The Winterfell Huis Clos


The fourth book in the series opens with the promise of dragons, and that is complemented by an interesting pronouncement, during an innocuous gathering of students.
“Dragons and darker things,” said Leo. “The grey sheep have closed their eyes, but the mastiff sees the truth. Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.” He stretched, smiling his lazy smile. “That’s worth a round, I’d say.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

Our purpose here is not quite to confirm Leo's hyperbole. We are going to lay out the current situation in Oldtown. So many oddly assorted character are now in the city, which has now been engulfed in the war.

For ages, the city has been dominated by House Hightower, the Faith of the Seven, the Citadel, and, perhaps, the weirwood of the Ravenry.

Suddenly, we have a wildling prince, his wetnurse familiar to the cold gods, a faceless man, a brother of the Night's Watch, the eldest man in Westeros, a Targaryen beside, the new Iron King, a mage returned with secrets from the east, a burning glass candle, banned books resurfacing, a Dornish spy, Summer Islanders, Alchemists, a cult of the Lord of Light, the news of the return of dragons, and the lord of the city locked in the clouds with his mad daughter consulting books of spells.

After having studied the foundation of the Citadel and its political influence, this is the third part in our series.

  1. The Hightowers
  2. The Tyrells
  3. The grey Sheep
  4. Varys' Agent
  5. Walgrave
  6. Marwyn
  7. Alleras
  8. The Alchemist
  9. In Oldtown
  10. The Cinnamon Wind
  11. Aemon
  12. Gilly
  13. The Little Prince
  14. Sam
  15. Euron
  16. Qyburn

1. The Hightowers

It's worth recalling what we are told about House Hightower.
The Hightowers of Oldtown are among the oldest and proudest of the Great Houses of Westeros, tracing their descent back to the First Men. Once kings, they have ruled Oldtown and its environs since the Dawn of Days, welcoming the Andals rather than resisting them, and later bending the knee to the Kings of the Reach and giving up their crowns whilst retaining all their ancient privileges. Though powerful and immensely wealthy, the Lords of the High Tower have traditionally preferred trade to battle, and have seldom played a large part in the wars of Westeros. The Hightowers were instrumental in the founding of the Citadel and continue to protect it to this day. Subtle and sophisticated, they have always been great patrons of learning and the Faith, and it is said that certain of them have also dabbled in alchemy, necromancy, and other sorcerous arts.
(Appendix, AFfC)

We are going to leave aside ancient history here. But note that the Hightowers were once kings, and that they kept their ancient privileges. The extent of their kingdom is not difficult to determine, since a few noble houses of the Reach are still sworn to them: houses Mullendore, Bulwer, Beesbury, Costayne, and Cuy. The domain makes for a large area around Oldtown. Not all of these houses have always been loyal to the Hightowers (the Beesburys opposed the Hightowers during the Dance of the Dragons). During the war of the five kings, Leyton Hightower declared for Renly, following thus his liege lord and son-in-law Mace Tyrell. However, we never saw the Hightower banner with Renly. Neither Lord Leyton, nor his sons (all knights) went to war. Some Hightower bannermen rode with Renly (Mark Mullendore, Bertram and Hugh Beesbury, Emmon Cuy), but they were not lords or heirs, confirming thus that the Hightowers' support for Renly was measured.

Such a policy of relative neutrality is consistent with the view we have of House Hightower. Even if the house is known to be militarily powerful on land.
“What is Lord Hightower doing?” Sam blurted. “My father always said he was as wealthy as the Lannisters, and could command thrice as many swords as any of Highgarden’s other bannermen.”
“More, if he sweeps the cobblestones,” the captain said, “but swords are no good against the ironmen, unless the men who wield them know how to walk on water.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

But House Hightower is not a sea power, it seems, despite that one of the largest warship in Westeros stations at Oldtown.
A boom stretched across the harbor, linking two dozen rotted hulks. Just behind it stood a line of warships, anchored by three big dromonds and Lord Hightower’s towering four-decked banner ship, the Honor of Oldtown.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

It would seem a political a mistake for the Hightowers not to have developed a war fleet. Instead, the defense of Oldtown and the coast falls on House Redwyne. The Hightower seem able to protect the city proper from the Ironmen, but not the coasts of their bannermen.

With thrice as many swords as any other lord of the Reach (but Lord Tyrell) the Hightower are thus a major military force in the Seven Kingdoms, but seemingly a neutral one.

During Robert's Rebellion, House Hightower remained loyal to the Targaryens and to their liege lords the Tyrells. But they appear to have done little during that war, except for Gerold Hightower's command over the King's Guard. Ser Gerold never fought on the battlefield, except to defend Lyanna Stark from Lord Eddard.

By now the Hightowers know about Daenerys' and her dragons. It is particularly clear when the captain of the Cinnamon Wind went to talk to Ser Gunthor Hightower.
Ser Gunthor had studied at the Citadel for several years and spoke the Summer Tongue, so he and Qurulu Mo adjourned to the captain’s cabin for a privy conference.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

We know that the Summer Islander are not shy to report the dragons they have seen in Qarth, and Daenerys' claim of the Iron Throne.

Lord Leyton Hightower currently rules Oldtown. We saw that he hasn't appeared for a decade, and is rumored to be in his tower with his eldest daughter Melora.
“To be sure. Lord Leyton’s locked atop his tower with the Mad Maid, consulting books of spells. Might be he’ll raise an army from the deeps. Or not. Baelor’s building galleys, Gunthor has charge of the harbor, Garth is training new recruits, and Humfrey’s gone to Lys to hire sellsails. If he can winkle a proper fleet out of his whore of a sister, we can start paying back the ironmen with some of their own coin. Till then, the best we can do is guard the sound and wait for the bitch queen in King’s Landing to let Lord Paxter off his leash.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

The city seems in effect ruled by Lord Leyton's sons. The other children of Lord Leyton are Alerie, wife of Mace Tyrell in Highgarden, Denyse wife of Desmond Redwyne, Leyla, wife of Ser Jon Cupps, and Alysane, wife of Lord Ambrose. Lynesse, former wife of Jorah Mormont, is currenly in Lys.

The story of Jorah Mormont and Lynesse told us how highly the Hightowers are regarded in the Seven Kingdoms.
“Very beautiful.” Ser Jorah lifted his eyes from her shoulder to her face. “The first time I beheld her, I thought she was a goddess come to earth, the Maid herself made flesh. Her birth was far above my own. She was the youngest daughter of Lord Leyton Hightower of Oldtown. The White Bull who commanded your father’s Kingsguard was her greatuncle. The Hightowers are an ancient family, very rich and very proud.”
(Daenerys I, ACoK)

Not all of Lord Leyton's daughters made a prestigious marriage. Of course, Alerie is now Lady Tyrell, and Alysane is Lady Ambrose. Leyla married a mere knight. The Tyrell marriage is especially important, but might mean less than it seems as we will see below. Desmond Redwyne comes from an impeccable house, but has no prospect of inheritance. Here is what has become of Lynesse.
“In half a year my gold was gone, and I was obliged to take service as a sellsword. While I was fighting Braavosi on the Rhoyne, Lynesse moved into the manse of a merchant prince named Tregar Ormollen. They say she is his chief concubine now, and even his wife goes in fear of her.”
Dany was horrified. “Do you hate her?”
“Almost as much as I love her,” Ser Jorah answered. “Pray excuse me, my queen. I find I am very tired.”
She gave him leave to go, but as he was lifting the flap of her tent, she could not stop herself calling after him with one last question. “What did she look like, your Lady Lynesse?”
Ser Jorah smiled sadly. “Why, she looked a bit like you, Daenerys.”
(Daenerys I, ACoK)

Tregar Ormollen is a prince, which hints at the highest nobility of Lys. He seems to have fallen under Lynesse's spell just like Jorah had.

I am intrigued by the resemblance between Lynesse and Daenerys. Does it refer purely to the familiarity of feeling for Jorah Mormont? Does it mean that Lynesse has Valyrian features? It seems that Jorah has a fetish for such traits, as Tyrion can testify in Selhorys.
In the corner of the room, a man sat in a pool of shadow, with a whore squirming on his lap. I never saw that girl. If I had, I would have taken her upstairs instead of freckles. She was younger than the others, slim and pretty, with long silvery hair. Lyseni, at a guess ... but the man whose lap she filled was from the Seven Kingdoms.
(Tyrion VI, ADwD)

We do not know who Lynesse's mother was. Rhea Florent is Leyton's current wife and the younger sister of Melessa Florent, whose elder son is Samwell Tarly. Samwell is younger than Lynesse by five to ten years by my count, (he arrived at the Wall at sixteen, eight years after the tourney where Lynesse and Jorah met) which makes likely that Lynesse is not the daughter of Rhea Florent. Then Lynesse could have some valyrian blood from her mother (from Lys?), which could explain why she took refuge in Lys of all places.

In any case, the relationship between Tregar Ormollen and Lynesse Hightower could turn into a political alliance between the Hightowers and some power in Lys (we have no idea of the power structure in that island). I suppose that a regular marriage would be needed. Witness the contempt generated by the concubinage. The captain of the Huntress refers to Lynesse as Humfrey's whore of a sister, which might point that Humfrey is Lynesse's full blood sibling. Indeed Humfrey is born just after Lynesse and is the younger child of Lord Leyton. That would imply that Rhea Florent has not given birth to any child.

Lord Leyton has given his children two names (Baelor and Alysanne) of prominent Targaryen royalty. He seems to have chosen the names of the king and the queen most closely related to the faith of the Seven. Among the other names we have Garth (the most classical name of the Reach, perhaps the most common name in Westeros, referring to Garth Greenhand, founder of House Gardener). In any case, the choice of these names points to a certain loyalty to the Targaryens, especially in relation to the Faith. Moreover, the White Bull, Leyton's uncle, was the lord Commander of the King's Guard during the Fall of House Targaryen. The fact that a Hightower had been named for such a position is another indication of a Targaryen loyalty.

It's intriguing that the Mad Maid, Malora, is unmarried. Perhaps she is unfit for marriage in reason of her mental condition. But Lord Leyton locked himself in the tower with her. We need to consider the possibility that Malora has been reserved for a certain suitor, like Arianne Martell has been. But she might be past marriage age, since she is the eldest daughter of Lord Leyton and her brother Baelor had been considered a suitor for Elia of Dorne more than two decades ago. It seems safe to say that marriage is not for Malora.

Despite being the Hightower heir, Baelor seems to have been refused by Elia. He married Ronda Rowan, which points to good relations between the Rowans and the Hightowers, and a great honor made to House Rowan. The relation between Ronda and Lord Matthis is unknown though.

Garth Hightower seems unmarried. Gunthor married Jeyne Fossoway, of New Barrel, a mere knightly house. The Knight of New Barrel's changing allegiances during the war were not easy to follow. In any case, his relation to Jeyne is unknown. It has certainly been a great honor of a daughter of a mere knightly house to marry a Hightower son.

The loyalty to the Targaryens dates from the Conquest itself.
“The realm is full of kings. For the Faith to exalt one above the rest we must be certain. Three hundred years ago, when Aegon the Dragon landed beneath this very hill, the High Septon locked himself within the Starry Sept of Oldtown and prayed for seven days and seven nights, taking no nourishment but bread and water. When he emerged he announced that the Faith would not oppose Aegon and his sisters, for the Crone had lifted up her lamp to show him what lay ahead. If Oldtown took up arms against the Dragon, Oldtown would burn, and the Hightower and the Citadel and the Starry Sept would be cast down and destroyed. Lord Hightower was a godly man. When he heard the prophecy, he kept his strength at home and opened the city gates to Aegon when he came. And His High Holiness anointed the Conqueror with the seven oils. I must do as he did, three hundred years ago. I must pray, and fast.”
(Cersei VI, AFfC)

We might see in the Dance of the Dragons an attempt to manipulate the Targaryens, but at no point the Hightowers of the time put in question the legitimacy of the dragons. Surely, the prophecy of the High Septon has left its mark to this day, and might be relevant to current events. It might even prefigure the destruction of the City under our eyes.

The supporters of Aegon would naturally seek the support of House Hightower. However, when Haldon and Connington assess the current political situation in the Seven Kingdoms, they make no mention Oldtown, as if it were self-evident that House Hightower would follow the Tyrells. However, the men of the Golden Company might have another view.
Laswell Peake rapped his knuckles on the table. “Even after a century, some of us still have friends in the Reach. The power of Highgarden may not be what Mace Tyrell imagines.”
(The Lost Lord, ADwD)

It is implied that the Tyrells have potential false friends. But I am not sure Laswell Peake has the Hightowers in mind.

We can note how outward looking House Hightower is. Ser Gunthor speaks the language of the Summer Islands, possibly because he has sojourned there. Humfrey Hightower is sent to Lys to obtain a fleet. In the past, the Hightowers appears to have been happy to accept Valyrian influences. It seems probable that the High Tower is the work of the Valyrians.

We have no indication of the current relations between the Hightowers and the Citadel, except that Lord Leyton has seen appropriate to give his son Gunthor an education there. It might be customary for the Hightowers to have their sons forge links at the Citadel. But we are not told what Gunthor has studied.
Ser Gunthor had studied at the Citadel for several years and spoke the Summer Tongue, so he and Qurulu Mo adjourned to the captain’s cabin for a privy conference.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

All four sons of Lord Leyton are knights. Since Leyton has had four wives, it would interesting to know who were the first three wives and how the siblings relate to each other. Lord Leyton's current wife is Rhea Florent, daughter of the late Alester Florent. It seems that no Hightower is truly a maester at the moment.

Most curious is the rumor that Lord Leyton is consulting books of spells. The captain of the Huntress suggests that the Hightowers might raise an army from the deep, which sounds outrageous. If Lord Leyton is interested in sorcery, it would make sense that he consulted Marwyn the Mage. However, I tend to think that the Hightowers would rather side with the more conservative faction of the Citadel.

The captain of the Huntress never mentions Lady Rhea Hightower. But it seems very probable that Lady Rhea is in town, since her brother has just taken refuge in Oldtown.

Perhaps it is worth to look at the recent story of the house. It doesn't seem the Hightowers took side during the Blackfyre rebellion a hundred years ago. We have an account of an episode by Grand Maester Pycelle.
“Ser Jaime, I have seen terrible things in my time,” the old man said. “Wars, battles, murders most foul... I was a boy in Oldtown when the grey plague took half the city and three-quarters of the Citadel. Lord Hightower burned every ship in port, closed the gates, and commanded his guards to slay all those who tried to flee, be they men, women, or babes in arms. They killed him when the plague had run its course. On the very day he reopened the port, they dragged him from his horse and slit his throat, and his young son’s as well. To this day the ignorant in Oldtown will spit at the sound of his name, but Quenton Hightower did what was needed. Your father was that sort of man as well. A man who did what was needed.”
(Jaime I, AFfC)

We feel a strong sense of responsability, perhaps even of selflessness, in the behaviour of Lord Quenton, who sacrificed everything for the greater good. One can wonder it that is the typical behaviour to be expected from a Hightower, and is reflected in Marwyn's sarcastic advice to Sam.
“B-b-but,” Sam sputtered, “the other archmaesters... the Seneschal... what should I tell them?”
“Tell them how wise and good they are. Tell them that Aemon commanded you to put yourself into their hands. Tell them that you have always dreamed that one day you might be allowed to wear the chain and serve the greater good, that service is the highest honor, and obedience the highest virtue. But say nothing of prophecies or dragons, unless you fancy poison in your porridge.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Pycelle's high opinion of Lord Quenton probably reflects the opinion of the Citadel (who is precisely not the ignorant of Oldtown) on the matter.

The grey plague has been a traumatic event for Oldtown and the Citadel. Pycelle must have been of the same age than Quenton's young son. Pycelle was eighty four years at the beginning of AGoT. So the event happened not much later than eighty years ago. Lord Leyton has adult grandchildren (Willas Tyrell is older than twenty). He is certainly over sixty, but he rode in a tourney at Storm's End less than twenty years ago. So he might be too young to have been alive at the time of the plague. But Lord Leyton's father was there and, plausibly, his uncle the White Bull as well.

Quenton Hightower is said to have been lynched along his young son (and not one of his young sons). So it's unclear how the Hightower line continued afterwards. Beside the White Bull, we hear of another Hightower of that generation.
Walys Flowers had a Hightower girl for a mother ... and an archmaester of the Citadel for a father, it was rumored. The grey rats are not as chaste as they would have us believe. Oldtown maesters are the worst of all.
(The Turncloak, ADwD)

The Hightower girl was possibly alive at the time of the plague, she might even have been the sister of Gerold Hightower. This episode suggests that the Hightowers find places for their bastards at the Citadel like, perhaps, the Starks send theirs illegitimate sons to the Wall. That brings to mind the following episode, which could be suggestive of the Hightower's behavior with the Citadel.
Lord Commander Runcel Hightower tried to bequeathe the Watch to his bastard son.
(Jon VII, ASoS)

Even if we do not recognize a maester in the current Hightower genealogical tree, there might be bastard born sons in the Citadel.

If we see House Hightower as the political and military branch of the Citadel, as indicated by the title Protector of the Citadel, its general behavior could align with what some see as the good of the realm, rather than the mere political ambitions of a particular house.

Let's recapitulate what we could say of the Hightowers' position.

We have seen that the support given to the Tyrells in the Game of Thrones is nominal, despite that Margaery, queen of the Seven Kingdoms, is Lord Leyton's granddaughter. I suspect that the Hightowers have not forgotten the High Septon's prophecy and will not fight against a Targaryen pretender. Will they support Aegon or Daenerys? Do they favor Marwyn or the grey sheep? Do they look favorably on the new High Septon and his sparrows – after all the Hightowers feel a responsability for the Faith? Will they conclude an alliance with Lys? However, the most urgent task of the Hightowers is the defense of the City against the Ironmen.

2. The Tyrells

House Hightower is sworn to House Tyrell. As we saw, despite bending the knee to the Lords of Highgarden, the Hightowers have been carefull to keep the prerogatives they enjoyed once as kings.

The Tyrells' presence in Oldtown should be felt as a bit invasive by the Hightowers. The city's military forces are under the command of Moryn Tyrell, who is Lord Mace's uncle. We have no idea of Ser Moryn, but we saw in King's Landing how important is the City Watch in case of civil conflict. We can wonder why the Tyrells were intent on securing that position to their side. We do not know Ser Moryn's family alliances. In any case, his first son Luthor died and left two sons, Theodore (married to Lia Serry) and Maester Medwick and a daughter Olene (married to Ser Blackbar) all born of Lady Norridge. Theodore has a son Luthor, a squire. All these characters are in Oldtown. Moryn's second son, Leo, is of about the same age than Sam. We will return to him. Since Moryn has greatgrandchildren, we can infer that he is an old man, and that Leo is born of a second marriage. Who was Moryn Tyrell's second spouse?

It seems typical of House Tyrell to put men of their blood in position of power, rather than to rely on sworn men. Brightwater Keep has been awarded to Mace's second son, Garlan the Gallant. Margaery is the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Garth the Gross has almost been named master of coin.

Maester Gormon is at the crossroads. He is a Tyrell by birth, an uncle to Lord Mace, and was almost called as a replacement for Pycelle.
“Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Conclave accepted the fact of Pycelle’s dismissal and set about choosing his successor. After giving due consideration to Maester Turquin the cordwainer’s son and Maester Erreck the hedge knight’s bastard, and thereby demonstrating to their own satisfaction that ability counts for more than birth in their order, the Conclave was on the verge of sending us Maester Gormon, a Tyrell of Highgarden. When I told your lord father, he acted at once.”

(Tyrion II, ASoS)

His Tyrell blood made him unsuitable for the position of Grand Maester in Lord Tywin's view. Currently, he serves as a replacement for archmaester Walgrave.
Maester Gormon sat below the iron mask in Walgrave’s place, the same Gormon who had once accused Pate of theft.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Perhaps he can hope to take Walgrave's place under the mask of black iron. Gormon might have heralded the arrival of Winter by sending the white ravens from the Ravenry to the Realm. The proposal to name Gormon Grand Maester shows that he is well trusted by the grey sheep. It might show as well that the Conclave would like to please House Tyrell.

There is a little interesting incident with Pate.
Though the box was stoutly made and bound with iron, its lock was broken. Maester Gormon had suspected Pate of breaking it, but that wasn’t true.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Since Pate is innocent, and his accuser was intent on suspecting him, it is possible that Gormon himself broke the lock. Since Gormon is not an archmaester, he might have needed the key to access some private place in the Citadel. Of course, Gormon as replacement for Walgrave has an easy access to Walgrave's chamber.

Curiously, another Tyrell is present in the Citadel. Indeed Leo Tyrell is currently an acolyte and a follower of Marwyn the Mage. Leo is quick to denounce the grey sheep, and would seem resolutely on the opposite side of Gormon. He is the second son of Morwyn Tyrell. It's all but certain that Leo is not born out of Morwyn's first marriage. By being sent to the Citadel, Leo Tyrell is the subject to the fate of second sons, and deprived of inheritance. However, Leo does not seem to accept the vocation his family has chosen for him.

