inversion to Arya’s story, their deaths were succeeded by the death of Lyanna Stark, manner unverified.   I postulate that Howland Reed also unwittingly entered a deal with the “devil” of Harrenhal when he said his prayer toward the Isle of Faces; the consequences of this bargain are played out in Robert’s Rebellion.

These bargains and subsequent personal tragedies may have come about because the “gods” were mocked – whatever force inhabits the area of Harrenhal was not respected, and/or its authority was challenged in some way.   Both Howland and Arya prayed to their gods of the wood, usurping the position of the actual “god” present at Harrenhal.    Howland and Arya are sent a human (or disguised as human) representative that grants their respective wishes; these representatives are in their own way a “mockery” of the old gods, but their portrayal is sufficient to trick Arya and Howland into believing their prayers have indeed been answered, which leads to the sealing of the devil’s bargain.

 

This essay was meant to be introductory only; I am quite positive that further scrutiny of Arya’s chapters at Harrenhal will reveal even more echoes of the past, and that other POV viewpoints involving association with Harrenhal can also be mined for similar “deals with the devil” – Jaime immediately comes to mind, as does House Lothston and other unfortunate inhabitants of the castle.   We may even find MORE evidence of such bargains in places that are NOT Harrenhal – Dany’s dragons and the prophecies in the House of the Undying, for instance.    

Another aspect to this line of thinking is whether or not the “old gods” ARE the Devil…not in the fire-and-brimstone, horned-guy-in-red-suit kind of way, but in the manner of the God of the Old Testament – pitiless, vindictive, jealous, vengeful.    You know, instead of white, blond, blue-eyed Middle Eastern Jesus saying, “Bring me all your lambs and little children so that I may comfort them and bring peace to their suffering”, it’s Rage Yahweh demanding, “Sacrifice your lambs and children on my altar to prove your devotion or I shall smote thee and all the fruit of your loins with my fiery wrath.”    In other words, the old gods of ASOIAF may not exactly be the passive, naturalistic, mostly benevolent figures that we’ve been led to believe.   Jaqen and Howland’s Green Men may easily express this aspect as well.

I welcome all insight and discussion of these potential demonic contracts.

Edited by PrettyPig

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An interesting post and worth re-reading. It certainly takes us far far away from the casual assumption that Lyanna was the mystery knight and Rhaegar fell in love after discovering her identity.

GRRM got it wrong by the way about the Wars of the Roses. The story is a well known one which was used by Shakespear - the Duke of Somerset was warned he would die at a castle [no particular one mentioned], avoided them like the plague and was hacked to death outside The Castle inn at the battle of St. Albans

Edited by Black Crow
silly spelling mistake

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Holy Cow, Pretty Pig--that was a great read.   I admit the longer posts usually lose my interest somewhere near the end of the 1st page.   This was riveting reading, full of interesting premise and extraneous reference.   Again, that extraneous reference usually loses my interest instantly.   You've tied some very interesting elements together here.  Rather than some magical intervention of the gods you make us consider a malignant answerer of prayers.  We know TGO is the opposite of R'hllor.  My thoughts now turn to @Lady Dacey's Black Goat and Pale Child of Bakalon as perhaps dark gods in opposition to the 7 or Old Gods.   (Of course, I understand the jury is still out on the particular bent of the Old Gods). Since I'm spinning my wheels about the Black Goat and demons--what of these parts of Ice reforged by a possible demon worshiper in opposition (or perhaps conjunction) with the Old Gods?  Gads, Lady D's thread has my thoughts in conflict with each other.   I think the biggest thing I took from that topic was questioning the goodness or evil of the Many Faced God.   You clearly set this up to more evil and make a damned fine case for it.  However, Jaqen is posing as a R'hllorist Lorathi.   This is not his face.   Who is the true Jaqen Hagar?  Does the MFG or R'hllor require the 3 deaths?  

I'm honored to have had any small part in the creation of this fine essay.  Pretty, this is real food for thought and I look forward to this journey into the possible influences for both Howland Reed and Arya here.   Well done, Lady.   

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And of course this little gem from GRRM makes a mockery of those expecting the Azor Ahai/Prince that was Promised prophecy[s?] turning out literally, and encourages us to dig a little deeper below that superficial surface.

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3 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

This brings me to Howland Reed, and his prayer spoken at Harrenhal.   We know little and less about events that transpired after the tourney of Harrenhal, and most of that sparse knowledge is related to Lyanna Stark and not Howland.   In fact, we know nothing about Howland’s post-tourney actions beyond his presence at Ned’s side at the tower of joy.     Regardless, I believe that the similarity in type and location of his prayer in comparison to Arya’s will prove to have a similar result as well: a dire consequence, a debt owed, a steep payment extracted.

Hi Pretty, thanks for the kind mention! :)

Given that the common element in the Faustian bargain often appears to be someone praying to a god (frequently the trees) for a miracle, in exchange for the sacrifice of that person's child (e.g. Rhaego in Dany's analogous deal with the devil), @Unchained and I have previously speculated that Howland's prayers were answered by the 'trees,' in exchange for his first-born son Jojen being pledged and then later being given to the trees, literally (I believe the 'Jojen paste' theory is sadly correct, namely that Jojen's sacrifice was the currency paid in order to open up the weirnet to Bran -- for whom Jojen ended up in the weirwood bowl/bole).  Sometimes the 'promissory note' (i.e. debt pending) represented by the 'promised prince' (or heir) -- who is actually a 'promised price' (see @Wizz-The-Smith's 'coins-scion' wordplay) -- is cashed in transgenerationally:

Quote

A Storm of Swords - Tyrion X

It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads. "Well, Prince Rhaegar married Elia of Dorne, not Cersei Lannister of Casterly Rock. So it would seem your mother won that tilt."

"She thought so," Prince Oberyn agreed, "but your father is not a man to forget such slights. He taught that lesson to Lord and Lady Tarbeck once, and to the Reynes of Castamere. And at King's Landing, he taught it to my sister. My helm, Dagos." Manwoody handed it to him; a high golden helm with a copper disk mounted on the brow, the sun of Dorne. The visor had been removed, Tyrion saw. "Elia and her children have waited long for justice." Prince Oberyn pulled on soft red leather gloves, and took up his spear again. "But this day they shall have it."

 

Edited by ravenous reader

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57 minutes ago, Curled Finger said:

I admit the longer posts usually lose my interest somewhere near the end of the 1st page.   This was riveting reading, full of interesting premise and extraneous reference.   Again, that extraneous reference usually loses my interest instantly.

Thank you, good ser, for sticking with it!  This is actually the first official essay I've posted on this forum  - normally I confine my thoughts elsewhere, for exactly the reasons you list.   My other treatises have been about 3x as long and have considerable external sourcing; I knew with this one that I wanted to involve the people that inspired it, so this was a real exercise in restraint.

