Spoilers for The Winds of Winter, Alayne I
The same panels had once hung in the Red Keep of King’s Landing, when Robert sat the Iron Throne. Joffrey had them taken down and they had languished in some cellar until Petyr Baelish arranged for them to be brought to the Vale as a gift for Nestor Royce. Not only were the hangings beautiful, but the High Steward delighted in telling anyone who’d listen that they had once belonged to a king.
In a recent episode of Radio Westeros we mentioned a new theory about what exactly is going on with those tapestries from the Red Keep that are mentioned numerous times from AGoT onwards. In Alayne I it says that Lord Nestor was showing off “his prize tapestries”, a recent gift from the Lord Protector. These tapestries were mentioned several times in AGoT, hanging on the walls of the throne room of the Red Keep until, after Robert’s death, Sansa observed this:
the hunting tapestries that King Robert loved [had been] taken down and stacked in the corner in an untidy heap.
Fast forward to AFfC when, several months after leaving the city, Petyr Baelish sends a letter to Cersei. Here’s a quote:
His last letter mentions the rebels only briefly before beseeching me to ship him some old tapestries of Robert’s.
Not long after, Baelish tells Alayne that Cersei is “sending me some splendid tapestries. Isn’t that kind of her?” And then somewhere around two months later, it appears the tapestries have arrived in the Vale. What many fans want to know is— what was so significant about these tapestries that Baelish went to the trouble of requesting them from Cersei? Was it indeed only for their symbolic value as a “gift” to Lord Nestor? Are they the sort of tapestry The World Book tells us can be “worth their weight in gold”? Is there some valuable information hidden in the images they depict? Or did the tapestries themselves merely serve to disguise something else that Baelish wanted smuggled out of King’s Landing?
We can’t know for certain, but we can certainly consider the options. As a gift or bribe only, they wouldn’t seem that valuable. As much as Nestor Royce appreciates the fact that they once belonged to King Robert, the Lord Protector has already gifted the High Steward of the Vale something of much greater symbolic value in perpetuity, namely the title he bears and the castle he commands. And while if these were Myrish tapestries “worth their weight in gold” we can see Cersei being oblivious, we certainly can’t see the shrewd Petyr Baelish simply gifting something of great monetary value to someone he’s essentially already bought.
And while many tapestries in the series (and real life! We’re looking at you Bayeux Tapestry) are noted to show histories or genealogies, which could conceivably be valuable to someone who trades in information, these are specifically noted to be hunting scenes. In fact they seem all in all like rather boring examples of an art form that could be found in castles and chambers the world over, special mainly because the former king liked hunting.
And that leaves us with the final option— that Baelish wished to smuggle *something* out of King’s Landing, and the tapestries were used to conceal that something. This could definitely explain the largesse shown in bestowing them upon Nestor Royce— once the *something* was removed, the tapestries themselves were of no more use than an old box or envelope, though Baelish would certainly be clever enough to make what use of them he could by giving what appeared to be a very generous and thoughtful gift to his host.
So, what would this *something* be? Our thought was once that it was Widow’s Wail, stolen as a symbolic gift for Sansa perhaps. But in 2008 GRRM answered a fan’s question about Widow’s Wail’s location saying “Still at the Red Keep, until such time as King Tommen is old enough to wield it.” While he could have been prevaricating, making a direct answer like that usually isn’t his style if he wants to keep a secret. So over time we’ve realized the Widow’s Wail theory is unlikely, but in our opinion the best object to conceal inside a rolled up tapestry is still something long and slender like a SWORD, and so we’re left with the mystery of which sword could be so valuable that Baelish would go to such trouble to smuggle it into the Vale.
We considered swords that would be of value to Littlefinger, and why, and which swords of great value are noted as having their whereabouts unknown. And we found one interesting option that could actually have significant value to Littlefinger’s plans and is noted to have been missing for over a century and a half.
The Valyrian steel sword LAMENTATION was the ancestral sword of House Royce. House Royce of Runestone is a famously old and powerful First Men house, one of several to have survived the Andal invasion. Once known as the Bronze Kings, their descendants still pride themselves on their ancestral armor, made of bronze and allegedly inscribed with magical runes of protection.
The last Bronze King, Robar Royce, unified the First Men of the Vale and Fingers and Mountains of the Moon. As their High King, he very nearly succeeded in defeating the Andal invaders, until the Andals united behind Ser Artys Arryn, known as the Falcon Knight, and the resulting Battle of the Seven Stars led to the death of Robar Royce and a conclusive defeat of the First Men by the Andals. Based on the histories, it’s possible to infer that House Royce at the time was not in possession of a sword of Valyrian steel, so Lamentation must have been acquired by the family later, after the Andal victory.