It is clear to all that Leo Tyrell has connections.
Ser Moryn Tyrell, commander of the City Watch of Oldtown, was Leo’s father. Mace Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South, was Leo’s cousin. And Oldtown’s Old Man, Lord Leyton of the Hightower, who numbered “Protector of the Citadel” amongst his many titles, was a sworn bannerman of House Tyrell.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Leo makes no mystery of his Tyrell name, which is odd for an aspiring maester (compare with Alleras).
Lazy Leo was slouching by the foot of the old plank bridge, draped in satin striped in green and gold, with a black silk half cape pinned to his shoulder by a rose of jade.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Green and gold are the Tyrell colors, and the rose is the Tyrell sigil. Only the black silk cape is devoid of clear heraldic significance.
The bravos swaggered about like peacocks, fingering their swords, whilst the mighty dressed in charcoal grey and purple, blues that were almost black and blacks as dark as a moonless night.
(Samwell III, AFfC)
Indeed, Leo has been training in an uncommon art in Oldtown.
Leo had been trained to arms, and was known to be deadly with bravo’s blade and dagger.
Does this suggest that Leo had been to the Free Cities? This is unlikely since Leo is of an age with Sam. Or are bravo common in Oldtown? Perhaps Leo's mother was from the Free Cities. Indeed, Leo sounds like a name from Pentos or Braavos (consider Groleo). In any case, Lazy Leo does fight duels.
Leo Tyrell flicked the hair back from his eye. “I do not fight duels with pig boys. Go away.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

Leo is a nephew of Maester Gormon, and a cousin of Lord Mace Tyrell. His nickname Leo the Lazy seems justified in view of his lack of assiduity.
“Morn will be upon us sooner than we’d like, and Archmaester Ebrose will be speaking on the properties of urine. Those who mean to forge a silver link would do well not to miss his talk.”
“Far be it from me to keep you from the piss tasting,” said Leo. “Myself, I prefer the taste of Arbor gold.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

Leo might not mean to get a silver link. But he would seem interested in a valyrian steel one. Perhaps, Leo has been punished for his laziness (I presume).
“Leo. My lord. I had understood that you were still confined to the Citadel for...”
“... three more days.” Lazy Leo shrugged.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Leo follows the stereotype of the spoiled, odious highborn young man. I understand that we should be careful not to dismiss him as insignificant on that ground.
“Buy me a cup of Arbor gold, Hopfrog, and perhaps I won’t inform my father of your toast. The tiles turned against me at the Checkered Hazard, and I wasted my last stag on supper. Suckling pig in plum sauce, stuffed with chestnuts and white truffles. A man must eat. What did you lads have?”
“Mutton,” muttered Mollander. He sounded none too pleased about it. “We shared a haunch of boiled mutton.”
“I’m certain it was filling.” Leo turned to Alleras. “A lord’s son should be open-handed, Sphinx. I understand you won your copper link. I’ll drink to that.”
Alleras smiled back at him. “I only buy for friends. And I am no lord’s son, I’ve told you that. My mother was a trader.”
Leo’s eyes were hazel, bright with wine and malice. “Your mother was a monkey from the Summer Isles. The Dornish will fuck anything with a hole between its legs. Meaning no offense. You may be brown as a nut, but at least you bathe. Unlike our spotted pig boy.” He waved a hand toward Pate.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Note the turn of phrase A man must eat, which recalls Jaqen H'Gar. Leo has played a prominent role in provoking Pate to fall for the Alchemist's temptation, playing in effect the role of an accomplice.
“She’s sleeping,” Pate said curtly.
“Naked, I don’t doubt.” Leo grinned. “Do you think she’s truly worth a dragon? One day I suppose I must find out.”
Pate knew better than to reply to that.
Leo needed no reply. “I expect that once I’ve broken in the wench, her price will fall to where even pig boys will be able to afford her. You ought to thank me.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Leo's behaviour seems to reveal something about Marwyn the Mage.
At the top of the steps, a pale blond youth about Sam’s age sat outside a door of oak and iron, staring intently into a candle flame with his right eye. His left was hidden beneath a fall of ash blond hair. “What are you looking for?” Alleras asked him. “Your destiny? Your death?”
The blond youth turned from the candle, blinking. “Naked women,” he said.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Leo appears to be mimicking Marwyn's stares into the black candle. It is worthwile to note that Leo closes one eye for his visions. That brings to mind theme of one-eye vision (Brynden in his cave etc). Note that Leo watches into the flame, that seems to link the black candles to the flames used by the red priests. Leo seeking naked women with his visionary capabilities seems a wink to modern readers accustomed to the internet. However, I wonder if there isn't something more interesting to grasp here. Who could be the naked women Leo is looking for? Septa Lemore, Rosey (that Leo presumes to be sleeping naked in the prologue) come to mind. Who else?

The rest of the conversation with Sam is more personal.
“Who’s this now?” “Samwell. A new novice, come to see the Mage.”
“The Citadel is not what it was,” complained the blond. “They will take anything these days. Dusky dogs and Dornishmen, pig boys, cripples, cretins, and now a black-clad whale. And here I thought leviathans were grey.” A half cape striped in green and gold draped one shoulder. He was very handsome, though his eyes were sly and his mouth cruel.
Sam knew him. “Leo Tyrell.” Saying the name made him feel as if he were still a boy of seven, about to wet his smallclothes. “I am Sam, from Horn Hill. Lord Randyll Tarly’s son.”
“Truly?” Leo gave him another look. “I suppose you are. Your father told us all that you were dead. Or was it only that he wished you were?” He grinned. “Are you still a craven?”
“No,” lied Sam. Jon had made it a command. “I went beyond the Wall and fought in battles. They call me Sam the Slayer.” He did not know why he said it. The words just tumbled out. Leo laughed, but before he could reply the door behind him opened. “Get in here, Slayer,” growled the man in the doorway. “And you, Sphinx. Now.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

I suppose Leo refers to House Tyrell by us when he says: Your father told us all that you were dead. Indeed Randyll Tarly has declared his contempt for the maesters to Sam and wouldn't visit the Citadel, I think.

We can identify the characters loathed by Leo. The Dornishman is Alleras, the pig boy is Pate, the cripple is Mollander, the cretin is Roone, the black-clad whale is Sam. I am not sure who the Dusky dog is (perhaps Alleras as well).

Leo has lost the black silk half cape and the brooch in shape of a rose, that he wore at the Inn. The new half cape shows the Tyrell colors.

All the Tyrells in Oldtown are from Mace Tyrell's paternal side and have no direct family relation to Olenna Tyrell (a Redwyne by birth). It's interesting since Lady Olenna seems to be largely in control of House Tyrell since the death of the late Lord Luthor.

What to think of the large Tyrell presence in Oldtown? In a certain sense, it makes sense that House Tyrell keeps an eye on the only city within its domains. But it seems to me that the Hightowers must begin to resent the Tyrells as enfreigning on their prerogatives. Indeed, consider the position of House Tyrell at the end of ADwD: House Tyrell controls the Reach, Mace is Hand of the King, Margaery is the reigning queen, Loras is in the Kingsguard. Garth the Gross is on the brink of coming to the Small Council. Maester Gormon is the leading candidate for the position of Grand Maester, or could replace Maester Walgrave.

It is instructive to have a look at Blackcrown, a seat sworn to House Hightower, and located not far from Oldtown. Lady Bulwer is a child in King's Landing as part Margaery's court. It's likely that Blackcrown is in fact ruled by Lady Bulwer's mother Victaria Tyrell. The maester of Blackcrown is Maester Normund, a Tyrell by birth. So Blackcrown seems well in control of House Tyrell.

Here is another contentious point between the Tyrells and the Hightower. Loras Tyrell has slain Emmon Cuy in a fit of rage after Renly's assassination. House Cuy is sworn to the Hightowers.

Of much greater importance is Brightwater Keep, the seat of House Florent, one of the noblest houses of the Reach. The Florent lands seem adjacent to the domains of House Beesbury, sworn to House Hightower. Here are the first rewards of Crown to the victors of the Battle of the Blackwater.
Highgarden reaped the richest harvest. Tyrion eyed Mace Tyrell’s broad belly and thought, He has a prodigious appetite, this one. Tyrell demanded the lands and castles of Lord Alester Florent, his own bannerman, who’d had the singular ill judgment to back first Renly and then Stannis. Lord Tywin was pleased to oblige. Brightwater Keep and all its lands and incomes were granted to Lord Tyrell’s second son, Ser Garlan, transforming him into a great lord in the blink of an eye. His elder brother, of course, stood to inherit Highgarden itself.
Lesser tracts were granted to Lord Rowan, and set aside for Lord Tarly, Lady Oakheart, Lord Hightower, and other worthies not present. Lord Redwyne asked only for thirty years’ remission of the taxes that Littlefinger and his wine factors had levied on certain of the Arbor’s finest vintages.
(Tyrion III, ASoS)

Even if the seat is granted by the Iron Throne, and if Ser Garlan has been an anonymous hero of the Battle of the Blackwater, it seems an abuse of power to grant a major seat of the Reach to a second Tyrell son. The destruction of an ancient house like the Florent is always frowned upon. Furthermore, awarding such a seat to a Tyrell imbalances the power in the region. From that moment, every house of the Reach could fear of being displaced in favor of another Tyrell son. So the move does not encourage the loyalty of the Tyrell bannermen. From the point of view of the Hightowers, that makes the Tyrell Lands adjacent to the Hightowers' (or their bannermen's) lands. Moreover, the current Lady Hightower is Rhea Florent, daughter of the late Alester Florent. This is probably why the Florent heir, Alekyne, has taken refuge with Lord Leyton in Oldtown.

Note that Brightwater Keep has not fallen to the Tyrells yet. It seems that Ser Colin Florent is castellan. Ser Garlan Tyrell's conquest of the stronghold has been delayed by the Ironmen's assault on the Reach.

It appears that tension is mounting between the Hightowers and the Tyrells. What is Moryn Tyrell going to do over Alekyne's presence in Oldtown? We see no overt sign of hostility between the Tyrells and the Hightower. But I do not expect the Hightowers to take arms against their liege lords, but rather to make use of subtle means.

Note that Varys seems to have played a central role in the determination of the rewards for the victors at the Blackwater. The Spider has surely calculated all the consequences of awarding the Florent seat to a Tyrell son.

Before I am reminded that the Hightowers can not oppose the Tyrells, since Mace Tyrell's wife, Alerie, is a Hightower, I shall add that we should not draw hasty conclusions, even if Ser Garlan is Lord Leyton's grandson. First, Lady Alerie is maginalized in Highgarden, as we can see when Sansa is introduced to the Queen of Thorns.
“Loras is young,” Lady Olenna said crisply, “and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise. As to your father, would that I’d been born a peasant woman with a big wooden spoon, I might have been able to beat some sense into his fat head.”
“Mother,” Lady Alerie scolded.
“Hush, Alerie, don’t take that tone with me. And don’t call me Mother. If I’d given birth to you, I’m sure I’d remember. I’m only to blame for your husband, the lord oaf of Highgarden.”
(Sansa I, ASoS)
After this incident, Alerie is hardly ever allowed to open her mouth.

Then, Alerie is one of nine children of Lord Leyton. At the moment, Oldtown seems to be ruled by Lord Leyton's sons, who are likely born of a different mother from Alerie's (that needs to be confirmed though), and who might feel loosely connected to their half-sister. So the Tyrell-Hightower ties are weak, especially since the current Lady Hightower is Rhea Florent, daughter of the late Lord Alester Florent, and sister to Alekyne Florent, attainted in favor of Garlan Tyrell. Since Alekyne took refuge with his sister in Oldtown, we can suspect that Lady Rhea has influence over her husband.

3. The grey Sheep

Here is the composition of the current Conclave.
—ARCHMAESTER NORREN, Seneschal for the waning year, whose ring and rod and mask are electrum,
—ARCHMAESTER THEOBALD, Seneschal for the coming year, whose ring and rod and mask are lead,
—ARCHMAESTER EBROSE, the healer, whose ring and rod and mask are silver,
—ARCHMAESTER MARWYN, called MARWYN THE MAGE, whose ring and rod and mask are Valyrian steel, —ARCHMAESTER PERESTAN, the historian, whose ring and rod and mask are copper,
—ARCHMAESTER VAELLYN, called VINEGAR VAELLYN, the stargazer, whose ring and rod and mask are bronze, —ARCHMAESTER RYAM, whose ring and rod and mask are yellow gold,
—ARCHMAESTER WALGRAVE, an old man of uncertain wit, whose ring and rod and mask are black iron,
(Appendix, AFfC)

The function of Seneschal is of administrative nature and is shared. This indicates that there is no position of leadership among the archmaesters. Even the Grand Maester in King's Landing does not seem to have authority over the maesters of Oldtown.

Note the presence of foreign men. Zarabelo is definitely a name from the free cities (Braavos?), as might be Castos, Garizon, Nymos, Cetheres and Mollos. The name Vaellyn contains the diphtong vowel characteristic of the Targaryens. But Marwyn has just informed us that no Targaryen would be admitted in the Conclave, and, after all, Aeron, Margaery, Baelish etc are not Targaryens.

Since we mentioned the Free Cities, recall that there are healers in Braavos with medical skills comparable to those of the maesters.
Instead he had squandered the last of their silver on a healer from the House of the Red Hands, a tall pale man in robes embroidered with swirling stripes of red and white. All that the silver bought him was half a flask of dreamwine. “This may help gentle his passing,” the Braavosi had said, not unkindly. When Sam asked if there wasn’t any more that he could do, he shook his head. “Ointments I have, potions and infusions, tinctures and venoms and poultices. I might bleed him, purge him, leech him... but why? No leech can make him young again. This is an old man, and death is in his lungs. Give him this and let him sleep.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)
So there might be exchange of knowledge on these matters between the two sides of the Narrow Sea.

We could play Barbrey Dustin's game and attempt to determine the regional origins, and perhaps the houses of origins of some archmaesters. But I do not see how to proceed except by loose associations.

We saw that the Ravenry is the oldest building at the Citadel, which could suggest that ravencraft is the oldest field of study mastered by the Citadel. We know that black iron is the metal of ravencraft.
Everyone said that Walgrave had forgotten more of ravencraft than most maesters ever knew, so Pate assumed a black iron link was the least that he could hope for, only to find that Walgrave could not grant him one.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Let's gather what we know about the other archmaesters of the Citadel.

Archmaester Perestan is the historian. He seems to disagree with his colleague Mollos.
Perestan says the world is forty thousand years old. Mollos says five hundred thousand. What are three days, I ask you?
(Prologue, AFfC)

He might be one of the maesters who dispute the legendary histories of Westeros, as mentioned by Hoster Blackwood.
“It is, my lord,” the boy said, “but some of the histories were penned by their maesters and some by ours, centuries after the events that they purport to chronicle. It goes back to the Age of Heroes. The Blackwoods were kings in those days. The Brackens were petty lords, renowned for breeding horses. Rather than pay their king his just due, they used the gold their horses brought them to hire swords and cast him down.”
“When did all this happen?”
“Five hundred years before the Andals. A thousand, if the
True History is to be believed. Only no one knows when the Andals crossed the narrow sea. The True History says four thousand years have passed since then, but some maesters claim that it was only two. Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend.”
(Jaime, ADwD)
I wonder what the True History is. The work does not seem to have been mentioned prior to this point.

Here is another controversy among historians.
The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we think we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it. Those old histories are full of kings who reigned for hundreds of years, and knights riding around a thousand years before there were knights. You know the tales, Brandon the Builder, Symeon Star-Eyes, Night’s King... we say that you’re the nine hundred and ninety-eighth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but the oldest list I’ve found shows six hundred seventy-four commanders, which suggests that it was written during...
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Armen the acolyte points to a certain antipathy between Perestan and Marwyn.
Armen pursed his lips in disapproval. “Marwyn is unsound. Archmaester Perestan would be the first to tell you that.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Alleras the Sphinx points to certain gaps in Perestan's knowledge.
“Once. Most just called him Maester Aemon. He died during our voyage south. How is it that you know of him?”
“How not? He was more than just the oldest living maester. He was the oldest man in Westeros, and lived through more history than Archmaester Perestan has ever learned. He could have told us much and more about his father’s reign, and his uncle’s. How old was he, do you know?”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Let's turn now to Archmaester Vaellyn, the stargazer, under all appearances the astronomer in chief at the Citadel. I suppose astronomy has certain applications for the determination of seasons. Luwin was certainly skilled in astronomy, since he received a Myrish lens for his observations.

Vaellyn has a reputation for being abrasive.
The first time he had gone before Archmaester Vaellyn to demonstrate his knowledge of the heavens. Instead he learned how Vinegar Vaellyn had earned that name. It took Pate two years to summon up the courage to try again. This time he submitted himself to kindly old Archmaester Ebrose, renowned for his soft voice and gentle hands, but Ebrose’s sighs had somehow proved just as painful as Vaellyn’s barbs.
(Prologue, AFfC)

We just have Pate's understanding for Vaellyn's nickname. It might be justified for a host of different reasons that we don't know about yet (Vaellyn treats his greyscale, or he has body parts in cask of vinegar etc). Vaellyn found in turn a sobriquet for Marwyn.
When Marwyn had returned to Oldtown, after spending eight years in the east mapping distant lands, searching for lost books, and studying with warlocks and shadowbinders, Vinegar Vaellyn had dubbed him “Marwyn the Mage.” The name was soon all over Oldtown, to Vaellyn’s vast annoyance.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Vaellyn does not seem annoyed by his own sobriquet. He does not seem the type to read the future or see omens in celestial bodies, unlike so many gazers at the Red Comet. An astronomer rather than an astrologer.

Vaellyn seems to be communicating with all the realm, since the maesters make measurement to determine the moment of the change of season.
“You are not fool enough to believe that, my lord. Already the days grow shorter. There can be no mistake, Aemon has had letters from the Citadel, findings in accord with his own. The end of summer stares us in the face.”
(Tyrion III, AGoT)

Archmaester Ebrose is in charge of another central function of maesters: healing. All maesters in Westeros derive their knowledge of the human body from Ebrose (and his predecessors). The archmaester seems a more pleasant man than Vaellyn.
It took Pate two years to summon up the courage to try again. This time he submitted himself to kindly old Archmaester Ebrose, renowned for his soft voice and gentle hands, but Ebrose’s sighs had somehow proved just as painful as Vaellyn’s barbs.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Ebrose seems a theorist of medecine.
“Morn will be upon us sooner than we’d like, and Archmaester Ebrose will be speaking on the properties of urine. Those who mean to forge a silver link would do well not to miss his talk.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
“Lady Lysa would give his lordship her breast whenever he grew overwrought. Archmaester Ebrose claims that mother’s milk has many heathful properties.”
(Alayne I, AFfC)
Even Qyburn has a high opinion of Ebrose.
I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him.
(Cersei II, AFfC)

We know little about archmaester Ryam, a name made famous in the Arbor by Ryam Redwyne, to the extent that a harbor is called Ryamsport. However, that is not a good indication that Archamaester Ryam is a Redwyne. Ryam does not appreciate Marwyn's studies more than his colleagues.
“Leave spells and prayers to priests and septons and bend your wits to learning truths a man can trust in,” Archmaester Ryam had once counseled Pate, but Ryam’s ring and rod and mask were yellow gold, and his maester’s chain had no link of Valyrian steel.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Armen pursed his lips in disapproval. “Marwyn is unsound. Archmaester Perestan would be the first to tell you that.”
“Archmaester Ryam says so too,” said Roone.
Leo yawned. “The sea is wet, the sun is warm, and the menagerie hates the mastiff.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
The golden link is about numbers and accounts.
“Three?” said Roone, astonished.
Leo patted his hand. “More than two and less than four. I would not try for my golden link just yet if I were you.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Let us turn to Archmaester Norren and Archmaester Theobald.
“Is he the Seneschal?” said Sam, confused. “Maester Aemon said his name was Norren.” “Not for the past two turns. There is a new one every year. They fill the office by lot from amongst the archmaesters, most of whom regard it as a thankless task that takes them away from their true work. This year the black stone was drawn by Archmaester Walgrave, but Walgrave’s wits are prone to wander, so Theobald stepped up and said he’d serve his term. He’s a gruff man, but a good one. Did you say Maester Aemon?”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

I suppose the academic world recognizes itself in this description. The archmaesters are geeks at heart. We know nothing about Norren, except that Sam found appropriate to go to that archmaester on Aemon's recommendation. We see that administrative duties are mostly shunned by the archmaesters, but apparently not by Theobald, which might point to a certain appetite for power.

Alleras thinks that Theobald would not care about the fantastic stories brought by Sam.
When Sam was done he touched him lightly on the forearm with a slim brown hand and said, “Save your penny, Sam. Theobald will not believe half of that, but there are those who might. Will you come with me?”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
In reality, Theobald seems another archmaester with little regard for Marwyn.
“I have a confession. Ours was no chance encounter, Sam. The Mage sent me to snatch you up before you spoke to Theobald. He knew that you were coming.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

As we just saw, Ryam, Ebrose, Perestan, Vaellyn and perhaps Theobald all dislike Marwyn, and constitute the grey sheep. Qyburn seems to think all archmaester think alike, except Marwyn.

One other archmaester is mentioned.
Even in Oldtown, far from the fighting and safe behind its walls, the War of the Five Kings had touched them all...although Archmaester Benedict insisted that there had never been a war of five kings, since Renly Baratheon had been slain before Balon Greyjoy had crowned himself.
(Prologue, AFfC)
I can't see what to deduce from this pronouncement.

It is not stated clearly whether all archmaesters reside in the Ravenry. As far as we know Walgrave is in the west tower and Marwyn is the north tower. I tend to think that no other archmaester live in those two towers. There can't be a tower for every archmaester in the Ravenry.

Marwyn tells us that the grey sheep should send his own man to Meereen on a galley.
“Get myself to Slaver’s Bay, in Aemon’s place. The swan ship that delivered Slayer should serve my needs well enough. The grey sheep will send their man on a galley, I don’t doubt. With fair winds I should reach her first.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Which galley? Could it be the Huntress that the Cinnamon Wind came across as she entered the Whispering Sound? At the moment, Oldtown is in need of ships for its defense against the Ironmen.
“The Hightower must be doing something.”
“To be sure. Lord Leyton’s locked atop his tower with the Mad Maid, consulting books of spells. Might be he’ll raise an army from the deeps. Or not. Baelor’s building galleys, Gunthor has charge of the harbor, Garth is training new recruits, and Humfrey’s gone to Lys to hire sellsails. If he can winkle a proper fleet out of his whore of a sister, we can start paying back the ironmen with some of their own coin. Till then, the best we can do is guard the sound and wait for the bitch queen in King’s Landing to let Lord Paxter off his leash.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Who will be the envoy of the Citadel? Will it be the historian? Indeed Daenerys is in dire need of knowledge about the Seven Kingdoms, as she told Quentyn. A historian would certainly help Daenerys to understand the politics of the Seven Kingdoms and discern allies from foes. Of course, the envoy might be a mere maester. Wouldn't the Conclave be treasonous by sending an adviser to a doubtful pretender to the Throne? I hardly see how an envoy could be official. In any case, the Citadel never saw fit to educate Viserys. So I am not convinced that the Citadel intends on helping or advising the dragon queen. However, the Citadel as such does not take side, and has his men advising every side of a conflict.

In any case, a maester has already been sent to assist Daenerys. Indeed, Quentyn Martell left Dorne under the guidance of Maester Kedry, who is most likely the maester of Lord Yronwood. Had Quentyn succeeded in marrying Daenerys, it is likely that Kedry would have been at their side. However, I do not think Kedry has been sent by the Citadel, and Quentyn's expedition deserves a completely different discussion.

It's worth remarking that Daenerys is the first Targaryen since the Conquest to grow up without a maester at her side.

That raises another question. Another pretender claims to be a Targaryen entitled to the Iron Throne. He has been living on the Rhoyne on the poleboat. Had it known about this man, the Conclave should have sent a maester to educate and advise him. Is Haldon merely a halfmaester? The man seems to genuinely possess the knowledge to be expected of a maester: history, languages, geometry, ravencraft, healing. Where could he have acquired his competence, if not at the Citadel? Haldon must be a known figure in Oldtown.

4. Varys' agent

We know that Varys watches closely the Conclave.
“Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Conclave accepted the fact of Pycelle’s dismissal and set about choosing his successor. After giving due consideration to Maester Turquin the cordwainer’s son and Maester Erreck the hedge knight’s bastard, and thereby demonstrating to their own satisfaction that ability counts for more than birth in their order, the Conclave was on the verge of sending us Maester Gormon, a Tyrell of Highgarden. When I told your lord father, he acted at once.”
The Conclave met in Oldtown behind closed doors, Tyrion knew; its deliberations were supposedly a secret. So Varys has little birds in the Citadel too.
(Tyrion II, ASoS)

I doubt Varys has access to secret passages in the Citadel. So it's possible that one of the archmaesters acts as an informer. I see one other possibility in Lorcas, who is corrupt. However it is not certain Lorcas has access to the inside politics of the Citadel. Obviously he keeps close to the Seneschal.

Armen the Acolyte seems a devoted student close to the grey sheep. It's interesting that he expresses a fear of the Master of Whisperers when Mollander proposes to drink to Daenerys, rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Armen the Acolyte looked alarmed. “Lower your voice, fool. You should not even jape about such things. You never know who could be listening. The Spider has ears everywhere.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Since Armen takes his opinion from the archmaesters, it seems to mean that the Conclave fears Varys.