1 hour ago, Curled Finger said:

Rather than some magical intervention of the gods you make us consider a malignant answerer of prayers.

 

1 hour ago, Curled Finger said:

 I think the biggest thing I took from that topic was questioning the goodness or evil of the Many Faced God.   You clearly set this up to more evil and make a damned fine case for it.  However, Jaqen is posing as a R'hllorist Lorathi.   This is not his face.   Who is the true Jaqen Hagar?

That's exactly the gist.   In regard to Harrenhal and its black curse, I go back to its founder Black Harren.   Harren Hoare chose this specific location for his horror house near the crossroads for a reason - one could make the case for trade, convenience, proximity to King's Landing, etc, but I wonder if there was some darker force at work.    

There's an old legend about the famous blues musician Robert Johnson that says he met the Devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in trade for his gift at playing guitar.   The authenticity of this legend is disputed to this day (although Johnson's genius is not), but is nonetheless something of a cornerstone in blues history; lots of folks know the story even if they don't know Johnson's music.    Anyway, my point is that GRRM could have something similar in mind for Black Harren - he made a deal with "something" in order to build his monstrous castle, but didn't take into account a specific condition about living in it  (another common element of contracts with the devil - loopholes and hidden clauses).   Then, Aegon I came along and roasted Harren in his new home...and I think at this point the contract with *whatever* was honored, Black Harren's "soul" went into the tree/the land/the area, and the place became cursed henceforth.

As for Jaqen - and possibly the Mystery Knight - I feel he may be an aspect of the *whatever* malevolence around Harrenhal.  It's telling to me that when he gifts the iron coin to Arya (after changing his face), he says, "If the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him—valar morghulis."    Obviously Arya isn't going to find "Jaqen H'ghar" again, so who would she be finding in Braavos?  My only answer would be Death - the Stranger, the god with a black oval in place of a visage, the faceless man.   It can't be coincidental that Arya prays in a black place, and her prayers are answered by a figure whose main purpose seems to be to bring death.

1 hour ago, Black Crow said:

And of course this little gem from GRRM makes a mockery of those expecting the Azor Ahai/Prince that was Promised prophecy[s?] turning out literally, and encourages us to dig a little deeper below that superficial surface.

Indeed....in that same interview, GRRM makes some other comments to that effect as well regarding internet theories about prophecy - that many of these theories err in taking the statements at face value, and aren't even close to the actual meaning.

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4 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

Thank you, good ser, for sticking with it!  This is actually the first official essay I've posted on this forum  - normally I confine my thoughts elsewhere, for exactly the reasons you list.   My other treatises have been about 3x as long and have considerable external sourcing; I knew with this one that I wanted to involve the people that inspired it, so this was a real exercise in restraint.

 

That's exactly the gist.   In regard to Harrenhal and its black curse, I go back to its founder Black Harren.   Harren Hoare chose this specific location for his horror house near the crossroads for a reason - one could make the case for trade, convenience, proximity to King's Landing, etc, but I wonder if there was some darker force at work.    

There's an old legend about the famous blues musician Robert Johnson that says he met the Devil at the crossroads and sold his soul in trade for his gift at playing guitar.   The authenticity of this legend is disputed to this day (although Johnson's genius is not), but is nonetheless something of a cornerstone in blues history; lots of folks know the story even if they don't know Johnson's music.    Anyway, my point is that GRRM could have something similar in mind for Black Harren - he made a deal with "something" in order to build his monstrous castle, but didn't take into account a specific condition about living in it  (another common element of contracts with the devil - loopholes and hidden clauses).   Then, Aegon I came along and roasted Harren in his new home...and I think at this point the contract with *whatever* was honored, Black Harren's "soul" went into the tree/the land/the area, and the place became cursed henceforth.

As for Jaqen - and possibly the Mystery Knight - I feel he may be an aspect of the *whatever* malevolence around Harrenhal.  It's telling to me that when he gifts the iron coin to Arya (after changing his face), he says, "If the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him—valar morghulis."    Obviously Arya isn't going to find "Jaqen H'ghar" again, so who would she be finding in Braavos?  My only answer would be Death - the Stranger, the god with a black oval in place of a visage, the faceless man.   It can't be coincidental that Arya prays in a black place, and her prayers are answered by a figure whose main purpose seems to be to bring death.

 

Ha, and here I was thinking I was the only person in the world who knew the legend of the crossroads as related to Robert Johnson!   

It is indeed curious that Arya is unlikely to ever find Jaqen Hagar again, but he invites her to.  A Faceless Man as death personified is a fairly new literal concept for me, so pardon my foolish questions.   To my own questions about Jaqen...the meat in my inquiry is to which god requires death to pay for life?  Is it a R'hllor or MFG thing?  Was Jaqen keeping in character or was he admitting the truth of a precept of the Faceless Men?  You know I wobble in my own assumptions regarding the Faceless Men.  Their gift is a thing I would consider to be a real gift--an end to suffering.   Still, their contracts are curious as I took the murder of the insurance salesman to be a vigilante move of sorts.  Oh yeah, I could go around for days with this with my thousand and one questions.   

You brought up in the body of the OP that Howland and Arya may actually have to correct some awful thing that has been put into action.   I find it very curious 2 powerful magicians such as HR & Arya would be the center of these er, bargains.  Arya's as you say, just a little girl.  We have the luxury of knowing Arya's thoughts where we only have passing comments and thoughts regarding HR from other characters.  Certainly his daughter likes him and Ned and Robb by extension.   Lyanna and Benjen seem to take to him, but that could be more of a response to his injuries than himself.  Still, he hasn't got a bad reputation and seems to be thought well of at least in the glimpses we get.   Are you thinking it is their extraordinary magical talents that attracted these visitations?  Would any prayer given at Harrenhal be met with a similar entity?   I'm thinking specifically of Bonifer Hasty and his praying brothers.    This doesn't bode well even a little bit.    

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8 hours ago, ravenous reader said:

Sometimes the 'promissory note' (i.e. debt pending) represented by the 'promised prince' (or heir) -- who is actually a 'promised price' (see @Wizz-The-Smith's 'coins-scion' wordplay) -- is cashed in transgenerationally:

Quote

A Storm of Swords - Tyrion X

It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads.

