A Message from the South: The Location of Robb’s Letter

The Myraham was a fat-bellied southron merchanter up from Oldtown…
…Her captain was a fat-bellied southron merchanter as well…
— THEON I, A CLASH OF KINGS

There exists a strong-but-unconventional possibility regarding the destiny of Robb’s fateful letter, the one which named Jon Snow his heir:

Robb’s letter went with the captain of the Myraham.

It’s likely destination is White Harbor, or perhaps Oldtown.

This idea is generally supported as a “conclusion-by-exclusion”, as the other possible candidates are unreasonable and do not account for the timing of the letter’s introduction, as per my arguments below.

Note: /r/asoiaf followers will recognize this as an extremely revised version of my ‘Robb’s Letter’ theory from 2013. I’m reposting it to my blog for posterity and to make it easier for newer readers to find. Switching to wordpress also allows me to expand on areas that reddit’s self-post character limit prevented me from exploring.

There are several premises for this idea. To start, I will attempt to use the process of elimination and demonstrate that the captain of the Myraham is the only reasonable candidate to possess Robb’s letter.

First and foremost, I would like to quickly dismiss the idea that Robb’s letter was stashed somewhere in Hag’s Mire.

In the event of Robb’s death, there was no guarantee that anyone would ever be able to return to the site and retrieve the letter. It’s hardly practical to leave a document naming an heir somewhere that might later become strategically impossible to visit.

Therefore I won’t really discuss the idea in this essay.

*   *   *

WINNOWING THE CANDIDATES


How can I be confident that the bearer of Robb’s letter is the captain of the Myraham? As noted above, one reason is because he is the only reasonable choice.

However, I am establishing this idea not by proving his appropriateness. Instead I hope to establish that all of the other candidates are inherently impossible or improbable.

Further, I also attempt to show that the captain is not an unreasonable choice.

I hope to conduct this investigation much like a murder mystery: we begin with a list of suspects, examining their movements and alibis, and finding out which candidates simply could not be our agent. As such, we begin with our list of candidates.

The Attendees

Robb’s letter is announced and witnessed during a crucial scene in A Storm of Swords. It is a meeting of Robb’s various bannermen in his tent while encamped at Hag’s Mire. Jason Mallister has just joined Robb’s party after riding from Seagard, the captain of a ship called the Myraham in his company. This captain had just arrived in Seagard and wished to relay important information regarding the affairs of the ironborn.

Thus, we know that only people in attendance at the meeting in which Robb writes his letter are:

  • Jason Mallister: Lord of Seagard
  • Raynald Westerling: Son of Sybell Westerling nee Spicer and Gawen Westerling.
  • Greatjon Umber: Lord of Last Hearth
  • Galbart Glover: Lord of Deepwood Motte
  • Maege Mormont: Lady of Bear Island
  • Edmure Tully: Lord of Riverrun
  • Catelyn Stark: Lady of Winterfell
  • The captain of the Myraham.

Well, technically speaking, the captain is asked to leave the tent after relating the events happening on Pyke, to await his reward from Robb. Thus he is absent for the witnessing of Robb’s letter.

*   *   *

The Assignments

By the end of this chapter, all of the aforementioned attendees at the meeting have been given important tasks, save one: the captain of the Myraham.

Generally speaking, after the meeting, the attendees will be traveling in two parties. One will head directly to Seagard, and the other will head to the Twins to participate in Edmure’s wedding. A small faction of those traveling to the wedding will thereafter separate from that party and head to Seagard.

The disposition of each attendee are as follows:

  • Jason Mallister will return directly to Seagard. He is further charged with sending ships bearing Mormont and Glover to Greywater Watch.
  • The captain of the Myraham is presumably free to return to Seagard and his ship with Mallister as well.
  • Edmure Tully and Raynald Westerling are expected to return to Riverrun, to care for and protect the Tully seat, Robb’s wife Jeyne Westerling and Edmure’s new wife Roslin Frey.

The remainder of the attendees are all traveling to the Twins for the wedding. Thereafter

  • Catelyn Stark will join Mallister at Seagard afterwards, to be under his protection.
  • Robb will travel north to Moat Cailin, his forces forming the center of his army.
  • Greatjon Umber will travel north with Robb as well. He will be leading the vanguard that will engage the Moat Cailin from the south along the Kingsroad.
  • Although Roose Bolton is not present, Robb declares at this meeting that Roose Bolton will also join the forces headed north, bringing up the rear of his army.

So where is the letter? Did it go with one of these parties? Was it stashed somewhere in the Hag’s Mire? What follows here is an examination of the various candidates, and establishing if they are reasonable or otherwise.

*   *   *

The Seagard-Greywater Party

We know that Mallister, Mormont and Glover all traveled directly to Seagard: they did not attend the Red Wedding.

