A Nefarious Investment


NOTE: If you are desperate to see the TL;DR, scroll down… it is near the table of contents.

In our final essay regarding Tycho Nestoris, I want to discuss the nature of his urgency.

Why was Tycho willing to take such great risks to reach Stannis as fast as humanly possible?

There are several obvious financial reasons, easily understood and reconciled with textual evidence or obvious reasoning.

Yet there is one other reason, both secret and massive, for the Iron Bank’s support, a self-serving power play that the bank can deliver to Stannis on a platter.

Before we address this secret plot, let us discuss the more conventional factors and why they fail to completely explain Tycho’s interests in Stannis.

First, let’s take stock of those aforementioned ‘obvious’ financial reasons:

  • There is the obvious financial reason: the Iron Bank wanted to secure a new king, someone willing to repay the debts of the Iron Throne.
  • Then there is the more implicit financial reason: In the previous essay on Tycho (Charity of the Iron Bank), I presented the argument that the Iron Bank also wanted to insure Stannis’s success, as it would be the only way for the king to endure long enough to actually repay the debts. In this case, another reason for Tycho’s hastiness was to provide Stannis with valuable military intelligence. I also illustrated how Tycho produces Theon as part of a major scheme to address the ironborn.

However, there is a concern here. Stannis is right in the middle of a campaign, mid-march. This raises major questions:

  • Even if Tycho finds Stannis (as he does), Stannis would not immediately benefit from the loans or repay debts for months.

In this case, why rush to meet Stannis on the campaign trail?

  • Stannis could still die.

Why would a notoriously dispassionate organization such as the Iron Bank extend loans to (or expect repayment from) a man with an uncertain fate?

  • The Iron Bank has already been screwed by Cersei, who clearly violated contracts. The Iron Bank has no clear assurances that Stannis will comply with repayment.

Would the Iron Bank risk the same possibility with another king? How could the Iron Bank force Stannis’s compliance with their contracts?

The answer to these questions can be reasoned out with a little effort:

  • The only reason to race to Stannis is because the Bank believes that Stannis can win, despite the evidence to the contrary. This would indicate that the bank has “insider knowledge” or assets that tips the odds in Stannis’s favor. Tycho’s haste indicates that this crucial advantage is of a time sensitive nature. Tycho’s declaration that he cannot trust matters to ravens suggests that any details of such knowledge or assets is extremely secretive.
  • Sure, the bank can (and does) extend loans to Stannis, yet neither party will see the fruits of those labors for months. It does not help Stannis on his northern campaign in the forthcoming weeks and months. If the bank cannot insure Stannis’s survival for the immediate future, Tycho’s travels will be an entirely wasted effort. Thus, whatever time-sensitive the insider knowledge or assets the Bank has is unlikely to be related to loans.
  • Stannis has virtually no assets, no collateral that the Iron Bank could leverage to ensure the king’s compliance with any established contracts. We know that the bank was screwed by Cersei, and that Stannis can’t even repay Salladhor Saan. Without the introduction of additional factors, Stannis has no apparent collateral to offer to assure that their loans will be repaid. This must mean that there are unknown factors that would act as the collateral, compelling Stannis’s faithfulness to the Iron Bank.

The most logical explanation?

  • The Iron Bank already has the collateral that would insure Stannis’s compliance with the repayment of debts. They have something that Stannis doesn’t even know that he will urgently want.

Collectively this means:

  1. Tycho was not just racing to Stannis to secure repayment and secure loans.
  2. He was racing to Stannis to give the king something (information, assets, etc) that would greatly aid Stannis’s campaign in the forthcoming weeks. The obvious benefit is that by helping Stannis the bank improves the likelihood that debt payments will resume.
  3. The collateral that would compel Stannis’s loyalty would be something extremely compelling, something the king would not risk losing, yet something that he does not currently possess.

This leads me to the central theories argued in this essay:

Tycho raced to Stannis in order to tell him that the Iron Bank held the real Arya Stark.

The Iron Bank may produce Arya for Stannis as a part of their negotiated agreement.

The Iron Bank may have a self-serving motive for aiding Stannis in this fashion.

These are admittedly far-fetched claims, but ones that seem far more convincing once I’ve argued the supporting premises that constitute the remainder of this essay.


  1. Underground Connections. The likely relationship between the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men.
  2. Goodheart and Elephant. Revealing Tycho’s hidden motives, connected to the Faceless Men.
  3. The Dismissive King. The implications of Stannis’s changing priorities.
  4. Darkside of the Iron Bank. The hidden motives for aiding Stannis in his time of need.

*   *   *


ASoIaF-Arya-donato-1200In the claims above I espouse a seeming falsehood: that Arya Stark is held by the Iron Bank. Obviously the readers know this is wrong, Arya is currently with the Faceless Men.

How then could the Iron Bank claim to have possession of her?

This is because the Faceless Men are most likely affiliated with the Iron Bank, perhaps even being an unofficial branch of the bank.

Allow me to explain.

The Iron Mine

Braavos is built on top of an abandoned iron mine. The Iron Bank has its origins in this mine, where the bank stores its incalculable wealth:

Braavos is also home to one of the most powerful banks in the world, whose roots stretch back to the beginnings of the city, when a few of the fugitives took to hiding such valuables as they had in an abandoned iron mine to keep them safe from thieves and pirates. As the city grew and prospered, the shafts and chambers of the mine began to fill. Rather than let their treasure sit idle in the earth, the wealthier Braavosi began to make loans to their less fortunate brethren.

Thus was born the Iron Bank of Braavos, whose renown (or infamy, to hear some tell it) now extends to every corner of the known world.

One thing is quite clear: the Iron Bank stores its wealth and treasures in the vast subterranean labyrinth of an old iron mine.

What makes this conspicuous is that the Faceless Men also seem to have their roots sunk deep into the earth under Braavos:

Eighteen steps brought them to the vaults, where five arched passageways spread out like the fingers of a man’s hand. Down here the steps grew narrower and steeper, but the girl had run up and down them a thousand times and they held no terrors for her. Twenty-two more steps and they were at the subcellar. The tunnels here were cramped and crooked, black wormholes twisting through the heart of the great rock. One passage was closed off by a heavy iron door. The priest hung the lantern from a hook, slipped a hand inside his robe, and produced an ornate key.

…This stair was unknown to her, however, and that made it perilous. One-and-twenty two-and-twenty three-and-twenty. With every step the air seemed to grow a little colder. When her count reached thirty she knew that they were under even the canals. Three-and-thirty four-and-thirty. How deep were they going to go?

Clearly the Faceless Men are embedded deep within the earth. It is noteworthy that the tunnels ‘twist’ and are not straight like you would expect if a hallway had been excavated for typical foot traffic. What seems clear is that these tunnels were excavated in the same fashion as in mining. Indeed, a simply Google image search for ‘mining tunnels’ will show countless pictures of cramped, crooked, twisting tunnels carved into rock.

It seems perfectly fair to conclude that the tunnels underneath the House of Black and White are also the remnants of an abandoned mine.

Furthermore, we also know that the greatest secrets of the Faceless Men are stored deep in this mine.

You can clearly see the emerging question:

If the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men both use extensive, abandoned mines underneath Braavos, could these mines be connected?