That is most interesting indeed, and Howland/Jojen  perfectly fit that pattern...but then we have Arya to consider.  If this is a type of debt that is passed on to children/repayment expected from children, then throwing Arya into the mix perhaps means we should take a closer look at NED Stark and HIS potential actions within the vicinity of Harrenhal as well.    Did Ned make a wish of his own?  Did he renege on a deal?  Did he act as a stand-in for someone else?   Many possibilities here - there's Lyanna, of course, and her (presumed) son Jon, but I'm also reminded of this:
 

Quote

 

Ned's mouth tightened in anger. "Nor will I. Leave it be, Robert, for the love you say you bear me. I dishonored myself and I dishonored Catelyn, in the sight of gods and men."

"Gods have mercy, you scarcely knew Catelyn."

"I had taken her to wife. She was carrying my child."

 

Perhaps this passage has an alternate meaning beyond a cover for his bastard son's parentage.    What did Ned do in the sight of gods and men that would have standing consequence for a child of his blood who finds herself at Harrenhal?   Although Robb and Sansa also traveled through the riverlands, neither of them ever ended up near the black castle...only Arya.     Could Ned have failed to honor a pledge of his own, one that the "next available" Stark is obligated to fulfill?    A girl ponders.

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4 hours ago, Curled Finger said:

 Are you thinking it is their extraordinary magical talents that attracted these visitations?  Would any prayer given at Harrenhal be met with a similar entity?   I'm thinking specifically of Bonifer Hasty and his praying brothers.    This doesn't bode well even a little bit.

Oh my...I'm out of time for tonight, but please expand on this if/when you can!     Bonifer & Co. would be praying to the Seven and not the old gods that the Devil/whatever seem to be impersonating there, but perhaps the religion itself is incidental & just a matter of convenience for the entity doing the answering?     The Devil wears many disguises, after all...what's stopping him from manifesting as one of the Seven?  Food for thought!

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6 hours ago, Curled Finger said:

You brought up in the body of the OP that Howland and Arya may actually have to correct some awful thing that has been put into action.   I find it very curious 2 powerful magicians such as HR & Arya would be the center of these er, bargains.  Arya's as you say, just a little girl.  We have the luxury of knowing Arya's thoughts where we only have passing comments and thoughts regarding HR from other characters.  Certainly his daughter likes him and Ned and Robb by extension.   Lyanna and Benjen seem to take to him, but that could be more of a response to his injuries than himself.  Still, he hasn't got a bad reputation and seems to be thought well of at least in the glimpses we get.   A

Yes but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and the point of so many of these Faustian is that they are entered into innocently.

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2 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

Oh my...I'm out of time for tonight, but please expand on this if/when you can!     Bonifer & Co. would be praying to the Seven and not the old gods that the Devil/whatever seem to be impersonating there, but perhaps the religion itself is incidental & just a matter of convenience for the entity doing the answering?     The Devil wears many disguises, after all...what's stopping him from manifesting as one of the Seven?  Food for thought!

You mean the Stranger ?

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16 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

 

K, im curious, partially cause i have no idea where your going with this hahah but woooooooooooo, and people my stuff's too long lol 

 (My attention span) - "Squirrel!!!"

Give me a little time to read this and get where your going with this haha Harrenhal greatly interest me and i havn't put my attention there yet really so im intrigued :)

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16 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

PART II 

“The gods are not mocked." His voice was silk and steel. 

"I never mocked."

 

 

We already know of one common element between Arya and Howland’s prayers:   the party to whom the wishes are made, the old gods themselves.    Howland directs his plea towards the Isle of Faces; Arya prays in front of the heart tree in the godswood.    

 

However, what is important here is perhaps not to whom or what they aimed their prayers, but WHERE they voiced them:

 

Harrenhal.

 

"Harrenhal." Every child of the Trident knew the tales told of Harrenhal, the vast fortress that King Harren the Black had raised beside the waters of Gods Eye three hundred years past, when the Seven Kingdoms had been seven kingdoms, and the riverlands were ruled by the ironmen from the islands.  In his pride, Harren had desired the highest hall and tallest towers in all Westeros.  Forty years it had taken, rising like a great shadow on the shore of the lake while Harren's armies plundered his neighbors for stone, lumber, gold, and workers.  Thousands of captives died in his quarries, chained to his sledges, or laboring on his five colossal towers.  Men froze by winter and sweltered in summer.  Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters.  Harren had beggared the riverlands and the Iron Islands alike to ornament his dream.  And when at last Harrenhal stood complete, on the very day King Harren took up residence, Aegon the Conqueror had come ashore at King's Landing. 

Catelyn could remember hearing Old Nan tell the story to her own children, back at Winterfell.  "And King Harren learned that thick walls and high towers are small use against dragons," the tale always ended.  "For dragons fly." Harren and all his line had perished in the fires that engulfed his monstrous fortress, and every house that held Harrenhal since had come to misfortune.  Strong it might be, but it was a dark place, and cursed.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Harrenhal had witnessed more horror in its three hundred years than Casterly Rock had witnessed in three thousand.

 

You're a bold man to take Harrenhal for your seat.  Such a grim place, and huge ...  costly to maintain.  And some say cursed as well.

 

That is an ill place.  Cursed, they say.  Not that I am the sort to swallow such tales, but still, there it is.

 

Ah, and what a castle it is.  Cavernous halls and ruined towers, ghosts and draughts, ruinous to heat, impossible to garrison ...  and there’s that small matter of a curse.

 

This castle has an ill repute, and one that's well deserved.  It's said that Harren and his sons still walk the halls by night, afire.  Those who look upon them burst into flame.      Every man who holds this castle seems to come to a bad end.

 

Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways...  Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.

 

 

 

Harrenhal:  a haunted place, a cursed place.      A place of fire and blood, blood and fire.   Both Howland and Arya prayed to the gods while on the grounds of Harrenhal, a castle built of blood, a testament to the 40 years of evil and cruelty of Black Harren Hoare that went into its construction, and to the flame and horror that went into its demise when Aegon the Conqueror rode in on his dragon. 

 

Black Harren oversaw the chopping down of weirwoods thousands of years old so they could be used as timber in the castle; that wood would have suffered the tongues of Balerion’s flames just as the stones that melted, perhaps even more so.    In fact, the only weirwoods that we know of that still actually grow around Harrenhal are the ones on the Isle of Faces, and the one in the godswood to which Arya prays…but even that one seems compromised, corrupted:

Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground.  The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night.  Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk.  It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate.

 

And now, facing this tree, Arya asks the questions that I believe are key to understanding the importance of she and Howland beseeching their gods in this dark and ruinous place:

Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people?

I should pray, she thought suddenly.

 

And she does.    She makes her silent prayer to the old gods, then vocally chastises them.

 "You should have saved him," she scolded the tree.  "He prayed to you all the time.  I don't care if you help me or not.  I don't think you could even if you wanted to."

Arya issues this challenge to the “old gods” of the wood, gods that she thinks are still present in the terrible and angry heart tree of Harrenhal…and suddenly, Jaqen appears, Jaqen of his long red and white hair, as if a representative of the old gods themselves.