Mormont and Glover had been given instructions to immediately sail into the Neck and find Howland Reed of Greywater Watch.

Robb’s instructions were to have them arrange for the crannogmen to flank Moat Cailin and help weaken the fortification so his vanguard could move in and crush ironborn.

However, the rivers and streams of the neck are hard to navigate, and Greywater Watch difficult to find for outsiders. Extra time would be necessary. Thus haste was vital to their mission. Mormont and Glover were expected to depart as soon as possible, using Mallister-provided longships.

*   *   *

Why the False Orders?

Robb also declared that he would provide Maege Mormont and Galbart Glover with documents containing false orders:

“Go upriver flying my banner. The crannogmen will find you. I want two ships to double the chances of my message reaching Howland Reed. Lady Maege shall go on one, Galbart on the second.” He turned to the two he’d named. “You’ll carry letters for those lords of mine who remain in the north, but all the commands within will be false, in case you have the misfortune to be taken. If that happens, you must tell them that you were sailing for the north. Back to Bear Island, or for the Stony Shore.”
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

Clearly, the idea was that these could be provided to an enemy in case the ironborn captured them during their coastal voyage to the Neck. The false orders would enable them to keep secret Robb’s true plans.

There is one notable implication of this concept: If Robb had anticipated the possibility that Mormont or Glover could be taken –as indicated by the provision of false orders– then why would he give them the letter containing his true declaration of Jon Snow as his legitimate heir? The two ideas are contradictory.

Thus the following observations and conclusions seem fairly self-evident:

Robb gave Mormont and Glover letters containing false orders in case they were captured.

Given this concern, Robb would not have left a document of his true declaration of Jon Snow’s legitimization to Maege or Galbart Glover.

Thus, Robb’s letter did not go with Maege Mormont or Galbart Glover.

It stands to reason then that Robb’s letter went somewhere else.

*   *   *

Robb’s Armies

It’s highly unlikely that Robb carried the letter with his main forces. There are some general and obvious reasons for this.

Robb could legitimize Jon at any point in his journeys, he’s the rightful King in the North. There’s no reason to declare an heir now unless he’s concerned that he will not be able to make the same declaration later.

Sure, naming an heir is simply a wise, prudent thing to do; perhaps needing no justification for its timing. However, as I counter in a later segment, I strongly believe that the timing of his declaration was crucial.

The only reason to fear that Robb wouldn’t be able to make the declaration later is if he considered the possibility of defeat. This is clearly evidenced by a passage from the scene in his tent:

Robb stood, and as quick as that, her fate was settled. He picked up a sheet of parchment. “One more matter. Lord Balon has left chaos in his wake, we hope. I would not do the same. Yet I have no son as yet, my brothers Bran and Rickon are dead, and my sister is wed to a Lannister. I’ve thought long and hard about who might follow me. I command you now as my true and loyal lords to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision.”
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

Most surely it means that Robb was preparing for the possibility of his death. Facing the prospect of defeat, why would Robb carry the document naming an heir on anyone who could be possibly killed or defeated?

Thus putting the letter in his main forces is unreasonable. This means it would not be borne on his person, with his attendants or with anyone joining him to include Greatjon Umber in the vanguard or Roose Bolton – who although not at the meeting has been selected for the task of  bringing up the rearguard.

Robb’s conduct betrays an implicit concern that he might die before he could proclaim an heir.

Thus any proclamation he makes concerning an heir would have been principally designed to survive his death.

Therefore putting said proclamation with him or anyone else that is at risk of dying makes little sense.

Thus, Robb’s letter is not with his main forces, led by himself, Greatjon Umber and Roose Bolton.

There is an implication here –one that we revisit later– that the safest place for the letter would be with someone completely unaffiliated with Robb’s cause (or perhaps stashed somewhere).

*   *   *

The Wedding Party

What about Raynald Westerling or Edmure Tully?

After all, weren’t they intended to avoid combat after the Twins, instead heading to Riverrun to help protect Jeyne Westerling and ensure that Edmure’s betrothal is fully consummated?

Wouldn’t the letter be safe with them?

Aye, perhaps it would have been. But I am reasonably sure that it is not.

Proving this to be the case requires that I use a different sort of reason, in this case I mean to show that if Raynald or Edmure had Robb’s letter it would have been revealed to readers by now.

In Raynald’s case, he was killed by Frey men after he saw Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind cut down. Had he possessed the letter, it would have been discovered by any man checking his possessions on his person or in his lodgings.

Likewise, after Edmure’s capture, such a letter would have been readily outed by anyone ransacking his baggage.

If they had a letter and it was found (or even if the contents of the letter were admitted by Edmure under interrogation), it would have been of cataclysmic importance to Tywin Lannister, Walder Frey and the Boltons. It’s unreasonable to the extent that it borders on absurdity that any such letter was found, and has thus far gone unmentioned.

