The False Sword Lightbringer

…the sword is wrong, and the false light can only lead us deeper into darkness, Sam.
MAESTER AEMON — A FEAST FOR CROWS

This post is aimed squarely at people who want a thorough examination of Stannis’s sword, purportedly the fabled weapon Lightbringer. I suspect that will likely be first time readers who want some information or clarification.

Note: I’m pretty sure this will be familiar territory for a lot of ardent fans.

The key point I’m making here is this:

Stannis has a false Lightbringer.

More importantly, Melisandre deliberately lied about the sword he has.

This may seem to be a plain observation to some. However, I think it is wise to establish a thorough refutation of Stannis’s sword, as a reference for use in future discussions.

Additionally, I believe that a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding this false sword allows us to make the following claims as well:

It proves that Melisandre indeed relies on the ‘tricks of alchemists and pyromancers’.

We may have been blind to how she has used her other mundane tricks.

I will prove these elements piece by piece, in the order that makes the most sense when read sequentially.

This essay is the first in a series discussing Melisandre’s magic and how we’ve seen it manifest throughout the series. The other entries will be posted as they are finished.

*   *   *

A FALSE CEREMONY


So, how to explain why Stannis’s sword Lightbringer is not the real deal?

The flames given off by Lightbringer precisely match the description of the flames from wildfire.

The flames are clearly described at the ceremony in which Stannis draws Lightbringer from the fire:

The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. Then he was retreating, the sword held high, jade-green flames swirling around cherry-red steel. Guards rushed to beat out the cinders that clung to the king’s clothing.
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

And the general description of wildfire:

A flash of green caught his eye, ahead and off to port, and a nest of writhing emerald serpents rose burning and hissing from the stern of Queen Alysanne. An instant later Davos heard the dread cry of “Wildfire!” He grimaced. Burning pitch was one thing, wildfire quite another. Evil stuff, and well-nigh unquenchable. Smother it under a cloak and the cloak took fire; slap at a fleck of it with your palm and your hand was aflame.
— DAVOS III, A CLASH OF KINGS

These excerpts show the sword Stannis draws is alight with green flames, identical to the green flames of the wildfire used in the Battle of the Blackwater.

Additionally, Davos knows precisely what wildfire on a sword looks like:

He remembered the red priest Thoros of Myr, and the flaming sword he had wielded in the melee. The man had made for a colorful spectacle, his red robes flapping while his blade writhed with pale green flames, but everyone knew there was no true magic to it, and in the end his fire had guttered out and Bronze Yohn Royce had brained him with a common mace.
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

*   *   *

The sword at the end of the Lightbringer ceremony has been destroyed in the same way wildfire does.

At the end of the Lightbringer ceremony, Davos observes the condition of the sword:

A ragged wave of shouts gave answer, just as Stannis’s glove began to smolder. Cursing, the king thrust the point of the sword into the damp earth and beat out the flames against his leg.

…Stannis peeled off the glove and let it fall to the ground… Thrust in the ground, Lightbringer still glowed ruddy hot, but the flames that clung to the sword were dwindling and dying.

…The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos.
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

Tyrion reflects on Thoros and his flaming sword, noting the irreversible damage done to the blades he used in melees:

Tyrion remembered the red priest Thoros of Myr and his flaming sword. Even a thin coating of wildfire could burn for an hour. Thoros always needed a new sword after a melee, but Robert had been fond of the man and ever glad to provide one.
— TYRION V, A CLASH OF KINGS

Gendry worked in the shop where Thoros bought most of his swords, and readily testifies to the effects of wildfire on a blade:

Gendry lit a candle and set it on the anvil while he took down a pair of tongs. “My master always scolded him about his flaming swords. It was no way to treat good steel, he’d say, but this Thoros never used good steel. He’d just dip some cheap sword in wildfire and set it alight. It was only an alchemist’s trick, my master said, but it scared the horses and some of the greener knights.”

… “I wish I had a flaming sword.” Arya could think of lots of people she’d like to set on fire.