“Gods are not mocked, girl."

The voice startled her.  She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword.  Jaqen H'ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees.

Jaqen is the “god” that has emerged to respond to Arya’s prayer.,,,but who IS Jaqen?  Even Arya isn’t sure.

Arya lowered the splintery point toward the ground.  "How did you know I was here?"

"A man sees.  A man hears.  A man knows."

She regarded him suspiciously.  Had the gods sent him? "How'd you make the dog kill Weese? Did you call Rorge and Biter up from hell? Is Jaqen H'ghar your true name?"

"Some men have many names.”

Many names indeed.   In the Bible, the only figure that bears more names than Jesus Christ is Satan himself; Biblical mentions don’t even take into account all of the modern colloquial and regional terms, like those on  this list . (Note:  although “Satan” as we commonly know him has many identities, his TRUE name, his name before being cast from heaven, is not actually known.   Religious scholars have speculated that the pre-fall name was “Hillel” or some derivate of Heylel, “meaning "morning star", a name for Attar, the god of the planet Venus in Canaanite mythology  who attempted to scale the walls of the heavenly city but was vanquished by the god of the sun.   The name is used in Isaiah 14:12 in metaphorical reference to the king of Babylon.  Later tradition reinterpreted this passage as a reference to the fall of Satan.  The Latin Vulgate translation of this passage renders Heylel as "Lucifer" and this name continues to be used by some Christians as an alternative name for Satan.

This brings me to another colloquialism regarding Beelzebub or Old Scratch or whatever you fancy to call him:   “Speak of the devil, and the devil doth appear.”   I’m sure we’re all familiar with this idiom – coincidentally, it originated in the Middle Ages:  “this proverb (which was, and to a certain extent still is, rendered as "Talk of the Devil...") was a superstitious prohibition against speaking directly of the Devil or of evil in general, which was considered to incite that party to appear, generally with unfortunate consequences.” (Wikipedia)

In its current form, it is a way of implying that the speaker is tempting fate.

I will interject here with another story, one not included per se in ASOAIF, but familiar to many nonetheless in concept if not in name:   The Monkey’s Paw.

 

(Wikipedia)     "The Monkey's Paw" is a supernatural short story by author W.  W.  Jacobs first published in England in 1902.

In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey's paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.

The short story involves Mr.  and Mrs.  White and their adult son, Herbert.  Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw.  An old fakir placed a spell on the paw:  it would grant three wishes.  The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate.  Morris, having had a horrific experience using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr.  White retrieves it.  Before leaving, Morris warns Mr.  White that if he does use the paw, then it will be on his own head.

At Herbert's suggestion, Mr.  White flippantly wishes for £200, which will enable him to make the final mortgage payment for his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants.  The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory.  Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machinery accident.  Although the employer denies responsibility for the incident, the firm has decided to make a goodwill payment to the family of the deceased.  The payment, of £200, exactly matches the amount Herbert suggested his father should wish for.

Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs.  White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life.  Reluctantly, he does so.  Shortly afterward there is a knock at the door.  As Mrs.  White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door, Mr.  White, who had to identify his son's mutilated body, and who knows the corpse has been buried for more than a week, realizes that the thing outside is not the son he knew and loved, and makes his third wish.

The knocking suddenly stops.  Mrs.  White opens the door to find no one is there.

So what does this have to do with anything?  Well, my point is this:

When they made their pleas on the grounds of Harrenhal, Arya and Howland prayed to the wrong gods.     Or rather, the wrong god answered them.    And, unbeknownst to either,  they entered a pact with the devil – a Faustian bargain for which the devil will have his due. 

 Ironically, the location of Harrenhal, the black castle associated with demons and the dark arts, is directly across the Trident (yes, a river in Westeros, but also an instrument referred to as the Devil’s Pitchfork)  from the Crossroads.    Harrenhal  built near the crossroads, where the Devil appears in search of souls up for bargain -   the “crossroads” per old folk legend being heavily associated with demons and supernatural deals.

(Wikipedia):

In folk magic and mythology, crossroads may represent a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place.  Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally "neither here nor there", "betwixt and between".  

In conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality, in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn, and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills.

To drive into this a bit more, let’s look at a couple of KotLT passages:

The lad was no knight, no more than any of his people.  We sit a boat more often than a horse, and our hands are made for oars, not lances. 

 “The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be, and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck .  .  .” 

 But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.”

 

So in the KotLT tale, Howland Reed knows he doesn’t possess the requisite skills to participate in the joust and personally exact his comeuppance on the squires.   He goes to the God’s Eye late one night, looks to the Isle of Faces, and says his prayer.    Then, the KotLT shows up at the tourney at the onset of dusk, basically – a liminal time when the veil between natural and supernatural world is thinnest.      The wish is voiced at night; the wish is granted as twilight descends, as the veil between worlds grows thin  and allowing perhaps something not of this realm to slip through.    Had the gods sent him?

Now let’s examine Arya's first personal encounter with Jaqen at Harrenhal:

A Clash of Kings - Arya VII

She spent the rest of that day scrubbing steps inside the Wailing Tower.  By evenfall her hands were raw and bleeding and her arms so sore they trembled when she lugged the pail back to the cellar.  Too tired even for food, Arya begged Weese's pardons and crawled into her straw to sleep.  "Weese," she yawned.  "Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling.  The Tickler and the Hound.  Ser Gregor, Ser Amory, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei." She thought she might add three more names to her prayer, but she was too tired to decide tonight.

Arya was dreaming of wolves running wild through the wood when a strong hand clamped down over her mouth like smooth warm stone, solid and unyielding.  She woke at once, squirming and struggling.  "A girl says nothing," a voice whispered close behind her ear.  "A girl keeps her lips closed, no one hears, and friends may talk in secret.  Yes?"

Heart pounding, Arya managed the tiniest of nods.

Jaqen H'ghar took his hand away.  The cellar was black as pitch and she could not see his face, even inches away.  She could smell him, though; his skin smelled clean and soapy, and he had scented his hair.  "A boy becomes a girl," he murmured. 

"I was always a girl.  I didn't think you saw me."

"A man sees.  A man knows."

She remembered that she hated him.  "You scared me.  You're one of them now, I should have let you burn.  What are you doing here? Go away or I'll yell for Weese."

"A man pays his debts.  A man owes three."

"Three?"

"The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life.  This girl took three that were his.  This girl must give three in their places.  Speak the names, and a man will do the rest."

 

 

So after seeing Jaqen for the first time since the fire earlier that day, she goes to sleep thinking of three more names to add to her list, and is awoken by Jaqen in the pitch black room  - Jaqen, who just so happens to be there to grant her a wish of three lives.    Speak to the Devil at the Crossroads, and the Devil appears.