Thus I find it almost impossible to believe that Edmure Tully or Raynald Westerling had Robb’s letter.

Raynald Westerling and Edmure Tully were killed and captured at the Twins respectively. Had they carried Robb’s letter, it most surely would have resurfaced in subsequent plot points, given its ramifications.

Thus I believe that neither man carried Robb’s letter.

*   *   *

The Lord of Seagard

We are now left with three viable candidates: Jason Mallister, Catelyn Stark, and the captain of the Myraham. Thus most assuredly indicates at least one stop on the letter’s journey was going to be Seagard.

And indeed, if it wasn’t with Catelyn then it most likely did make it to Seagard.

We know that the captain and Jason were both returning directly to Seagard after the Robb’s letter was witnessed. Catelyn was to join them after Edmure’s wedding.

Keeping the letter safe at Seagard seems like an entirely reasonable prospect, doesn’t it? Why would Robb bother to put it anywhere else, but safely in a castle held by a steadfast ally?

Well one reason is that Seagard is under constant ironborn threat. Not immediately, due to Balon Greyjoy’s death, but after that situation is resolved the threat will resume anew. Although unlikely, this is a small cause for concern.

Additionally, there is a larger concern that has gone heretofore unmentioned:

Even if Robb’s surviving witnesses later announced the contents of Robb’s letter, it remains an unproven claim.

Thus, Robb’s letter is ineffectual unless it actually ends up in Jon’s possession (or the possession of someone who would respect and champion Robb’s wishes).

Thus it would need to be attached to someone who could actually deliver it to Jon Snow or a staunch ally, someone who could be trusted to rally the north to Jon’s cause.

*   *   *

A Message Hand-Delivered

While Jason Mallister does indeed possess longships and could deliver the letter to Jon via the Shadow Tower, he would risk the ironborn controlled regions of the Sandy Shore, Sea Dragon Point and the waters near Deepwood Motte. Indeed, the fact that these regions are currently controlled by the ironborn is clearly expressed in Robb’s meeting.

One might assume that Robb’s letter would simply be delivered by bird. However, this is countered by a pertinent rumination from none other than Robb’s once-confidant, Theon Greyjoy:

His hand went inside his cloak again, to the oilskin pouch. No one knew of his letter but Robb Stark; they were no fools, to entrust their secrets to a bird.
— THEON I, A CLASH OF KINGS

Not only is this relevant in that it is an act of delivering a letter of critical importance from Robb, but it’s almost directly analogous in the sense that it’s an act of kingmaking by way of documented declaration. The letter Theon was to deliver to Balon promised him a crown:

His father read the letter again. “The pup says nothing about a reward. Only that you speak for him, and I am to listen, and give him my sails and swords, and in return he will give me a crown.” His flinty eyes lifted to meet his son’s. “He will give me a crown,” he repeated, his voice growing sharp.
— THEON I, A CLASH OF KINGS

You have to ask yourself, if you wrote the equivalent of a last will and testament, would you trust it’s safe delivery to a bird?

Thus we see that it’s unlikely that Robb had designs to send the letter on to Jon via Mallister longship.

Additionally, no raven would have been trusted with such a message.

Given the need to actually move the message to Jon (or a staunch Stark ally near to Jon), and the above concerns, it’s unreasonable that the letter would have stayed in Seagard.

This means the letter was likely not left with Jason Mallister.

Thus we are down to two candidates, Catelyn Stark and the captain of the Myraham.

*   *   *

An Unruly Mother

There is one obvious reason not to trust Catelyn with such an important message: she more or less hates Jon. She also doesn’t think that Jon has the right to rule, even by decree, and simply refuses to accept Robb’s decision:

She had not forgotten; she had not wanted to look at it, yet there it was. “A Snow is not a Stark.”

“Jon’s more a Stark than some lordlings from the Vale who have never so much as set eyes on Winterfell.”

“Jon is a brother of the Night’s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.”

“So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon’s place, I’ll wager they find some way to release him from his vows.”

He is set on this. Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. “A bastard cannot inherit.”

“Not unless he’s legitimized by a royal decree,” said Robb. “There is more precedent for that than for releasing a Sworn Brother from his oath.”

“Precedent,” she said bitterly. “Yes, Aegon the Fourth legitimized all his bastards on his deathbed. And how much pain, grief, war, and murder grew from that? I know you trust Jon. But can you trust his sons? Or their sons? The Blackfyre pretenders troubled the Targaryens for five generations, until Barristan the Bold slew the last of them on the Stepstones. If you make Jon legitimate, there is no way to turn him bastard again. Should he wed and breed, any sons you may have by Jeyne will never be safe.”