*   *   *

The Keyholders

In The World of Ice and Fire, we are introduced to the Braavosi elite, known as ‘keyholders’:

Matthar recounts that the founders of the Iron Bank numbered three-and-twenty; sixteen men and seven women, each of whom possessed a key to bank’s great subterranean vaults. Their descendants, whose numbers now exceed one thousand, are known as keyholders to this day, though the keys they display proudly on formal occasions are now entirely ceremonial.

So clearly, the keyholders of old were able to access the mines and vaults of the Iron Bank using special keys. Modern keyholders however appear to be unable to do so.

During Arya’s descent to the inner sanctum of the House of Black and White, we observe something rather distinct about the kindly old man:

Eighteen steps brought them to the vaults, where five arched passageways spread out like the fingers of a man’s hand. Down here the steps grew narrower and steeper, but the girl had run up and down them a thousand times and they held no terrors for her. Twenty-two more steps and they were at the subcellar. The tunnels here were cramped and crooked, black wormholes twisting through the heart of the great rock.One passage was closed off by a heavy iron door. The priest hung the lantern from a hook, slipped a hand inside his robe, and produced an ornate key.

Gooseprickles rose along her arms. The sanctum. They were going lower still, down to the third level, to the secret chambers where only the priests were permitted. The key clicked three times, very softly, as the kindly man turned it in a lock. The door swung open on oiled iron hinges, making not a sound.

The devil is in the details:

An ornate key?

An iron door on iron hinges, in an abandoned iron mine?

A door with a sophisticated lock that clicks three times before opening?

Even though Arya is supposedly in the tunnels beneath the House of Black and White, the events described in this passage are alarming compatible with what we know about the keyholders of the Iron Bank.

Could the kindly old man be a keyholder?

You may be noticing a possible concern here:

TWOAIF said that keyholders and their keys were largely ceremonial nowadays. Doesn’t that prove that the kindly old man’s key could not be a key to the Iron Bank’s tunnels?

The text in The World of Ice and Fire on this subject is exceedingly clever. Let me point something out:

  • Yes there are over a thousand keyholders now, whose keys are ‘largely ceremonial’.
  • However, there has always been the original twenty-three keys that we do know are functional.

Notice the clever way this observation is concealed in the text, the idea implicit and carefully skirted:

Matthar recounts that the founders of the Iron Bank numbered three-and-twenty; sixteen men and seven women, each of whom possessed a key to bank’s great subterranean vaults. Their descendants, whose numbers now exceed one thousand, are known as keyholders to this day, though the keys they display proudly on formal occasions are now entirely ceremonial.

Observe the emerging parallels:

  • The Iron Bank’s vaults are protected by locked doors requiring one of twenty-three special keys.
  • Access to the inner sanctum of the House of Black and White is also protected by a locked door that requires a special key to open.

Given the compelling idea that the Iron Bank’s vaults are connected to the House of Black and White’s sanctum, this suggests two things:

The inner sanctum may actually be inside the Iron Bank’s vaults.

The key held by the kindly old man is one of the twenty-three functional keys to the vaults.

This certainly makes sense. The “cavern of faces” below the House of Black and White arguably contains one of the most vital treasures to the Faceless Men. Given the reputation for the Iron Bank’s security, it makes sense for these treasures to be stored in the Iron Bank’s vaults, if possible.

Of course I admit that these ideas are all predicated on supposition: the hypothesis that the network of caves underneath the Iron Bank and the House of Black and White are connected.

You could certainly doubt the existence of a connection, but the documented similarities make such concerns increasingly unreasonable: despite a lack of overt evidence, a connection between the Faceless Men and Iron Bank seems clear.

Furthermore, a shared network of caverns is not the only factor that implies an accord between these organizations.

*   *   *

Neighbors on Good Terms

Let’s set aside all concepts regarding mines and keys. There are other significant reasons for the Iron Bank to have an accord with the assassins of the Faceless Men:

  • Knowing that you share a city with an assassins guild and perhaps even share the same cave network, you would expect any bank to be concerned with their vulnerability, both to assassination and theft. It seems obvious that one of the most obvious reasons to reach terms with the Faceless Men would be to allay these concerns.
  • The Iron Bank is exactly that, a bank. The efforts of the Faceless Men are capable of vastly damaging the bank’s interests, should one prince seek to have another assassinated. The Bank would clearly desire to have a stake in the operations of the Faceless Men, for financial reasons.
  • The Iron Bank is also a notorious political entity. Much like how the Faceless men could possibly interfere with the bank’s financial designs, these actions of these assassins are quite capable of derailing political schemes. Again, the bank would seek to have a controlling interest in the operations of the Faceless Men to carefully influence politics.
  • Finally, consider how the Iron Bank can actually profit from the Faceless Men: by establishing an alliance with these assassins, the bank can further its own goals and use the assassins to handle any obstacles or enemies. The assassins can also be used for intelligence gathering purposes.

There is scant mention of the Iron Bank’s involvement with assassins, but mention nonetheless:

The Iron Bank will have its due, it is said . Those who borrow from the Braavosi and fail to repay their debts oft have cause to rue such folly, for the Bank has been known to topple lords and princes and has also been rumored to send assassins against those it cannot remove (though this has never been conclusively proved).

Now, given the likelihood of shared vaults and the unstated-but-obvious accord that must exist between the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men, isn’t it almost certainly the case that the Bank would use the Faceless Men for any such assassinations?

*   *   *

Eyes of the Iron Bank

Recall my earlier observation: The inner sanctum may actually be inside the Iron Bank’s vaults.

This would make it clear that the Faceless Men are indeed very much a part of the Iron Bank’s organization, but only in secret.

If this is the case, then that means that resources and information could be shared between organizations.

What does this mean?

The central discovery is this:

Any information gathered by the Faceless Men is shared with the Iron Bank.

Keep in mind my other observation:

If the kindly man is indeed a true keyholder, that means Arya has already been disclosing secrets to a member of the Iron Bank.

Now the remaining premises fall into place.

  • The kindly old man knows Arya’s true identity.
  • As a member of the Iron Bank, the kindly old man can share this information with other bankers.
  • Therefore, its entirely plausible that Tycho could know this information prior to his departure for Stannis.

An analysis of the timeline shows that this is quite possible from the perspective of timing and logistics.

By now I’m sure all that the proposed hypotheses come off as very specious, nice to think about but unlikely to be true. If you’ll allow me, I believe the next section will begin to substantiate the connection between the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men.

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*   *   *


343e7be35e7820719b601d69f3d49637When Jon first meets Tycho, he makes a rather bold request:

“There is always a price, is there not?” The Braavosi smiled. “What does the Watch require?”

“Your ships, for a start. With their crews.”

“All three? How will I return to Braavos?”

“I only need them for a single voyage.”

“A hazardous voyage, I assume. For a start, you said?”

“We need a loan as well. Gold enough to keep us fed till spring. To buy food and hire ships to bring it to us.”

“Spring?” Tycho sighed. “It is not possible, my lord.”

Notice that while Tycho expressed some small concern regarding the ships, he objected much more strongly to the proposed loan.

Why would he be so seemingly amenable to loaning his three ships to Jon?

Why would Tycho risk being delayed on his return to Braavos?

Lending the ships puts them at unnecessary risk given the ever-present storms at sea. Why would Tycho risk his ships in this fashion with so little to gain?

But perhaps most important of all: why would Tycho lend all of his ships? Couldn’t he keep one as a precaution?

