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Conversation with a Dying Man: the exact wording of Varys and Kevan's talk

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First, I want to specify that I'm not trying to argue an "Aegon is fake" platform. And sorry for yet another Aegon thread (the other one is going to close soon though).

Dr P and I wanted to create a PSA of sorts to show that the passage in the Epilogue that is most frequently cited as proof that Aegon is real does not actually say what many posters assume it does. Please note that we are not challenging the notion that Aegon could be real, but rather, pointing out that this passage does not actually provide the sort of slam-dunk evidence in favor of "Real!" that it's so often cited as being.

Here is the passage:

“I thought the crossbow fitting. You shared so much with Lord Tywin, why not that? Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.”

“Aegon?” For a moment he did not understand. Then he remembered. A babe swaddled in a crimson cloak, the cloth stained with his blood and brains. “Dead. He’s dead.”

“No.” The eunuch’s voice seemed deeper. “He is here. Aegon has been shaped for rule since before he could walk. He has been trained in arms, as befits a knight to be, but that was not the end of his education. He reads and writes, he speaks several tongues, he has studied history and law and poetry. A septa has instructed him in the mysteries of the Faith since he was old enough to understand them. He has lived with fisherfolk, worked with his hands, swum in rivers and mended nets and learned to wash his own clothes at need. He can fish and cook and bind up a wound, he knows what it is like to be hungry, to be hunted, to be afraid. Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows that kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.”

Look at the words that are actually being exchanged:

Varys: "...Aegon raises his banner above Storm's End and the lords of the realm gather around him."

Kevan: "Aegon? Dead. He's dead."

Varys: "No. He is here."

The thoughts about the bloody dashed boy exist in Kevan's mind only. The referent that is actually being discussed is the "Aegon" who has landed at Storm's End. Kevan connects this to baby Aegon in his mind, but Varys does not actually confirm those thoughts, as these thoughts are not articulated by Kevan. All Kevan says is that Aegon "is dead," to which Varys replies, "no, he's here." The "Aegon" who is currently storming the east is obviously not dead.

If Aegon is fake, then Varys has told no lie. Additionally, Varys notoriously uses "technical truths" and double speak, playing with the listener's expectations of referents. Look at Varys' exchange with Ned about Jon Arryn's poisoner: “There was one boy. All he was, he owed Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered. It always gladdens my heart to see the young rise in the world.” Varys lets Ned believe he's talking about Hugh the squire, when in fact Varys is revealing the true poisoner as LF, another "boy" who "owed Jon for all he was."

Relatedly is the deepening of Varys' voice. Many readers take Varys' voice deepening to imply that he's telling the truth. Of particular interest, however, is the other major time Varys' voice deepens: when describing his cutting and hatred of magic. Varys reveals his background, and concludes with: "All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.” We know that this is a lie, though, or at least a "half-truth." We know that Varys works with Illyrio, who keeps a Red Priest around in his service. Yet, Varys claims to hate magic and all who practice it, like Stannis, who also keeps a Red Priest around. The deepening voice is not a sign of transparent truthfulness it is often taken to be, at least, it does not indicate which parts of Varys' words are genuine and does not preclude some sort of purposeful misdirection on his part.

So the question here is not "why would Varys lie to a dying man?" because no lie has been told if Aegon is indeed fake. The question instead is "why doesn't Varys correct Kevan's belief that Aegon is Rhaeger's son?" Well, honestly, why would Varys be moved to correct Kevan in the event Aegon is fake? What purpose would that even serve?

From the rest of Varys' speech, the boy's identity is not even Varys' interest. Varys speaks past the issue of Aegon's identity, and the focus is singularly on his qualities of leadership. Which is a highly unorthodox and unnecessary view in a system where bloodlines is the only required ingredient for claiming kingship. Going by the actual speech that follows, Varys is selling the boy Aegon who has landed as a suitable, responsible ruler, not extolling his virtues as Rhaegar's son or the "true king."

In sum, we think assuming that Varys confirms Aegon is real to a dying man is a fallacy based on the actual exchange of words-- such a confirmation is omitted. Further, we think the real "take-away" from this passage are the lines Varys actually says, which tell us that Aegon's lineage is not his interest, but rather the fact that there is a boy well trained for ruling who will emerge as a benevolent king in the end.

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Kevan's death conversation and some.other things made me develop a theory where Varys saved Aegon and he believes this one is the real one. But Illyrio put his Aegon in the place of the Targaryen one, making the Blackfyre theory mosly true.

http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/96998-a-little-bit-different-take-on-varys-illyrio-and-aegons/#entry4967855

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But Varys knows full well which Aegon Kevan is talking about. The question remains "why would Varys mislead Kevan on his deathbed?"

Well, looking at the exchange, Varys isn't really even misleading Kevan, is he? Kevan jumped to the conclusion that the Aegon storming the east is Rhaeger's son. Varys merely doesn't correct him.

And judging by the rest of what Varys says, it's clear that lineage is not what Varys is interested in. Varys is focused on telling Kevan his master-plan to erect an "Enlightened Monarch," not continue a dynasty.