“Jon would never harm a son of mine.”

“No more than Theon Greyjoy would harm Bran or Rickon?”

Grey Wind leapt up atop King Tristifer’s crypt, his teeth bared. Robb’s own face was cold. “That is as cruel as it is unfair. Jon is no Theon.”

“So you pray. Have you considered your sisters? What of their rights? I agree that the north must not be permitted to pass to the Imp, but what of Arya? By law, she comes after Sansa . . . your own sister, trueborn . . .”

“. . . and dead. No one has seen or heard of Arya since they cut Father’s head off. Why do you lie to yourself? Arya’s gone, the same as Bran and Rickon, and they’ll kill Sansa too once the dwarf gets a child from her. Jon is the only brother that remains to me. Should I die without issue, I want him to succeed me as King in the North. I had hoped you would support my choice.”

“I cannot,” she said. “In all else, Robb. In everything. But not in this . . . this folly. Do not ask it.”

“I don’t have to. I’m the king.” Robb turned and walked off, Grey Wind bounding down from the tomb and loping after him.
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

Additionally, she has shown herself to be careless with matters affecting Robb’s campaign, such as releasing Jaime from captivity. It’s fair to argue that careless might even be an understatement, that she is effectively defiant of Robb’s rule.

Robb would be a fool to trust his letter to a mother clearly ruled by her desire to protect her children, and willing to risk his campaign based on her whims.

Catelyn outright tells Robb that she will not support his legitimization of Jon Snow and declaration that Jon would be his heir.

Therefore it’s completely absurd that he would have trusted his letter to her.

In fact, it’s likely that he would not want her near any such document.

This of course only leaves one remaining candidate.

*   *   *

The Captain of the Myraham

To be honest, we have to outright admit to one reason Robb might not trust the captain: He’s not not a northerner, he has no sworn allegiance to Robb. The Myraham is said to originate out of Oldtown and his ship is a trading vessel. Thus the captain is more inclined to care about simply surviving, reaching his family alive and perhaps making a profit.

Thus, Robb might not trust the captain with such a sensitive document.

There’s also no guarantee that he might follow through on any arrangement to carry such a letter, no guarantee of loyalty.

After all, might a seemingly indifferent captain be too easily given to bribery?

The captain of the Myraham has no familial ties to the North. Nor does he have incentives to participate in any of Robb’s schemes.

Thus, these concerns cast deep doubts on the idea that the letter was given to the Myraham‘s captain.

But that’s precisely the problem: the captain of the Myraham has already proven his loyalty to Robb’s cause. Or rather his loyalty to a cause that so happens to align with Robb’s.

*   *   *

A SEAFARER’S LOYALTY


To explore the idea behind why the captain of the Myraham makes sense requires we look at him with a detective’s mind. Does he have the means, motive and opportunity to do anything with Robb’s letter?

The Motive

As I just claimed, the captain has proven himself to Robb.

  • First he delivered Theon to Balon Greyjoy on Pyke. Although Theon proved disloyal, it was no fault of the captain’s. It should be acknowledged that there is no evidence that the captain knew of Theon’s association with Robb, or that Robb knew of the captain’s involvement in Theon’s delivery. This does not mean that these details were not revealed ‘offscreen’ somehow. However, the captain knowingly delivered the Greyjoy heir, seemingly full aware that Theon had been away for years. It suggests that he knew quite well of Theon’s Stark affiliations.
  • Second, for some reason he traveled with Jason Mallister from Seagard to Hag’s Mire just to relay a message concerning important details about the ironborn.

This seems like a lot of dedication (and risk) for a simple merchant captain to assume. It raises some interesting questions.

  • Couldn’t the captain have told the details to Mallister, who would have conveyed the message to Robb?
  • After all, wouldn’t it seem perfectly reasonable for Mallister to reward the captain himself, and if the lord felt the need for recompense he could pursue the matter with Robb directly?
  • Wouldn’t this have spared the captain a significant delay on getting back underway with his ship Myraham?
  • So what could engender such dedication from such a person?

Why, great profits, of course!

The promise of gold had turned the Oldtowner into a shameless lickspittle.
— THEON I, A CLASH OF KINGS

Now Theon is not the most objective of people, however this strongly aligns with our facts. While it is certainly an exaggeration to call the captain a lickspittle, we see that the captain is duly rewarded for both of his efforts:

The Lordsport men gazed on Theon with blank, bovine eyes, and he realized that they did not know who he was. It made him angry. He pressed a golden dragon into the captain’s palm. “Have your men bring my things.”
— THEON I, A CLASH OF KINGS

“Captain,” said Robb when the man was done, “you have my thanks, and you will not go unrewarded. Lord Jason will take you back to your ship when we are done. Pray wait outside.”
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

The first passage firmly shows that the captain was indeed well-rewarded for delivering Theon to Pyke. The second passage strongly implies that the captain was similarly rewarded.