Because in spite of their defeat, House Royce endured, and prospered even, and the Dance of the Dragons found a knight called Ser Willam Royce carrying a quote “famed” Valyrian steel sword and serving Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen. Ser Willam was one of the famous “Seven Who Rode” during the storming of the Dragonpit. Along with four knights of the Queensguard and two other knights called Ser Harmon of the Reeds and Ser Gyles Yronwood, Ser Willam rode out into the riots in Flea Bottom to recover Prince Joffrey Velaryon, who had been thrown into the crowd when he attempted to fly his mother’s dragon Syrax to the Dragonpit in order to save the other dragons.
Fire and Blood tells us that the knights did find Joffrey’s body at last, but that three of the seven were killed in the fighting— Ser Glendon Goode, LC of the QG, Ser Gyles Yronwood, and Ser Willam Royce who, it says “was felled by a man who leapt down from a rooftop to land upon his back (his famed sword, Lamentation, was torn from his hand and carried off, never to be found again).”
So Gyldayn tells us that Lamentation was lost forever, but then gives us reason to think otherwise just a few pages later when relating the death of the dragon Syrax. Here’s the passage:
“Some speak of an unnamed spearman, “a blood-soaked giant” who leapt from the Dragonpit’s broken dome onto the dragon’s back. Others relate how a knight named Ser Warrick Wheaton slashed a wing from Syrax with a Valyrian steel sword (Lamentation, most like)…”
Of Warrick Wheaton we know nothing beyond this brief mention. Part of an “unruly mob” that gained momentary infamy when they somehow brought about the death of the Queen’s dragon, he and his House seem to have vanished from history. As did Lamentation.
It’s a well known problem among art thieves that stealing something completely unique is problematic in terms of disposal. Without an underground network and a demand for the artifact you find yourself in possession of, it can be notoriously tricky to profit from your theft. Given the circumstances of its loss, and its possible last appearance in the hands of an obscure knight who is never heard from again, we’d view the fate of Lamentation in these terms. Having fallen into the hands of someone with no connections in the underworld, and there being no real possible market for such an artifact without incriminating the seller, we propose the sword languished in the possession of frightened or ignorant people for several generations.
And then along comes Petyr Baelish. A man who trades in information, and is well versed in using his enemies’ weaknesses to either neutralize them or get them on side. He has a big problem with Bronze Yohn Royce. The effective leader of the Lords Declarant had declared that he would personally see Petyr Baelish removed as Lord Protector, and his visit to the Eyrie in which he was outmaneuvered by Littlefinger doesn’t seem to have changed his outlook.
Of the Lords Declarant, by Alayne I, Petyr Baelish has succeeded at effectively buying Lady Waynwood, Lord Belmore, and Lord Templeton, seems to have some information regarding a murder plot in House Hunter that will give him leverage there, and may have even reached an agreement of sorts with Lord Redfort, whose son Mychel is there for the tourney. He’s also made an essential alliance with Nestor Royce, the High Steward of the Vale, by making his title and possession of the Gates of the Moon hereditary. But so far, there’s been no mention of the Lord Protector’s plans to bring House Royce of Runestone into the fold.
So our suggestion goes something like this— that Petyr Baelish cleverly recognized the extreme value that would be placed upon the recovery of their ancestral sword by House Royce. That through his connections in the underworld of King’s Landing he actively sought out or coincidentally heard of the sword that had gone missing in that very city so many years ago. Having discovered its location, it would probably be a simple thing to finally provide a market for such an inconvenient heirloom, especially at a time when money and bread would be valued above useless metal.
Then, having through his agents acquired the sword, he had it secreted in the forgotten and rolled up tapestries beneath the Red Keep. Following his departure from the city and marriage to Lysa Arryn, at the height of his good will with Cersei, he then requested those old tapestries be sent to him as a gift. What a modest and simple request from someone who had been of such great service! Request granted, the tapestries arrive in the Vale and the sword is moved to a new location until the right time, and the tapestries put to a second good use as a further gift to Lord Nestor, just to keep him sweet.
There’s a clever bit in this scenario where both the tapestries and the item they concealed are to be used to bribe a Lord Royce— two different gifts for two very different Royces. So, that’s our new theory about what’s going on with those tapestries, and while we like the theory, and continue to think that the tapestries being somehow significant is the best explanation for the number of times they’re mentioned, we’re interested to hear what you all think! Let us know if you have feedback or other thoughts to share with us.