This leads me to the central hypothesis in this section:

Tycho knew about the Lysene slavers who were on their way to enslave the wildlings at Hardhome.

Tycho was willing to send his ships to aid in the rescue because of the spirited Braavosi rejection of slavery.

But most of all… The source of Tycho’s knowledge about the slavers was Arya herself.

These facts emerge from the details:

The Lysene Sailors

Arya appears to be the first person to inform the kindly old man about the Lyseni slavers. I apologize for the lengthy citation below, but it spares you from looking it up in the books:

And later three Lyseni, sailors off the Goodheart, a storm-wracked galley that had limped into Braavos last night and been seized this morning by the Sealord’s guards.

The Lyseni took the table nearest to the fire and spoke quietly over cups of black tar rum, keeping their voices low so no one could overhear. But she was no one and she heard most every word…

…The next morning, when the kindly man asked her what three things she knew that she had not known before, she was ready.

“I know why the Sealord seized the Goodheart. She was carrying slaves. Hundreds of slaves, women and children, roped together in her hold.” Braavos had been founded by escaped slaves, and the slave trade was forbidden here.

“I know where the slaves came from. They were wildlings from Westeros, from a place called Hardhome. An old ruined place, accursed.” Old Nan had told her tales of Hardhome, back at Winterfell when she had still been Arya Stark. “After the big battle where the King-Beyond-the-Wall was killed, the wildlings ran away, and this woods witch said that if they went to Hardhome, ships would come and carry them away to someplace warm. But no ships came, except these two Lyseni pirates, Goodheart and Elephant, that had been driven north by a storm. They dropped anchor off Hardhome to make repairs, and saw the wildlings, but there were thousands and they didn’t have room for all of them, so they said they’d just take the women and the children. The wildlings had nothing to eat, so the men sent out their wives and daughters, but as soon as the ships were out to sea, the Lyseni drove them below and roped them up. They meant to sell them all in Lys. Only then they ran into another storm and the ships were parted. The Goodheart was so damaged her captain had no choice but to put in here, but the Elephant may have made it back to Lys. The Lyseni at Pynto’s think that she’ll return with more ships. The price of slaves is rising, they said, and there are thousands more women and children at Hardhome.”

“It is good to know. This is two. Is there a third?”

Every detail is right there. Why is this passage important?

If the kindly old man is indeed a true keyholder of the Iron Bank, then its entirely plausible that Tycho could know.

Keep in mind that the ship was seized in Ragman’s Harbor, and the Lyseni sailors were exceedingly quiet. It would appear that the matter of the seizure is not known to the public, and given the Iron Bank’s exclusive use of the Purple Harbor, they are unlikely to be aware of the seizure themselves, unless an informant tells them. Thus Arya was in fact the primary way this knowledge was acquired.

I’ve also compared this data to one of the most comprehensive ASOIAF timelines in existence. Despite the seemingly incongruent chapter ordering in the books, Arya’s discovery of the Goodheart happens about one month prior to Tycho’s arrival, plus-or-minus a week or so.

NOTE: Setting Arya aside, another completely viable possibility is that the Iron Bank and Tycho learned about the slavers via another informant, perhaps at some other, earlier time. Thus if you dislike Arya as the informer or the timing, other valid possibilities exist which don’t invalidate the remainder of the essay.

*   *   *

The First Law of Braavos

So, even if Tycho knows about the wildlings and the slavers… what would compel him to lend his ships at such great risk?

The answer is that opposing slavery is fundamental to the Braavosi identity, indeed perhaps the most important quality:

And because they had risked their lives in the name of freedom, the mothers and fathers of the new city vowed that no man, woman, or child in Braavos should ever be a slave, a thrall, or a bondsman. This is the First Law of Braavos , engraved in stone on the arch that spans the Long Canal. From that day to this, the Sealords of Braavos have opposed slavery in all its forms and have fought many a war against slavers and their allies.

Thus there is tremendous cultural incentive to prevent additional enslavement. This also helps explain why Tycho would lend all of his ships instead of keeping one in reserve.

*   *   *

Too Simple?

After negotiating for hours with Tycho, a contract is drawn up. Jon later reviews it:

Tycho Nestoris had left behind a copy of their agreement. Jon read it over thrice. That was simple, he reflected. Simpler than I dared hope. Simpler than it should have been.

It gave him an uneasy feeling.

As Jon ponders why Tycho was ultimately amenable to his needs, it is clear that he feels Tycho might have seen other benefits to the arrangement. The points argued throughout this section strongly suggest that Tycho sees the contract as a way to help rescue the wildlings.

*   *   *

It’s all well and good to have presented a compelling argument that Tycho knows about the slavers, but that was not the ultimate goal of this section.

The real goal?

By showing that Tycho almost certainly knew the secret about the Elephant and the slavers…

I have demonstrated evidence of a connection between the intelligence gathering efforts of the Faceless Men and the actions of the Iron Bank.

Thus this was a long, roundabout way of showing that the Iron Bank profits from the information gathered by the Faceless Men.

It is also our first inkling that Tycho and the Iron Bank may be acting on undisclosed, self-serving interests.

Finally we can start to talk about Stannis and Tycho.

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*   *   *


Stannis NarrowProving that Tycho told Stannis about the true Arya begins with a look at the king’s behavior after their conversation.

The first thing to note is that Stannis doesn’t appear to care one whit about Arya after her rescue. He only mentions her twice in Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter. In both cases we see his almost lack of interest in the “Arya” he has:

Oh, and take the Stark girl with you. Deliver her to Lord Commander Snow on your way to Eastwatch.” Stannis tapped the parchment that lay before him. “A true king pays his debts.”

There’s something…off about his statement:

  • Stannis comes off as entirely dismissive… Arya is virtually an afterthought.
  • He doesn’t even call her by name, she’s just “the Stark girl”.
  • Sending Arya with Massey is a rather dubious decision.

Collectively, his behavior makes virtually no sense whatsoever at all.

  • First of all, “Arya” is the jewel of Roose Bolton’s claim to the north.

Why send her to Jon when he could very well send her after the forthcoming battle?

Why would Stannis send a dozen of his men, twelve of his horses and two ‘officers’ (Justin Massey and Alysane Mormont), and his most valuable hostage away right before a major battle?

  • His behavior here is inconsistent with the letter Jon received from Stannis. Stannis’s letter showed a sincere interest in saving Arya and finding her a better suitor. But as we see in The Winds of Winter, Stannis appears to show absolutely no interest in considering suitors. In fact Stannis doesn’t even seem to want to meet “Arya” or afford her any comforts while she is at the camp.

Why would Stannis abandon his seeming interest in finding a suitor for Arya?

Why would Stannis show such disregard for the proper treatment and attention he should afford to Lady Arya?

The notion of finding a suitor is perhaps one of the most insightful elements at play.

Did you know that Stannis originally planned to take Val on his march?


“This had best not be some bastard’s trick. Will I trade three hundred fighters for three thousand? Aye, I will. I am not an utter fool. If I leave the girl with you as well, do I have your word that you will keep our princess closely?”

She is not a princess. “As you wish, Your Grace.”

Notice that at the very moment Stannis decides to leave the wildlings behind, he asks Jon to keep Val. The obvious implication is that prior to the agreement, the king was going to take Val with him.

Why would he do that?

One major reason is pretty obvious: because he wanted to wed her immediately after defeating the Boltons. The purpose was to establish a proper lordship in Winterfell and secure an alliance with the wildlings.