One could observe that the captain of the Myraham was making a tidy profit acting as Robb’s courier.

The captain of the Myraham has proven himself willing to aid Robb’s campaign.

So you see, as long as Robb’s cause remains profitable, the captain has an incentive to continue taking on any work that might net him a hefty reward from a king.

So by all accounts we can see that the captain has shown his dedication to profit, and deriving therefrom his loyalty to Robb: as long as Robb continues to pay and pay well, the Myraham seems like a loyal subject.

As long as Robb continues to pay and pay well, the Myraham seems like a loyal subject.

*   *   *

The Means

The captain clearly has the means to move around, via his merchant vessel the Myraham. Given the disrupted ironborn activity, his ship gives him the opportunity to travel as necessary.

*   *   *

The Opportunity

One immediate advantage that the captain has over everyone else is that he is arguably ‘independent’, a non-combatant of sorts. Catelyn has an interesting revelation:

The Greatjon was with him, along with Galbart Glover, Maege Mormont, Edmure, and a man that Catelyn did not know, a fleshy balding man with a cringing look to him. No lordling, this one, she knew the moment she laid eyes on the stranger. Not even a warrior.
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

After all, despite the captain’s fleshy build and rather servile appearance, he’s been heavily involved in prominent happenings in the north.

This is consistent with the earlier implication I observed: that the safest place for the letter would be with someone completely unaffiliated with Robb’s cause (or perhaps stashed somewhere).

Given the profitability the captain has had aiding Robb thus far, there’s no reason for him to betray or risk that source of income.

The captain also makes a clever mule, given that he appears to have no loyalties to any kings.

I feel like this is sufficient reasoning to say that, out of all the candidates, the captain of the Myraham seems like the most plausible choice. It may not seem like a perfect fit, but recall that all other candidates have strong reasons why they aren’t really reasonable.

But looking at the meeting’s attendees alone doesn’t give us the full picture of why the captain is not only plausible –why he’s the best choice. We must also look at the context of the meeting, and determine Robb’s motives for both his letter and also why he would have entrusted it to the captain.

*   *   *

THE IMPORTANCE OF TIMING


In examining Robb’s motives, one thing that merits inspection is the mystery, “Why did Robb choose to declare an heir when he did?”

A Window of Opportunity

After all, Robb wants the declaration to be witnessed by his lords, to effect an indication of recognition and authority in the document. Yet he leaves out Roose Bolton who was going to meet him only days later, with nary a fight expected before then. Additionally, he could have had Walder Frey act as a witness as well.

Another key point is “Why did Robb make the declaration in secret? Why didn’t he announce it before his entire army or make it more well-known?”

Possible answers include:

  • Most obviously, it simply might just be that it’s not the business of the common soldier to know Robb’s heir. Related is the fact that telling his armies about a proclaimed heir might signal some concern for the battles ahead, possibly demoralizing his men.
  • Or quite possibly that he didn’t trust all of his forces with such knowledge, and wanted as few people to know as possible.

In any case, what seems likely is that there was some sort of compelling factor that drove Robb to declare an heir when he did. The most likely reason for doing so was either:

  • Because a window of opportunity had appeared, but only for a short time, requiring Robb act quickly.
  • Because of a fear that he might not get the chance again.

As I said, Robb wasn’t expecting any difficulty approaching the Twins, so he could have easily waited until then before his issuing his declaration. This leaves us only with the ‘window of opportunity’ angle.

Given that Robb’s journey to the Twins was all-but-guaranteed of safe passage, it’s surprising that he opted to declare an heir in advance of joining Roose Bolton and the Freys.

There’s really only one good explanation as to why Robb decided that he needed to declare an heir when he did.

It was most likely because Robb was presented with an opportunity he was not likely to have again.

*   *   *

A Unique Option

So what makes Robb’s meeting in Hag’s Mire unique, what was this opportunity he likely would not have again?

This can be readily whittled down to a single choice by using the following reasoning:

This window of opportunity would be something that could not be reasonably provided by the other candidates.

Simply put, what are the real benefits of Robb’s other candidates? What do they provide that he could easily requisition later?