Grand Maester Pycelle gives us another indication. I guess he refers to the little birds without tongues.
“Birds are lost, messages stolen or sold... it was Varys, there are things I might tell you of that eunuch that would chill your blood.”
(Tyrion VI, ACoK)

It's likely that Haldon the halfmaester has been sent by Varys to educate the young Aegon. Either Haldon has been sent from the Citadel, or he is a former maester, perhaps once assigned to a house still loyal to the Targaryens.

So the identity of Varys' informer remains a mystery.

5. Walgrave

So far, Archmaester Walgrave and Archmaester Marwyn appear to be the most interesting members of the Conclave. We discussed in another part Walgrave's possible, but very uncertain, connection to Walys.

Pate describes Walgrave's senility.
It would not have been the first time that good fortune had turned sour on Pate. He had once counted himself lucky to be chosen to help old Archmaester Walgrave with the ravens, never dreaming that before long he would also be fetching the man’s meals, sweeping out his chambers, and dressing him every morning. Everyone said that Walgrave had forgotten more of ravencraft than most maesters ever knew, so Pate assumed a black iron link was the least that he could hope for, only to find that Walgrave could not grant him one. The old man remained an archmaester only by courtesy. As great a maester as once he’d been, now his robes concealed soiled smallclothes oft as not, and half a year ago some acolytes found him weeping in the Library, unable to find his way back to his chambers. Maester Gormon sat below the iron mask in Walgrave’s place, the same Gormon who had once accused Pate of theft.
(Prologue, AFfC)
However, in matters of ravens, Walgrave seems to have retained some competence.
“Besides, it takes a man to make a woman. Come with us, Pate. Old Walgrave will wake when the sun comes up. He’ll be needing you to help him to the privy.”
If he remembers who I am today. Archmaester Walgrave had no trouble telling one raven from another, but he was not so good with people. Some days he seemed to think Pate was someone named Cressen.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Alleras tells Sam that Walgrave is not entirely incapacitated.
“Will Archmaester Walgrave understand what I am telling him?” wondered Sam. “You said his wits were prone to wander.”
“He has good days and bad ones,” said Alleras, “but it is not Walgrave you’re going to see.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Cressen is close to the age of eighty at the time of his death. Walgrave seems to hint that they knew each other. Since Cressen presumably served outside of Oldtown after earning his chain, it is likely that Walgrave and Cressen studied together at the Citadel. Therefore they might have been of comparable age.

Pate's description provides some interesting information. Chiefly, we learn that Walgrave has forgotten (and perhaps remembers  in his good days) more about ravencraft than any maester of the Citadel ever knew. It's in itself interesting that there is so much to be known about ravencraft, especially since Lord Brynden had told us that ravens are inhabited by the spirits of the children of the forest. Does that mean that Walgrave has special insights into the world of the children of the forest?

The special connection to the white ravens is quite intriguing.
The big white birds were Archmaester Walgrave’s pride. He wanted them to eat him when he died, but Pate half suspected that they meant to eat him too.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Recall than Mormont's raven ate some of its former master's body. Maester Aemon had told Jon.
“Lord Mormont’s raven likes fruit and corn.”
“He is a rare bird,” the maester said. “Most ravens will eat grain, but they prefer flesh. It makes them strong, and I fear they relish the taste of blood. In that they are like men... and like men, not all ravens are alike.”
(Jon VIII, AGoT)
That might be Walgrave's opinion as well, especially since Lord Brynden has informed us that.
“Do all the birds have singers in them?”
“All,” Lord Brynden said.
(Bran III, ADwD)

That would suggests that each ravens' individuality is related to the personality of a singer. Walgrave prefers to sleep near the white birds rather than the black ones.
“Archmaester Walgrave has his chambers in the west tower, below the white rookery,” Alleras told him. “The white ravens and the black ones quarrel like Dornishmen and Marchers, so they keep them apart.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Is Walgrave's desire to be eaten by his birds an mere expression of his passion for the ravens or does it proceed from a belief in the transmigration of the soul?

The alchemist has asked Pate to steal Walgrave's iron key. Since all archmaesters have a similar key, it is likely that Walgrave has been targeted because of his senility.

We have a glimpse of Walgrave's life through the content of his personal strongbox.
The hardest part had been getting down on his hands and knees to pull the strongbox from underneath Archmaester Walgrave’s bed. Though the box was stoutly made and bound with iron, its lock was broken. Maester Gormon had suspected Pate of breaking it, but that wasn’t true. Walgrave had broken the lock himself, after losing the key that opened it.
Inside, Pate had found a bag of silver stags, a lock of yellow hair tied up in a ribbon, a painted miniature of a woman who resembled Walgrave (even to her mustache), and a knight’s gauntlet made of lobstered steel. The gauntlet had belonged to a prince, Walgrave claimed, though he could no longer seem to recall which one. When Pate shook it, the key fell out onto the floor.
(Prologue, AFfC)

The gauntlet made of lobstered steel seems to be an articulated protection for the forearm resembling a lobster's tail. The identity of the prince is left for us to guess. It could be a Targaryen (Rhaegar, or a son of Aegon V, or Aemon, or Aerion, if we want to exclude kings) or a Dornishman (Oberyn Martell had studied at the Citadel) or someone from the Free Cities (Pentos and Lys have princes, for instance the Tattered Prince). Given the presence of Alleras (who is under all appearances Oberyn's daughter Sallera), it would seem that the Oberyn Martell option is the more likely one, even though Oberyn wasn't the type to wear heavy armor. It seems that Oberyn was at the Citadel more than two decades ago. Walgrave wasn't senile then, he wasn't young either though. Somehow Alleras is following the steps of her father by staying close to Walgrave. Why would a gauntlet of lobstered steel be useful to Walgrave, beside serving as a box for the iron key? Could it afford protection from the birds in some situations (putting one's arm in a cage)? If the gauntlet was purely utilitarian, would it be left in Walgrave's personal box? It could hold a sentimental value. But why be sentimental over a gauntlet of steel? Aemon might not be a viable option for the identity of the prince, since Aemon wasn't a knight. Moreover Aemon would be over twenty years older than Walgrave and had probably left Oldtown by the time Walgrave studied there (of course Walgrave could have inherited the gauntlet somehow long after Aemon's departure). If the gauntlet belonged to Duncan the Small, deceased at Summerhall, it might have been found after the disaster. Does it mean that Walgrave was present? So many possibilities...

The lock of yellow hair tied up in a ribbon brings to mind several ideas. As far as I recall, we have only one instance of a man keeping women's hair (Varamyr), but it does not bring any light to understand Walgrave. Of course, the hair might have been given by a former lover (perhaps the mysterious Hightower girl, perhaps the same woman than on the portrait). It brings to mind Melisandre's discourse on the power of personal effects and body parts, specifically the hank of hair.
“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”
(Melisandre, ADwD)

We discussed already the portrait, and the fact that the physical resemblance is evocative of blood relations (Walgrave's mother, his sister, his daughter?). The only mustached women of the story seem to be Selyse Florent and the Ibbenese women (there is one such at the Happy Port). Selyse's father was one Ryam Florent. So I hardly see how Selyse could be Walgrave's secret daughter. If it were the case, it would be interesting that Cressen had been Stannis' maester, as he might have had some influence over the marriage of Selyse and Stannis.

One more word on the key.
The key was old and heavy, made of black iron; supposedly it opened every door at the Citadel. Only the archmaesters had such keys.
(Prologue, AFfC)

The black iron key is assorted to Maester Walgrave's mask, rod and ring – all made of the same metal. I wonder if the other archmaesters have keys made of the same material than their other attributes of knowledge.

Since the lock of the strongbox is already broken, some other thief (Gormon?) might have taken something valuable from the box – or even placed one of the items found by Pate in the box.

Sam will be well placed to understand the secrets of Walgrave's life.
“There’s an empty sleeping cell under mine in the west tower, with steps that lead right up to Walgrave’s chambers,” said the pasty-faced youth. “If you don’t mind the ravens quorking, there’s a good view of the Honeywine. Will that serve?”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

6. Marwyn

Our first indirect encounter with Marwyn occurs surprisingly through Daenerys.
“My mother was godswife before me, and taught me all the songs and spells most pleasing to the Great Shepherd, and how to make the sacred smokes and ointments from leaf and root and berry. When I was younger and more fair, I went in caravan to Asshai by the Shadow, to learn from their mages. Ships from many lands come to Asshai, so I lingered long to study the healing ways of distant peoples. A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing songs, a woman of your own riding people taught me the magics of grass and corn and horse, and a maester from the Sunset Lands opened a body for me and showed me all the secrets that hide beneath the skin.”
“Marwyn, he named himself,” the woman replied in the Common Tongue. “From the sea. Beyond the sea. The Seven Lands, he said. Sunset Lands. Where men are iron and dragons rule. He taught me this speech.”
“A maester in Asshai,” Ser Jorah mused. “Tell me, Godswife, what did this Marwyn wear about his neck?”
“A chain so tight it was like to choke him, Iron Lord, with links of many metals.”
The knight looked at Dany. “Only a man trained in the Citadel of Oldtown wears such a chain,” he said, “and such men do know much of healing.”
(Daenerys VII, AGoT)
Of course, Marwyn does not know of Mirri Maz Durr's tragic fate.

The travel to the east is confirmed.
When Marwyn had returned to Oldtown, after spending eight years in the east mapping distant lands, searching for lost books, and studying with warlocks and shadowbinders, Vinegar Vaellyn had dubbed him “Marwyn the Mage.” The name was soon all over Oldtown, to Vaellyn’s vast annoyance.
(Prologue, AFfC)

We do not know when Marwyn left for the east. His return might have been recent, in which case Marwyn left Oldtown after the fall of the Targaryens. It would be curious that Marwyn left as an archmaester, since archmaesters appear to remain at the Citadel. So Marwyn might have been promoted to the Conclave after his return from the east.

Marwyn's search for lost books has not been unsuccessful, as we learned from Rodrik the Reader.
“What reading was so urgent that you leave your guests without a host?”
“Archmaester Marwyn’s Book of Lost Books.” He lifted his gaze from the page to study her. “Hotho brought me a copy from Oldtown. He has a daughter he would have me wed.” Lord Rodrik tapped the book with a long nail. “See here? Marwyn claims to have found three pages of Signs and Portents, visions written down by the maiden daughter of Aenar Targaryen before the Doom came to Valyria.”
(The Kraken's Daughter, AFfC)

Aenar Targaryen's daughter seems to have been at the origin of the Targaryens' exile to Dragonstone. Isn't she supposed to have foretold the Doom of Valyria?

We have a good hint of the place where Marwyn could have found the three pages.
What he really wanted was the complete text of The Fires of the Freehold, Galendro’s history of Valyria. No complete copy was known to Westeros, however; even the Citadel’s lacked twenty-seven scrolls. They must have a library in Old Volantis, surely. I may find a better copy there, if I can find a way inside the Black Walls to the city’s heart.
(Tyrion IV, ADwD)

Indeed, Volantis is the "eldest daughter of Valyria", and the nobility of the city considers itself as part of the Old Blood of Valyria. Marwyn has certainly a keen interest in dragons, Targaryens, and Valyrian sorcery, and he has almost certainly traveled to Volantis, since that city seems on the way of every journey to the east.

Marwyn has a prerogative over one of the black candles, which seems to be burning constantly in his study. So Marwyn seems to have finally passed the test imposed to every acolyte of the Citadel. We can presume that he learned how to light the candle during his travels in the east, especially since the lighting of the candle seems to be recent, and startling, news at the Citadel.
“You’re wrong,” said Leo. “There is a glass candle burning in the Mage’s chambers.”
A hush fell over the torchlit terrace. Armen sighed and shook his head. Mollander began to laugh. The Sphinx studied Leo with his big black eyes. Roone looked lost.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Marwyn explains the use of those candles.
Aside from that, the only light came from a tall black candle in the center of the room.
The candle was unpleasantly bright. There was something queer about it. The flame did not flicker, even when Archmaester Marwyn closed the door so hard that papers blew off a nearby table. The light did something strange to colors too. Whites were bright as fresh-fallen snow, yellow shone like gold, reds turned to flame, but the shadows were so black they looked like holes in the world. Sam found himself staring. The candle itself was three feet tall and slender as a sword, ridged and twisted, glittering black. “Is that... ?”
“... obsidian,” said the other man in the room, a pale, fleshy, pasty-faced young fellow with round shoulders, soft hands, close-set eyes, and food stains on his robes.
“Call it dragonglass.” Archmaester Marwyn glanced at the candle for a moment. “It burns but is not consumed.”
“What feeds the flame?” asked Sam.
“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man’s dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles. Do you think that might be useful, Slayer?”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

The glass candle seems to give abilites corresponding partly to those of greenseers, as we have already noted. Interestingly, Marwyn leaves the candle behind when he departs Oldtown for Slaver's Bay.

Perhaps Marwyn learned how to lit the candles through the warlocks of Qarth.
Dany had laughed when he told her. “Was it not you who told me warlocks were no more than old soldiers, vainly boasting of forgotten deeds and lost prowess?”
Xaro looked troubled. “And so it was, then. But now? I am less certain. It is said that the glass candles are burning in the house of Urrathon Night-Walker, that have not burned in a hundred years.
(Daenerys II, ACoK)

However, we have no proof that Marwyn has been to Qarth. But it is likely given that he has met Mirri Maz Durr.

We know that Marwyn has watched the arrival of Sam and Aemon to Oldtown. Did he order the Swan ship to take Sam in Braavos? What else could have Marwyn seen? Assuming the candle has been lighted at the beginning of AFfC, Marwyn can only have watched the events that happened since that moment. We have noted that the range of the candles seems to extend only across barren landscape (not across forests, bogs, and perhaps not even across fields and pastures).

Leo Tyrell says plainly that Marwyn has seen Daenerys and her dragons with his candle.
“Such a chivalrous Hopfrog. As you wish. Every man off every ship that’s sailed within a hundred leagues of Qarth is speaking of these dragons. A few will even tell you that they’ve seen them. The Mage is inclined to believe them.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
The story is put in doubt by Arwen the Acolyte.
“Archmaester Marwyn believes in many curious things,” he said, “but he has no more proof of dragons than Mollander. Just more sailors’ stories.”
“You’re wrong,” said Leo. “There is a glass candle burning in the Mage’s chambers.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

Marwyn seems acutely aware of the relationship of the Citadel with the Targaryens, since he claims that the Citadel worked for the demise of the dragons, and that Maester Aemon was unacceptable in the Conclave in reason of his blood.

We do not know whether Marwyn traveled to Slaver's Bay. However, he is knowledgeable about the culture of Ghis, and might even know the ancient language.
Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman.
(Samwell V, AFfC)
That might valuable for Marwyn's journey to Daenerys in Slaver's Bay.

We can note that Aemon never mentioned Marwyn to Sam, and that he recommended Sam to see Archmaester Norren, then Senechal of the Citadel.

Marwyn has an unconventional thinking, as we learned through Qyburn. In classical philosophical terms, it's a dualistic view of the mind-body problem.
“Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.”
(Jaime VI, ASoS)

Then all the archmaesters, but Marwyn, are not dualists but monists... and are wrong since we see several instances of disembodiment of spirits (skinchangers, greenseers).

But he seems to agree with Walgrave's notion that corpses should be given to ravens when he talks to Sam.
“We would have no more need of ravens.”
“Only after battles.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
Here is Marwyn's peculiar physical appearance.
Marwyn wore a chain of many metals around his bull’s neck. Save for that, he looked more like a dockside thug than a maester. His head was too big for his body, and the way it thrust forward from his shoulders, together with that slab of jaw, made him look as if he were about to tear off someone’s head. Though short and squat, he was heavy in the chest and shoulders, with a round, rock-hard ale belly straining at the laces of the leather jerkin he wore in place of robes. Bristly white hair sprouted from his ears and nostrils. His brow beetled, his nose had been broken more than once, and sourleaf had stained his teeth a mottled red. He had the biggest hands that Sam had ever seen.
(Samwell V, AFfC)
It might just be a curiosity, but Axell Florent carries a strong resemblance.
“Lord Snow.” A stout man, Florent had short legs and a thick chest. Coarse hair covered his cheeks and jowls and poked from his ears and nostrils.
(Jon IX, ADwD)
With his bowed legs, barrel chest, and prominent ears, he presented a comical appearance, but Jon knew better than to laugh at him.
(Jon IX, ADwD)

We recover the short stature, the thick chest, the hair in the ears and nostrils. However, Marwyn does not exhibit prominent ears, while Ser Axell has no large belly, and no noticeable square jaw, and no hands of large size. That could suggest some family relation, especially since Brighwater Keep is located in the vicinity of Oldtown (cautious suggestion).

There is little that we could say about the Mage's origin. Even if there seems to be archmaester originating from over the Narrow Sea, the name Marwyn does not deviate from the nomenclature of the Seven Kingdoms. One little detail might let us think that he is lowborn. Indeed, Pate has informed us that the smallfolk uses the term dragonglass rather than obsidian.
“Dragonglass,” Pate said. “The smallfolk call it dragonglass.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Much later, Sam is introduced to "Pate".
“... obsidian,” said the other man in the room, a pale, fleshy, pasty-faced young fellow with round shoulders, soft hands, close-set eyes, and food stains on his robes.
“Call it dragonglass.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
Marwyn's use of the term dragonglass points to an origin among the smallfolk.

But I fancy another interpretation of the exchange: Marwyn is correcting "Pate" and instructing him to use the vocabulary appropriate to his station (we will return to this possiblity).

Let's turn now to the Mage's curious activities.
He has a mocking name for everyone, thought Pate, but he could not deny that Marwyn looked more a mastiff than a maester. As if he wants to bite you. The Mage was not like other maesters.
People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards, talked with hairy Ibbenese and pitch-black Summer Islanders in their own tongues, and sacrificed to queer gods at the little sailors’ temples down by the wharves. Men spoke of seeing him down in the undercity, in rat pits and black brothels, consorting with mummers, singers, sellswords, even beggars. Some even whispered that once he had killed a man with his fists.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Let's review Marwyn's friends.

The whores of Oldtown: Obara Sand's mother (now retired from the profession, we can guess), Satin (allegedly). There might even be a dwarf in a brothel.
“Ser Osmund, get this thing out of my sight, and bring in the other three who claim knowledge of the Imp.”
“Aye, Your Grace.”
Sad to say, the three would-be informers proved no more useful than the Tyroshi. One said that the Imp was hiding in an Oldtown brothel, pleasuring men with his mouth. It made for a droll picture, but Cersei did not believe it for an instant. The second claimed to have seen the dwarf in a mummer’s show in Braavos. The third insisted Tyrion had become a hermit in the riverlands, living on some haunted hill.
(Cersei VIII, AFfC)

The second and third informers' reports are plausible (the Braavosi dwarf might refer to Oppo and penny, and in any case, the Sealord of Braavos seems to like dwarves and the hermit on the hill is certainly the ghost of high heart). Why not the first as well?

The women at the Quill and Tankard are whores, I am not sure they are among Marwyn's acquaintances. However, Rosey introduced Pate to the Alchemist.

I suppose that some maesters unresigned to a life of chastity would visit the prostitutes of the City. Doesn't Barbrey Dustin inform us that.
The grey rats are not as chaste as they would have us believe. Oldtown maesters are the worst of all.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

It would seem that Marwyn himself is not chaste. His choice of metaphors testifies to a certain experience of life, even if Marwyn appears only to quote Gorghan.
“Not that I would trust it. Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is... and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Hedge wizards have not been mentioned often in the story. Here is one occurence in Winterfell for the Harvest Feast. We see clearly in what regard the hedge wizards are held by the maesters.
A hedge wizard had told him there would be a bountiful spirit summer before the cold set in, he claimed. Maester Luwin had a number of choice things to say about hedge wizards.
(Bran II, ACoK)

That Marwyn talks with Summer Islanders makes me think of the Cinnamon Wind. It is likely that the ship is known to Marwyn, which might why he seems willing to embark at once. One can even ask the question of whether Marwyn sent the ship to fetch Aemon and Sam in Braavos. It seems unlikely, but we will examine that possibility below. In any case, Marwyn might have been watching Sam and Aemon for a long time, perhaps as long as their departure from Eastwatch.

We see a number of Ibbenese ships (mainly whalers) throughout the harbors of Westeros and the Free Cities. Some of them might have brought news to Marwyn. It would be interesting to retrace their itinerary.

Among the little sailor's temples at the wharf, we find at least one temple devoted to the red god. Since Pate mentions the presence of the faith of the Lord of Light in town.
He could hear singing too, beneath the pealing of the bells. Each morning at first light the red priests gathered to welcome the sun outside their modest wharfside temple. For the night is dark and full of terrors. Pate had heard them cry those words a hundred times, asking their god R’hllor to save them from the darkness.
(Prologue, AFfC)

It might be worth to contrast the credo of this religion to the ordeal in the vault. Did Marwyn manage to light the black candle through an homage to R'hllor? The visionary capabilities provided by the candle recall somehow what we see Melisandre and Moqorro accomplish.

Among the other friends of Marwyn we find mummers, singers, sellswords and beggars. As it happens, there might be sellswords in Oldtown. Timeon of the Brave Companions tells Brienne.
We all went our own ways, after we left Harrenhal. Urswyck and his lot rode south for Oldtown.
(Brienne IV, AFfC)

The remnant of the Brave Companions led by Urswyck includes Zollo, Togg Joth and Three toes. They might be known to Marwyn, since Qyburn, Marwyn's friend, was himself a Brave Companion. It is not clear that they could have reached Oldtown by the beginning of AFfC.

Singers are wandering all over Westeros. However, one Orland of Oldtown was present at the feast to honor king Robert in Winterfell as well as for the wedding of Joffrey. We learned this from Mance, who might have spoken to Orland.
The night your father feasted Robert, I sat in the back of his hall on a bench with the other freeriders, listening to Orland of Oldtown play the high harp and sing of dead kings beneath the sea.
(Jon I, ASoS)

Orland entered the competition of singers at the occasion of Joffrey's wedding. Unfortunately, Joffrey died before the bard could perform. In any case, Marwyn could have learned much about the Starks, the Lannisters, the court at King's Landing etc through Orland. In the appendices of ASoS, AFfC and ADwD, one Ormond of Oldtown is listed as the royal harpist. It could be that Ormond and Orland are the same person, in which case Orland is at court in King's Landing, and not in Oldtown.

I know no beggar of note in Oldtown. Let's turn to mummers. Of course Urswyck et al were Bloody Mummers as well as sellswords. But I believe Marwyn's interlocutors are mummers in the true sense. Is mummery an art practiced in the Seven Kingdoms? It doesn't seems so. We see several companies of mummers in Braavos as well as at least one on the Rhoyne. Of course, Varys was once part of a wandering company, which might still exists, and might still come to Oldtown.

In any case, by consorting with mummers, Ibbenese, Summer Islanders and sellswords, Marwyn is well informed of the events around the world. With whores and beggars Marwyn could learn a few secrets of the people of Oldtown. The singers would know much about life in the various courts and castles of Westeros.