Why then when Stannis has a much more potent bride-to-be does he simply ship her off without much thought?

*   *   *

Irresistible Bait

So what is Stannis doing with “Arya”?

Recall what I said about Justin Massey’s mission in The Smiler and the Slayer, that Massey’s mission was largely a diversion.

By sending “Arya” with Massey, accompanied by a seemingly small escort, she becomes an enticing target to capture, either en route to or at Castle Black. Thus she becomes yet another false flag that might draw men from Winterfell (see A Page from History for more details).

The method by which this bait becomes valuable is via Arthor Karstark. In the essays Suicidal Tendencies and The Rising Sun of Winter, I describe how Stannis will leverage Arthor to deceive the Boltons.

Note that Massey’s mission leaves while all of the Karstarks are concealed in the village’s huts. Thus when Arthor is sent to Winterfell, he will only have a superficial knowledge that “Arya” was dispatched to Castle Black. This is information that Arthor could share with Roose Bolton.

Stannis expected Massey’s journey to Castle Black to draw Bolton men from Winterfell.

  • This is how Stannis can further poison the well. By playing dead, Roose may be goaded into dispatching men from the Dreadfort to recapture “Arya”. This would be yet another feint in Stannis’s ploy to weaken the numerical strength at Winterfell.
  • This would explain why Stannis dispatched her from his army, rather than keeping his prize (and valid heir to Winterfell) close. The diversion was more valuable than keeping her at the village.
  • It would explain why he sent her with the Massey, the knight of questionable loyalty.
  • And why she traveled in such small company, considering her value. He anticipated the possibility of her capture.
  • The extra horses that travel with Massey would confuse Arthor Karstark into believing that the ironborn left with Massey (see Release the Kraken for details).

This is idea is all well and good. But there’s just one major problem:

It would be an immensely risky (foolish?) mistake to conduct such a gambit with a piece as valuable as Arya.

Unless… Stannis knew Arya was fake.

*   *   *

Why Tell Stannis?

Remember what I said at the beginning:

Stannis is a poor king with a grim fate, holding no collateral or even ability to repay loans.

Possession of the true Arya Stark is the game-changer here.

Quite simply, Stannis greatly desires a valid heir to occupy Winterfell. All things considered, Arya Stark is the only remaining candidate (unless you consider Sansa).

The Iron Bank is in a position to simply give her to Stannis. You can see how this is both the collateral and incentive:

  • Stannis would be forced to agree with the Bank’s terms and pay in order to acquire his valid heir. Otherwise the Bank could ‘produce’ Arya at any time and contest Winterfell’s occupants.

Stannis would have no choice but to meet their demands in this regard.

Such an extortionist arrangement is perfect, and it establishes why the Iron Bank would elect to support Stannis.

  • Knowledge about the fake Arya allows Stannis to use Jeyne Poole to his advantage as previously speculated, for immediate military aid.
  • It also prevents him from making strategic missteps based on thinking that Jeyne was Arya.
  • It also allows him to better command his men, the northerners in particular who were wild with impatient desire.

*   *   *

What I’m ultimately getting at in this section is that something happened to Stannis to dramatically change his interest in the Arya Stark he currently possesses.

  1. This shift seems to occur in close temporal proximity to Tycho’s meeting with the king.
  2. We know that Tycho has access to information procured by the Faceless Men. Thus he may know about the true Arya.
  3. Subsequently, Tycho may likely have told Stannis about the true Arya.

Keep in mind the extortion-like relationship this creates. The Iron Bank is perfectly poised to aid Stannis, but only because they have something he wants.

If you look at Stannis’s emotions and words in Theon’s sample chapter its quite clear that the king feels like he is being extorted: he compares Tycho to a pirate shaking him down, and implies that the Iron Bank is figuratively sucking his blood. The subtext is obvious, Stannis feels completely screwed.

Why is this interesting to me?

Because you must consider that Stannis was aware of the debts of the Iron Throne.

  • The guy was the Master of Ships for years and sat on the small council. He knew of the financial status of the kingdom.
  • Further, he was present when Robert assumed the throne. The Iron Bank most certainly contacted them at that time to discuss loans previously held by the Targaryens.

The point is this: Stannis most likely knew he was going to be assuming those debts. How could he not?

Thus his anger, his sense of being extorted, was about something else entirely, something unexpected.

*   *   *

Interestingly enough, Jon has some curiously relevant ruminations on the idea of safeguarding Arya in Braavos:

The best solution he could see would mean dispatching her to Eastwatch and asking Cotter Pyke to put her on a ship to someplace across the sea, beyond the reach of all these quarrelsome kings. It would need to wait until the ships returned from Hardhome, to be sure. She could return to Braavos with Tycho Nestoris. Perhaps the Iron Bank could help find some noble family to foster her. Braavos was the nearest of the Free Cities, though … which made it both the best and the worst choice. Lorath or the Port of Ibben might be safer. Wherever he might send her, though, Arya would need silver to support her, a roof above her head, someone to protect her. She was only a child.

Oddly relevant considering that Arya is already sheltered (indirectly) by the Iron Bank, with a roof over her head and someone to protect her.

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ironbankYou may yet think that there is poor rationale here, or unfettered speculation. There probably is. I could be entirely wrong, having used an early premise that undermines the entire essay. Opinions obviously vary and I respect that.

In particular:

  • You might find that Tycho talking about Arya is a pretty trivial detail.
  • You may doubt that the Iron Bank can reasonably turn a profit through the exploitation of Arya Stark.
  • But most especially, that Arya would not willingly return to Westeros.

Well… ahem. Let me point something out:

Arya no longer has her face. It’s currently in the inner sanctum at the House of Black and White.

There is some debate over whether or not a person’s face is removed when they don another in the sanctum of the Faceless Men. Some argue that the description of donning the ugly girl’s face suggests that the face is worn on top of a person’s skin, or that only the faces of the dead are in the sanctum. I disagree, I believe that a person’s face is indeed removed when she becomes the ugly girl.

I believe the following passage makes it clear:

That night they gave her back the face of Arya Stark.

NOTE: Rather than argue this point further, I will save the evidence and reasons for the comments if necessary.

The idea that Arya’s face was taken off has significant implications.

Another Faceless Man might be able to don Arya’s face.

Thus any of the Faceless Men could pretend to be Arya.

Now think about this:

The waif spent a great deal of time learning about Arya and physically resembles her as well.


He never told her his name. Neither did the waif, the little girl with the big eyes and hollow face who reminded her of another little girl, named Weasel.

“She will teach you,” said the kindly man as the waif appeared outside her door. “Starting with the tongue of Braavos. What use are you if you cannot speak or understand? And you shall teach her your own tongue. The two of you shall learn together, each from the other. Will you do this?”

Think about it:

Isn’t it very interesting that Arya and the waif played the ‘lying game’, wherein the waif ended up learning a great deal about Arya’s life.

Isn’t it interesting that the waif was thirty-six years old and had never learned the Common Tongue? Why then was the kindly old man suddenly so interested having her learn it from Arya?

Thus it seems entirely plausible that, when the time comes to produce Arya for Stannis, the Iron Bank can instead send the waif, to advance whatever agendas that profit the bank.

This is a tremendous example of how the Iron Bank can possibly position itself to secure the stability of its political, financial interests in Westeros.