  • Jason Mallister, Edmure Tully and Raynald Westerling all provide the chief advantage of being able to ‘protect’ Robb’s letter in their respective destinations (Seagard and Riverrun). However, this benefit could be called for from any Stark ally, such as the Boltons or the Freys. As noted previously, storing it in a castle also renders difficult to use in the case of Robb’s death.
  • Maege Mormont and Galbart Glover all provide the supposed benefit of conveying Robb’s letter to Howland Reed. While this may put the letter closer to the other northern lords, it contradicts Robb’s caution and knowledge that Mormont and Glover may be captured by ironborn. However, the letter could have been conceivably delivered to Reed after Moat Cailin was taken. Given the option to deliver the letter after the neck was taken, why would Robb risk the ironborn to deliver it?
  • The Greatjon, Robb and Bolton all provide the benefit of carrying the letter in a standing army. However, that standing army would have still existed by the time they arrived at the Twins. There’s no real reason to exclude Bolton from such an important document.
  • Robb would be an utter fool to trust the document to Catelyn. She openly refuses to recognize his decision on the matter and has been openly defiant of his orders. That’s all I can say on that.

Thus there is a lack of specific, immediate need in Robb’s present situation at the meeting as it concerns his armies and his attendant lords.

They do not provide a function that warrants declaring an heir at that time in lieu of a later time, one perhaps more tactful and observant of decorum.

Now consider the following:

  • The captain of the Myraham is only present for that meeting, and that meeting alone.
  • The captain is the only one that provides a unique function that cannot be easily replicated by any of Robb’s bannermen in the present or near-future: the covert, nautical delivery of important assets.
  • The captain made the long trek from Seagard to Hag’s Mire, delaying his return to Oldtown that much more (remember that he was forced to remain in the Iron Islands for six months). This delay represents not only a delayed return to his home, but a further financial lost due to reduced trading and a further impact to his sailors’ morale (they too are being delayed in returning home).
  • The captain also faithfully delivered Theon to the Iron Islands, a fact that was likely revealed to Robb.
  • That makes it twice that the captain has engaged in activities which specifically benefited Robb.
  • In both cases, the captain expected and was rewarded with financial compensation.
  • Given that Mallister could have simply rewarded the captain and sent him on his way, the captain’s presence at the camp suggests he’s there in search of further financial gains. He’s there because of the prospects of another opportunity.
  • It seems reasonable that Robb would come to trust that the captain could be relied on, when properly motivated by the assurance of a financial reward.

Given these observations concerning the attendees, it seems all but likely that the timing of his declaration has to do with the availability of the captain, and the unique function he can provide.

By why would Robb give his letter to the captain of the Myraham? What did he want the captain to do with it?

The answer to these questions requires that we examine an idea that Robb presents at the fateful meeting in Hag’s Mire.

*   *   *

THE DISTRIBUTION OF TREASURES


Robb explicitly introduces the idea that he needs to avoid creating a ‘single-point-of-failure’, a centralized gathering of strategically valuable targets:

She tensed. “Do you have some part in this for me?”

“Your part is to stay safe. Our journey through the Neck will be dangerous, and naught but battle awaits us in the north. But Lord Mallister has kindly offered to keep you safe at Seagard until the war is done. You will be comfortable there, I know.”

Is this my punishment for opposing him about Jon Snow? Or for being a woman, and worse, a mother? It took her a moment to realize that they were all watching her. They had known, she realized. Catelyn should not have been surprised. She had won no friends by freeing the Kingslayer, and more than once she had heard the Greatjon say that women had no place on a battlefield.

Her anger must have blazed across her face, because Galbart Glover spoke up before she said a word. “My lady, His Grace is wise. It’s best you do not come with us.”

“Seagard will be brightened by your presence, Lady Catelyn,” said Lord Jason Mallister.

“You would make me a prisoner,” she said.

“An honored guest,” Lord Jason insisted.

Catelyn turned to her son. “I mean no offense to Lord Jason,” she said stiffly, “but if I cannot continue on with you, I would sooner return to Riverrun.”

“I left my wife at Riverrun. I want my mother elsewhere. If you keep all your treasures in one purse, you only make it easier for those who would rob you. After the wedding, you shall go to Seagard, that is my royal command.” Robb stood, and as quick as that, her fate was settled.
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

Specifically, Robb doesn’t want Catelyn with Jeyne, and the reason being they are both valuable targets. As Galbart Glover notes, there is risk in traveling with any of the groups headed to battle. Again, this is indicative of Robb’s caution, that he is aware of the ever-present possibility of defeat.

It’s also indicative that he wants his crown to survive such a defeat, and that he hopes to protect that dream by distributing the knowledge of the candidates for his successor such that they cannot be easily eradicated.

Robb wanted to ensure the survival of his crown in his death, and thus wanted the knowledge of the secret letter’s contents to be well distributed among a number of people and sites.

Given that the Robb and the Greatjon both know, the letter’s contents are ‘preserved’ in his main army. Jason Mallister’s involvement means that the knowledge is also in Seagard. Edmure’s involvement means that the knowledge is also going to be held in Riverrun.

These all represent a fair distribution of the contents in his letter, but they are all sites that are at risk, either by the Lannisters or by the Ironborn.

Robb might have considered the need to get the letter to another place, one safe from combat.