Then, her wishes are granted:

A Clash of Kings - Arya VII

The men all roared, none louder than Chiswyck himself, who laughed so hard at his own story that snot dribbled from his nose down into his scraggy grey beard.  Arya stood in the shadows of the stairwell and watched him.  She crept back down to the cellars without saying a word.  When Weese found that she hadn't asked about the clothes, he yanked down her breeches and caned her until blood ran down her thighs, but Arya closed her eyes and thought of all the sayings Syrio had taught her, so she scarcely felt it. 

Two nights later, he sent her to the Barracks Hall to serve at table.  She was carrying a flagon of wine and pouring when she glimpsed Jaqen H'ghar at his trencher across the aisle.  Chewing her lip, Arya glanced around warily to make certain Weese was not in sight.  Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself.

She took a step, and another, and with each she felt less a mouse.  She worked her way down the bench, filling wine cups.  Rorge sat to Jaqen's right, deep drunk, but he took no note of her.  Arya leaned close and whispered, "Chiswyck," right in Jaqen's ear.  The Lorathi gave no sign that he had heard.

Nothing happened the next day, nor the day after, but on the third day Arya went to the kitchens with Weese to fetch their dinner.  "One of the Mountain's men fell off a wallwalk last night and broke his fool neck," she heard Weese tell a cook.  “Drunk?”

"No more'n usual.  Some are saying it was Harren's ghost flung him down." He snorted to show what he thought of such notions.

It wasn't Harren, Arya wanted to say, it was me.  She had killed Chiswyck with a whisper, and she would kill two more before she was through.  I'm the ghost in Harrenhal, she thought.  And that night, there was one less name to hate. 

 

 

 A Clash of Kings - Arya VIII

"Weasel," Weese said that afternoon. "Get to the armory and tell Lucan that Ser Lyonel notched his sword in practice and needs a new one. Here's his mark."

"Weasel." Weese's voice cracked like a whip.  She never saw where he came from, but suddenly he was right in front of her.  "Give me that.  Took you long enough." He snatched the sword from her fingers, and dealt her a stinging slap with the back of his hand.  "Next time be quicker about it."

For a moment she had been a wolf again, but Weese's slap took it all away and left her with nothing but the taste of her own blood in her mouth.  She'd bitten her tongue when he hit her.  She hated him for that.

"You want another?" Weese demanded.  "You'll get it too.  I'll have none of your insolent looks.  Get down to the brewhouse and tell Tuffleberry that I have two dozen barrels for him, but he better send his lads to fetch them or I'll find someone wants 'em worse." Arya started off, but not quick enough for Weese.  "You run if you want to eat tonight," he shouted, his promises of a plump crisp capon already forgotten.  "And don't be getting lost again, or I swear I'll beat you bloody."

You won't, Arya thought.  You won't ever again.

Arya whirled and ran, , her feet flying over the cobbles all the way to the bathhouse.  She found Jaqen soaking in a tub, steam rising around him as a serving girl sluiced hot water over his head.  His long hair, red on one side and white on the other, fell down across his shoulders, wet and heavy. 

She crept up quiet as a shadow, but he opened his eyes all the same.  "She steals in on little mice feet, but a man hears," he said.  How could he hear me? she wondered, and it seemed as if he heard that as well.  "The scuff of leather on stone sings loud as warhorns to a man with open ears.  Clever girls go barefoot."

"I have a message." Arya eyed the serving girl uncertainly.  When she did not seem likely to go away, she leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear.  "Weese," she whispered. 

 

Pale light filled the yard when Lord Tywin Lannister took his leave of Harrenhal.  Arya watched from an arched window halfway up the Wailing Tower.

A shiver crept up Arya's spine as she watched them pass under the great iron portcullis of Harrenhal.  Suddenly she knew that she had made a terrible mistake.  I'm so stupid, she thought.  Weese did not matter, no more than Chiswyck had.  These were the men who mattered, the ones she ought to have killed.  Last night she could have whispered any of them dead, if only she hadn't been so mad at Weese for hitting her and lying about the capon.  Lord Tywin, why didn't I say Lord Tywin?

Perhaps it was not too late to change her mind.  Weese was not killed yet.  If she could find Jaqen, tell him…  Hurriedly, Arya ran down the twisting steps, her chores forgotten.  She heard the rattle of chains as the portcullis was slowly lowered, its spikes sinking deep into the ground .  .  .  and then another sound, a shriek of pain and fear. 

A dozen people got there before her, though none was coming any too close.  Arya squirmed between them.  Weese was sprawled across the cobbles, his throat a red ruin, eyes gaping sightlessly up at a bank of grey cloud.  His ugly spotted dog stood on his chest, lapping at the blood pulsing from his neck, and every so often ripping a mouthful of flesh out of the dead man's face.

 

 

There’s a pattern here of death wish/death fulfillment occurring either at night or near/during the liminal thresholds of dusk and dawn, very similar to what we see with Howland’s nighttime prayer to the old gods and the arrival of the mystery knight in late afternoon into evening.     

 

This pattern continues before Arya names her third and final name.    She knows her time with Jaqen is fleeting, but now she is beginning to suspect something is up with her Lorathi savior, although she’s still pretty okay with it :

 

But thinking of the village made her remember the march, and the storeroom, and the Tickler.  She thought of the little boy who'd been hit in the face with the mace, of stupid old All-for-Joffrey, of Lommy Greenhands.  I was a sheep, and then I was a mouse, I couldn't do anything but hide.  Arya chewed her lip and tried to think when her courage had come back.  Jaqen made me brave again.  He made me a ghost instead of a mouse.

She had been avoiding the Lorathi since Weese's death.  Chiswyck had been easy, anyone could push a man off the wallwalk, but Weese had raised that ugly spotted dog from a pup, and only some dark magic could have turned the animal against him.  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. 

 

 

cont.

 

Ok well i still have to get through part 3. but a couple things first.

1. I like the mirroring of Arya and Howland.

2. If Arya really mirrors Lyanna, then we shouldn't think of Lyanna as some helpless maid who's into "Love" and is kidnapped and knocked up. Thats not Arya. That's Sansa. 

3. Im lost on what wrong god they prayed to answered. They prayed to the Old Gods, and the Old Gods answered. Unless your claiming the Faceless Men aren't connected to the Old God's and the CotF. Cause that would strike me as odd. 

The Skulls in slots on walls in the cave matching the hall of faces in Braavos.

The facechanging, skinchanging tie.

The Candles burning that smell terrible then like home and everything important to arya. Just like the Weirwood Paste. 

The Old Gods are represented in the House of B&W.