Not only would the waif be Arya Stark, but she’s an expert poisoner.

The Bank would be poised in a perfect position to control major elements in the north.

*   *   *

Another brief point is that the vast majority of intelligence that Tycho could have provided to Stannis (as described in Charity of the Iron Bank) could not have been known at the time of Tycho’s departure from Braavos.

Thus whatever “insurance” the Iron Bank assumed would aid Stannis’s campaign derived from intelligence that could be gathered by its agents (as theorized in Desperately Seeking Davos), locally or abroad.

*   *   *

To summarize the entire essay, I would say the following:

If Stannis can claim to possess the ‘true’ Arya and simultaneously invalidate the ‘false’ Arya (Jeyne Poole), he engenders a dramatic power play in the north.

If you couple this huge opportunity for the Iron Bank with how the ‘true’ Arya Stark can be used to exploit Stannis, then you have all of the ingredients necessary to understand why Tycho was so hurriedly interested in contacting Stannis:

The Iron Bank wanted to enact its plot before Stannis failed!

Thus, securing repayment of debts was only a partial reason for Tycho’s ‘adventure’.

I’d like to end this essay with an eerily apropos excerpt:

She has to remember her name. When the tip of her nose turned black from frostbite, and the one of the riders from the Night’s Watch told her she might lose a piece of it [her face], Jeyne had wept over that as well. No one will care what Arya looks like, so long as she is heir to Winterfell,” he assured her.

I don’t take this to mean anything serious, its just possibly some oddly relevant text.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

31 thoughts on “A Nefarious Investment

  1. fromage10x

    Something to consider here is that IF this is true then whatever the Iron Bank wants to accomplish with the Waif as Arya would have to happen fairly quickly.

    Unless it is all a lie (and I’m not sure why she’d bother to lie), it’s been established that the Waif is a big as she’s ever going to get. Arya would still be growing. If the Waif shows up to pretend to be her, it would not be too long (in the grand sense, a year or two certainly) that people would begin to ask why little Arya Stark was still not growing up.

  2. Wolfson

    Another interesting thought here. If the Iron Bank did know about the information the Faceless Men were bringing in, then was Tycho deliberately misleading Jon when he claimed no knowledge of the Night’s Watch men (Sam, Aemon, and Dareon) who had recently passed through Braavos? Arya encountered Sam, and her killing of Dareon was one of the things she explicitly told the Kindly Man.

    I do think there’s something to the idea of the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men being connected. Most of the stories and references to the Faceless Men seem to suggest they undertake their assassination missions for (large sums of) money, for all their speeches to Arya about how they only give the gift to those the Many-Faced God has decreed. The Many-Faced God sounds like it could very well be closer to the Almighty Dollar, and coins do generally carry the faces of many different people…

    1. cantuse Post author

      That is a good point regarding Arya killing Dareon and then telling the kindly old man. I can obviously see reasons why Tycho would not want to tell Jon about it.

      The Many-Faced God sounds like it could very well be closer to the Almighty Dollar, and coins do generally carry the faces of many different people…

      I don’t know if that is a common observation in the community (I haven’t heard it before), but wow… mind blown. All those times that Arya is feeling the golden dragons trying to figure out which face is on them.

    2. Riusma

      Maybe there is also a bit of the other way around : the Iron Bank has its vaults under the House of Black and White and giving all they have symbolically to Him of the Many Faces, they have a full credit with the Faceless Men, if in their prayers they really want someone to die (the first keyholder may have performed a sort of sacrifice for the Many-faced God with their first goods stored in the mines). The fact that Jaqen tells Arya that any Braavosi seeing the iron piece will help her suggests that there is a sort of agreement between braavosi institutions and the Faceless Men, with a strong cultural implantation judging by the reactions of the Titan’s Daughter crew.

      As there is, at least according to me, a parallel between Jaqen and Arya’s relation in Harrenhal and the legend of the first of the Faceless Men and the second one (Arya is closed to be a slave in the cavernous Harrenhal burned by Balerion, and she pray hard for the death of a good amount of people), I would not fully discard a mystical motivation in their actions.

      1. cantuse Post author

        The idea that the FM may not be part of the bank, but rather a ‘guild of assassins on retainer’ is another attractive hypothesis about the relationship between the two. In the associated reddit thread, I acknowledged that while I can substantiate a relationship between the groups, I cannot articulate the nature of the relationship. Thus if I was to hypothesize, I would attempt to present a list of possibilities. Your idea would be among one of my favorites.

        If I had a more mystical/speculative portion of my essay, your other ideas would be a perfect fit. Unfortunately I try to avoid mysticism in the Mannifesto because one of the chief reasons I believe people like the essays is because they rely on conventional explanations wherever possible (the ‘ruby cuff’ being the notable exception).

    3. Chris P

      The Many-Faced God sounds like it could very well be closer to the Almighty Dollar, and coins do generally carry the faces of many different people…

      I love this idea! And it’s very GRRM to present a deity in such a light. Water god, fire god, ice god, tree god… Money/Many-Faced god where the big bank is. I love that idea and never thought about it prior!

  3. Riusma

    Hi Cantuse,

    Sorry for my “timeline fixation” but you should clarify your statement that “Arya’s discovery of the Goodheart happens about one month prior to Tycho’s arrival, plus-or-minus a week or so”, because it seems that it’s not the case in the online document (ADWD, Arya I is 5/21 – and her report about Goodheart and Elephant is a the end of the chapter – and the arrival of Tycho at Castelblack is 6/8, which only gives 17 days for the travel between Braavos and Castleblack, which is a bit short in my opinion). By the way, as you say it’s not crucial (and according to my own timeline it may work).

    I read one of your responses on Reddit, and I just want to express some doubts on the full removal of Faceless Men faces. I fully agree that Arya’s chapters are ambiguous on that matters (at my first read I was thinking that it was a full removal, and yes thematically that is the way that works best), but if you look at Jaqen at Harrenhal when he changes his face, argument could be made that he just remove Jaqen face and show his “real face” (“the alchemist”) as it may seems difficult to remove one and put another in just one single movement (where do he stores the faces when travelling is another question ^^).

    Very good essay nonetheless, as always! 🙂

    1. cantuse Post author

      Jaqen used a glamor insofar as the text indicates:

      “That’s not how I meant. Jaqen used magic.”

      “All sorcery comes at a cost, child. Years of prayer and sacrifice and study are required to work a proper glamor.”

      As for the timeline, I see the mistake I made. The 5/4 date is drawn from Cat of the Canals in AFFC. 5/21 as you noted does not necessarily make it impossible, but it is tight. One issue here is that Arya’s chapters are covering months at a time and she’s in a relatively isolated plotline and location, making it a bit tough to pin down when individual elements of her storyline are happening. She’s a bit like Bran III ADWD in that regard.

      I don’t mind your concerns regarding the timeline, as you can see I’ve been trying to reconcile timelines before posting… probably on your account. It’s not a bad thing, I’m after valid theories after.

      In any case, the arguments about why Tycho was willing to lend his ships makes a lot of sense. The chapter ordering would suggest I’m wrong—because THE BLIND GIRL happens after JON IX when Jon and Tycho negotiate. However, the timelines show that its entirely possible. Further, the narrative proximity is interesting, since JON IX is immediately followed THE BLIND GIRL. In other words, a reader might end JON IX agreeing with Jon that Tycho’s amenability was suspicious… only to have the very next chapter (Arya) inform them about the slavers—in other words providing Tycho with a motive.