Given the fact that almost all of the known places where the knowledge of the letter will move, all are at conceivable risk.

Robb might have wanted additional, safer destinations for the letter’s secrets to be kept.

And as I noted, the Myraham makes for a handy way to convey such a message covertly, without attracting attention. The secret is kept.

Given everything thus far, the Myraham makes for the ideal method of distributing knowledge of the letter to other, safer destinations; ones most likely to survive any calamity that might befall his campaign.

Would Robb simply tell the captain about the letter’s contents?

Absolutely not. This goes back to the passage wherein Theon observes that only he and Robb knew about his letter to Balon Greyjoy. Robb is very protective of his secrets.

What then does Robb have the captain do?

He would have the captain deliver the actual letter itself. The letter would be sealed so that the captain was unaware of its contents.

This would seem to be a perfect explanation of why Robb dismisses the captain from his tent before conversing with his lords. Granted there are many other reason to dismiss captain before talking.

However, Robb instructs the captain to wait outside, pending a reward. Why did he not reward him right then, obviating the need for the captain to wait? The implication is that Robb wanted to discuss matters with his bannermen before rewarding the captain or conversing with him further. Subsequently, it further implies that the captain was to be called back into the tent after their meeting.

Thus Robb is in the position to both reward the captain for his information, and proposition him with a further offer.

What offer you say?

The opportunity to deliver a message to a relatively safe, but out-of-the-way northern lord, one staunch in his loyalty to the Starks and capable of acting on any instructions so received.

And what would be the captain’s gain for this? How could the recipient lord reward the captain for such a tremendous effort?

The answers to both questions might seem obvious at this point.

*   *   *

THE SILVER IN THE NORTH


So where would the Myraham take this letter?

White Harbor

Not only is Wyman Manderly uniquely wealthy enough to provide a strong financial reward for such a service, but he certainly meets all of the other criteria, such as loyalty and the faculty necessary to champion the contents of Robb’s letter. Also, simply put, its the only other notable port in the north besides Seagard.

The Logistics Involved

There are a number of ideas that help explain just how the Myraham could pull off this stunt.

First and foremost, consider that it a simple trading vessel, and that for the most part sea trade has been unaffected by the wars (aside from Sallador’s piracy near Dragonstone).

Assuming a roughly simultaneous launch of the Myraham as well as the two longships for Maege and Galbart; the longships provide a healthy screen/distraction for the Myraham as an Ironmen given the choice would easily go for the longships.

The Ironmen didn’t attack the Myraham when it was in port and let it set sail so it stands to reason they wouldn’t attack it, particularly when their resources are committed to reaving the North and holding the Neck. Further the Ironmen expect Robb’s army to attack the Neck and are thus ‘distracted’ by that more immediate and prominent threat.

Robb even asks Jason Mallister to send two longships around the Cape of Eagles, which further implies that sailing near Pyke is relatively reliable at the moment.

The cumulative weight of these factors on top of the Kingsmoot means that a merchanter will likely go unharmed by the Iron Islands.

Once out of reach of the ironborn, it’s relatively smooth sailing all the way to White Harbor. Neither Robb nor the captain know of Sallador’s piracy, but then again piracy seems to be a regular phenomenon, something sailors might regularly encounter when traversing the Stepstones. They would be somewhat versed in handling/preventing run-ins with such rogues.

*   *   *

THE OLDTOWN ALTERNATIVE


With Sam in Oldtown, there is considerable wonder as to how he fits into the larger narrative. Yes sure he provides a lot of insight into inner workings of the Citadel and so forth. Aside from that though, you may ask ‘what’s the point?’

If the letter stayed in Oldtown in lieu of going any further, one can see how it makes tremendous sense that Sam would be in the position he is – for both the larger narrative of plot progression as well as Sam’s development.

It goes all the way back to Sam’s efforts to keep his vows throughout A Feast for Crows contrasted against his understanding of Jon’s pain.

This is also consistent with the tone in the latter books where characters make long journeys that seemingly have no point only to have tremendous, transformative personal developments at the end that herald great change.

I can see tremendous storytelling possibilities with him encountering Robb’s letter.

Further, Sam is also in the singular position of being able to verify the historical record and see if there is precedent for absolving a person from their oaths to the Night’s Watch.


Finally it should be noted that this essay isn’t trying to say where the letter is. It may or may not have gone to Oldtown or White Harbor. It may have been intercepted by the ironborn or pirates. The captain may have abandoned the task or betrayed Robb.

The scope of this essay was only to try and identify where the letter went after that fateful meeting in Hag’s Mire.