“It’s only a trick, I told you. The wildfire ruins the steel. My master sold Thoros a new sword after every tourney. Every time they would have a fight about the price.” Gendry hung the tongs back up and took down the heavy hammer.
— ARYA IV, A STORM OF SWORDS

Finally we have it from Thoros himself:

“King Robert was fond of me, though. The first time I rode into a melee with a flaming sword, Kevan Lannister’s horse reared and threw him and His Grace laughed so hard I thought he might rupture.” The red priest smiled at the memory. “It was no way to treat a blade, though, your master had the right of that too.”
— ARYA VIII, A STORM OF SWORDS

*   *   *

The Lightbringer used in the ceremony is not the same one that appears thereafter.

Immediately after the ceremony in which Stannis first acquires Lightbringer, it is described as follows:

…The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos.
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

The next time we see Lightbringer is at the parley between Stannis and Renly. Catelyn describes the sword thusly:

As he neared, she saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. His belt was studded with garnets and yellow topaz, and a great square-cut ruby was set in the hilt of the sword he wore.
— CATELYN III, A CLASH OF KINGS

Catelyn observes no damage whatsover, in this passage or when Lightbringer is drawn during the parley.

Notice that the Lightbringer Catelyn sees has a large ruby, and Davos did not observe any such ornamentation on the sword used in the ceremony.

Both of these observations make it clear that Stannis is wielding a Lightbringer sword that was introduced or fabricated after the ceremony. It is not the same sword.

Melisandre is the only viable candidate to have conducted this swap. She is shown to be the only one who has access to the blade following the ceremony and be in the position to influence Stannis regarding the sword’s appearance and function.

Melisandre used wildfire during the Lightbringer ceremony.

The sword used for this ceremony was destroyed.

Yet Stannis appears to have a clean, functional Lightbringer thereafter.

Thus the sword used in the ceremony was replaced with another sword before being given to Stannis.

Given her relationship with Stannis, Melisandre is the most certainly the person who performed the swap.

*   *   *

A LACK OF HEAT


Looking closely at the original Azor Ahai prophecy, we see discrepancies between the mythical sword and the one Stannis has.

Jon notes outright that the original Lightbringer burned with flame:

“In battle the blade burned fiery hot.”
— JON II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Next, take stock of the fact that the one truly magical flaming sword is wielded by Beric Dondarrion. Notice what Gendry says:

The flames swirled about his sword and left red and yellow ghosts to mark its passage. Each move Lord Beric made fanned them and made them burn the brighter, until it seemed as though the lightning lord stood within a cage of fire. “Is it wildfire?” Arya asked Gendry. “No. This is different. This is…” “…magic?” she finished as the Hound edged back. Now it was Lord Beric attacking, filling the air with ropes of fire, driving the bigger man back on his heels.
— ARYA VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

The implication here is that a truly magical sword burns with the color of natural flame: red, yellow and orange… not the green of wildfire.

Additionally, note that the ‘new’ Lightbringer is no longer aflame, it simply radiates intense light.

“Enough!” Stannis roared. “I will not be mocked to my face, do you hear me? I will not!” He yanked his longsword from its scabbard. The steel gleamed strangely bright in the wan sunlight, now red, now yellow, now blazing white. The air around it seemed to shimmer, as if from heat.”
— CATELYN III, A CLASH OF KINGS

There is also the notable lack of heat, as observed by Aemon, Jon and Samwell.

Stannis’s sword differs so greatly in appearance and function from the legendary Lightbringer (or even the sword from the ceremony).

It also differs greatly in function from other, magical ‘flaming swords’ we’ve seen.

The accumulation of these discrepancies is insurmountable.

Thus this strongly suggests that it cannot be the true Lightbringer.

*   *   *

 A BAG OF TRICKS


So how did Melisandre manage to create the effect of the Lightbringer ceremony? How did she have access to wildfire and any context in which to use it?

Put simply:

Melisandre used the ‘tricks of alchemists and pyromancers’ (wildfire) on the ceremonial Lightbringer because she was demonstrated to have it.

There is additional context showing that ‘fire mages’ may be inclined to use such tricks when necessary to entrance crowds.

To explain…

Wildfire: A Cheap Trick

Her sleeves were full of hidden pockets, and she checked them carefully as she did every morning to make certain all her powders were in place. Powders to turn fire green or blue or silver, powders to make a flame roar and hiss and leap up higher than a man is tall, powders to make smoke. A smoke for truth, a smoke for lust, a smoke for fear, and the thick black smoke that could kill a man outright. The red priestess armed herself with a pinch of each of them.