    2. cantuse Post author

      Sorry to reply to you twice, but oh my god… the proof just dawned on my in my car…

      Let me explain. If you pay attention to the excerpt above when Arya discusses the slavers, she mentions that the Lyseni were only taking women and children.

      Just a few minutes ago it dawned on me what Cotter Pyke says in his letter to Jon from Hardhome:

      At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune.

      Now I already knew about this line in the letter (or I wouldn’t have remembered it), but I didn’t know what to think of it. What would be so important about the Braavosi only taking women and children? Now I know why.

      It’s because they knew that’s who the Lyseni would be taking when they came back!

      This is why they appear to be disregarding instruction from Cotter Pyke (one implication of his letter).

      So timelines be damned, the Braavosi ships must have known about Goodheart and Elephant!!

      Seriously, that was a devilishly well-hidden secret on Martin’s part. I feel proud for clearly nailing that one. Sorry for the jubilant attitude, but wow I don’t often have epiphanies that well placed.

      1. Riusma

        Well… there is perhaps also some common sense at play as it’s safer to have women and children aboard than desperate men (and I think that it is the same reason that has led the Lyseni slavers to take women and children first). I’m more convinced by the fact that Tycho do not secure at least one boat for it’s own needs (which as always puzzled me, and you give a good explanation here, which “works” with my timeline and that’s all I need to be convinced ^^). The new Lyseni fleet that should be coming back at Hardome will perhaps gives a narrative solution for the ships…

      2. cantuse Post author

        They dropped anchor off Hardhome to make repairs, and saw the wildlings, but there were thousands and they didn’t have room for all of them, so they said they’d just take the women and the children.

        The Lyseni knew they were stealing the women and children from the start.

        To be frank and appropriately misogynistic, you would want more men than women if you could swing it. Men can be put on oars, men can help shore up a breach in the bilge etc. Not only is that just the plain truth based on gender differences, but archaic sensibilities regarding what women and children can or should do come into play.

        What makes the Braavosi decision noteworthy is the simple fact that Cotter Pyke mentions it. If it was common sense to only take women and children first, why isn’t Cotter?

      3. Riusma

        Yes, but women and child are easier to put in slavery with a small crew than men when you are on a ship (as I think the Lyseni may have thought).

        My point isn’t that Braavosi inclination to take only women and child can’t be a sign of a concern toward the coming of the “Lyseni slaver fleet” (don’t know with how many ships they may come back), but more that in my opinion you shouldn’t reach to fast at this conclusion, as the Braavosi crew may only think that women and child are safer aboard a ship than men who do not trust you (whereas Cotter Pyke has orders from Jon to take all the wildlings). But, as I doubt that they have enough ships to take all the wildlings (if there is indeed thousands of them), perhaps you are right on what this Braavosi concern may implied… 🙂

      4. cantuse Post author

        You must also consider this… perhaps Tycho was bringing the three ships with him because they already planned on rescuing the women and children. Can you hardly blame him for playing quiet, when Jon made it clear that he wanted pay Tycho to do the very thing they were already going to do for free?

  4. Bryan

    As you’ve often pointed out GRRM loves to bury foreshadowing in seemingly unrelated chapters. For a while now I’ve been working on a detailed analysis of the political situation in KL prior to the death of Jon Arryn, and I’ve come across numerous possible connections between the IB & the FM. No silver bullet type text rather multiple inferences that when considered in light of my interpretation of the events in KL, show a likelihood of this connection. It’s a work in progress that frankly was inspired by ur writings. Your methods for connecting seemingly unrelated information to clarify the overall story in absence of hard textual proof inspired me to reevaluate what we thought we knew about the events leading to Neds death. By applying ur methodology I believe I’ve uncovered some truths that are just as shocking as the truths you’ve uncovered in the North. That being said I believe what I’ve found to be true not tinfoil. The delay lies in my struggle to present the information properly to the online community. I just haven’t been able to write it up in the manner I envisioned, leading to unending rewrites. Perhaps u understand my dilemma. For all my education writing does not come naturally to me. I’d be happy to share the connections between the IB and the FM I’ve found along with the proof, but doing so would require some back tracking to the beginning to lay the foundation to prove said connections, and this is not the forum for that. If you’re interested by all means contact me via the provided email and I’d gladly share my assertions with u. Would love ur input actually. If there are any massive holes in my theory u are more qualified then most to enlighten me to my mistakes. As always I’m a huge fan of ur work and I just want to thank u for all the time and effort that goes into ur work. Hell I’m struggling to organize info into a single coherent essay. What you’ve accomplished blows my mind! Thank u and keep them coming!

  5. Johan Ouwerkerk

    Interesting idea. Seems to me, though that Arya Stark is particularly difficult to impersonate because the impostor must pass close scrutiny. One of which tests is what might be terme “the “does the direwolf kill or cuddle her test”.

    Apropos, it seems Wyman Manderly had much the same idea and might have beaten them to it*. If your ideas about Tycho’s intelligence gathering are correct, he might have inferred as much …

    *) There’s a theory out there which states Crowfood’s queries for Jeyne were prompted by information gleaned from Osha…

    1. Bastetcat

      But if Manderly plays out the “Rickon-card” it could mean the death of Rickon. Because the IB wouldn’t allow this. So this is the way Rickon will die. By the hands of “his” sister the “Facelessman-Arya”.

      And this endangers(ed) Jon (if he survives). He is the only one who can 100% identify Arya. He can be fooled by first glance, but as you sad – Ghost is there.
      My opinion is that the direwolf can be fooled as well – as we have seen it with Melisandre and Val. But even if the “Facelesman-Arya” knows everything about her (real Arya’s) life, she (assassin) doesn’t sear the bond with Jon. Some things cant be faked.
      It is a matter of time. So even if Jon survives he will be a number one target – now to the IB.
      The more I read from this esseys the more sadder I become. Because I see my favorite characters in traps. Like everyone.

      Jon – Stannis, Melisandre, Bowen, wildlings conspirations. He is a puppet like Ned was.
      Arya – Puppet to the IB.
      Bran – to Bloodraven and the CotF.
      Sansa – to Bealish.
      Stanis – to Melisandre, IB.
      Dany – to Varys.
      And so on.

      (Almost) every character is in trap. And I so want to see where this will lead us.

  6. varys' swimsuit area

    “Little one,” Greenbeard answered, “a peasant may skin a common squirrel for his pot, but if he finds a gold squirrel in his tree he takes it to his lord, or he will wish he did.”
    “I’m not a squirrel,” Arya insisted.
    “You are.” Greenbeard laughed. “A little gold squirrel who’s off to see the lightning lord, whether she wills it or not. He’ll know what’s to be done with you. I’ll wager he sends you back to your lady mother,
    just as you wish.”
    When Greenbeard saw Arya staring at him, he laughed and said, “The lightning lord is everywhere and nowhere, skinny squirrel.”
    “I’m not a squirrel,” she said. “I’ll almost be a woman soon. I’ll be one-and-ten.”
    “Go on with you, skinny squirrel,” said Greenbeard. “Be a good little lady and go play in the yard while we talk, now.”
    Greenbeard said, “Here’s the wizard, skinny squirrel. You’ll get your answers now.”
    “Such an angry squirrel,” murmured Greenbeard.
    – A Storm of Swords

    Who was hiding in Ramsay’s room wearing his clothes?