The Old Man who answers the door is a corpse with a worm coming out his eye, Bloodraven is a corpse with a weirwood coming out his eye.

I would say that she prayed to the Old God's and the Old God's indeed answered and know who she is, as Bloodraven is also seeking her brother Brandon. 

His words were silk and steel the quote reads. Funny then that worms spin silk. Worm=Weirwood.

 

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16 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

I will interject here with another story, one not included per se in ASOAIF, but familiar to many nonetheless in concept if not in name:   The Monkey’s Paw.

 

(Wikipedia)     "The Monkey's Paw" is a supernatural short story by author W.  W.  Jacobs first published in England in 1902.

In the story, three wishes are granted to the owner of the monkey's paw, but the wishes come with an enormous price for interfering with fate.

The short story involves Mr.  and Mrs.  White and their adult son, Herbert.  Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend who served with the British Army in India, introduces them to a mummified monkey's paw.  An old fakir placed a spell on the paw:  it would grant three wishes.  The wishes are granted but always with hellish consequences as punishment for tampering with fate.  Morris, having had a horrific experience using the paw, throws the monkey's paw into the fire but Mr.  White retrieves it.  Before leaving, Morris warns Mr.  White that if he does use the paw, then it will be on his own head.

At Herbert's suggestion, Mr.  White flippantly wishes for £200, which will enable him to make the final mortgage payment for his house, even though he believes he has everything he wants.  The next day his son Herbert leaves for work at a local factory.  Later that day, word comes to the White home that Herbert has been killed in a terrible machinery accident.  Although the employer denies responsibility for the incident, the firm has decided to make a goodwill payment to the family of the deceased.  The payment, of £200, exactly matches the amount Herbert suggested his father should wish for.

Ten days after their son's death and a week after the funeral, Mrs.  White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to use the paw to wish Herbert back to life.  Reluctantly, he does so.  Shortly afterward there is a knock at the door.  As Mrs.  White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door, Mr.  White, who had to identify his son's mutilated body, and who knows the corpse has been buried for more than a week, realizes that the thing outside is not the son he knew and loved, and makes his third wish.

The knocking suddenly stops.  Mrs.  White opens the door to find no one is there.

Very nice Pretty Pig! You always have something interesting up your sleeve.  I've been wondering about the 3 wishes aspect of the monkey's paw story for a while.  I've just realized that the 3rd wish is the faustian bargain.  It's at this point, that Arya thinks about the wishes she's made because it is the last wish and realizing that she has wasted the first two; attempts to manipulate Jaqen into more death wishes than are owed to her.  Which is why Jaqen seems so surprised when at first she gives him, his own name.  He knows this is the first bargaining move.  Had Arya just given him one more name; she would no longer have any claim on him.  The 3d wish is the hook and Arya has taken the bait by receiving more deaths than were offered.  Her account is now in arrears and she owes a debt to the god of the FM.  

The business of balancing deaths between gods does call up the notion that satan competes with god for souls.  So I wonder about the account balance between them and whether this is really the purpose of the Pact.   

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16 hours ago, PrettyPig said:

PART III

I would like to return now to the Monkey’s Paw – and the underlying theme of the Monkey’s Paw tale:  three wishes, and the price paid for their realization.    The concept of three wishes granted by a supernatural power is prevalent in folk tales and cultures worldwide, so it isn’t a surprise that we see it in Westeros as well.    Arya is certainly familiar with it:

Jaqen still owed her one death.  In Old Nan's stories about men who were given magic wishes by a grumkin, you had to be especially careful with the third wish, because it was the last.  Chiswyck and Weese hadn't been very important.  The last death has to count, Arya told herself every night when she whispered her names.

The underlying premise of The Monkey’s Paw and other “three wishes” tales is people thinking they can change fate through intentional action or manipulation of action (the concept of predeterminism being alive and well here, obviously).    From the tale:

“It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,” said the sergeant-major, “a very holy man.  He wanted to

 show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. 

 

Interfering with Fate – mocking Fate, if you will.   As noted above, however, there is always a price:  gods are not mocked.

The sergeant-major from  The Monkey’s Paw goes on to tell the dark secrets of the paw:

“He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.”

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” said Herbert White, cleverly.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth.  “I have,” he said, quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” asked Mrs.  White.

“I did,” said the sergeant-major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

“And has anybody else wished?” persisted the old lady.

“The first man had his three wishes.   Yes,” was the reply; “I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death.   That’s how I got the paw.” 

 

In the tale, the sergeant-major is the second owner of the paw; after the first owner wishes for death,the paw falls into someone else’s possession.     I am reminded here of Arya and her final encounter with Jaqen H’ghar, when he bequeaths upon her a very special token:

 

"A god has his due.  And now a man must die." A strange smile touched the lips of Jaqen H'ghar. 

"Die?" she said, confused.  What did he mean? "But I unsaid the name.  You don't need to die now."

"I do.  My time is done." Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed.  His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before.  And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls. 

Arya's mouth hung open.  "Who are you?" she whispered, too astonished to be afraid.  "How did you do that? Was it hard?"

He grinned, revealing a shiny gold tooth.  "No harder than taking a new name, if you know the way."

"Show me," she blurted.  "I want to do it too."

"If you would learn, you must come with me."

Arya grew hesitant.  "Where?"

"Far and away, across the narrow sea."

"I can't.  I have to go home.  To Winterfell."

"Then we must part," he said, "for I have duties too." He lifted her hand and pressed a small coin into her palm.  "Here."

"What is it?"

“A coin of great value.”

Arya bit it.  It was so hard it could only be iron.  "Is it worth enough to buy a horse?"

"It is not meant for the buying of horses."

"Then what good is it?"

"As well ask what good is life, what good is death? If the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him—valar morghulis."

"Valar morghulis," Arya repeated.  It wasn't hard.  Her fingers closed tight over the coin.  Across the yard, she could hear men dying.  "Please don't go, Jaqen."

"Jaqen is as dead as Arry," he said sadly, "and I have promises to keep.  Valar morghulis, Arya Stark.  Say it again."

"Valar morghulis," she said once more, and the stranger in Jaqen's clothes bowed to her and stalked off through the darkness, cloak swirling.  She was alone with the dead men. 

 

After the owner “wishes” for death, the wish is granted – Jaqen ‘dies’ and becomes someone else.    The token - the Paw, the iron coin -  passes to its new (and perhaps final) owner.       (I’m further intrigued here by the repetition of the phrase valar morghulis – it is voiced two times each; first Jaqen, then Arya…the second time after a prompting by Jaqen.    Almost ritualistic, although Arya wouldn’t know this – making me think again of oral pacts & verbal contracts, sealing the deal with a spoken word.  A killing word, in this case, to make @ravenous reader’s argument.)