Kevan's death conversation and some.other things made me develop a theory where Varys saved Aegon and he believes this one is the real one. But Illyrio put his Aegon in the place of the Targaryen one, making the Blackfyre theory mosly true.

http://asoiaf.wester...s/#entry4967855

I tend to agree that Varys and Illyrio are working together but have different goals they're hoping to achieve (or at least focused on different aspects of the Aegon plan), so I broadly agree with what you're suggesting.

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Never noticed in all my reads of that passage that Varys was actually talking about Petyr and not Hugh with Ned. Seems so obvious now! Cool cool cool, what a slippery fellow.

But Varys knows full well which Aegon Kevan is talking about. The question remains "why would Varys mislead Kevan on his deathbed?"

Why would he feel the need to explain the full nature of his plan and Aegon's identity to Kevan seeing as he's about to die? Just to gloat a little bit I guess? OP is right, there would be no point.

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When Kevan says "Aegon" and "dead, he's dead" Varys knows exactly which Aegon he's talking about, yet he still says "no, he is here." That's a blatant lie (or Aegon is real).

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So the question here is not "why would Varys lie to a dying man?" because no lie has been told if Aegon is indeed fake. The question instead is "why doesn't Varys correct Kevan's belief that Aegon is Rhaeger's son?" Well, honestly, why would Varys be moved to correct Kevan in the event Aegon is fake? What purpose would that even serve?

Yes, it goes against everything we know about Varys, that he would reveal his big secret to anyone unnecessarily, dying or not. He's been holding onto it for long enough.

Also, "Aegon has been shaped for rule before he could walk". Illyrio and Varys have 'created' a person, in a sense. He is Aegon, just the Blackfyre version. Knowing he's been shaped since before he could walk, what's the chances his 'real' name might turn out to be Aegon too. He might have been given the name from birth, all ready to be shaped.

If his real name is Aegon, Varys hasn't lied. If fAegon is slightly older than the dead Aegon, it's possible.

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When Kevan says "Aegon" and "dead, he's dead" Varys knows exactly which Aegon he's talking about, yet he still says "no, he is here." That's a blatant lie (or Aegon is real).

But the referent they are actually talking about-- verbalizing-- is the Aegon that took Storm's End. It's exactly the same move Varys makes with Ned wrt LF/ Hugh.

I know Varys knows that Kevan is thinking of Aegon, Rhaeger's son. But Varys is always super precise about speaking to only the technical, articulated referents in such exchanges, and the only one that has actually been articulated is the Aegon in Storm's End.

Given that Kevan's assumption that Varys means "Rhaeger's son" was not actually articulated, and especially given that Varys' focus is on suitability of rule rather than lineage, I don't see any reason for Varys to correct Kevan if Aegon is not truly Rhaeger's son. Confirming or denying doesn't make sense to me.

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Very interesting post Butterbumps.

Varys reminds me of the 5th century Sophists, wielding words expertly and achieving persuasion and to some extent manipulation. Strictly speaking he does not "mislead" Kevan but omits to correct Kevan's conviction. Others (...) might have been eavesdropping (including but not limited to little birds).

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But Varys knows full well which Aegon Kevan is talking about. The question remains "why would Varys mislead Kevan on his deathbed?"

I have to agree with this. Varys knows Kevan is dying and will die, so why lie, or deceive when the truth would hurt so much more?

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When Kevan says "Aegon" and "dead, he's dead" Varys knows exactly which Aegon he's talking about, yet he still says "no, he is here." That's a blatant lie (or Aegon is real).

It's not a blatant lie. Ser Kevan asks a leading question when he says "Aegon?" and Varys seizes on that knowing full well they are talking about two different Aegons.

But the referent they are actually talking about-- verbalizing-- is the Aegon that took Storm's End. It's exactly the same move Varys makes with Ned wrt LF/ Hugh.

I know Varys knows that Kevan is thinking of Aegon, Rhaeger's son. But Varys is always super precise about speaking to only the technical, articulated referents in such exchanges, and the only one that has actually been articulated is the Aegon in Storm's End.

Given that Kevan's assumption that Varys means "Rhaeger's son" was not actually articulated, and especially given that Varys' focus is on suitability of rule rather than lineage, I don't see any reason for Varys to correct Kevan if Aegon is not truly Rhaeger's son. Confirming or denying doesn't make sense to me.

It's not the same thing. Kevan asks a leading question. Varys poses Ned a riddle. Varys does riddles.

EDIT:

I've never argued Varys might be toying with Kevan in this moment. I'm just not fully convinced he is (yes, I've always seen the dialogue has been written to be misleading).

I think the true mystery of the scene is just why in the seven hells is Varys confessing to his plans to Ser Kevan?

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I'm sorry, but to me it's obvious that Varys knows that Kevan is talking about Rhaegar's son when he says "Aegon? Dead. He's dead." What other Aegon could Kevan have been possibly referring to with such a statement, given the context? As such, Varys reponse "No, he is here." Is in direct response to Kevan's assertion that Aegon, Rhaegar's son, is not dead, but is instead at this moment attacking Storm's End.