    Just a thought that jumped into my head while reading this essay…… (Removing my shiny hat to wrap up my turkey sammich)

    1. varys' swimsuit area

      Sorry, wearing his clothes in the godswood?…. Think she jumped out the window…… I’ll have to reread…….

  7. hootan1020

    Just a quick comment, i really like the theory and seem to believe most of this. Just wanted to make notice of the fact that you say:
    “Yes there are over a thousand keyholders now, whose keys are ‘largely ceremonial’.”

    but the text you quote says:
    “though the keys they display proudly on formal occasions are now entirely ceremonial.”

    i dont have my AWOIAF in front of me right now so maybe in the book it says largely and the text you quoted was copied wrong but entirely and largely are two different meanings.

    but i mean even if it does say entirely ceremonial, its quite possible that the Faceless Men and the Iron Bank have been together for a rather long time so it’s not inconceivable to say that the heads of the Iron Bank and the head of the Faceless Men do not still have the original keys that were passed down for them. And no where in the text does it say the original keys were lost or destroyed so those original keys are still probably in use.

    so yeah, it doesnt really ruin or change the theory, just wanted to point out the words you use and quote are different and that could throw people off with the theory.

    also, im not too much a fan of the idea that the face completely comes off. Jaqen removes his face in front of Arya. Why would they give her face to another and pretend it’s her instead of just sending the real Arya? You send a fake with her face and yes everyone will buy it is her..but what happens with the real Arya then? they hold her as leverage? but how could they use her as leverage if her face, which is the best way to identify her, is on someone else. Also, what would happen when Jon or Sansa or anyone from Winterfell talks to her or asks her questions about Winterfell and she doesnt know the things the real Arya would? Jeyne works for the Boltons because she grew up with the Starks and knows everything about growing up with them in Winterfell. Granted, Jon is a mystery we dk dead or alive and no one knows where Sansa is. But why then would they even bother sending a fake and what would they even do with the real Arya then who has a face other than her own.

  8. sweetsunray

    That there is a connection between Iron Bank and FM is certain. They will work together for Braavos interests. The Mercy chapter is evidence of that. Many people who’ve read the excerpt chapter for aWoW assume Arya is operating here completely of her own accord. Nothing is further from the truth. When she wakes up she reminds to herself the name she’s using, much like Theon. “Merci, I’m Merci.” But her next thought is how she must get ready to be raped and murdered. Of important note is that nowhere in the play of the Bloody Hand (written by Phario Forel, relation to the once 1st sword of the prior Sealord Syrio Forel) does Mercy’s character get murdered. Her character in the play only gets to be raped. In fact after murdering Raff she thinks she must hasten to the theatre for her “rape”. Suddenly it’s not rape and murder anymore. It’s also important she gets to the theatre on time for once – not only is it a premiere, it’s the first time since the theatre’s existence that the Sealord deigns to see a play there, and he brings the envoy of KL with him. She also brings with her a real blade that is short enough to fit in her sleeve. But of note – it’s not “her” blade; nothing is hers; but the fruit knife is Mercy’s. In other words, the blade she takes along is not Needle. In the chapter Mercy also checks the blades in the theatre for being stage blades, because real blades aren’t used (except for that one accident). So, Mercy prepares to be “murdered” and brings a “real blade” with her to a play that would please the Lannister envoy since it’s about the “evil” Imp. She watches the people who came to watch the play for that night. It’s filled to the rafters, with some keyholders and so on, but completely filled with common, non-rich people, and of course the sealord, the Black Pearl and the envoy. When she sees Raff she thinks to herself “the gods have sent me a gift”. She lures Raff away, with a witness present, to her room, murders him in a manner that cannot but leave a “bloody” mess. Curiously, she doesn’t care about the blood, after Raff bled out like a pig – she’s only bothered about having done it upstairs and now she will have to drag the body down the stairs… more work. In the last paragraph she has “no doubt that this would case trouble for the Sealord and envoy”. But she NEVER thinks it would get her in trouble.

    So, what is going on? Arya had an FM mission that evening: to cause some scandal and trouble for the Sealord and his amiety towards the KL envoy. What would that scandal be? That one of the envoy’s retinue is a child rapist and murderer and then fled. And of course with a Queen with such “loose morals” as Cersei, even forced to do a walk of shame by her own people and faith, it’s no surprise she hires pervs for guards. And the Sealord is hanging out with such people? There is one significant thought when Arya is on her way to the theatre – “In the fog all men are murderers.” It kindof calls forth the image of Jack the Ripper. So, Arya was meant to create a mess that would undeniably prove a murder has taken place, but without bodies. Of course any witness account of the missing “Mercy” as well as Raff would make anyone conclude Raff was the murderer – no child that small could be expected to best a tall, soldier like him, and he has everything against him in character (one of the Mountain’s ilk). But the basic fact is that Arya was to frame a guard of imoral character belonging to the envoy. So, it was indeed a stroke of luck that the ideal candidate was one who’s on her list.

    What’s the purpous of creating such a scandal? 1) Force the sealord into distancing himself from the Lannister-Tyrells in KL. And the only candidate with an interest in that would be the Iron Bank who are backing Stannis. 2) Turn the people against the Sealord and weaken his political position, eventually in the hope of preparing the way for a new Sealord. These could be merchants, a rival, the Iron Bank, or it may be related to have a Sealord that won’t cause issues with Dany. It was the present Sealord who put them out of Braavos to curry favor with Robert’s regime.

  9. sweetsunray

    However I disagree that the Many Faced God is the “money” god. Consider the waif’s story – her mother died, her father remarried and her stepmother was kind to her until she had her own child. Since the waif was the heir (of a noble house), the stepmother wanted the waif to be out of the way. She informed with the FM, but the “sacrifice” was too high, so she tried her hand at it herself. The waif survived though, but was forever bound to the body of a child. The father found out about it.

    Q: Now, how did he found out? Could someone via the FM have informed him, since after all she did inquire with the FM first?

    He then hired the FM himself to kill the stepmother for half of what he possessed and the waif to join the HoBaW. That was the “sacrifice” and he was willing to make it. But if you take a deeper look into it, was the father’s sacrifice so hard? No. His heir was irreperably damaged. She could never have a child of her own. She would not even make a good match and have a husband. And she could be the laughing stock of society. In that sense, asking and giving the waif to the HoBaW was a kindness to the waif, for she could have a life and role within the HoBaW that would be denied to her otherwise. As for half of his posessions? Well, she was his heir after all. It’s as if he’s given it in advance to the people who will take care of his daughter for the rest of her life. The added bonus is that he still gets to keep the other half for his second child who will be the new heir.

    Now ask yourself what kind of “sacrifice” they would have asked of the stepmother? Did she have posessions? Most likely not as much, since it’s her husband’s inheritance she’s after. But more interestingly – what if they asked her to give her own child to the HoBaW? This would make the murder of the waif completely pointless to her.

    The first time we get to hear of the FM is through Littlefinger. Take note that Littlefinger is the “conjurer” of money – in other words, while he’s good at seeing opportunities, no doubt he filled his own coffers with the revenue of the King’s coffers. Littlefinger’s values are money and power only really. He inquired with the FM to kill a “merchant” (probably a lie) and he claims you could buy 2 common sellsword companies for that amount. What would they ask for a princess, he fears.