 

A couple of other things to touch upon with regard to wish fulfillment.    The grumkins would be proud of Arya – she used her third wish quite carefully indeed:

"The name .  .  .  can I name anyone? And you'll kill him?"

Jaqen H'ghar inclined his head.  "A man has said."

"Anyone?" she repeated.  "A man, a woman, a little baby, or Lord Tywin, or the High Septon, or your father?"

"A man's sire is long dead, but did he live, and did you know his name, he would die at your command."

"Swear it," Arya said.  "Swear it by the gods."

"By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it." He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood.  "By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it."

He has sworn. "Even if I named the king . . ."

"Speak the name, and death will come.  On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come.  A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies." He knelt beside her, so they were face-to-face.  "A girl whispers if she fears to speak aloud.  Whisper it now.  Is it Joffrey?"

Arya put her lips to his ear.  "It's Jaqen H'ghar."

Even in the burning barn, with walls of flame towering all around and him in chains, he had not seemed so distraught as he did now.  "A girl .  .  .  she makes a jest."

"You swore.  The gods heard you swear.”

"The gods did hear." There was a knife in his hand suddenly, its blade thin as her little finger.  Whether it was meant for her or him, Arya could not say.  "A girl will weep.  A girl will lose her only friend."**

"You're not my friend.  A friend would help me." She stepped away from him, balanced on the balls of her feet in case he threw his knife.  "I'd never kill a friend." **

Jaqen's smile came and went.  "A girl might .  .  .  name another name then, if a friend did help?"

"A girl might," she said.  "If a friend did help."

The knife vanished.  "Come."

"Now?" She had never thought he would act so quickly. 

"A man hears the whisper of sand in a glass.  A man will not sleep until a girl unsays a certain name.  Now, evil child."

I'm not an evil child, she thought, I am a direwolf, and the ghost in Harrenhal.  She put her broomstick back in its hiding place and followed him from the godswood. 

 

First, it is significant that Jaqen swears to the gods by placing his hand in the mouth of the weirwood – the twisted and ragey weirwood that Arya thinks looks too cruel and hateful to be a god.   (Personally, I believe she’s right.)   Next, Jaqen swears to all the gods – something of an “I am Legion” association, really.  Does this make the oath extra special…or extra meaningless?   If the pledge is based on a lie, i.e. his belief in all these gods, is it really a pledge?  Does the oath have any weight, or is it merely another empty promise for which the Devil is known?  

(**I will also interject here with a pop culture Easter egg:    GRRM is a big fan of The Grateful Dead.  One of the Dead’s ‘Gratest’ hit songs?  “Friend of the Devil”.   I set out running but I'll take my time; A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine…”)

The real meat of this passage, though, is Arya gettting one over on her ‘only friend’ Jaqen – a story nearly as old as that of dealing with the devil in the first place, TRICKING the devil so as to undo the bargain or avoid the consequences of the bargain.   Arya tricks Jaqen by marking him for death with her third wish; having been outsmarted by a 9yo girl, Jaqen agrees to help Arya fulfill her REAL last wish:  to free the northmen and retake Harrenhal.    Once the castle has been claimed, Jaqen is released from his oath and the bargain is complete. 

"A girl does not understand?"

"Yes I do," she said, though she didn't, not truly. 

 The Lorathi must have seen it on her face.  "A goat has no loyalty.  Soon a wolf banner is raised here, I think.  But first a man would hear a certain name unsaid."

"I take back the name." Arya chewed her lip.  "Do I still have a third death?"

"A girl is greedy." Jaqen touched one of the dead guards and showed her his bloody fingers.  "Here is three and there is four and eight more lie dead below.  The debt is paid."

"The debt is paid," Arya agreed reluctantly.  She felt a little sad.  Now she was just a mouse again.

This begs the question, however:  IS the bargain complete?   Arya was owed one life – Jaqen counts off fifteen dead men to her in the space of that conversation, with more dying around them.     The balance is upset, but there is no consequence for all these additional deaths attributed to Arya?   I’m not so sure I buy that.    Arya soon finds herself again a “captive” of Harrenhal, just in a different sense to a different gaoler.   She learns that her younger brothers have been murdered by Theon Greyjoy.  She escapes Lord Bolton and Harrenhal, only to be captured by the Brotherhood without Banners.   She escapes the Brotherhood, only to be captured again by Sandor Clegane.   She witnesses the brutal murders of her mother Catelyn and brother Robb at the Red Wedding.   She learns that there will be no hope for her at the Eyrie with her Aunt Lysa, nor at Riverrun with her Grandfather Hoster or Uncle Edmure.   Finally, even Sandor Clegane, her Odd Couple captor and protector, is lost to her.  Valar morghulis.   

It should not be a surprise then that Arya’s hope for salvation, her last light in the darkness, is none other than the iron coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar.  All that remains to her is that one artifact, that monkey’s paw…the token of Last Resort that leads her to the House of Black and White, where in order to live she will be forced to give up her identity and pledge herself, her soul, her LIFE, to the God of Death.   Valar dohaeris.  The Devil has gained a new minion, the pact sealed with blood when she dons her first face - now the debt is paid.

This brings me to Howland Reed, and his prayer spoken at Harrenhal.   We know little and less about events that transpired after the tourney of Harrenhal, and most of that sparse knowledge is related to Lyanna Stark and not Howland.   In fact, we know nothing about Howland’s post-tourney actions beyond his presence at Ned’s side at the tower of joy.     Regardless, I believe that the similarity in type and location of his prayer in comparison to Arya’s will prove to have a similar result as well: a dire consequence, a debt owed, a steep payment extracted.

Did Howland’s prayer create a bargain that helped forge another link in the Robert’s Rebellion chain of events?   We certainly have evidence of some qualifying “consequences”  that share a dotted line back to Howland Reed:   Aerys’ wrath, Lyanna crowned as Queen of Love and Beauty, Lyanna taken at swordpoint and possibly raped “hundreds of times”, three Starks – Rickard, Brandon, and Lyanna herself – all dead before their time.   Could these events be the result of Howland’s self-serving yet innocent prayer on cursed ground?  

The idea of Howland’s potential contract with the Devil/Death/whatever inhabits Harrenhal invokes more questions than answers.   How many wishes did he make?   Did he accompany Ned to the tower of joy in an attempt to undo the damage?  Howland never leaves the Neck – is this in attempt to avoid the Devil and therefore avoid upholding his end of the bargain (avoidance of /ignoring the terms of a deal being a common tactic of the Devil-trickery trope, fwiw)?