6 thoughts on “A Message from the South: The Location of Robb’s Letter

  1. El Canuck

    Raynald Westerling’s body was never found and his last known whereabouts are to have fallen into the river after being hit by crossbow bolts after freeing Greywind. (So even his death isn’t wholly confirmed) Although I agree that it’s unlikely Robb would have given him the letter in any case, I don’t feel we have sufficient evidence to rule him out entirely.

    Fantastic article otherwise though, very well written and entirely interesting.

    Reply
  2. NM

    There was one assumption that troubled me. I don’t buy the implication that Robb would want to keep his legitimization of Jon Snow absolutely secret. You may simply not have gone into this in enough depth, since it has been a while since I’ve read the text, but let me lay out my reasoning:

    (0) I assume that Robb’s letter, if extant, says something like, “If Jeyne and I have no children, then Jon is legitimized (and heir).” Robb wants to safeguard against the possibility of infertility as well as death. Therefore, his letter is going to be conditional, not legitimizing or naming Jon heir outright, since he doesn’t want any confusion about the line of succession in case he and Jeyne have children.
    (1) When you want to legitimize someone (or naming them heir), you want everyone to know and not have any doubts of the authenticity of the documents proclaiming legitimacy. Historically, when naming someone unusual heir kings go through all sorts of trouble to make sure everybody knows and swears to fealty. For instance, there’s Empress Maltida, who Henry I of England named heir, since he lacked children. Being a woman, it was unusual, and there were pretenders to the throne even after Henry took extensive steps to make the barons and court acknowledge her as heir.
    (2) Robb has little incentive to keeping Jon’s conditional legitimization a secret. Why does it matter (to Robb) if the Ironborne know?
    (3) Other letter-carriers are not necessarily eliminated.

    What I thought your rationale was lacking is the case for (2). If you could expound on this, it might help the argument. I’m not discounting that the captain could have the (or a) letter, solely examining a single area where I find fault in your argument.

    Reply
  3. tom hudson

    Am a huge fan of these books this is my first response to any theories so be nice, I believe the letter is at grey water watch as I think neither maege or galbert have reappeared , but find the old town theories interesting as I see sam as a complete opposite of jamie I.e jamie wanted by his father sam despised by his father one a great warrior the other a hopeless warrior seeing sam the slayer become sam the king maker opposing Kingsolver would definitely be very matinesque. Again first response or reply to anything ice and fire related so please don’t be horrible. Live your essays keeping me occupied until winds thanks again

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      One element of my essay addresses this:

      There is one notable implication of this concept: If Robb had anticipated the possibility that Mormont or Glover could be taken –as indicated by the provision of false orders– then why would he give them the letter containing his true declaration of Jon Snow as his legitimate heir? The two ideas are contradictory.

      You’re entirely welcome to disagree with the logic here. I’m just saying that Robb wouldn’t give Mormont/Glover false orders and then give them his true ‘will’, if he feared they might be taken. If you recall his speech at the time he brings up his will, he mentions avoiding ‘putting all his eggs in one basket’. Remember, Glover and Maege were intended to coordinate with the crannogmen to attack Moat Cailin from the north and the west. Giving them the letter on top of this would be ‘gathering his eggs’ so to speak. Further, it is *technically* putting the letter back into regions where it is at risk.

      Like I said, you’re free to disagree. I just try and present my reasons and let the reader decide.

      Of course I introduce speculation when I suggest that it went south, but it is based on the idea

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Jon: the Hour of the Wolf Comes – Thunks of Ice & Fire

  5. Jason

    My only problem with this is that I have troubles believing that Robb actually named Jon as his heir simply because we weren’t shown the actual pronouncement. Catlyn made some strong points regarding the Blackfyres and Theon and I’m not convinced that they were lost on Robb. The final confirmation of Cat’s fears was omitted and she never reflected upon the meeting in later chapters. To me that’s a deliberate move by Martin to let us assume that Robb carried on as he intended while reserving for himself as the author the opportunity to have events unfold differently. So who then? Ned never wanted a secessionist rebellion, he felt that the rightful heir was Stannis. Would Robb have the North continue the struggle for an independent kingdom or would he leave his heir a more pragmatic goal? Ouster of the Lannisters and normalisation of the realm.

    Otherwise the captain of the Myraham makes quite a bit of sense, especially the idea that he would have made for White Harbour. Manderley’s speech to Davos about the North Remembering felt like one of the real hinge points of the story to me, but was Manderly within his rights to tell Davos that he would take Stannis as his king if he helped him get back Rickon, or was that well intentioned plan of his abject treason? If he had already come into possession of the letter from Robb though and it decreed that the North would bow to Stannis under a new lord Stark (and this might well have been Jon as he believed Rickon dead) then Manderley was following his dead king’s wishes to the letter- in fact improving upon them by convincing Davos to retrieve Rick.

    Anyway, I love these essays and am blown away by the amount of hard labour that has gone into each. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s