To summarize, Marwyn might be one of the best informed player of the whole story, rivaling Varys, Qyburn and Doran Martell. However, Marwyn shows no sign that he has heard about the pretender on Rhoyne.

Who did Marwyn kill with his bare hands? It probably happened in Oldtown since the story is well-known. It brings to mind the story of Hother Umber who eviscerated a prostitute in Oldtown fifty years ago.

Another peculiarity of Marwyn: the taste for sourleaf. We meet a few more disparate characters with the same proclivity: Masha Heddle, the religious dwarf met by Brienne, Chett, Yoren, Emmon Frey, Snatch of the Second Sons and even... Arya Stark. There is hardly any common point between those characters. So I presume the sourleaf is not indicative of anything.

Marwyn does not seem much interested in ravens despite residing in the Ravenry. Mirri Maz Durr claims to have learned the secrets of the human body from him. Let's look at his room.
The room beyond was large and round. Books and scrolls were everywhere, strewn across the tables and stacked up on the floor in piles four feet high. Faded tapestries and ragged maps covered the stone walls. A fire was burning in the hearth, beneath a copper kettle. Whatever was inside of it smelled burned. Aside from that, the only light came from a tall black candle in the center of the room.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Books and scrolls were to be expected. The books and scrolls are scattered among the maesters' rooms. The maps on the wall might be those Marwyn sought to complete in the east.

I initially thought that Marwyn has obturated the windows of the room with the maps and tapestries. But we can see that the room has a visible window.
Sam stared at the strange pale flame for a moment, then blinked and looked away. Outside the window it was growing dark.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

I wonder how long Sam has stared at the candle flame. It is as if he had been captivated. But the sun was setting already when Sam was in the Seneschal Court.

Since there is kettle on the fire, the role of the fire is not to make the burning of the candle possible (in other words, visions in the candle are not visions in the flame).

I would be curious to know what is the use of the copper kettle. The kettle might be of the teapot type or of the cauldron type. There are neither cups nor plates nor spoons in the room. So whatever was in the kettle it was probably not a meal. If it's not food or drink, does it have to do with the candle? Could it be the work of the Alchemist, in the form of  "Pate"? We will return to "Pate" below. Here is one guess about what could be in the kettle.
“Dareon is dead. The black singer who was sleeping at the Happy Port. He was really a deserter from the Night’s Watch. Someone slit his throat and pushed him into a canal, but they kept his boots.”
“Good boots are hard to find.”
“Just so.” She tried to keep her face still.
“Who could have done this thing, I wonder?”
“Arya of House Stark.” She watched his eyes, his mouth, the muscles of his jaw.
“That girl? I thought she had left Braavos. Who are you?”
“No one.”
“You lie.” He turned to the waif. “My throat is dry. Do me a kindness and bring a cup of wine for me and warm milk for our friend Arya, who has returned to us so unexpectedly.”
On her way across the city Arya had wondered what the kindly man would say when she told him about Dareon. Maybe he would be angry with her, or maybe he would be pleased that she had given the singer the gift of the Many-Faced God. She had played this talk out in her head half a hundred times, like a mummer in a show. But she had never thought warm milk.
When the milk came, Arya drank it down. It smelled a little burnt and had a bitter aftertaste. “Go to bed now, child,” the kindly man said. “On the morrow you must serve.”
(Cat of the Canals, AFfC)

So the same beverage as the one given to Arya (probably not real milk) might have been prepared in Marwyn's kettle. (There are no pastures, no cows and no milk in Braavos.) That would make some sense if indeed "Pate" is a faceless man. Note that the milk is probably what made Arya blind, which in turn helped her awaken her gift of warging with her first catdreams (she would later skinchange into a cat to fool the kindly man). The beverage might have helped Arya adopt the physical appearance of the blind girl.
That night she dreamed she was a wolf again, but it was different from the other dreams. In this dream she had no pack. She prowled alone, bounding over rooftops and padding silently beside the banks of a canal, stalking shadows through the fog.
When she woke the next morning, she was blind.
(Cat of the Canals, AFfC)

In other words, Arya opened a third eye that night, and she would soon afterwards consciously skinchange into a cat. Later, Arya would drink again the milk.
Each night at supper the waif brought her a cup of milk and told her to drink it down. The drink had a queer, bitter taste that the blind girl soon learned to loathe. Even the faint smell that warned her what it was before it touched her tongue soon made her feel like retching, but she drained the cup all the same.
(The Blind Girl, ADwD)

The milk might help to see into the glass candle. Arya's beverage recalls strongly what Bran has been given by Leaf.
It had a bitter taste, though not so bitter as acorn paste. The first spoonful was the hardest to get down. He almost retched it right back up. The second tasted better. The third was almost sweet. The rest he spooned up eagerly. Why had he thought that it was bitter? It tasted of honey, of new-fallen snow, of pepper and cinnamon and the last kiss his mother ever gave him.
(Bran III, ADwD)

We do not know whether the beverage has been prepared for "Pate" or for Marwyn himself. Has the beverage something to do with the Alchemist's hijacking of "Pate"? Does it help the Alchemist to assume Pate's appearance?

The only other copper kettle mentioned in the story has been once bought by Haggon at Eastwatch (along with salt and wine). Of course, Haggon is a noted skinchanger, but that might be a coincidence. Here Marwyn does not seem to be doing any alchemical experiment. Indeed, there would be a lot more equipment in the room.

Indeed, we do not see any potion, in particular not any poison in Marwyn's office. Marwyn says he can not be trusted, and that any untrustworthy man at the Citadel runs the risk of being poisoned. It raises the question of the measures taken by Marwyn to protect himself.

It is possible that Marwyn has managed to make himself seen as a harmless eccentric by the grey sheep.

Marwyn declares his intentions to Sam.
“What will you do?” asked Alleras, the Sphinx.
“Get myself to Slaver’s Bay, in Aemon’s place. The swan ship that delivered Slayer should serve my needs well enough. The grey sheep will send their man on a galley, I don’t doubt. With fair winds I should reach her first.” Marwyn glanced at Sam again, and frowned. “You... you should stay and forge your chain. If I were you, I would do it quickly. A time will come when you’ll be needed on the Wall.” He turned to the pasty-faced novice. “Find Slayer a dry cell. He’ll sleep here, and help you tend the ravens.”
“B-b-but,” Sam sputtered, “the other archmaesters... the Seneschal... what should I tell them?”
“Tell them how wise and good they are. Tell them that Aemon commanded you to put yourself into their hands. Tell them that you have always dreamed that one day you might be allowed to wear the chain and serve the greater good, that service is the highest honor, and obedience the highest virtue. But say nothing of prophecies or dragons, unless you fancy poison in your porridge.” Marwyn snatched a stained leather cloak off a peg near the door and tied it tight. “Sphinx, look after this one.”
“I will,” Alleras answered, but the archmaester was already gone. They heard his boots stomping down the steps.
“Where has he gone?” asked Sam, bewildered.
“To the docks. The Mage is not a man who believes in wasting time.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

At this moment, Gilly and Mance's son are still onboard the Cinnamon Wind. Will Marwyn leave with them? As we will see Marwin should believe that the baby is Craster's son, and not Mance's. Moreover, Aemon's corpse is still in a cask of rum.
Quhuru Mo would not allow a funeral pyre aboard the Cinnamon Wind, so Aemon’s corpse had been stuffed inside a cask of blackbelly rum to preserve it until the ship reached Oldtown.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Aemon Targaryen is a rare Targaryen not given to the fire after his death. Perhaps his corpse is valuable somehow. Indeed we learned through Qyburn that the maesters open the bodies of the dead, in principle to study the living.

A few things deserve to be noted about Marwyn self-imposed mission. He sees himself as a replacement for Aemon Targaryen. Aemon mentioned two reasons for his presence along Daenerys: the need for a maester, and the need for three heads of the dragons. Of course, Marwyn is perfectly fine as a maester. It appears that Targaryen blood (or some sort of special nature) is required to qualify as head of the dragon. Isn't Marwyn telling us that he has special blood?
“The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

He understands why Aemon felt Daenerys' need for a maester at her side. He fears that the grey sheep will undermine Daenerys somehow.

It is difficult to estimate the timing of Marwyn's departure. He left Westeros after Victarion, since Euron has been attacking Oldtown for some time. But Victarion had to travel with a whole fleet to Meereen, and Marwyn expects to accomplish the journey aboard the much swifter Cinnamon Wind, at least under favorable winds. So it could well be that Marwyn has reached Meereen before the Iron Fleet.

The interest taken by Marwyn in Sam's story beyond the Wall deserves a close attention. Here is what Sam told Alleras and repeated to Marwyn.
“How not? He was more than just the oldest living maester. He was the oldest man in Westeros,
and lived through more history than Archmaester Perestan has ever learned. He could have told us much and more about his father’s reign, and his uncle’s. How old was he, do you know?”
“One hundred and two.”
“What was he doing at sea, at his age?”
Sam chewed on the question for a moment, wondering how much he ought to say. The sphinx is the riddle, not the riddler. Could Maester Aemon have meant this Sphinx? It seemed unlikely. “Lord Commander Snow sent him away to save his life,” he began, hesitantly. He spoke awkwardly of King Stannis and Melisandre of Asshai, intending to stop at that, but one thing led to another and he found himself speaking of Mance Rayder and his wildlings, king’s blood and dragons, and before he knew what was happening, all the rest came spilling out; the wights at the Fist of First Men, the Other on his dead horse, the murder of the Old Bear at Craster’s Keep, Gilly and their flight, Whitetree and Small Paul, Coldhands and the ravens, Jon’s becoming lord commander, the Blackbird, Dareon, Braavos, the dragons Xhondo saw in Qarth, the Cinnamon Wind and all that Maester Aemon whispered toward the end. He held back only the secrets that he was sworn to keep, about Bran Stark and his companions and the babes Jon Snow had swapped. “Daenerys is the only hope,” he concluded. “Aemon said the Citadel must send her a maester at once, to bring her home to Westeros before it is too late.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
We know that Marwyn has been an attentive listener.
“Tell me all you told our Dornish sphinx. I know much of it and more, but some small parts may have escaped my notice.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Which sounds like a sign to pay attention to little details (here is a little discrepancy: Sam was in a wildling village when he has been attacked by Small Paul, but it wasn't Whitetree) for the reader as well, including what Maester Aemon had whispered towards the end.

See the section on Aemon below.

Most of Aemon's late rumination points to a savior figure, perhaps one prophetised by the maiden daughter of Aenar Targaryen in her visions. The association between glass candle lighting and egg hatching is interesting. One wonders whether the birth of Daenerys' dragons hasn't allowed the candles to burn again, answering thus the question asked by Sam.
“What feeds the flame?” asked Sam.
“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

In all of Sam's account, what is of the utmost importance from Marwyn's point of view? Surely the resurgence of the Others, the possibility of the fall of the Wall via the Horn of Winter are of great importance. (When Sam left the Wall, the horn has not been burned yet, and it is not known that the horn found with Mance was false.) The presence of a character like Melisandre is certainly noteworthy for Marwyn, especially since Marwyn knows about Asshai (at least indirectly through Mirri Maz Dur) and about the red religion, which has now a presence in Oldtown. Apparently, Marwyn is mostly interested in Maester Aemon, who did not seem to know him in turn. He should not know that the baby with Gilly is Mance's son. Marwyn seems more interested in prophecies, dragons, valyrian sorcery etc than in the current political struggle in the Seven Kingdoms.

Note that Pate and Alleras has become part of Marwyn's inner circle, while Leo has been left outside the Mastiff's room.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing we learn from Archmaester Marwyn comes from his admirer, Leo Tyrell.
“Dragons and darker things,” said Leo. “The grey sheep have closed their eyes, but the mastiff sees the truth. Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.” He stretched, smiling his lazy smile. “That’s worth a round, I’d say.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
It stands in stark contrast to what Maester Luwin once told Bran.
“Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer. What little remains is no more than the wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading. Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone. The dragons are no more, the giants are dead, the children of the forest forgotten with all their lore.
(Bran III, ACoK)

Of course Leo Tyrell is a mere novice, and beside an odious character, which would tend to devalue his credibility. But he seems to repeat what he has learned from Marwyn. How literally should we take this prediction? Surely Marwyn has seen things with his glass candle. What are the darker things? What are the old powers? The only tenuous candidates I see are the dormant greenseers in Brynden's cave.
He even crossed the slender stone bridge that arched over the abyss and discovered more passages and chambers on the far side. One was full of singers, enthroned like Brynden in nests of weirwood roots that wove under and through and around their bodies. Most of them looked dead to him, but as he crossed in front of them their eyes would open and follow the light of his torch, and one of them opened and closed a wrinkled mouth as if he were trying to speak. “Hodor,” Bran said to him, and he felt the real Hodor stir down in his pit.
(Bran III, ADwD)

But Marwyn knows the world beyond the Narrow Sea, and probably watch with his glass candle.

We noted already that the candles do not seem to enable to see within forests, or underground. If this is so, I hardly see how Marwyn could have known anything about those greenseers. Of course, we have also the mention of the horn of Winter, once blown by Joramun to wake the giants from the earth. (I suspect that the awakening of the giants might be in fact the awakening of the greenseers who can skinchange into giants, like Bran does with Hodor.)

Spying through the candles does not go completely unnoticed. Indeed, when Sam goes to meet the Seneschal.
He could feel eyes on him, peering down from balconies and windows, watching him from the darkened doorways. On the Cinnamon Wind he had known every face. Here, everywhere he turned he saw another stranger. Even worse was the thought of being seen by someone who knew him.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

The Mage left Oldtown and the precious glass candle behind him. Who will be in charge of the candle? "Pate"? Alleras? Leo?

7. Alleras

Alleras the Sphinx is evidently Sallera, Oberyn Martell's bastard daughter born of a trader from the Summer Isle. Like her father she studies at the Citadel. We know that Sarella has the makings of a maester, in particular a passion for history.
“He caught some vipers and showed Tyene the safest way to milk them for their venom. Sarella turned over rocks, brushed sand off the mosaics, and wanted to know everything there was to know about the people who had lived here.”
(The Queenmaker, AFfC)

Of course, Oberyn Martell never became a maester and reportedly grew bored of studying after forging a few links. It seems credible that Sallera is Doran Martell's agent in Oldtown, since her fellow sisters the Sand Snakes are sent as spies in various locations.
“What of Sarella? She is a woman grown, almost twenty.”
“Unless she returns to Dorne, there’s naught I can do about Sarella save pray that she shows more sense than her sisters. Leave her to her... game. Gather up the others. I shall not sleep until I know that they are safe and under guard.”
(The Captain of the Guards, AFfC)

Here is the conclusion of the scene where Doran Martell sends Obara, Tyene, and Nymeria to High Ermitage, Visenya's Hill and the Red Keep respectively.
“I know you will not fail us, cousins.” Arianne went to each of them in turn, took their hands, kissed them lightly on the lips. “Obara, so fierce. Nymeria, my sister. Tyene, sweetling. I love you all. The sun of Dorne goes with you.”
“Unbowed, unbent, unbroken,” the Sand Snakes said, together.
(The Watcher, ADwD)

Sarella's presence at Oldtown fits the pattern. So it seems Doran Martell finds important to have an agent in the Citadel. We are never told why. Specifically, Alleras keeps close to Marwyn, and not to the grey sheep. Note that the dornish sphinx did not seem particularly interested in Marwyn before Leo Tyrell reported the existence of the burning candle.

Sarella's parentage in the Summer Islands might imply an acquaintance with the people of the Cinnamon Wind. Sarella might still have a family among the Summer Islanders.
Alleras smiled back at him. “I only buy for friends. And I am no lord’s son, I’ve told you that. My mother was a trader.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

I suppose Alleras' mother is known to the traders from the Islands that roam the seas and regularly come to Oldtown. However Alleras has only been in town for a year, and the Cinnamon Wind could not expect to find Alleras at the Citadel unless she has been to the Citadel for less than a year, which seems entirely possible.

Alleras seems certain of the truth of the dragons' existence with Daenerys. After listening to the arguments of his friends, he steps in.
“One last apple,” promised Alleras, “and I will tell you what I suspect about these dragons.”
“What could you know that I don’t?” grumbled Mollander.
(Prologue, AFfC)
The sphinx continues after missing with last arrow.
“The dragon has three heads,” he announced in his soft Dornish drawl.
“Is this a riddle?” Roone wanted to know. “Sphinxes always speak in riddles in the tales.”
“No riddle.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
But the interlocutors are incredulous.
“No dragon has ever had three heads except on shields and banners,” Armen the Acolyte said firmly. “That was a heraldic charge, no more. Furthermore, the Targaryens are all dead.”
“Not all,” said Alleras. “The Beggar King had a sister.”
“I thought her head was smashed against a wall,” said Roone.
“No,” said Alleras. “It was Prince Rhaegar’s young son Aegon whose head was dashed against
the wall by the Lion of Lannister’s brave men. We speak of Rhaegar’s sister, born on Dragonstone before its fall. The one they called Daenerys.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

How is it that Alleras is better informed? Could it be that the Cinnamon Wind has reported already Dany's reappearance to Westeros?

Alleras has forged a copper link, for the mastery of history, as well as two other links. Indeed the dornish sphinx displays a good command of recent history. That shows that Alleras knows well archmaester Perestan, and is in the archmaester's good graces. When Alleras was studying history, he was certainly discouraged of any business with Marwyn. How is it that Alleras became the Mage's friend. Could Alleras be sent to Daenerys?

Two of Sarella's sisters are connected to Oldtown. Obara seems to hate the City.
“I know better. You need not even leave your chair. Let me avenge my father. You have a host in the Prince’s Pass. Lord Yronwood has another in the Boneway. Grant me the one and Nym the other. Let her ride the kingsroad, whilst I turn the marcher lords out of their castles and hook round to march on Oldtown.”
“And how could you hope to hold Oldtown?”
“It will be enough to sack it. The wealth of Hightower—”
“Is it gold you want?”
“It is blood I want.”
(The Captain of Guards, AFfC)
The resentment is never explained. But Tyene is also a native of the City.
Nym laughed. “Yes, she wants to set the torch to Oldtown. She hates that city as much as our little sister loves it.”
(The Captain of Guards, AFfC)

The last time we saw her, Obara was headed to High Ermitage, in the general direction of Oldtown, but still at a fair distance from the city.

8. The Alchemist

The Alchemist is without doubt Jaqen H'gar since his appearance matches what we see of Jaqen after he has changed his face. Perhaps we should say that that it is the same face. (Note: the characteristic of the face is matched precisely by one other character, that I will not name.) It is not even clear that the notion of identity makes sense since we are dealing with faceless men. But we know from Arya that the faceless men have a collection of faces and therefore are not able to create new ones.
He was just a man, and his face was just a face. A young man’s face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. It was not a face Pate recognized.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Many months have passed since Jaqen disappeared from Harrenhal. What has he been doing in the meantime? It can be speculated that he had a hand in the death of Balon Greyjoy. But he told Arya that he would go over the Narrow Sea. The possibilities are mutually exclusive, I think.
“I do. My time is done.” Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.
Arya’s mouth hung open. “Who are you?” she whispered, too astonished to be afraid. “How did you do that? Was it hard?”
He grinned, revealing a shiny gold tooth. “No harder than taking a new name, if you know the way.”
“Show me,” she blurted. “I want to do it too.” “If you would learn, you must come with me.” Arya grew hesitant. “Where?”
“Far and away, across the narrow sea.”
(Arya IX, ACoK)

I tend to think that Jaqen went over the sea. However his arrival in Oldtown seems to coincide with the report of the appearance of dragons from Meereen. Did he travel with one of the ships that carried the news?

The scar evokes the marks of slaves, and indirectly the origins of the order of faceless men, among the slaves of Valyria.

The Alchemist has been introduced to Pate by Rosey. It's likely that the Alchemist inquired at the Inn to get to know novices and acolytes. He found out about the senility of Walgrave, of Pate's service to the archmaester and of Pate's infatuation for Rosey. This is the simplest scenario. As we will see there are other possibilities.

This Alchemist seems quite different from the alchemists we saw in King's Landing. Indeed, he does not make reference to pyromancy but to transmutation of metals.
“Who are you?” Pate had demanded of him, and the man had replied, “An alchemist. I can change iron into gold.” And then the coin was in his hand, dancing across his knuckles, the soft yellow gold shining in the candlelight. On one side was a three-headed dragon, on the other the head of some dead king.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Of course, the transmutation of iron into gold refers to the exchange of the iron key for the golden dragon. But it is more than a joke, I suspect, and the reference to alchemy seems more serious than what we saw in King's Landing. Indeed, we learned from Tyrion that the alchemists of old did attempt to change common metals into gold. Alchemy doesn't seem to be taught in the Citadel. Recall that the order of alchemists were once thought as a rival to the Citadel. Beside the Hightowers are reputed for practicing alchemy, alchemy is present in Lys, and might not be so unfamiliar to the Citadel. Indeed, Raymund Frey has married Beony Beesbury, from upriver on the Honeywine. One of their sons, Robert, is an acolyte at the Citadel, while another, Malwyn, studies with an alchemist in Lys. Maester Cressen associates the alchemists of Lys and the faceless men in their knowledge of poisons.
The process was slow and difficult, the necessaries costly and hard to acquire. The alchemists of Lys knew the way of it, though, and the Faceless Men of Braavos...
(Prologue, ACoK)

The monetary exchange for assassination is typical of the faceless men. It is remarkable that the coin has a three-headed dragon and a dead king. Hence the coin predates Robert's Rebellion (new coinage comes with a new king). Where does it come from? Who has given it to the Alchemist?

After Pate's death, we see the boy reappearing at Marwyn's side, but two details let us think that Pate is not anymore quite himself. First, Pate had told us that he hates being compared to the pig boy.
If I hit him in the mouth with my tankard, I could knock out half his teeth, Pate thought. Spotted Pate the pig boy was the hero of a thousand ribald stories: a good-hearted, empty-headed lout who always managed to best the fat lordlings, haughty knights, and pompous septons who beset him. Somehow his stupidity would turn out to have been a sort of uncouth cunning; the tales always ended with Spotted Pate sitting on a lord’s high seat or bedding some knight’s daughter. But those were stories. In the real world pig boys never fared so well. Pate sometimes thought his mother must have hated him to have named him as she did.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Pate introduced himself to Sam.
“I’m Pate,” the other said, “like the pig boy.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
Furthermore, Pate has told his friends at the Quill and Tankard.
Armen crossed his arms. “Obsidian does not burn.”
“Dragonglass,” Pate said. “The smallfolk call it dragonglass.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
But "Pate" needs to be corrected by Marwyn.
“... obsidian,” said the other man in the room, a pale, fleshy, pasty-faced young fellow with round shoulders, soft hands, close-set eyes, and food stains on his robes.
“Call it dragonglass.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Suppose that someone, most likely the Alchemist, has taken Pate's place. Of course the Alchemist is a faceless man, no one, truly. We know the possibility for disguise of the faceless men from the kindly man.
“Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with. Keep your eyes closed.”
(The ugly little Girl, ADwD)

If one such procedure was used, it was likely to be the latter sort. Indeed, there are keen eyes at the Citadel. However, nobody has a high regard for Pate at the Citadel, therefore few will notice his change of personality. Still, Pate has friends who have shared memories with him, probably know his life story, his tastes etc and I am surprised an imposter could take his appearance without some discontinuity of behavior being noticed. However, we learn from Arya that newly adopted faces carry emotions of past lives, which might help for the imposture.