(I’m reminded now of this little nugget from a 2012 GRRM interview:

http://www.adriasnews.com/2012/10/george-r-r-martin-interview.html?spref=tw   )

My last thoughts on Howland Reed involve the Knight of the Laughing Tree.   Meera and Joejn, though intimately familiar with the tale, don’t appear to have concrete knowledge of the identity of the mystery knight – in fact, the siblings seem to have competing opinions about who it may have been.  This indicates Howland never told his children/confirmed it with his children – he allowed them to make assumptions of their own.    Is this because he doesn’t actually know?  Was the KotLT truly a representative of the gods of Harrenhal, a “faceless” stranger sent to answer Howland’s prayer as Jaqen answered Arya’s?    Or…has he not told them because he CAN’T – at least not without admitting that he made a grievous error that led to death and ruin?   Did Howland himself cause the “sadder story” for Lyanna Stark at which Meera hints to Bran? 

I also hope that one day we will learn who mocked the gods at the tourney of Harrenhal, and how.    Perhaps those gods were angered by Howland praying to the “frenemy” across the water instead of the one upon whose land he stood …or perhaps they took insult at a teenager or two dressing in silly armor and playing silly games, mocking the angry heart tree of Harrenhal by painting a laughing tree on a shield.   We simply don’t know…but we DO know that gods are not mocked, and doing such means there stands a price to be paid.      .

END

 

TL;DR:  The “old gods” in the vicinity of Harrenhal may not be the old gods at all; instead they may be a darker and malignant force, a remnant of the “devilry” of  Black Harren Hoare .     Arya’s interactions with Jaqen H’ghar at Harrenhal are reminiscent of a Faustian bargain with the devil; she may have unwittingly entered this bargain when she made a plea to the old gods in front of Harrenhal’s weirwood.    Although Arya’s “wish” is granted by Jaqen, she goes on to experience further tragedy and sorrow on her path, including the loss of her mother and brother.    Their deaths are preceded by the unlawful execution of her father Eddard.

Howland Reed also uttered a prayer on the grounds of Harrenhal.     His “wish” appears to be granted in the form of the Mystery Knight of the Laughing Tree.    Later, Howland also experiences tragedy and loss of those he is close to, including two Starks – father Rickard and son  Brandon.    In an inversion to Arya’s story, their deaths were succeeded by the death of Lyanna Stark, manner unverified.   I postulate that Howland Reed also unwittingly entered a deal with the “devil” of Harrenhal when he said his prayer toward the Isle of Faces; the consequences of this bargain are played out in Robert’s Rebellion.

These bargains and subsequent personal tragedies may have come about because the “gods” were mocked – whatever force inhabits the area of Harrenhal was not respected, and/or its authority was challenged in some way.   Both Howland and Arya prayed to their gods of the wood, usurping the position of the actual “god” present at Harrenhal.    Howland and Arya are sent a human (or disguised as human) representative that grants their respective wishes; these representatives are in their own way a “mockery” of the old gods, but their portrayal is sufficient to trick Arya and Howland into believing their prayers have indeed been answered, which leads to the sealing of the devil’s bargain.

 

This essay was meant to be introductory only; I am quite positive that further scrutiny of Arya’s chapters at Harrenhal will reveal even more echoes of the past, and that other POV viewpoints involving association with Harrenhal can also be mined for similar “deals with the devil” – Jaime immediately comes to mind, as does House Lothston and other unfortunate inhabitants of the castle.   We may even find MORE evidence of such bargains in places that are NOT Harrenhal – Dany’s dragons and the prophecies in the House of the Undying, for instance.    

Another aspect to this line of thinking is whether or not the “old gods” ARE the Devil…not in the fire-and-brimstone, horned-guy-in-red-suit kind of way, but in the manner of the God of the Old Testament – pitiless, vindictive, jealous, vengeful.    You know, instead of white, blond, blue-eyed Middle Eastern Jesus saying, “Bring me all your lambs and little children so that I may comfort them and bring peace to their suffering”, it’s Rage Yahweh demanding, “Sacrifice your lambs and children on my altar to prove your devotion or I shall smote thee and all the fruit of your loins with my fiery wrath.”    In other words, the old gods of ASOIAF may not exactly be the passive, naturalistic, mostly benevolent figures that we’ve been led to believe.   Jaqen and Howland’s Green Men may easily express this aspect as well.

I welcome all insight and discussion of these potential demonic contracts.

Well Howland didn't pray for any one's death's so far as we know and no lives were robbed leading up to his prayer. So there is that difference. 

Whether his prayer led to the Knight's involvement in something else is hard to say just yet though i do think so. 

I would definitely say the Old God's are the ones prayed to and who answered. 

That they are neither good nor bad as we would see it. These gods can indeed be hurt though as she wonders as we have 44 chopped down on the Iron Islands, 31 at Highheart and countless more. Plus the poisoning of the Blackwoods tree. 

It's also interesting that Jaqen was one of the lives robbed of the Old God's. So really, Arya naming him is proper dues to the Old God's. 

As far as the rest, im still chewing on hahah alot to think about still. Interesting topic :)

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4 hours ago, AlaskanSandman said:

Well Howland didn't pray for any one's death's so far as we know and no lives were robbed leading up to his prayer. So there is that difference. 

Not directly.

But after his prayers were answered Lyanna disapeared and the final outcome of this was Roberts rebellion.
Lots of lives for the MFG...

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Very interesting read, Pretty Pig, and well reasoned. I'm intrigued by your assertion that Arya's prayer inadvertently sealed a deal with an evil force, and that her "prayer list" along with the deaths incurred during the freeing of the northmen might have become a debt that needed to be paid. Did the Red Wedding pay for Weasel Soup? With each successive execution by Arya, does someone else dear to her die? 

What's got me wondering though is Howland's prayer for revenge didn't cause any deaths, so why would the payment eventually lead to deaths? Then there's the proclamation by the Knight of the Laughing Tree after the win, "Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough."  Wouldn't you say his debt was paid?

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Remember guys, Arya didn’t specifically pray for “death” either—she prayed for revenge, and assistance, and courage....same things that we presume Howland prayed for on the shore of the God’s Eye.    She wanted help killing the guards, a slight distinction from wishing directly for their deaths the way she did with Chiswyck and Weese.  What FORM that revenge etc takes is completely arbitrary.

Also, Faustian bargains themselves aren’t necessarily about death.   People wish for riches, power, strength, love, lots of things —but it’s still a binding contract with the Devil that has to be honored in whatever what the Devil sees fit.  And, that way is always, ALWAYS to the Devil’s benefit.

The Faceless Men gained Arya as a servant because the consequences of her wish stripped her of everything she dear until she had nothing left BUT Jaqen’s coin.    If Howland had a like contract, we don’t know his obligation but I’m theorizing that it may have been steeper than we realize.

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