The carved chest that she had brought across the narrow sea was more than three-quarters empty now. And while Melisandre had the knowledge to make more powders, she lacked many rare ingredients. My spells should suffice. She was stronger at the Wall, stronger even than in Asshai. Her every word and gesture was more potent, and she could do things that she had never done before. Such shadows as I bring forth here will be terrible, and no creature of the dark will stand before them. With such sorceries at her command, she should soon have no more need of the feeble tricks of alchemists and pyromancers.
— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Clearly Melisandre considers the works of pyromancers to be a feeble trick, tricks upon which she has relied.

Since pyromancers primarily produce wildfire, this directly implies the she has used it; further supporting the evidence that the ceremonial sword was destroyed by wildfire in an elaborate hoax.

*   *   *

A Tale of Two Shadowbinders

A final indication of the use of wildfire and the destruction of the ceremonial sword comes from an interesting quote from the other notable shadowbinder in the books, Quaithe:

“Half a year gone, that man could scarcely wake fire from dragonglass. He had some small skill with powders and wildfire, sufficient to entrance a crowd while his cutpurses did their work. He could walk across hot coals and make burning roses bloom in the air, but he could no more aspire to climb the fiery ladder than a common fisherman could hope to catch a kraken in his nets.”
— DAENERYS III, A CLASH OF KINGS

In this context Quaithe is discussing a Qartheen firemage who previously couldn’t perform real magic. We already know that Melisandre has powders and wildfire, the same ingredients Quaithe brings up in reference to the once-charlatan firemage.

Thus Quaithe is implicitly indicating that Melisandre’s powers are quite limited (although she indicates that this is changing in A Dance with Dragons).

*   *   *

A Ruby Pommel

It’s clear that Melisandre has extremely limited magical powers yet somehow produced a false Lightbringer complete with flashing lights.

This raises some interesting observations:

  • Generating a sword capable of emitting light clearly demands some sort of supernatural power. This implies some kind of magic that functions independent of the normal limitations on her powers.
  • The only two supernatural powers we can attribute to Melisandre are: her shadow children, her visions and her faculty for glamors.

Obviously, her glamors make for the most suitable explanation for the false sword.

What is significant is the large ruby in the Lightbringer‘s pommel. This gem is likely a functional parallel of the one attached to the iron cuff that Mance wears when he is glamored to look like Rattleshirt.

Given that the power of Mance’s ‘iron cuff’ seems to operate independent of Melisandre’s ‘limited magic’, it would seem to indicate that a similar glamor on Stannis’s sword would do the same.

*   *   *

IMPLICATIONS


So at the end of the day, what does all of this tell us? For readers who already suspected the sword was false (virtually everyone), what was the point of reading this?

First of all, there’s absolutely no way that Melisandre doesn’t know Stannis has a false sword.

It confirms that Melisandre has been using conventional trickery to enthrall others.

It confirms that Melisandre has been ‘dipping into’ her stash of magical powders and the like.

Melisandre definitely has used her ‘bag of tricks’ and its up to the readers to figure out how.

As I indicated at the start of this essay, this essay is the first in a series concerning the nature of Melisandre’s ‘magical powers’.

By first laying the groundwork regarding the false Lightbringer, I have created the context to validate the further inquiries I made in the following entries.

One thought on “The False Sword Lightbringer

  1. Specialnedstark

    Your analysis is spot on as always. One point i have to bring up though is that independent of her trickery, LB requires an “ultimate sacrifice” to unlock it’s powers (to the best of our knowledge). It’s possible, though not likely i admit, that any sword could become LB, if it’s the sacrifice that determines it’s power. If Mel believes this to be true then perhaps she’s been content with tricks for now bc she knows sacrificing Shireen is the crucial element, not the sword itself. I’ve long believed Shireen is destined for the fires, and the show certainly increased the odds that I’m right. Maybe Mel choose stannis from the start bc he’s more likely to sacrifice a disfigured child for the greater good than any other potential mark Mel could have chosen? Since we know nothing of Mel’s place among the Red Priests guesses are all we have. Personally i think she’s dead, reanimated, and serving the Great Other only she doesn’t know the truth herself. Just putting that out there in case it turns out true lol
    Hope you’re feeling better health wise. We all miss you and wish u a speedy recovery!

    Reply

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