I believe that some have not been fooled by the transformation.
The white ravens knew his name, and would mutter it to each other whenever they caught sight of him, “Pate, Pate, Pate,” until he wanted to scream.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Indeed, certain special animals seem to have a keen sense of identity.
But farther on, on the wharf beside an Ibbenese whaler, she spied Cat’s old friend Tagganaro tossing a ball back and forth with Casso, King of Seals, whilst his latest cutpurse worked the crowd of onlookers. When she stopped to watch and listen for a moment, Tagganaro glanced at her without recognition, but Casso barked and clapped his flippers. He knows me, the girl thought, or else he smells the fish.
(The ugly little Girl, ADwD)

Since "Pate" sleeps below the white rookery, it will be interesting to see whether the white birds recognize him.

Is Marwyn fooled? Certainly the mage has sharp eyes. I wonder if he didn't accept "Pate" at his side knowingly. Isn't Marwyn correcting "Pate" when he tells him Call it dragonglass (implicitly, Marwyn is reminding "Pate" that Pate is lowborn and should speak accordingly)? Indeed, we saw how instrumental Leo Tyrell was in provoking Pate to steal the key. Certainly, Leo is under Marwyn's influence. Did Marwyn send Leo Tyrell to the Quill and Tankard to watch what would happen with the Alchemist? Curiously, the Alchemist would say later.
Pate rose. “The third day... you said you would be at the Quill and Tankard.”
“You were with your friends. It was not my wish to intrude upon your fellowship.”
(Prologue, AFfC)
Here is Leo's intrusion at Pate's table. We get a larger glimpse of the scene.
Though there were a dozen empty tables on the terrace, Leo sat himself at theirs.
(Prologue, AFfC)

We see that "Pate" is now part of Marwyn's inner circle, along with Alleras. Marwyn would never have allowed the mediocre novice we saw in the prologue near the black candle. What did "Pate" do to make himself accepted? We have an alternative: either Marwyn understands "Pate"'s true nature or he is spied on by a very clever fellow.

Note that "Pate" has heard Sam's account of his adventures beyond the Wall. Of course all that might not be of any concern to him. But Arya's apprenticeship is proof that it is a basic duty of the faceless men to gather information and to report their knowledge.

We saw that the copper kettle in the hearth of Marwyn's chambers could well contain the same beverage given to Arya by the Kindly Man. I wonder whether the foodstains on "Pate" comes from drinking that beverage. The stains remind me of Maester Brenett.
Catelyn half expected that the maester would be yet another son of Walder Frey’s, but Brenett did not have the look. He was a great fat man, bald and double-chinned and none too clean, to judge from the raven droppings that stained the sleeves of his robes, yet he seemed amiable enough.
(Catelyn VI, ASoS)

In the final scene, "Pate" is described three times as pasty-faced, as if he stayed away from the light of the sun, or as if his energies had been drained somehow. Is "Pate" spending all his time in Marwyn's chambers looking at the black candle?

The most likely explanation for the theft of Walgrave's key would seem to access every door of the Citadel. Among the listed treasures to be found is the following.
And of course there was even less chance of his coming on the fragmentary, anonymous, blood-soaked tome sometimes called Blood and Fire and sometimes The Death of Dragons, the only surviving copy of which was supposedly hidden away in a locked vault beneath the Citadel.
(Tyrion IV, ADwD)

The mention of being locked suggests strongly the use of the keys of the archmaesters. The book seems to have been written in the common tongue (and not in Valyrian or Ghiscari), which suggests an author from the Seven Kingdoms. Furthermore the book is fragmentary and blood-soaked. Whose blood is it? Was the blood used for some dark arts? The subject of the book could be the Targaryens (Blood and Fire), Valyrian sorcery (rooted in blood and fire after Marwyn) or the death of dragons. Or more likely all these subjects.

Why would the maesters hide such a book? Does it reveal the role of the Citadel in the Dance of the Dragons? Does it hold secrets that can be used to get rid of dragons again?

If "Pate" merely wanted to get hold of the book, he could have done so long ago and disappeared, unless there is a difficulty with finding the vault where the book is stored. Of course, there is never a need to steal a book, making a copy, or simply reading the text, is sufficient. Unless the blood on the pages has value.

"Pate" has remained in the Citadel for many months and has earned Marwyn's trust. So he has had time to accomplish his mission.

If Euron hired a faceless man to eliminate his brother Balon, the assassin might have been Jaqen, who might still be working for Euron. As it happens Euron is trying to conquer Oldtown... We will see that the Myraham, a ship from Oldtown, left Pyke immediately after Balon's death, and thus could have carried the assassin to Oldtown.

However I feel no enthusiasm for the notion that the theft of the book is the Alchemist's motivation. Indeed, the faceless men are principled assassins and not thieves.
“The golden dragon of Westeros,” said the kindly man. “And how did you come by this? We are no thieves.”
“It wasn’t stealing. I took one of his, but I left him one of ours.”
(The ugly little Girl, ADwD)

So a mission of a faceless man consists in giving the Gift. If "Pate" needs to steal something, he will have to replace the stolen object by something equivalent, if we take as model Arya's behavior. Once again, it might be sufficient to get a copy of the book (unless the blood on the book has value). For a faceless man, the theft of an object could only be a means, not an end.

So the mystery of the nature and motivations of the alchemist remains. But I am particularly intrigued by the copper kettle.

Finally, it might be worth to recall the folk tales.
Spotted Pate the pig boy was the hero of a thousand ribald stories: a good-hearted, empty-headed lout who always managed to best the fat lordlings, haughty knights, and pompous septons who beset him. Somehow his stupidity would turn out to have been a sort of uncouth cunning; the tales always ended with Spotted Pate sitting on a lord’s high seat or bedding some knight’s daughter. But those were stories. In the real world pig boys never fared so well. Pate sometimes thought his mother must have hated him to have named him as she did.
(Prologue, AFfC)

Will "Pate" emulate his legendary namesake? I could certainly see a faceless man like Jaqen H'Gar accomplish extraordinary feats. A hint to keep in mind, at any rate.

9. The Cinnamon Wind

We first meet the Cinnamon Wind in Qarth.
When they entered, she was seated on a mound of cushions, her dragons all about her. The man he brought with him wore a cloak of green and yellow feathers and had skin as black as polished jet. “Your Grace,” the knight said, “I bring you Quhuru Mo, captain of the Cinnamon Wind out of Tall Trees Town.”
The black man knelt. “I am greatly honored, my queen,” he said; not in the tongue of the Summer Isles, which Dany did not know, but in the liquid Valyrian of the Nine Free Cities.
“The honor is mine, Quhuru Mo,” said Dany in the same language. “Have you come from the Summer Isles?”
“This is so, Your Grace, but before, not half a year past, we called at Oldtown. From there I bring you a wondrous gift.”
“A gift?”
“A gift of news. Dragonmother, Stormborn, I tell you true, Robert Baratheon is dead.” Outside her walls, dusk was settling over Qarth, but a sun had risen in Dany’s heart. “Dead?” she repeated. In her lap, black Drogon hissed, and pale smoke rose before her face like a veil. “You are certain? The Usurper is dead?”
“So it is said in Oldtown, and Dorne, and Lys, and all the other ports where we have called.”
He sent me poisoned wine, yet I live and he is gone. “What was the manner of his death?” On her shoulder, pale Viserion flapped wings the color of cream, stirring the air.
“Torn by a monstrous boar whilst hunting in his kingswood, or so I heard in Oldtown. Others say his queen betrayed him, or his brother, or Lord Stark who was his Hand. Yet all the tales agree in this: King Robert is dead and in his grave.”
Dany had never looked upon the Usurper’s face, yet seldom a day had passed when she had not thought of him. His great shadow had lain across her since the hour of her birth, when she came forth amidst blood and storm into a world where she no longer had a place. And now this ebony stranger had lifted that shadow.
“The boy sits the Iron Throne now,” Ser Jorah said.
“King Joffrey reigns,” Quhuru Mo agreed, “but the Lannisters rule. Robert’s brothers have fled King’s Landing. The talk is, they mean to claim the crown. And the Hand has fallen, Lord Stark who was King Robert’s friend. He has been seized for treason.”
“Ned Stark a traitor?” Ser Jorah snorted. “Not bloody likely. The Long Summer will come again before that one would besmirch his precious honor.”
“What honor could he have?” Dany said. “He was a traitor to his true king, as were these Lannisters.” It pleased her to hear that the Usurper’s dogs were fighting amongst themselves, though she was unsurprised. The same thing happened when her Drogo died, and his great khalasar tore itself to pieces. “My brother is dead as well, Viserys who was the true king,” she told the Summer Islander. “Khal Drogo my lord husband killed him with a crown of molten gold.” Would her brother have been any wiser, had he known that the vengeance he had prayed for was so close at hand?
“Then I grieve for you, Dragonmother, and for bleeding Westeros, bereft of its rightful king.”
Beneath Dany’s gentle fingers, green Rhaegal stared at the stranger with eyes of molten gold. When his mouth opened, his teeth gleamed like black needles. “When does your ship return to Westeros, Captain?”
“Not for a year or more, I fear. From here the Cinnamon Wind sails east, to make the trader’s circle round the jade Sea.”
“I see,” said Dany, disappointed. “I wish you fair winds and good trading, then. You have brought me a precious gift.”
“I have been amply repaid, great queen.”
She puzzled at that. “How so?”
His eyes gleamed. “I have seen dragons.”
Dany laughed. “And will see more of them one day, I hope. Come to me in King’s Landing when I am on my father’s throne, and you shall have a great reward.”
The Summer Islander promised he would do so, and kissed her lightly on the fingers as he took his leave.
(Daenerys II, ACoK)

Quhuru Mo can attest of two things: Daenerys has dragons and she will claim the Iron Throne.

Let's attempt to reconstrue the ship's itinerary. The Cinnamon Wind left Oldtown between the arrest of Ned Stark and his execution. When the ship called at Dorne, the Summer Islander didn't hear of Ned's death either. The ship wouldn't return to Oldtown for at least a year.

The Summer Islander know something about royalty in exile, since they have a pretender in King's Landing. Is the Cinnamon Wind the first ship to bring to Westeros the news?

In this analysis, we need to distinguish between dragons in Meereen and dragons in Qarth. The decision to go to Slaver's Bay and to settle in Meereen has been a sudden one, that it was not possible to foresee in Qarth. The news of Daenerys and her dragons in Meereen should have arrived in Westeros later.

We know that Illyrio has been informed swiftly in Pentos, since he sent a fleet to Daenerys in Qarth. He might have been alerted by Jorah Mormont's messages to Varys. Here is what Varys reports at court in King's Landing.
The eunuch drew a parchment from his sleeve. “A kraken has been seen off the Fingers.” He giggled. “Not a Greyjoy, mind you, a true kraken. It attacked an Ibbenese whaler and pulled it under. There is fighting on the Stepstones, and a new war between Tyrosh and Lys seems likely. Both hope to win Myr as ally. Sailors back from the jade Sea report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth, and is the wonder of that city -”
(Tyrion III, ASoS)
Of course, Varys does not tell half of what he knows, and nobody takes him seriously.

It is difficult to compare the journey of the Cinnamon Wind to other journeys. The Cinnamon Wind is swift and has met Daenerys early, but it takes a indirect route to return to Westeros.

Here are the ships seen later in Qarth by Daenerys.
“You require passage for a hundred Dothraki, all their horses, yourself and this knight, and three dragons?” said the captain of the great cog Ardent Friend before he walked away laughing. When she told a Lyseni on the Trumpeteer that she was Daenerys Stormborn, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, he gave her a deadface look and said, “Aye, and I’m Lord Tywin Lannister and shit gold every night.” The cargomaster of the Myrish galley Silken Spirit opined that dragons were too dangerous at sea, where any stray breath of flame might set the rigging afire. The owner of Lord Faro’s Belly would risk dragons, but not Dothraki. “I’ll have no such godless savages in my Belly, I’ll not.” The two brothers who captained the sister ships Quicksilver and Greyhound seemed sympathetic and invited them into the cabin for a glass of Arbor red. They were so courteous that Dany was hopeful for a time, but in the end the price they asked was far beyond her means, and might have been beyond Xaro’s. Pinchbottom Petto and Sloe-Eyed Maid were too small for her needs, Bravo was bound for the Jade Sea, and Magister Manolo scarce looked seaworthy.
(Daenerys V, ACoK)
The Sloe-Eyed Maid would reappear in Pentos much later.
“I do,” said the man who’d started all the talk of dragons, a Braavosi oarsman in a somber woolen jack. “When we were down to Pentos we moored beside a trader called the Sloe-Eyed Maid, and I got to drinking with her captain’s steward. He told me a pretty tale about some slip of a girl who come aboard in Qarth, to try and book passage back to Westeros for her and three dragons. Silver hair she had, and purple eyes. ‘I took her to the captain my own self,’ this steward swore to me, ‘but he wasn’t having none of that. There’s more profit in cloves and saffron, he tells me, and spices won’t set fire to your sails.’ ”
Laughter swept the cellar. Davos did not join in. He knew what had befallen the
Sloe-Eyed Maid.
(Davos II, ADwD)
Indeed, she has been wrecked in the Sisters.
“Aye. From Qarth. There’s pepper too.” Lord Godric took a pinch between his thumb and forefinger and sprinkled his own trencher. “Cracked black pepper from Volantis, nothing finer. Take as much as you require if you’re feeling peppery. I’ve got forty chests of it. Not to mention cloves and nutmeg, and a pound of saffron. Took it off a sloe-eyed maid.” He laughed. He still had all his teeth, Davos saw, though most of them were yellow and one on the top was black and dead. “She was making for Braavos, but a gale swept her into the Bite and she smashed up against some of my rocks. So you see, you are not the only gift the storms have brought me. The sea’s a treacherous cruel thing.”
(Davos I, ADwD)

We learn in passing how the news of Daenerys arrived in Volantis. All this happened much before Sam would reach Braavos and come across the Cinnamon Wind.

Based on the comparison with the Sloe-Eyed Maid, it would seem that the Cinnamon Wind could have returned to Dorne and Oldtown before it went to Braavos. As we have speculated already, Alleras could have been informed by the Cinnamon Wind in Oldtown before all the rumors arrived. However, the Cinnamon Wind could not report Daenerys' subsequent conquest of Meereen.

But Doran Martell knew of Daenerys' presence in Meereen before anybody else in Westeros. Indeed, Quentyn left Dorne before Tywin Lannister's death, with the knowledge that the Dragon Queen was ruling Meereen. Tywin's death is reported in White Harbor at the same time as the news of Daenerys in Qarth. Somehow the news came swiftly from Meereen to the Prince of Dorne.

The earliest information of Daenerys' presence in Meeren seems to occur in Oldtown.
You’d need to be down the belly yourself to swear they weren’t. One sailor with a story, aye, a man might laugh at that, but when oarsmen off four different ships tell the same tale in four different tongues...”
“The tales are not the same,” insisted Armen. “Dragons in Asshai, dragons in Qarth, dragons in Meereen, Dothraki dragons, dragons freeing slaves... each telling differs from the last.”
“Only in details.” Mollander grew more stubborn when he drank, and even when sober he was bullheaded. “All speak of dragons, and a beautiful young queen.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

However, aboard the Cinnamon Wind we have no sign of a stop in Oldtown since the return from Qarth. In fact we know nothing of the Cinnamon Wind's trade.

The Cinnamon Wind's people seem to be familiar to Oldtown. First they seem to know well Ser Gunthor Hightower, who speaks the Summer Tongue. They know exactly where to sell the books they have been given by Sam.
The only things of value that still remained to them were the books they had brought from the vaults of Castle Black. Sam parted with them glumly. “They were meant for the Citadel,” he said, when Xhondo asked him what was wrong. When the mate translated those words, the captain laughed. “Quhuru Mo says the grey men will be having these books still,” Xhondo told him, “only they will be buying them from Quhuru Mo. The maesters give good silver for books they are not having, and sometimes red and yellow gold.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Note that there are booksellers in Braavos. So the precious volumes could have been sold there. It doesn't seem Xhondo sold the books to Marwyn, but rather to the grey sheep, even though Marwyn is said to have business with the Summer Islanders.

I find particularly interesting Sam's rescue by the Xhondo. We first meet Xhondo at the Happy Port during Dareon's marriage to the Sailor's Wife.
Elsewhere an older woman with huge breasts was turning tiles with a massive Summer Islander in black-and-scarlet feathers. In the center of it all sat Dareon, nuzzling at the neck of the woman in his lap. She was wearing his black cloak.
(Samwell III, AFfC)
After the fight between Sam and Dareon, Sam is rescued by Xhondo.
When he opened his eyes he was on his back and a big black Summer Islander was pounding on his belly with fists the size of hams. Stop that, you’re hurting me, Sam tried to scream. Instead of words he retched out water, and gasped. He was sodden and shivering, lying on the cobbles in a puddle of canal water. The Summer Islander punched him in the belly again, and more water came squirting out his nose. “Stop that,” Sam gasped. “I haven’t drowned. I haven’t drowned.”
“No.” His rescuer leaned over him, huge and black and dripping. “You owe Xhondo many feathers. The water ruined Xhondo’s fine cloak.”
It had, Sam saw. The feathered cloak clung to the black man’s huge shoulders, sodden and soiled. “I never meant...”
“... to be swimming? Xhondo saw. Too much splashing. Fat men should float.” He grabbed Sam’s doublet with a huge black fist and hauled him to his feet. “Xhondo mates on Cinnamon Wind. Many tongues he speaks, a little. Inside Xhondo laughs, to see you punch the singer. And Xhondo hears.” A broad white smile spread across his face. “Xhondo knows these dragons.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)

It seems clear that Xhondo was a the Happy Port by accident and wasn't expecting Sam. Indeed, Sam had been wandering in Braavos in search of Dareon when he happened to come across Arya who told him about the marriage at the Happy Port. So it seems that only the mention of dragons in the argument with Daeron incited Xhondo to step in.
“Come with me,” said Sam. “Maester Aemon’s woken up and wants to hear about these dragons. He’s talking about bleeding stars and white shadows and dreams and... if we could find out more about these dragons, it might help give him ease. Help me.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)

So I find no reason to believe that the Cinnamon Wind came on purpose to Braavos to bring Aemon to Oldtown. But it is entirely possible that the ship brought the news of Daenerys in Qarth to Dorne and Oldtown.

The people of the Cinnamon Wind took the interesting initiative of preserving Maester Aemon's body in a cask of rum.

10. Aemon

Maester Aemon is merely a corpse when he reaches Oldtown. But I feel the necessity to look closely at the character.

Aemon is mentioned already in the prologue of AGoT. But here is answer after having thanked for having expressed the recognition of greatness in Tyrion Lannister.
“I have been called many things, my lord,” he said, “but kind is seldom one of them.”
(Tyrion III, AGoT)
We would hear Aemon's story later through Jon Snow.
“Who are you?” he asked quietly, almost in dread.
A toothless smile quivered on the ancient lips. “Only a maester of the Citadel, bound in service to Castle Black and the Night’s Watch. In my order, we put aside our house names when we take our vows and don the collar.” The old man touched the maester’s chain that hung loosely around his thin, fleshless neck. “My father was Maekar, the First of his Name, and my brother Aegon reigned after him in my stead. My grandfather named me for Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, who was his uncle, or his father, depending on which tale you believe. Aemon, he called me...”
(Jon VIII, AGoT)

This is after Aemon has mentioned the three ordeals of his life.
“Three times the gods saw fit to test my vows. Once when I was a boy, once in the fullness of my manhood, and once when I
had grown old. By then my strength was fled, my eyes grown dim, yet that last choice was as cruel as the first. My ravens would bring the news from the south, words darker than their wings, the ruin of my House, the death of my kin, disgrace and desolation. What could I have done, old, blind, frail? I was helpless as a suckling babe, yet still it grieved me to sit forgotten as they cut down my brother’s poor grandson, and his son, and even the little children...”
(Jon VIII, AGoT)
The story is told more completely by Lord Mormont.
“So he was. His father’s father was Daeron Targaryen, the Second of His Name, who brought Dorne into the realm. Part of the pact was that he wed a Dornish princess. She gave him four sons. Aemon’s father Maekar was the youngest of those, and Aemon was his third son. Mind you, all this happened long before I was born, ancient as Smallwood would make me.”
“Maester Aemon was named for the Dragonknight.”
“So he was. Some say Prince Aemon was King Daeron’s true father, not Aegon the Unworthy. Be that as it may, our Aemon lacked the Dragonknight’s martial nature. He likes to say he had a slow sword but quick wits. Small wonder his grandfather packed him off to the Citadel. He was nine or ten, I believe... and ninth or tenth in the line of succession as well.”
Maester Aemon had counted more than a hundred name days, Jon knew. Frail, shrunken, wizened, and blind, it was hard to imagine him as a little boy no older than Arya.
Mormont continued. “Aemon was at his books when the eldest of his uncles, the heir apparent, was slain in a tourney mishap. He left two sons, but they followed him to the grave not long after, during the Great Spring Sickness. King Daeron was also taken, so the crown passed to Daeron’s second son, Aerys.”
“The Mad King?” Jon was confused. Aerys had been king before Robert, that wasn’t so long ago.
“No, this was Aerys the First. The one Robert deposed was the second of that name.” “How long ago was this?”
“Eighty years or close enough,” the Old Bear said, “and no, I still hadn’t been born, though Aemon had forged half a dozen links of his maester’s chain by then. Aerys wed his own sister, as the Targaryens were wont to do, and reigned for ten or twelve years. Aemon took his vows and left the Citadel to serve at some lordling’s court... until his royal uncle died without issue. The Iron Throne passed to the last of King Daeron’s four sons. That was Maekar, Aemon’s father. The new king summoned all his sons to court and would have made Aemon part of his councils, but he refused, saying that would usurp the place rightly belonging to the Grand Maester. Instead he served at the keep of his eldest brother, another Daeron. Well, that one died too, leaving only a feeble-witted daughter as heir. Some pox he caught from a whore, I believe. The next brother was Aerion.”
“Aerion the Monstrous?” Jon knew that name. “The Prince Who Thought He Was a Dragon” was one of Old Nan’s more gruesome tales. His little brother Bran had loved it.
“The very one, though he named himself Aerion Brightflame. One night, in his cups, he drank a jar of wildfire, after telling his friends it would transform him into a dragon, but the gods were kind and it transformed him into a corpse. Not quite a year after, King Maekar died in battle against an outlaw lord.”
Jon was not entirely innocent of the history of the realm; his own maester had seen to that. “That was the year of the Great Council,” he said. “The lords passed over Prince Aerion’s infant son and Prince Daeron’s daughter and gave the crown to Aegon.”
“Yes and no. First they offered it, quietly, to Aemon. And quietly he refused. The gods meant for him to serve, not to rule, he told them. He had sworn a vow and would not break it, though the High Septon himself offered to absolve him. Well, no sane man wanted any blood of Aerion’s on the throne, and Daeron’s girl was a lackwit besides being female, so they had no choice but to turn to Aemon’s younger brother-Aegon, the Fifth of His Name. Aegon the Unlikely, they called him, born the fourth son of a fourth son. Aemon knew, and rightly, that if he remained at court those who disliked his brother’s rule would seek to use him, so he came to the Wall. And here he has remained, while his brother and his brother’s son and his son each reigned and died in turn, until Jaime Lannister put an end to the line of the Dragonkings.”
(Jon I, ACoK)

I do not wish to paint Aemon's attitude here as conspiratory or manipulative. But observe that he was in charge of Daeron's health when Daeron died of his sickness (conveniently dismissed as infamous) and of the feeble witted daughter as well. Of course Aerion's son was the legitimate heir to the throne. I do not see why having a mad father should disqualify him. Should Aerys II's children have been disqualified as well? (Well, this is exactly what happened). And half of the Targaryen monarchs were mentally deranged, it seems. I find the sentence: Well, no sane man wanted any blood of Aerion’s on the throne quite inperspicuous, considering that all the contenders for the throne were of Aerion's blood. I wonder which knowledgeable man, which trustworthy advisor gave Aerion the good advice of drinking a jar of wildfire.