    Littlefinger is like the waif’s stepmother. He’s in it for himself, never a win-win situation. And the HoBaW and FM are actually free to manipulate the “sacrifice” beforehand in order to force the requester to reconsider. So, basically the FM manipulate the stated sacrifice depending on whether they want to do the job. Arya got to have 3 names for basically the throwing of an axe. It cost her 5 mins of her life, and putting herself in danger, but she did not even break down the burning cage herself. In theory she could have said, “Tywin, Joffrey and Cersei,” and Jaqen woudl have done it… that would have been Hand of the King + King + Queen Regent, and all it cost Arya was throwing an axe into a cage. In fact, Jaqen was almost salivating at the prospect of Arya giving Joffrey’s name.

    More, his shock when she gives him his name is beyond the expected. He’s actually terrified. And he declares he will not sleep before she unnames him. Even though it’s just a name for the face and character he plays at the time is, Jaqen being that shocked implicates it is indeed a religious matter – that she just put the mark of death on him. I think he genuinely believes he’s in the risk of dying until the time she unnames him.

    The kindly man hammers down how “prayer” + “sacrifice” is necessary. She does not get condemned or even punished for the murder of Dareon, but she does have to temporarily sacrifice her eyesight + her Cat of the Canals identity in direct relation to it, and “blindness” suggests the blindfolded Lady Justice.

    The HoBaW has a door of weirwood and ebony. We have seen such doors in two other places related to magic – Tobho Mott’s shop who can reforge Valyrian steel, and the House of the Undying. But they also differ in that Tobho’s also has a carving of hunting scene in the door, the HoBaW has a moon-face on it, while the HotU has no symbol at all. Tobho’s hunting scene is a sign for the knowledgeable that he has ties to Qohor (famed hunters and foragers as well as the only ones who preserves the knowledge how to reforge Valyrian Steel). The moonface of the HoBaW ties them to the moonsingers. The moonsingers of the slaves that rebelled on the Valyrian slaver’s fleet prophesied where they could find a safe home, which ended up being Braavos. The FM worked in the mines to defy the slave masters, and since these slaves worked in the 14 volcanoes this is the hint that they may have been involved in bringing about the Doom.

    Since moonsingers do prophecies, I suspect that the FM may have an end-game prophecy of their own; not about Azor Ahai or PtwP, but a First Reborn. They may even believe that Arya is this First Reborn.

    For an organisation supposedly only in it for the money we know of no assassination victim by them that’s even half-to-light grey. Most of them were anthracite to black. So, while I do not completely think the scenario of the waif taking Arya’s place in Westeros is impossible, I think it unlikely for those reasons. This could only be done for short-term purposes. And then what?

  10. thespidersgreatballsoffire

    One more fold to the last 3 essays, regarding the “gift” of theon to stannis. I’ve always had this theory and forgive me for not doing the research to add quotes from cannon (I’ll leave that to you if you are willing) I always had the idea that theon was actually not castrated, but was crudely circumsized. This would explain his embarrassment of being naked, as it would be very uncommon around that time period. This would have major implications concerning what has been going on around the iron islands. If he truly can produce an heir, he would have the best claim to the iron islands and a real “gift” for stannis to have in his pocket.

  11. Amy

    This is a well thought out and well expressed Theory – you’ve convinced me!

    I know that the show has deviated a lot from the books, almost always for the worst in my opinion, but it can still give clues. Based on the recent show events – arya killing the waif and then going back to Westeros with a face to kill Walder Frey – how do you see this as fitting into the connection and plans of the Iron bank-faceless men?

  12. Amy

    What do you think will be the iron bank’s course of action now that we know Stanis will die? Thanks!

  13. Ognjen

    “I know why *the* *Sealord* seized the Goodheart. She was carrying slaves.”
    – The Blind Girl, A Dance with Dragons
    The Faceless men aren’t the only ones who know about Goodheart, the Sealord knows this information as well and considering that he is sick and dying I assume he didn’t seize the ship single handedly, so his men know this as well and who knows where could they pass this information to.

  14. arakchi

    Here’s where it doesn’t sit well with me: how would the Iron Bank produce an evidence of them keeping Arya in their…portfolio?

    1. cantuse Post author

      This is an interesting question. Keep in mind the idea that the Iron Bank producing Arya later on is sort of a theory-within-a-theory: the original premise of these essay series was just exploring the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men as a collaborative group furthering their own agenda. The idea of them using Arya later as a political asset was a sort of optional ‘add-on’ for consideration.

      With that in mind, I think its possible that *if* the Iron Bank was going to use her, they might have insured the existence of someone who could vouch for her likeness to the ‘real’ Arya. I don’t really know how that would be accomplished. In a sense, you’ve basically pointed out that it would have the same sort of ‘legitimacy’ issues that Jon Snow would have after founding out his parentage (provided he tried to push for his own legitimacy afterwards).

      1. arakchi

        Sure, but in order to connect Tycho’s Stannis shake down with the “real Arya” trump card, Tycho would need to come up with at least a thought process to indicate the strength of his hand, or Stannis would simply call his bluff. It’s pretty incredulous that Arya ended up in Braavos on her own.
        I don’t think Tycho would be carrying Arya’s face or anything, but the easiest proof he could produce would be the Needle. Suppose Needle isn’t hidden as well as Arya assumes. It’s castle forged and bears Mikken’s name on it, with multiple agents in knowledge of Mikken’s name. Mors knows it, Jeyne knows it, Theon knows it.
        Tycho is entering a bidding war with Manderly for Winterfell’s heir, and Stannis gets to choose the winning bid. I think he’s leaning towards Rickon. A male heir is a sure thing in the North.

  15. arakchi

    In fact, parallel plotlines are again in play here.

    “Stark girl”s journey from Stannis’s camp to Castle Black. Nose tip frozen off, along with broken ribs. Stannis goading Ramsey into attacking a light escort. Tycho appears oblivious of this provocation, but has to be pondering on Lord Snow’s reaction to a fake Arya. Massey is totally in the dark.

    “Myrcella”s journey from Dorne to King’s Landing. It’s most likely a disfigured Rosamund missing her ear as Myrcella is either dead or in hiding. Doran expects Cersei’s ambush in the Kingswood and has sent 300 seasoned spears to smash any attack. Lady Nym is likely pondering on what will happen when Rosamund is presented to Cersei. Ser Balon is just happy he won’t be seasick.

    I believe GRRM will crash the schemes. Doran wants to blame Myrcella’s death on Cersei, but we have no knowledge of any ambush plans from KL save for Dornish paranoia. Stannis wouldn’t want to appear a fool by presenting a fake Arya to Jon, but the Girl in the Grey might be too resilient for his sake. It is no guarantee that Ramsey will strike her either.

    The plotlines are both brewing the surprise entrances of real Arya and Myrcella.

    1. arakchi

      The Iron Bank could hire a Faceless Men to assassinate Rickon because the sacrifice for Rickon would be a lordship; in this case, Winterfell. Fake Arya becoming the Lady of Winterfell is the payment.

      I wonder if Balon Greyjoy is killed by a Faceless Men, what would the sacrifice be? In my opinion it would be Asha’s hand. That may be why Stannis is keeping her at an arm’s distance, and why the Iron Bank would have ransomed the ironborn from the Glovers. They are not a gift to Stannis, they are the payment to IB.


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