ETA: I just saw that a bunch of people :ninja: me.

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When Kevan says "Aegon" and "dead, he's dead" Varys knows exactly which Aegon he's talking about, yet he still says "no, he is here." That's a blatant lie (or Aegon is real).

Right. I don't get the OP. Both Varys and Kevan know Kevan isn't talking about Aegon V, Jinglebells, or some random farmer named Aegon by his parents.

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When Kevan says "Aegon" and "dead, he's dead" Varys knows exactly which Aegon he's talking about, yet he still says "no, he is here." That's a blatant lie (or Aegon is real).

The OP already anticipated and responded to your objection:

The thoughts about the bloody dashed boy exist in Kevan's mind only. The referent that is actually being discussed is the "Aegon" who has landed at Storm's End. Kevan connects this to baby Aegon in his mind, but Varys does not actually confirm those thoughts, as these thoughts are not articulated by Kevan. All Kevan says is that Aegon "is dead," to which Varys replies, "no, he's here." The "Aegon" who is currently storming the east is obviously not dead.

If Aegon is fake, then Varys has told no lie. Additionally, Varys notoriously uses "technical truths" and double speak, playing with the listener's expectations of referents. Look at Varys' exchange with Ned about Jon Arryn's poisoner: “There was one boy. All he was, he owed Jon Arryn, but when the widow fled to the Eyrie with her household, he stayed in King’s Landing and prospered. It always gladdens my heart to see the young rise in the world.” Varys lets Ned believe he's talking about Hugh the squire, when in fact Varys is revealing the true poisoner as LF, another "boy" who "owed Jon for all he was."

Until you have a counterexample showing Varys' penchant for clearing up referential misunderstandings, your argument will be based in assertion while butterbumps!'s argument will be grounded in text.

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We're getting bogged down in semantics. Varys is at worst blatantly lying to Kevan, at best blatantly misleading him. I don't see how anyone can debate that.

I should point out that I do think that Aegon is fake. I just think that the OP's claim that Varys isn't lying is a bit ridiculous.

And I understand the precedent you talk about with Varys and Ned, but I don't think it applies because Ned wasn't dying at the time.

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But Varys knows full well which Aegon Kevan is talking about. The question remains "why would Varys mislead Kevan on his deathbed?"

I have to agree with this. Varys knows Kevan is dying and will die, so why lie, or deceive when the truth would hurt so much more?

It's not a universal truth that people are kind to others when they are at death's door. Littlefinger knew full well that he was going to push Lysa to her death, and still told her something that he knew full well to be cruel. We even have examples of characters who say cruel words when they are last seeing someone (See what Tyrion said to Jaime when they parted company). Varys doesn't appear to be a cruel person, but he did sit and have a chat with a man who was freezing and bleeding to death instead of just ending it. That's fairly cruel.

Kevan had also recently come from a council meeting where they discussed how to deal with the Targaryen pretender. "Dealing with it" means killing it. I think it's most likely that Varys knew who Kevan referred to, but we are not in Varys' head. There is a chance that Varys thinks Kevan is referring to this Targaryen pretender that they are hoping to make dead quite soon.

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The OP already anticipated and responded to your objection:

Until you have a counterexample showing Varys' penchant for clearing up referential misunderstandings, your argument will be based in assertion while butterbumps!'s argument will be grounded in text.

What? Because Varys might have made a private joke to Ned two years before murdering Kevan, it means butterbumps opinion "is based on text"?

I'm sorry, opinions (and delusions) can't be "counter argued". If you want to believe Butterbumps opinion, well, be happy about it. But don't expect to many people to believe it because "Uh, Varys might have a joke in AGOT, so he's not lying when lying to Kevan".

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Right. I don't get the OP. Both Varys and Kevan know Kevan isn't talking about Aegon V, Jinglebells, or some random farmer named Aegon by his parents.

Yes, of course we know that Varys knows Kevan is thinking of Aegon, Rhaeger's son. I'm not arguing that.

Read the OP carefully. The issue is not whether Varys knows who Kevan is talking about. The issue is that technically speaking, Varys tells no lie because the only articulated referent is the Aegon who just took Storm's End. Which is how Varys operates.

IF Aegon is not actually Rhaeger's son, then Varys does not lie; he merely fails to correct Kevan's assumption. Failing to correct a wrong assumption is at worst misleading someone, not lying.

I see no reason, whatsoever, for Varys to correct Kevan in the event that Aegon is not Rhaeger's son. In fact, by not correcting him, I see it as an extra little "fuck you" because it means that Tywin, the guy Kevan loves more than anything in the world, was outsmarted and failed during the Sack.

What? Because Varys might have made a private joke to Ned two years before murdering Kevan, it means butterbumps opinion "is based on text"?

I'm sorry, opinions (and delusions) can't be "counter argued". If you want to believe Butterbumps opinion, well, be happy about it. But don't expect to many people to believe it because "Uh, Varys might have a joke in AGOT, so he's not lying when lying to Kevan".

This has to be a joke, right? All of a sudden past examples of Varys' double-speak don't count toward establishing precedent? That using prior examples now counts as "opinion?"

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