The usurpation made the position of the next in line for the succession awkward, and might have incited Aemon to decline the Great Council's offer. At the same time, I feel that Aemon's attitude helped legitimate Aegon's position. Indeed, it made Aegon's crown seems a gift from a disinterested Aemon rather than a coup. Typical propaganda ploys. Indeed Egg was a dear brother to Aemon to the point of being the principal subject of Aemon's thoughts on his deathbedd. Has Aemon conspired to make his brother king? Nobody seems to complain about Aegon V's rule. So it might have been good for the realm.

The episode shows certainly that Aemon understands politics, and the means to prevail in a contested choosing.

If I didn't know that Aemon and Aegon had been so close, I would suggest that Aemon had been spared and sent to the Wall for some crime in exchange for declaring in favor of his brother Aegon.

That was the second of the three tests imposed to Aemon by the gods. The third one was at the downfall of House Targaryen. I am not certain what the first one was. This happened when Aemon was a boy. Since Aemon's vows have been tested, we can presume that he had already been ordered a maester. So I suppose he had been a man grown. Perhaps he had to separate from a mistress when he has been sent to serve the unnamed lordling.

We know when Aemon came to the Wall.
“I was not born blind,” he reminded them. “When last I passed this way, I saw every rock and tree and whitecap, and watched the grey gulls flying in our wake. I was five- and-thirty and had been a maester of the chain for sixteen years. Egg wanted me to help him rule, but I knew my place was here. He sent me north aboard the Golden Dragon, and insisted that his friend Ser Duncan see me safe to Eastwatch. No recruit had arrived at the Wall with so much pomp since Nymeria sent the Watch six kings in golden fetters. Egg emptied out the dungeons too, so I would not need to say my vows alone. My honor guard, he called them. One was no less a man than Brynden Rivers. Later he was chosen lord commander.”
(Samwell II, AFfC)

Once again Aemon tells a story that emphasizes his modesty. Note that nobody knows the true story. It might be that Aemon has been sent in exile by his brother. I would like to see an independent confirmation before accepting this version. It would have made entire sense to have sent Aemon to the Wall for exactly the reason we have been given. We will return later to Brynden Rivers.

A mutual esteem would develop between Jon Snow and Aemon, after Jon has made an impassionated plea for the need for diversity in the Watch with the help of some metaphor of Maester Luwin.
Maester Aemon closed his eyes, and for a brief moment Jon was afraid that he had gone to sleep. Finally he said, “Maester Luwin taught you well, Jon Snow. Your mind is as deft as your blade, it would seem.”
(Jon V, AGoT)

This is only time Aemon ever mentions Luwin. It seems that the two maesters never corresponded directly. We discussed already the role played by Luwin in sending Jon Snow to the Night's Watch. Aemon would take up from there.

Later it would seem Aemon had a hand in the nomination of Jon Snow among the stewards (of course that was done in accord with Lord Mormont).
“Certainly.” Marsh frowned at Jon’s tone. “And you will run his messages, keep a fire burning in his chambers, change his sheets and blankets daily, and do all else that the Lord Commander might require of YOU.”
“Do you take me for a servant?”
“No,” Maester Aemon said, from the back of the sept. Clydas helped him stand. “We took you for a man of Night’s Watch... but perhaps we were wrong in that.”
(Jon VI, AGoT)

Of course being the Lord Commander's steward paves the way to become later Lord Commander, as Aemon knows well and Jon has not realized yet. Let's look now at Jon's ascent in the Night's Watch.

When Jon comes back to Castle Black, he is encouraged to lead by Aemon.
“Tell him what you will,” said Maester Aemon, gently. “He will smile, nod, and forget. Thirty years ago Ser Wynton Stout came within a dozen votes of being Lord Commander. He would have made a fine one. Ten years ago he would still have been capable. No longer. You know that as well as Donal did, Jon.”
It was true. “You give the order, then,” Jon told the maester. “You have been on the Wall your whole life, the men will follow you. We have to close the gate.”
“I am a maester chained and sworn. My order serves, Jon. We give counsel, not commands.” “Someone must -”
“You. You must lead.”
“Yes, Jon. It need not be for long. Only until such time as the garrison returns. Donal chose you, and Qhorin Halfhand before him. Lord Commander Mormont made you his steward. You are a son of Winterfell, a nephew of Benjen Stark. It must be you or no one. The Wall is yours, Jon Snow.”
(Jon VIII, ASoS)
Later Aemon would defend Jon against the accusations of Janos Slynt and Alester Thorne.
“They are the gods of the north, Septon.” Maester Aemon was courteous, but firm. “My lords, when Donal Noye was slain, it was this young man Jon Snow who took the Wall and held it, against all the fury of the north. He has proved himself valiant, loyal, and resourceful. Were it not for him, you would have found Mance Rayder sitting here when you arrived, Lord Slynt. You are doing him a great wrong. Jon Snow was Lord Mormont’s own steward and squire. He was chosen for that duty because the Lord Commander saw much promise in him. As do I”
(Jon IX, ASoS)

After the battle is won at the Wall, the time comes to choose a new Lord Commander. In the first phase of the election, the situation seems locked between Janos Slynt, Cotter Pyke and Denys Mallister. Janos Slynt seems to be gaining ground slowly.
“The choosing... Maester, isn’t there something you could do? What the king said of Lord Janos...”
“I recall,” Maester Aemon said, “but Sam, I am a maester, chained and sworn. My duty is to counsel the Lord Commander, whoever he might be. It would not be proper for me to be seen to favor one contender over another.”
“I’m not a maester,” said Sam. “Could I do something?”
Aemon turned his blind white eyes toward Sam’s face, and smiled softy. “Why, I don’t know, Samwell. Could you?”
(Samwell V, ASoS)

It's already clear that Aemon incited Sam to intervene. Here is Cotter Pyke the moment Sam comes to see him.
“Aye, no doubt. Well, out with it, Slayer. Did the maester send you to me?”
“The maester?” Sam swallowed. “I... I just left him, my lord.”
(Samwell V, ASoS)
Here is now Sam's visit to Denys Mallister.
“My lord of Tarly,” he said, when his steward brought Sam to him in the Lance, where the Shadow Tower men were staying. “I am pleased to see that you’ve recovered from your ordeal. Might I offer you a cup of wine? Your lady mother is a Florent, I recall. One day I must tell you about the time I unhorsed both of your grandfathers in the same tourney. Not today, though, I know we have more pressing concerns. You come from Maester Aemon, to be sure. Does he have counsel to offer me?”
Sam took a sip of wine, and chose his words with care. “A maester chained and sworn... it would not be proper for him to be seen as having influenced the choice of Lord Commander...”
(Samwell V, ASoS)

Both Pyke and Mallister assume that Aemon is meddling with the election. Of course this is not fraud, just the type of backroom maneuvering that hardly make for fair politics.

Here is the conclusion of the election.
The kettle was in the comer by the hearth, a big black potbellied thing with two huge handles and a heavy lid. Maester Aemon said a word to Sam and Clydas and they went and grabbed the handles and dragged the kettle over to the table. A few of the brothers were already queueing up by the token barrels as Clydas took the lid off and almost dropped it on his foot. With a raucous scream and a clap of wings, a huge raven burst out of the kettle. It flapped upward, seeking the rafters perhaps, or a window to make its escape, but there were no rafters in the vault, nor windows either. The raven was trapped. Cawing loudly, it circled the hall, once, twice, three times. And Jon heard Samwell Tarly shout, “I know that bird! That’s Lord Mormont’s raven!”
The raven landed on the table nearest Jon. “Snow,” it cawed. it was an old bird, dirty and bedraggled. “Snow,” it said again, “Snow, snow, snow” It walked to the end of the table, spread its wings again, and flew to Jon’s shoulder.
Lord Janos Slynt sat down so heavily he made a thump, but Ser Alliser filled the vault with mocking laughter. “Ser Piggy thinks we’re all fools, brothers,” he said. “He’s taught the bird this little trick. They all say snow, go up to the rookery and hear for yourselves. Mormont’s bird had more words than that.”
(Jon XII, ASoS)

Ser Allister is misguided (or doesn't dare to accuse a centenarian). It's certainly Aemon who taught the bird the little trick. Of course it is possible that the bird is inhabited by Lord Brynden. In terms of fairness, I would say that the line has been crossed and Thorne and Slynt could legitimately complain. An independent electoral committee would cancel the election.

Did Aemon favor Jon Snow because of personal affinities, or for some other reason? Of course, Aemon was not part of the grey sheep and did not apply any recommendation from the Conclave. Since Aemon was close to Rhaegar, there is the remote chance that he knew or guessed something about Jon's parentage.

All that opens the question of the role played by Aemon in the choosing of his uncle Brynden Rivers as the Lord Commander of the Watch (and of the other lord commanders as well).

Perhaps it is appropriate to compare the choosing of the Lord Commander to the meeting of the Great Council that designated Maekar's successor. In both cases, Aemon managed to impose his will. One wonders whether some trick was played to impress the council for the choosing of Egg (a dragon egg that rolled miraculously at Egg's feet etc).

Aemon would later arrange being sent to Oldtown. It seems to have spread the rumor that Stannis would burn Mance's son.
Burning dead children had ceased to trouble Jon Snow; live ones were another matter. Two kings to wake the dragon. The father first and then the son, so both die kings. The words had been murmured by one of the queen’s men as Maester Aemon had cleaned his wounds. Jon had tried to dismiss them as his fever talking. Aemon had demurred. “There is power in a king’s blood,” the old maester had warned, “and better men than Stannis have done worse things than this.”
(Jon I, ADwD)

Note that Aemon reported the queen's man words. In effect, Melisandre had no real interest in burning Mance and never suggested to burn the baby. Even Jon is aware of Aemon's agency.
Sam seemed to sag. “As my lord commands. Does ... does Maester Aemon know?”
“It was as much his idea as mine.”
(Jon II, ADwD)

It seems that Aemon played no role in the baby switch, even if he realized early that the baby is not Gilly's aboard the Blackbird.
“She nursed them both and loved them both,” said Aemon, “but not alike. No mother loves all her children the same, not even the Mother Above. Gilly did not leave the child willingly, I am certain. What threats the Lord Commander made, what promises, I can only guess... but threats and promises there surely were.”
(Samwell II, AFfC)

That is all for Aemon's agency. We can ask why the old maester intended to undertake the journey to Oldtown. Of course, there is the nostalghia for his youth.
“It is always warm in Oldtown. There is an inn on an island in the Honeywine where I used to go when I was a young novice. It will be pleasant to sit there once again, sipping cider.”
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Here is the memory coming up again.
“Oldtown,” Maester Aemon wheezed. “Yes. I dreamt of Oldtown, Sam. I was young again and my brother Egg was with me, with that big knight he served. We were drinking in the old inn where they make the fearsomely strong cider.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)
It might just be that Aemon has always resented being at the Wall. This is the first opportunity in his lifetime.

However, Melisandre has awakened Aemon's interest in saviors and prophecies.
“You are.” The woman rose in a swirl of scarlet silk, her long copperbright hair tumbling about her shoulders. “Swords alone cannot hold this darkness back. Only the light of the Lord can do that. Make no mistake, good sers and valiant brothers, the war we’ve come to fight is no petty squabble over lands and honors. Ours is a war for life itself, and should we fail the world dies with us.”
The officers did not know how to take that, Sam could see. Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck exchanged a doubtful look, Janos Slynt was fuming, and Three-Finger Hobb looked as though he would sooner be back chopping carrots. But all of them seemed surprised to hear Maester Aemon murmur, “It is the war for the dawn you speak of, my lady. But where is the prince that was promised?”
“He stands before you,” Melisandre declared, “though you do not have the eyes to see. Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai come again, the warrior of fire. In him the prophecies are fulfilled. The red comet blazed across the sky to herald his coming, and he bears Lightbringer, the red sword of heroes.”
(Samwell V, ASoS)
Aemon would ask to see Stannis' sword.
Maester Aemon smiled. “Your Grace,” he said, “before we go, I wonder if you would do us the great honor of showing us this wondrous blade we have all heard so very much of.”
“You want to see Lightbringer? A blind man?”
“Sam shall be my eyes.”
The king frowned. “Everyone else has seen the thing, why not a blind man?” His swordbelt and scabbard hung from a peg near the hearth. He took the belt down and drew the longsword out. Steel scraped against wood and leather, and radiance filled the solar; shimmering, shifting, a dance of gold and orange and red light, all the bright colors of fire.
“Tell me, Samwell.” Maester Aemon touched his arm.
“It glows,” said Sam, in a hushed voice. “As if it were on fire. There are no flames, but the steel is yellow and red and orange, all flashing and glimmering, like sunshine on water, but prettier. I wish you could see it, Maester.”
“I see it now, Sam. A sword full of sunlight. So lovely to behold.” The old man bowed stiffly. “Your Grace. My lady. This was most kind of you.”
When King Stannis sheathed the shining sword, the room seemed to grow very dark, despite the sunlight streaming through the window. “Very well, you’ve seen it. You may return to your duties now. And remember what I said. Your brothers will chose a Lord Commander tonight, or I shall make them wish they had.”
Maester Aemon was lost in thought as Sam helped him down the narrow turnpike stair. But as they were crossing the yard, he said, “I felt no heat. Did you, Sam?”
“Heat? From the sword?” He thought back. “The air around it was shimmering, the way it does above a hot brazier.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
That would lead to Aemon's final counsel to Jon.
“Lord Snow,” Maester Aemon called, “I left a book for you in my chambers. The Jade Compendium. It was written by the Volantene adventurer Colloquo Votar, who traveled to the east and visited all the lands of the Jade Sea. There is a passage you may find of interest. I’ve told Clydas to mark it for you.”
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Here is the passage of the Jade Compedium.
“He would know.” Aemon Targaryen had seen nine kings upon the Iron Throne. He had been a king’s son, a king’s brother, a king’s uncle. “I looked at that book Maester Aemon left me. The Jade Compendium. The pages that told of Azor Ahai. Lightbringer was his sword. Tempered with his wife’s blood if Votar can be believed. Thereafter Lightbringer was never cold to the touch, but warm as Nissa Nissa had been warm. In battle the blade burned fiery hot. Once Azor Ahai fought a monster. When he thrust the sword through the belly of the beast, its blood began to boil. Smoke and steam poured from its mouth, its eyes melted and dribbled down its cheeks, and its body burst into flame.”
(Jon III, ADwD)

It seems that the Prince that was Promised, and his alter ego Azor Ahai, has occupied Aemon's mind in his isolation at the Wall. And interestingly, Aemon had been in correspondence with Rhaegar. Rhaegar was born on the very day of Egg's demise at Summerhall. Recall that Egg was Aemon's favorite family member. Did Aemon believe in the transmigration of souls? In any case, Rhaegar might have inherited the affection Aemon had for his brother.
“No one ever looked for a girl,” he said. “It was a prince that was promised, not a princess. Rhaegar, I thought... the smoke was from the fire that devoured Summerhall on the day of his birth, the salt from the tears shed for those who died. He shared my belief when he was young, but later he became persuaded that it was his own son who fulfilled the prophecy, for a comet had been seen above King’s Landing on the night Aegon was conceived, and Rhaegar was certain the bleeding star had to be a comet. What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years. Daenerys is the one, born amidst salt and smoke. The dragons prove it.” Just talking of her seemed to make him stronger. “I must go to her. I must. Would that I was even ten years younger.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)
But Aemon has corresponded with the archmaesters as well.
“You must tell them, Sam,” he said. “The archmaesters. You must make them understand. The men who were at the Citadel when I was have been dead for fifty years. These others never knew me. My letters... in Oldtown, they must have read like the ravings of an old man whose wits had fled. You must convince them, where I could not. Tell them, Sam... tell them how it is upon the Wall... the wights and the white walkers, the creeping cold...”
“I will,” Sam promised. “I will add my voice to yours, maester. We will both tell them, the two of us together.”
“No,” the old man said. “It must be you. Tell them. The prophecy... my brother’s dream... Lady Melisandre has misread the signs. Stannis... Stannis has some of the dragon blood in him, yes.
His brothers did as well. Rhaelle, Egg’s little girl, she was how they came by it... their father’s mother... she used to call me Uncle Maester when she was a little girl. I remembered that, so I allowed myself to hope... perhaps I wanted to... we all deceive ourselves, when we want to believe. Melisandre most of all, I think. The sword is wrong, she has to know that... light without heat... an empty glamor... the sword is wrong, and the false light can only lead us deeper into darkness, Sam. Daenerys is our hope. Tell them that, at the Citadel. Make them listen. They must send her a maester. Daenerys must be counseled, taught, protected. For all these years I’ve lingered, waiting, watching, and now that the day has dawned I am too old. I am dying, Sam.” Tears ran from his blind white eyes at that admission. “Death should hold no fear for a man as old as me, but it does. Isn’t that silly? It is always dark where I am, so why should I fear the darkness? Yet I cannot help but wonder what will follow, when the last warmth leaves my body. Will I feast forever in the Father’s golden hall as the septons say? Will I talk with Egg again, find Dareon whole and happy, hear my sisters singing to their children? What if the horselords have the truth of it? Will I ride through the night sky forever on a stallion made of flame? Or must I return again to this vale of sorrow? Who can say, truly? Who has been beyond the wall of death to see? Only the wights, and we know what they are like. We know.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Of course, it is entirely possible that Aemon's letters to the Citadel had been the most serious consideration. Does Aemon mean Dareon or Daeron? (misprint) If it is Daeron, which Daeron?

Does the sentence Daenerys is our hope refer to the threat beyond the Wall? Maester Aemon had mentioned confusely Daenerys in Braavos.
He spoke of dreams and never named the dreamer, of a glass candle that could not be lit and eggs that would not hatch. He said the sphinx was the riddle, not the riddler, whatever that meant. He asked Sam to read for him from a book by Septon Barth, whose writings had been burned during the reign of Baelor the Blessed. Once he woke up weeping. “The dragon must have three heads,” he wailed, “but I am too old and frail to be one of them. I should be with her, showing her the way, but my body has betrayed me.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Maester Aemon began to be obsessed with dragons during his final days in Braavos, after hearing the reports on Daenerys.
“Then go in my stead,” Aemon urged, “and bring me someone who has seen these dragons.”
“Me?” Sam was dismayed by the suggestion. “Maester, it was only a story. A sailor’s story.” Dareon was to blame for this as well. The singer had been bringing back all manner of queer tales from the alehouses and brothels. Unfortunately, he had been in his cups when he heard the one about the dragons and could not recall the details. “Dareon may have made up the whole story. Singers do that. They make things up.”
“They do,” said Maester Aemon, “but even the most fanciful song may hold a kernel of truth. Find that truth for me, Sam.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)
Sam seems unimpressed.
“Dragons,” Aemon whispered. “The grief and glory of my House, they were.”
“The last dragon died before you were born,” said Sam. “How could you remember them?” “I see them in my dreams, Sam. I see a red star bleeding in the sky. I still remember red. I see their shadows on the snow, hear the crack of leathern wings, feel their hot breath. My brothers dreamed of dragons too, and the dreams killed them, every one. Sam, we tremble on the cusp of half-remembered prophecies, of wonders and terrors that no man now living could hope to comprehend... or...”
“Or?” said Sam.
“... or not.” Aemon chuckled softly. “Or I am an old man, feverish and dying.” He closed his white eyes wearily, then forced them open once again. “I should not have left the Wall. Lord Snow could not have known, but I should have seen it. Fire consumes, but cold preserves. The Wall... but it is too late to go running back. The Stranger waits outside my door and will not be denied. Steward, you have served me faithfully. Do this one last brave thing for me. Go down to the ships, Sam. Learn all you can about these dragons.”
(Samwell III, AFfC)
Here is the state of Maester Aemon as he reached Oldtown.
He will still burn, Sam thought miserably, only now I have to do it. The Targaryens always gave their fallen to the flames. Quhuru Mo would not allow a funeral pyre aboard the Cinnamon Wind, so Aemon’s corpse had been stuffed inside a cask of blackbelly rum to preserve it until the ship reached Oldtown.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)
Marwyn the Mage formulates a problem for us.
Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Marwyn offers an answer: Aemon's blood. Indeed we saw that Aemon's primary's interest was the good of his family, as testified by his final thoughts. But I find also in Ameon a maester of the sort described by Marwyn and Barbrey Dustin: a skilled manipulator operating with the belief on being on the side of the greater good. Perhaps, in addition to his blood, the men of the Citadel realized how smart and dangerous Aemon was.

11. Gilly

Gilly would seem to be a simple character. Here she is the first time Jon talks to her.
“Gilly, he called me. For the gillyflower.”
“That’s pretty.” He remembered Sansa telling him once that he should say that whenever a lady told him her name. He could not help the girl, but perhaps the courtesy would please her. “Is it Craster who frightens you, Gilly?”
“For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he started giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till... She lowered her eyes and stroked her belly.
“What gods?” Jon was remembering that they’d seen no boys in Craster’s Keep, nor men either, save Craster himself.
“The cold gods,” she said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”
(Jon III, ACoK)

Gilly is born in a terrifying world, which happens to be in its twilight. Craster can't keep up with the demands of the Others. Note that the old gods do not seem to count at Craster's keep, where no heart tree, no weirwood face is to be found. (Craster was originally from Whitetree, where a huge carved weirwood dominates the village.) So Gilly did not grow up in the traditional faith of the old gods.

Gilly seems the first among Craster's wives to have realized the necessity of escape.

Gilly has been extremely effective in her approach of Sam. She managed to bypass Craster's interdiction of communication, borrowed Sam's cloak, identified Jon as a Stark and managed to approach him as well.
He found Sam behind the hall, standing with Gilly at the broken rabbit hutch. She was helping him back into his cloak, but when she saw Jon she stole away. Sam gave him a look of wounded reproach. “I thought you would help her.”
“And how was I to do that?” Jon said sharply. “Take her with us, wrapped up in your cloak? We were commanded not to-”
“I know,” said Sam guiltily, “but she was afraid. I know what it is to be afraid. I told her...” He swallowed.
“What? That we’d take her with us?”
Sam’s fat face blushed a deep red. “On the way home.” He could not meet Jon’s eyes. “She’s going to have a baby.”
“Sam, have you taken leave of all your sense? We may not even return this way. And if we do, do you think the Old Bear is going to let you pack off one of Craster’s wives?”
“I thought... maybe by then I could think of a way.”
(Jon III, ACoK)
We see Gilly again after the defeat of the Watch at the Fist.
His wives and daughters dragged out the benches and the long log tables, and cooked and served as well. Except for Gilly, Sam could hardly tell the women apart. Some were old and some were young and some were only girls, but a lot of them were Craster’s daughters as well as his wives, and they all looked sort of alike. As they went about their work, they spoke in soft voices to each other, but never to the men in black.
(Samwell II, ASoS)

This seem to imply that Gilly is somewhat physically different from the other women of the keep, and hasn't been affected so much by the inbreeding. I rather think the perceived difference reflects Sam's attachment.

Gilly and the other wives implore Sam for help.
Gilly was crying. “Me and the babe. Please. I’ll be your wife, like I was Craster’s. Please, ser crow. He’s a boy, just like Nella said he’d be. If you don’t take him, they will.”
“They?” said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, “They They They”
“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.”
(Samwell II, ASoS)

Since Gilly's son would never end up in Oldtown, I will not insist on the importance of that particular baby. But why did all Craster's wives insisted on saving him rather than saving themselves. They seem to fear for the boy only. We don't know what happened afterwards. It seems the men that conducted the mutiny against Lord Momont were later transformed into wights. Craster's wives might still reside at the keep. But as far as we know, Gilly is the sole survivor of Craster's world. No one else alive might know as much as she does about the Others.

It is worth noting that the Others feel entitled to the baby.

Gillys's fate would end up in Sam's hand afterwards. The long march to the Wall, Coldhands, the Black Gate, Bran, the return to Castle Black. We don't know why Coldhands saved Gilly, Sam and the baby. Did Coldhands need a baby for the exchange with Bran at the Black Gate? Was the exchange important for some reason?

Gilly relied entirely on Sam's interest in her for her survival. I shall stress that it is unnatural for any brother of the Watch to be the protector of a wildling woman, even less for a wife of Craster. Moreover, Sam is highborn, and should not meddle with wildlings, who aren't even the smallfolk. The story might be cute, but it is weird. We know of no other love interest of Sam, except that he is intimidated by Val, and Sam was the only brother of the Watch paying any mind to Gilly. So it is an exclusive relationship.

Moreover the relation is one-sided. Gilly has thoroughly dependent on Sam. A purely rational view of this situation would make of Gilly a shrewd manipulator. But we only see her through Sam's eyes. Sam assumes that his naïve and candid view of Gilly is reciprocated. Is that the case in reality? We know nothing of Gilly's feeling towards Sam. What will happen when Gilly will find other perspectives in life?

In particular, Gilly might carry ill will towards Jon and the Night's Watch for having separated her from her baby.

Sam's attraction to Gilly started as sentimental and soon becomes erotic.
Gilly’s presence always flustered him and gave rise to... well, risings. A Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch should not be feeling the sorts of things that Gilly made him feel, especially when she would talk about her breasts and...
(Samwell I, AFfC)

After the exchange of babies, Gilly is heartbroken aboard the Blackbird. But she proves a good mother to Mance's son, despite the seasickness, the separation from her son, Aemon's death, Dareon's betrayal, and so many other difficulties.
Dalla’s babe began to cry. Gilly pulled open her tunic and gave the boy her breast. She smiled as he nursed, and stroked his soft brown hair. She has come to love this one as much as the one she left behind, Sam realized. He hoped that the gods would be kind to both of the children.
(Samwell V, AFfC)
Gilly would remind us of the old gods at the end of the journey.
“The trees watch over us,” Gilly whispered, brushing the tears from his cheeks. “In the forest, they see all... but there are no trees here. Only water, Sam. Only water.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

It seems that the bond between Sam and Gilly became stronger after they got carnally acquainted. Of course, Gilly insisted that Sam would come to her bed.

As the Blackbird approaches Oldtown, Sam ponders what to do with Gilly.
He wrestled with his doubts through the rest of the voyage, wondering what to do. He could keep Gilly with him in Oldtown, he supposed. The city’s walls were much more formidable than those of his father’s castle, and had thousands of men to defend them, as opposed to the handful Lord Randyll would have left at Horn Hill when he marched to Highgarden to answer his liege lord’s summons. If he did, though, he would need to hide her somehow; the Citadel did not permit its novices to keep wives or paramours, at least not openly. Besides, if I stay with Gilly very much longer, how will I ever find the strength to leave her? He had to leave her, or desert. I said the words, Sam reminded himself. If I desert, it will mean my head, and how will that help Gilly?
He considered begging Kojja Mo and her father to take the wildling girl with them to the Summer Isles. That path had its perils too, however. When the Cinnamon Wind left Oldtown, she would need to cross the Redwyne Straits again, and this time she might not be so fortunate. What if the wind died, and the Summer Islanders found themselves becalmed? If the tales he’d heard were true, Gilly would be carried off for a thrall or salt wife, and the babe was like to be chucked into the sea as a nuisance.
It has to be Horn Hill, Sam finally decided. Once we reach Oldtown I’ll hire a wagon and some horses and take her there myself. That way he could make certain of the castle and its garrison, and if any part of what he saw or heard gave him pause, he could just turn around and bring Gilly back to Oldtown.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

If we recall GRRM's writing habits, a list of alternatives under consideration should translate into a list of things that will not happen. So Gilly will not remain in Oldtown. She will not go to Horn Hill. She will not be taken by the Ironmen. Of course, I might be completely mistaken. But let's consider another option.

When he landed in Oldtown, Sam temporarily left Gilly aboard the Cinnamon Wind.
“Can Gilly stay aboard till I return?”
“Gilly can stay as long as she likes.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Since Marwyn the Mage declares his intention to leave Oldtown at once aboard this ship, he might take the wildling woman along. Leaving aside the world of the Others that Gilly knows, a dying wish proferred at Craster's Keep could reach Slaver's Bay via her presence aboard.
His breathing was very shallow now, his voice a whisper. “Tell my son. Jorah. Tell him, take the black. My wish. Dying wish.”
(Samwell II, ASoS)

But perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about Gilly is that she has lived her life in a world dominated by the Others, having thus a foretaste of what could await the realm.

12. The Little Prince

Mance and Dalla's son comes from a world completely different from Gilly's. Mance and Craster had nothing in common, and Craster declined to join Mance's gathering in the Frostfangs. Mance based his kingship on the need to fight or escape the Others, while Craster was still giving offerings to his cold gods.

I have examined Mance in depth elsewhere. I am just going to recall the essential points. Here are Mance's emblems as King beyond the Wall (beside the personal cloak with the red silk, which has nothing to do with Mance's kingship).
There was no doubting which tent was the king’s. It was thrice the size of the next largest he’d seen, and he could hear music drifting from within. Like many of the lesser tents it was made of sewn hides with the fur still on, but Mance Rayder’s hides were the shaggy white pelts of snow bears. The peaked roof was crowned with a huge set of antlers from one of the giant elks that had once roamed freely throughout the Seven Kingdoms, in the times of the First Men.
(Jon I, ASoS)
Beneath his slashed cloak of black wool and red silk he wore black ringmail and shaggy fur breeches, and on his head was a great bronze-and-iron helm with raven wings at either temple.
(Jon II, ASoS)

Elks and ravens are Coldhands' animal, that is Lord Brynden's animals. They are both intimately related to the children of the forest (the green men who guard the Isle of Faces ride elks, or so the songs tell us, and Lord Brynden has revealed to Bran that ravens are inhabited by the children of the forest).

Above all, Mance has married Della. Della is a mysterious character. Inded, she seems wise and learned, and even polished in her language for a wildling. But no hint is given either of her origin or her family. That has led me to speculate a number of things. We learn something significant later when Val returns to Castle Black.
Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. Her breath was white as well ... but her eyes were blue, her long braid the color of dark honey, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. It had been a long while since Jon Snow had seen a sight so lovely.
(Jon XI, ADwD)
Of great interest is the pin at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face. We learn later.
These clothes were given to me by Dalla, I would sooner not get bloodstains all over them.
(Jon XI, ADwD)

The weirwood face reminds us unmistakenly again of the children of the forest. Mance kingship seems to have been blessed by the children of the forest. Of course kingship is not hereditary for the wildlings. But it seems Mance's son remained important after Mance's demise. And Val has taken a keen interest in Mance and Della's son.
The wildling woman Val turned to face them. “I’ve heard the queen’s men saying that the red woman means to give Mance to the fire, as soon as he is strong enough.”
(Jon XI, ASoS)
And then.
“Your Grace, you spoke of Val. She has asked to see Mance Rayder, to bring his son to him. it would be a... a kindness.”
“The man is a deserter from your order. Your brothers are all insisting on his death. Why should I do him a kindness?”
Jon had no answer for that. “If not for him, for Val. For her sister’s sake, the child’s mother.”
(Jon XI, ASoS)
Later Val would insist again.
“I will.” Sam hesitated. “My lord, if I might ask... I saw Gilly leaving. She was almost crying.” “Val sent her to plead for Mance again.”
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Interestingly, Val even communicated with Maester Aemon.
Sam had only spoken to Val twice, when Maester Aemon called upon her to make sure the babes were healthy.
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Here is another attempt to save Mance.
“Is it Mance? Val begged the king to spare him. She said she’d let some kneeler marry her and never slit his throat if only Mance could live. That Lord o’Bones, he’s to be spared. Craster always swore he’d kill him if he ever showed his face about the keep. Mance never did half the things he done.”
(Jon II, ADwD)

Finally Val would accept to participate in Melisandre ceremony at the Wall. We can presume it was negociated with Melisandre in exchange for Mance's life. It seems the idea of switching babies comes from Val. Indeed, we saw that the Oldtown journey was largely Aemon's notion. It seems Val has her responsability as well for spreading the notion that Melisandre would burn Mance's son.
“Or else she might have burned him. The red woman.” Even here, a thousand leagues from the Wall, Gilly was reluctant to say Lady Melisandre’s name aloud. “She wanted king’s blood for her fires. Val knew she did. Lord Snow too. That was why they made me take Dalla’s babe away and leave my own behind in his place. Maester Aemon went to sleep and didn’t wake up, but if he had stayed, she would have burned him.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

So Val has been part of the ploy to exchange the babies. As we discussed already, there no clear sign that Aemon has played a part in this deception.

We can wonder if Val had something more precise in mind when she sent Mance's son so far away. Mance might have met the famous harpist Orland of Oldtown in Winterfell. Is it possible that he would entrust him with his son? In any case, it doesn't seem Val and Mance could communicate before Sam's departure from Castle Black.

If Mance was king under the auspices of the children of the forest, it is likely that he was looked favorably upon by Lord Brynden. Gilly reminded us that the old gods do not see what happens over the ocean. But, there are ravens in Oldtown, and even a heart tree. Therefore Lord Brynden should be able to watch the events there, and even, perhaps, to watch over Mance's son.

Several birds are noted in Oldtown. Here is one at the Quill and Tankard.
In the apple tree beside the water, a nightingale began to sing.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Here are others at the crossroads.
The path divided where the statue of King Daeron the First sat astride his tall stone horse, his sword lifted toward Dorne. A seagull was perched on the Young Dragon’s head, and two more on the blade.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

We discussed already the possibility that Marwyn the Mage would leave Oldtown with Gilly, the baby could come along. But it seems, that the baby would be taken care of aboard even if Gilly were to remain on land.
“The night before he died, he asked if he might hold the babe,” Gilly went on. “I was afraid he might drop him, but he never did. He rocked him and hummed a song for him, and Dalla’s boy reached up and touched his face. The way he pulled his lip I thought he might be hurting him, but it only made the old man laugh.” She stroked Sam’s hand. “We could name the little one Maester, if you like. When he’s old enough, not now. We could.”
“Maester is not a name. You could call him Aemon, though.”
Gilly thought about that. “Dalla brought him forth during battle, as the swords sang all around her. That should be his name. Aemon Battleborn. Aemon Steelsong.”
A name even my lord father might like. A warrior’s name. The boy was Mance Rayder’s son and Craster’s grandson, after all. He had none of Sam’s craven blood. “Yes. Call him that.”
“When he is two,” she promised, “not before.”
“Where is the boy?” Sam thought to ask. Between rum and sorrow, it had taken him that long to realize that Gilly did not have the babe with her.
“Kojja has him. I asked her to take him for a while.”
“Oh.” Kojja Mo was the captain’s daughter, taller than Sam and slender as a spear, with skin as black and smooth as polished jet. She captained the ship’s red archers too, and pulled a double- curved goldenheart bow that could send a shaft four hundred yards. When the pirates had attacked them in the Stepstones, Kojja’s arrows had slain a dozen of them whilst Sam’s own shafts were falling in the water. The only thing Kojja Mo loved better than her bow was bouncing Dalla’s boy upon her knee and singing to him in the Summer Tongue. The wildling prince had become the darling of all the women in the crew, and Gilly seemed to trust them with him as she had never trusted any man.
“That was kind of Kojja,” Sam said.
“I was afraid of her at first,” said Gilly. “She was so black, and her teeth were so big and white, I was afraid she was a beastling or a monster, but she’s not. She’s good. I like her.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Could it be that Aemon Steelsong would travel to Slaver's Bay with Marwyn the Mage, and be taken care of by the Summer Islanders?

Let's return briefly to the naming convention of the wildlings.
“Don’t you name him. Don’t you do that, till he’s past two years. It’s ill luck to name them when they’re still on the breast. You crows may not know that, but it’s true.”
(Jon II, ADwD)

The tradition may owe to the large number of death in infancy in the wildlings' savage world. But, there might be another reason we do not know about. Of course, Gilly's life at Craster's keep suggests a sinister explanation: infants are at riks of being given to the cold gods until the age of two.

The Targaryen name Aemon is very suggestive. In the Seven Kingdoms, Targaryen names were sometime given to attract to favors of the reigning dynasty. There is no reason to name the baby in such a way. Could it be that the baby has Targaryen blood? That would mean that either Della, Mance or Craster is somehow a Targaryen. We know that a Targaryen knight has been assigned to the Wall more than a hundred years ago (there is a shield with a dragon in the Shieldhall at Castle Black). Craster's practice of incest might be inspired by the Targaryen custom.

It is incomprehensible that Sam says that the baby is Craster's grandson. That would mean either that Della was Craster's daughter or that Mance was Craster's son.

Wildlings and kneelers alike sing for their newborns. Sam sang to Gilly's son just after fleeing Craster's keep. Val sang to that baby again.
“Craster’s son?” Val shrugged. “He is no kin to me.”
“I have heard you singing to him.”
“I was singing to myself. Am I to blame if he listens?”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)

Neither Gilly, nor Sam ever sang to Mance's son during the journey. But the baby heard plenty of songs aboard the Blackbird.
It was more pleasant out in the open air, especially when Dareon was singing. The singer was known to Blackbird’s oarsmen, and would play for them as they rowed. He knew all their favorite songs: sad ones like “The Day They Hanged Black Robin,” “The Mermaid’s Lament,” and “Autumn of My Day,” rousing ones like “Iron Lances” and “Seven Swords for Seven Sons,” bawdy ones like “Milady’s Supper,” “Her Little Flower,” and “Meggett Was a Merry Maid, a Merry Maid Was She.” When he sang “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” all the oarsmen joined in, and Blackbird seemed to fly across the water. Dareon had not been much of a swordsman, Sam knew from their days training under Alliser Thorne, but he had a beautiful voice. “Honey poured over thunder,” Maester Aemon had once called it. He played woodharp and fiddle too, and even wrote his own songs... though Sam did not think them very good.
(Samwell II, AFfC)
That seems important somehow.

13. Sam

While we are talking about Dareon. I will not insist to much on this. But GRRM has been hard on the character. If we believe his tale, he has been unjustly accused of raping (or seducing) Lord Rowan's daughter, and sent to the Wall. There he had no choice but to swear his vows. Considering these circumstances, how can Dareon be blamed for wishing to escape a life on the Wall that wasn't his choice and that he didn't deserve?

Let's leave aside Dareon's odious expression of his sentiments (his dislike of the baby, his abandonment of Aemon, his contempt for Gilly, his arrivism, his condescension for Samwell Tarly, his betrayal of Jon's trust, his disinterest in the mission of the Watch). None of that should make him deserving of death. Eventually, Dareon has been given the gift by Arya, a proper retribution for breaking one's vows. But justice?

Samwell Tarly will not be studied systematically here. We will just recall disparate elements.

As a son of house Tarly, Sam recalls that his father.
He doesn’t understand. “My lord,” Sam said, “my f-f-f-father, Lord Randyll, he, he, he, he, he... the life of a maester is a life of servitude.” He was babbling, he knew. “No son of House Tarly will ever wear a chain. The men of Horn Hill do not bow and scrape to petty lords.” If it is chains you want, come with me. “Jon, I cannot disobey my father.”
(Samwell I, AFfC)

It seems even a family tradition to have contempt for the Citadel. It is never said whether Lord Randyll employs the service of a maester.

That might be the reason why Lord Randyll is so disliked in Oldtown.
Lord Randyll Tarly was known in Oldtown, but little loved. Sam did not know which would be worse: to be recognized by one of his lord father’s enemies or by one of his friends.
(Samwell V, AFfC)
We do not know who the enemies are. The Hightowers?

Note that Samwell has family in the City. Indeed, Lord Leyton Hightower's fourth wife, Lady Rhea, is the sister of Sam's mother. Moreover, Lord Alekyne Florent is their brother and has taken refuge at her sister's place from the Tyrell. So Sam can expect to find support in the City. It's curious that he never thinks of these relatives when he arrives in Oldtown, is it because the Hightowers are not on friendly terms with the Tarlys. (No bannerman of house Hightower has joined Lord Randyll's host in the Riverlands.) More generally Sam never brings up his Florent parentage.

Another episode from Sam's childhood might find a resonance soon.
“One time,” Sam confided, his voice dropping from a whisper, “two men came to the castle, warlocks from Qarth with white skin and blue lips. They slaughtered a bull aurochs and made me bathe in the hot blood, but it didn’t make me brave as they’d promised. I got sick and retched. Father had them scourged.”
(Jon IV, AGoT)
Inded, Euron has warlocks from Qarth on his Silence.

In connection to Oldtown, after the Conquest of Maidenpool, Randyll Tarly has contol of the town and of the harbor. Among the ships that call at Maidenpool, Brienne comes across the Seastrider.
She purchased Podrick an orange on the Seastrider, a cog just in from Oldtown by way of Tyrosh, Pentos, and Duskendale. “Gulltown next,” her captain told her, “thence around the Fingers to Sisterton and White Harbor, if the storms allow. She’s a clean ship, ’Strider, not so many rats as most, and we’ll have fresh eggs and new-churned butter aboard. Is m’lady seeking passage north?”
(Brienne V, AFfC)

I suspect that the Seastrider belongs to House Tarly. The name of the ship recalls the striding huntsman that is the sigil of the house. The cog might simply has transported goods and men from Horn Hill. However, I will begin what would be an interesting discussion about that ship here.

It is worthwile to mention a little treasure brought by Sam.
Maester Aemon was too frail to ride a horse, so a wayn had been made ready for him, its bed heaped high with furs, and a leather awning fastened overhead to keep off the rain and snow. Gilly and her child would ride with him. The second wayn would carry their clothing and possessions, along with a chest of rare old books that Aemon thought the Citadel might lack. Sam had spent half the night searching for them, though he’d found only one in four. And a good thing, or we’d need another wayn.
(Samwell I, AFfC)
Sam has to sell the books to the Summer Islander to pay for his passage.
“Quhuru Mo says the grey men will be having these books still,” Xhondo told him, “only they will be buying them from Quhuru Mo. The maesters give good silver for books they are not having, and sometimes red and yellow gold.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

We do not know to which maester the books have been sold. It might be to the library of the Citadel. Only one book seems ever mentioned.
He asked Sam to read for him from a book by Septon Barth, whose writings had been burned during the reign of Baelor the Blessed.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)
So it is a forbidden book, and might indeed be lacking at the Citadel. Aemon had mentioned Barth before.
Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years. Daenerys is the one, born amidst salt and smoke. The dragons prove it.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)
We heard of Barth's book through Tyrion.
He was less hopeful concerning Septon Barth’s Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History. Barth had been a blacksmith’s son who rose to be King’s Hand during the reign of Jaehaerys the Conciliator. His enemies always claimed he was more sorcerer than septon. Baelor the Blessed had ordered all Barth’s writings destroyed when he came to the Iron Throne. Ten years ago, Tyrion had read a fragment of Unnatural History that had eluded the Blessed Baelor, but he doubted that any of Barth’s work had found its way across the narrow sea. And of course there was even less chance of his coming on the fragmentary, anonymous, blood-soaked tome sometimes called Blood and Fire and sometimes The Death of Dragons, the only surviving copy of which was supposedly hidden away in a locked vault beneath the Citadel.
(Tyrion IV, ADwD)
Barth's book discuss the vulnerabilities of dragons.
The eyes were where a dragon was most vulnerable. The eyes, and the brain behind them. Not the underbelly, as certain old tales would have it. The scales there were just as tough as those along a dragon’s back and flanks. And not down the gullet either. That was madness. These would-be dragonslayers might as well try to quench a fire with a spear thrust. “Death comes out of the dragon’s mouth,” Septon Barth had written in his Unnatural History, “but death does not go in that way.”
(Tyrion X, ADwD)

It is an outcome of Sam's journey that the book is now at the Citadel. I have argued elsewhere that Doran Martell has given Arianne a copy of Barth's work as well.

Sam had found another interesting book at the Wall.
Maester Thomax’s Dragonkin, Being a History of House Targaryen from Exile to Apotheosis, with a Consideration of the Life and Death of Dragons had not been so fortunate. It had come open as it fell, and a few pages had gotten muddy, including one with a rather nice picture of Balerion the Black Dread done in colored inks. Sam cursed himself for a clumsy oaf as he smoothed the pages down and brushed them off.
(Samwell I, AFfC)

But it is likely that a copy of Thomax's opus is already at the Citadel, given that Thomax was a maester. Why use colored inks to depict a black dragon?

Of course, the image might a nod to the black dragon (Blackfyre) in the muddy waters of the Rhoyne. (Aegon VI on his pole boat.)

Sam is left with another treasure when he leaves Braavos.
The captain wanted Aemon’s chain as well, but there Sam had refused. It was a great shame for any maester to surrender his chain, he had explained. Xhondo had to go over that part three times before Quhuru Mo accepted it. By the time the dealing was done, Sam was down to his boots and blacks and smallclothes, and the broken horn Jon Snow had found on the Fist of First Men.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)
Here is the description of the horn found by Ghost.
Beneath the dragonglass was an old warhorn, made from an auroch's horn and banded in bronze. Jon shook the dirt from inside it, and a stream of arrowheads fell out.
(Jon IV, ACoK)

I have discussed the nature of the horn elsewhere. I do not think it is the fabled Horn of Winter. It might be a simple receptacle for the obsidian. However, the persistence of the items along the story points to an undeniable importance.

The horn is similar to the horns banded in bronze carried by the Thenns. So it seems an object of the first men, which would go along well with Joramun. However, Joramun lived thousands of years ago, and bronze decays over time.

It seems that Ghost has been inspired to find the horn and the obsidian. We know that the children of the forest used to offer dragonglass to the Night's Watch. Ghost might be related to the children of the forest, so it makes sense that the direwolf led Jon to the cache. However, horn and arrowhead were packed in a cloak of the Night's Watch. So we have a mix of an ancient human object (the horn), arrowheads form the children and a cloak of the Night's Watch. Since the cloak was in a faily good condition, the package had been hidden at the bottom of the Fist recently. Perhaps by Benjen Stark. The horn itself is banded in bronze, and the children of the forest did not know metallurgy. Therefore it is man made. We have no reason to believe it is magical. Except that, inexplicably, Sam felt compelled to keep this useless object with him.

14. Various Characters

This is going to be a heterogeneous list.

We know little about the specifics of the Faith of the Seven in Oldtown. The city has been the seat of the High Septon before the Conquest, and could still rival the capital of the Targaryens as a religious center. During the Dance of the Dragons, the High Septon remained in Oldtown. We see that there are several landmarks of the Faith in town, notably the Starry Sept. Certainly the septons of Oldtown are submitted to the authority of the High Septon in King's Landing. However, the designation of the new High Septon in King's Landing has not been exactly orthodox.
Qyburn’s whisperers claimed that Septon Luceon had been nine votes from elevation when those doors had given way, and the sparrows came pouring into the Great Sept with their leader on their shoulders and their axes in their hands.
(Cersei VI, AFfC)

Recall that the sparrows originate mostly from the Riverlands and they appearance seems related to the curse the Freys, and their allies the Lannister, bear for the Red Wedding, the assassination of the High Septon ect. The clergy of Oldtown might share neither their concern, nor the precepts of the new High Septon, and might contest his legitimity. In other words, the situation sets the stage for a religious schism between Oldtown and King's Landing. Septon Luceon is most devout and a Frey by birth.

Here is another not insignificant character of the Citadel.
Beyond the doors he found a hall with a stone floor and high, arched windows. At the far end a man with a pinched face sat upon a raised dais, scratching in a ledger with a quill. Though the man was clad in a maester’s robe, there was no chain about his neck. Sam cleared his throat. “Good morrow.”
The man glanced up and did not appear to approve of what he saw. “You smell of novice.”
“I hope to be one soon.” Sam drew out the letters Jon Snow had given him. “I came from the Wall with Maester Aemon, but he died during the voyage. If I could speak with the Seneschal...”
“Your name?”
“Samwell. Samwell Tarly.”
The man wrote the name in his ledger and waved his quill at a bench along the wall. “Sit. You’ll be called when wanted.”
Sam took a seat on the bench.
Others came and went. Some delivered messages and took their leave. Some spoke to the man on the dais and were sent through the door behind him and up a turnpike stair. Some joined Sam on the benches, waiting for their names to be called. A few of those who were summoned had come in after him, he was almost certain. After the fourth or fifth time that happened, he rose and crossed the room again. “How much longer will it be?”
“The Seneschal is an important man.”
“I came all the way from the Wall.”
“Then you will have no trouble going a bit farther.” He waved his quill. “To that bench just there, beneath the window.”
Sam returned to the bench. Another hour passed. Others entered, spoke to the man on the dais, waited a few moments, and were ushered onward. The gatekeeper did not so much as glance at Sam in all that time. The fog outside grew thinner as the day wore on, and pale sunlight slanted down through the windows. He found himself watching dust motes dance in the light. A yawn escaped him, then another. He picked at a broken blister on his palm, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
He must have drowsed. The next he knew, the man behind the dais was calling out a name. Sam came lurching to his feet, then sat back down again when he realized it was not his name.
“You need to slip Lorcas a penny, or you’ll be waiting here three days,” a voice beside him said. “What brings the Night’s Watch to the Citadel?”
The speaker was a slim, slight, comely youth, clad in doeskin breeches and a snug green brigandine with iron studs. He had skin the color of a light brown ale and a cap of tight black curls that came to a widow’s peak above his big black eyes. “The Lord Commander is restoring the abandoned castles,” Sam explained. “We need more maesters, for the ravens... did you say, a penny?”
“A penny will serve. For a silver stag Lorcas will carry you up to the Seneschal on his back. He has been fifty years an acolyte. He hates novices, particularly novices of noble birth.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Over the fifty years he served as an acolyte, Lorcas has been either a particularly mediocre student, or, for some reason, he did not wish to forge his chain. Did he intend on lighting a glass candle. Lorcas has the power to give audience to the Seneschal at the Citadel. In other words, he has the power to isolate the Seneschal from the petitioners and visitors. Lorcas does not seem to use this position for any particular cause. His corruption seems to be of the small scale type, since he gives favors for mere pennies. So far, there is no reason to see in him more than a petty bureaucrat. His long service at the Citadel might mean that he has met Hother Umber once, as well as most maesters in the Seven Kingdoms.

A few words on Pate's other friends.

Mollander is a novice, often drunk, and the son of a knight who died at the Blackwater. While drunk, he proposes a toast to Daenerys, "our rightful queen" and is rebuffed by Armen. We do not even know for whom Mollander's father fought.

I see in Roone no more than an unlearned novice.

Armen is an acolyte of four links, including copper for history. The other links are of lead, pewter and tin, all of unknown significance. He is rather highborn since he uses the term obsidian rather than dragonglass. I wonder if he could be Robert Frey – it's not clear to me whether the maesters must keep their birth names.

Robert Frey, son of Raymund Frey (the murderer of Catelyn Stark) and Beony Beesbury, has not been seen neither by Pate, nor by Sam up to now despite being an acolyte at the Citadel. (Beware of the confusion with the other Robert Frey, son of Rhaegar Frey.) Raymund Frey is a son of Lord Walder from his third wife a Crakehall. The Beesbury connection is interesting, since House Beesbury is seated just upriver on the Honeywine.

Zachery Frey, great-grandson of the Lord of the Crossing and his second wife Cyrella Swan, grandson of Jared Frey (deceased), son of Tytos Frey (deceased), is still a boy and studies to become a septon. He is the only descendant on the male line from Lord Walder's second marriage. Hence Zachery would have a claim to the Twins if all descendants of Lord Walder's first wife were eliminated or attainted. Zachery has probably family ties to Carellen Smallwood, whose mother Lady Smallwood was born a Swann, who is currently in Oldtown with her great-greataunt, a septa.

We have yet to see the greataunt of Lady Smallwood.

We could find another woman of the Faith in the person of Tyene's mother, once a lover to Oberyn Martell (we can presume that Tyene has been conceived when Oberyn studied at the Citadel). In reason of age difference, she hardly can be the greataunt of Lady Smallwood.

We know little about a former resident of Oldtown, Sati,n who ended up on the Wall for unclear reasons. But the boy seems refined and well educated to the point I do not think he is lowborn.

There are more mysterious characters. Satin mentions a lady to Jon Snow.
“I hope I never see the Frostfangs then. I knew a girl in Oldtown who liked to ice her wine. That’s the best place for ice, I think. In wine.”
(Jon IX, ASoS)

In a medieval setting, ice is a luxury item. Even if Satin mentions a girl, and not a lady, I tend to see here a character from an affluent family.

Qyburn describes a ghost to Jaime.
Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air.
(Jaime VI, ASoS)
Was she some maester's lover that had to hide? Do women play a phantom role in the Citadel?

We have mentioned already Urswyck and the remnant of the Brave Companions.

We haven't met the red priests of Oldtown yet.

Sam glimpses two mysterious characters in the Citadel.
At the Weeping Dock, he watched two acolytes help an old man into a boat for the short voyage to the Bloody Isle. A young mother climbed in after him, a babe not much older than Gilly’s squalling in her arms.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

There is no rational reason to believe that those characters are of any interest. However, I don't think they have been mentioned without a reason. The old man does not wear a chain. Hence he is not a maester, let alone an archmaester, despite being helped by two acolytes. The only candidate I could find for the baby would be Theon Greyjoy's son by the daughter of the captain of the Myraham.
The Myraham was a fat-bellied southron merchanter up from Oldtown, carrying wine and cloth and seed to trade for iron ore. Her captain was a fat-bellied southron merchanter as well, and the stony sea that foamed at the feet of the castle made his plump lips quiver, so he stayed well out, farther than Theon would have liked.
(Theon I, ACoK)
The captains' daughter became Theon's mistress, with the acquiescence of her father.
“Tell him he should be pleased. As many times as I’ve fucked you, you’re likely with child. It’s not every man who has the honor of raising a king’s bastard.
(Theon I, ACoK)
These words might have left their mark. Later the captain of the Myraham would reappear in Seagard.
“The gods have heard our prayers, my lords. Lord Jason has brought us the captain of the Myraham, a merchanter out of Oldtown. Captain, tell them what you told me.”
“Aye, Your Grace.” He licked his thick lips nervously. “My last port of call afore Seagard, that was Lordsport on Pyke. The ironmen kept me there more’n half a year, they did. King Balon’s command. Only, well, the long and the short of it is, he’s dead.”
“Balon Greyjoy?” Catelyn’s heart skipped a beat. “You are telling us that Balon Greyjoy is dead?”
The shabby little captain nodded. “You know how Pyke’s built on a headland, and part on rocks and islands off the shore, with bridges between? The way I heard it in Lordsport, there was a blow coming in from the west, rain and thunder, and old King Balon was crossing one of them bridges when the wind got hold of it and just tore the thing to pieces. He washed up two days later, all bloated and broken. Crabs ate his eyes, I hear.”
The Greatjon laughed. “King crabs, I hope, to sup upon such royal jelly, eh?”
The captain bobbed his head. “Aye, but that’s not all of it, no!” He leaned forward. “The brother’s back.”
“Victarion?” asked Galbart Glover, surprised.
“Euron. Crow’s Eye, they call him, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail. He’s been gone for years, but Lord Balon was no sooner cold than there he was, sailing into Lordsport in his Silence. Black sails and a red hull, and crewed by mutes. He’d been to Asshai and back, I heard. Wherever he was, though, he’s home now, and he marched right into Pyke and sat his arse in the Seastone Chair, and drowned Lord Botley in a cask of seawater when he objected. That was when I ran back to Myraham and slipped anchor, hoping I could get away whilst things were confused. And so I did, and here I am.”
(Catelyn V, ASoS)

There is no mention of the daughter. It is most likely that she remained with her father, unless she has been taken as a saltwife by an ironman. If she got pregnant and went back to Oldtown, the timeline would allow her to have given birth to a child just a little older than Mance's baby, and we would have a good reason to see this baby in Oldtown. But the old man with the woman on the Honeywine does not seem to be the captain of the Myraham. I hardly wee why two acolytes of the Citadel would help them all to get onboard for the Bloody Isle, except mere courtesy.

The story of the captain of the Myraham is worthwile since it shows that some news about Euron and the situation in the Iron Islands could have traveled to Oldtown. If Jaqen H'gar is the faceless man hired by Euron to murder Balon, Jaqen could have escaped Pyke on the Myraham, and reached thus Oldtown. Hence his appearance in the prologye of AFfC.

15. Euron

It wouldn't be possible to discuss fully Euron without going too far. Hence we are going to limit ourselves to his offensive on Oldtown. We are surprised to see the Ironmen's assault when Samwell approaches the Whispering Sound.
Xhondo pointed at a half-sunken longship in the shallows. The remnants of a banner drooped from her stern, smoke-stained and ragged. The charge was one Sam had never seen before: a red eye with a black pupil, beneath a black iron crown supported by two crows. “Whose banner is that?” Sam asked.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Of course, it's King Euron's banner.The black iron of the crown seems natural for the sovereign of the Iron Islands, except that the traditional crown of the Ironmen is made of driftwood. So the iron crown of Euron's sigil is a break from tradition, especially since the kraken of the greyjoy has been completely forgone. Note how the black iron crown recalls the crown claimed by Hugh Hammer, the smith's son, during the Dance of the Dragons. The red eye evokes the single red eye of Lord Brynden, as does the pair of crows. But there is no reason to suspect the greenseer in his cave beyond the Wall to be behind Euron's rise.s

 The Ironmen are trying to attack Oldtown.
“My apologies,” the captain said when his inspection was complete. “It grieves me that honest men must suffer such discourtesy, but sooner that than ironmen in Oldtown. Only a fortnight ago some of those bloody bastards captured a Tyroshi merchantman in the straits. They killed her crew, donned their clothes, and used the dyes they found to color their whiskers half a hundred colors. Once inside the walls they meant to set the port ablaze and open a gate from within whilst we fought the fire. Might have worked, but they ran afoul of the Lady of the Tower, and her oarsmaster has a Tyroshi wife. When he saw all the green and purple beards he hailed them in the tongue of Tyrosh, and not one of them had the words to hail him back.”
Sam was aghast. “They cannot mean to raid Oldtown.”
The captain of the Huntress gave him a curious look. “These are no mere reavers. The ironmen have always raided where they could. They would strike sudden from the sea, carry off some gold and girls, and sail away, but there were seldom more than one or two longships, and never more than half a dozen. Hundreds of their ships afflict us now, sailing out of the Shield Islands and some of the rocks around the Arbor. They have taken Stonecrab Cay, the Isle of Pigs, and the Mermaid’s Palace, and there are other nests on Horseshoe Rock and Bastard’s Cradle. Without Lord Redwyne’s fleet, we lack the ships to come to grips with them.”
“What is Lord Hightower doing?” Sam blurted. “My father always said he was as wealthy as the Lannisters, and could command thrice as many swords as any of Highgarden’s other bannermen.”
“More, if he sweeps the cobblestones,” the captain said, “but swords are no good against the ironmen, unless the men who wield them know how to walk on water.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

What is Euron's strategy? Of course the ironmen have earned lesser prizes in the Shield Islands, in the Arbor etc. But Oldtown is another matter. A victory on purely military grounds would seem out of the question for the Ironmen against House Hightower in Oldtown. So why attack the City? We know that Euron does not aim for mere plunder.
Red Ralf Stonehouse bounded to his feet. “Oldtown is richer, and the Arbor richer still. Redwyne’s fleet is off away. We need only reach out our hand to pluck the ripest fruit in Westeros.”
“Fruit?” The king’s eye looked more black than blue. “Only a craven would steal a fruit when he could take the orchard.”
(The Reaver, AFfC)

But the expedition on Oldtown and the Arbor might just be a bone thrown the Ironmen until Victarion returns with the Dragon Queen.

After the Tyroshi fiasco, the ironmen have lost the benefit of surprise.

Euron has earned his kingship by promising all of Westeros to the ironmen. His strategy seems to be to use the Hellhorn to subdue the dragons and marry Daenerys. So raiding the Reach does not seem helpful to reach those goals. Of course, the raid on the Shield Islands allowed Euron to award lordship to earn the loyaly of his men.

Oldtown has the Citadel, is still an important seat for the Faith of the Seven, and holds the wealth of the Hightower. Euron has brought treasures from his journeys to the east, and I can't see him conquering the City for mere plunder. I do not see what an assault on the Faith would bring to his cause. Nevertheless, Euron despises the Faith, as shown by his treatment of Baelor Blacktyde.
Nightflyer was seized, Lord Blacktyde delivered to the king in chains. Euron’s mutes and mongrels had cut him into seven parts, to feed the seven green land gods he worshiped.
(The Reaver, AFfC)

Baelor Blacktyde had spent eight years as an hostage in Oldtown, which seems to indicate that House Hightower played its part in crushing Balon's rebellion (which seems further confirmed by the presence lord Leyton Hightower and his sons at the tourney which celebrated the victory over the Ironmen). But we see no trace of a desire for revenge over that war.

I am more inclined to believe the Citadel has something of interest to Euron.

Certainly dragonlore could be of some use. Perhaps Euron wants to destroy the fabled books that would reveal the secrets of the vulnerabilities of dragons, before any dragon shows up in Westeros.

One character might be a link betweenMarwyn and Euron. Hotho "Humpback" Harlaw has brought his uncle the Reader something from Oldtown.
“Archmaester Marwyn’s Book of Lost Books.” He lifted his gaze from the page to study her. “Hotho brought me a copy from Oldtown. He has a daughter he would have me wed.” Lord Rodrik tapped the book with a long nail. “See here? Marwyn claims to have found three pages of Signs and Portents, visions written down by the maiden daughter of Aenar Targaryen before the Doom came to Valyria. Does Lanny know that you are here?”
(The Kraken's Daughter, AFfC)
Hotho would later offer his fealty to Victarion, who accepted to marry his daughter.
“Bastards and mongrels. How old is this daughter?”
“Twelve,” said Hotho. “Fair and fertile, newly flowered, with hair the color of honey. Her breasts are small as yet, but she has good hips. She takes after her mother, more than me.”
(The drowned Man, AFfC)

We have yet to see Hotho's daughter and wife (it's not clear the daughter is legitimate, but the conversation is dismissive of bastards). But they are most likely at the Tower of Glimmering, where Hotho is based. Otherwise we could ask whether they are in Oldtown.

Eventually Hotho would follow Euron.
The mutes and mongrels from the Silence threw open Euron’s chests and spilled out his gifts before the captains and the kings. Then it was Hotho Harlaw the priest heard, as he filled his hands with gold. Gorold Goodbrother shouted out as well, and Erik Anvil-Breaker. “EURON! EURON! EURON!”
(The drowned Man, AFfC)
Indeed, Hotho has been promised a lordship.
Hotho Harlaw was across the table, sucking meat off a bone. He flicked it aside and hunched forward. “The Knight’s to have Greyshield. My cousin. Did you hear?”
“No.” Victarion looked across the hall, to where Ser Harras Harlaw sat drinking wine from a golden cup; a tall man, long-faced and austere. “Why would Euron give that one an island?”
Hotho held out his empty wine cup, and a pale young woman in a gown of blue velvet and gilt lace refilled it for him. “The Knight took Grimston by himself. He planted his standard beneath the castle and defied the Grimms to face him. One did, and then another, and another. He slew them all... well, near enough, two yielded. When the seventh man went down, Lord Grimm’s septon decided the gods had spoken and surrendered the castle.” Hotho laughed. “He’ll be the Lord of Greyshield, and welcome to it. With him gone, I am the Reader’s heir.” He thumped his wine cup against his chest. “Hotho the Humpback, Lord of Harlaw.”
(The Reaver, AFfC)
It becomes interesting when Euron's claimed are discussed.
A smile played across Euron’s blue lips. “I am the storm, my lord. The first storm, and the last. I have taken the Silence on longer voyages than this, and ones far more hazardous. Have you forgotten? I have sailed the Smoking Sea and seen Valyria.”
Every man there knew that the Doom still ruled Valyria. The very sea there boiled and smoked, and the land was overrun with demons. It was said that any sailor who so much as glimpsed the fiery mountains of Valyria rising above the waves would soon die a dreadful death, yet the Crow’s Eye had been there, and returned.
“Have you?” the Reader asked, so softly.
Euron’s blue smile vanished. “Reader,” he said into the quiet, “you would do well to keep your nose in your books.”
Victarion could feel the unease in the hall. He pushed himself to his feet. “Brother,” he boomed. “You have not answered Harlaw’s questions.”
Euron shrugged.
(The Reaver, AFfC)

Have the fragments of Signs and Portents brought by Hotho to Lord Rodrik seeded doubts about the veracity of Euron's claim? In any case, since Hotho is now a follower of Euron, the Iron King knows whatever Rodrik has learned from the book, hence the apparent mutual understanding between Euron and Hotho. Most interestingly, perhaps, Marwyn has understood something about Valyria by collecting the prophecies of the daughter of Aenar Targaryen.

Obviously, like Euron, Marwyn has taken great interest in Valyria. Have their paths crossed?

Here is perhaps an explanation for Euron's assault on Oldtown. Recall this little episode.
“I mean to open your eyes.” Euron drank deep from his own cup, and smiled. “Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. One presumed to threaten me, so I killed him and fed him to the other three. They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.”
(The Iron Captain, AFfC)
We had met the warlocks long before.
“The young queen is wise beyond her years,” Xaro Xhoan Daxos murmured down at her from his high saddle. “There is a saying in Qarth. A warlock’s house is built of bones and lies.”
“Then why do men lower their voices when they speak of the warlocks of Qarth? All across the east, their power and wisdom are revered.”
“Once they were mighty,” Xaro agreed, “but now they are as ludicrous as those feeble old soldiers who boast of their prowess long after strength and skill have left them. They read their crumbling scrolls, drink shade-of-the-evening until their lips turn blue, and hint of dread powers, but they are hollow husks compared to those who went before. Pyat Pree’s gifts will turn to dust in your hands, I warn you.”
(Daenerys II, ACoK)

After the episode in the House of the Undying, Daenerys is told that the warlocks are no longer insignificant.
Xaro had learned that Pyat Pree was gathering the surviving warlocks together to work ill on her.
Dany had laughed when he told her. “Was it not you who told me warlocks were no more than old soldiers, vainly boasting of forgotten deeds and lost prowess?”
Xaro looked troubled. “And so it was, then. But now? I am less certain. It is said that the glass candles are burning in the house of Urrathon Night-Walker, that have not burned in a hundred years. Ghost grass grows in the Garden of Gehane, phantom tortoises have been seen carrying messages between the windowless houses on Warlock’s Way, and all the rats in the city are chewing off their tails. The wife of Mathos Mallarawan, who once mocked a warlock’s drab moth-eaten robe, has gone mad and will wear no clothes at all. Even fresh-washed silks make her feel as though a thousand insects were crawling on her skin. And Blind Sybassion the Eater of Eyes can see again, or so his slaves do swear. A man must wonder.”
(Daenerys V, ACoK)

We see hear for the first time of glass candles at this point. So the warlocks plot revenge on Daenerys, they have been captured by Euron and Euron intends on marrying the Dragon Queen.

Could it be that the warlocks, far from being Euron's captives, are now controlling him, and that Euron is the instrument of their revenge? Could it be that Euron's interest in Oldtown if for the warlocks' sake? Could the warlocks be interested in the glass candles of the Citadel?

The interest in the glass candles might apply even if Euron is truly in control of the situation, of course.

15. Qyburn

Qyburn and Marwyn the Mage had once mutual respect for each other. They might even have been friends. We are not going to examine systematically Lord Qyburn, but we will limit ourselves to whatever could concern the Citadel.

Qyburn's fearsome business under the Red Keep seems to have produced a character of importance in the person of Robert Strong. We still have much to learn about Ser Robert's true nature. As far as we know, Qyburn's knowledge could have come from two sources only: his studies at the Citadel and his sojourn at Harrenhal. What Qyburn has accomplished could be replicated by the other maesters at Oldtown – provided they are as deprived of any moral fiber as the chainless maester.

Qyburn is first seen as a necromancer.
“I hate this lot worse. Ser Amory was fighting for his lord, but the Mummers are sellswords and turncloaks. Half of them can’t even speak the Common Tongue. Septon Utt likes little boys, Qyburn does black magic, and your friend Biter eats people.”
(Arya X, ACoK)
Though he wore maester’s robes, there was no chain about his neck; it was whispered that he had lost it for dabbling in necromancy.
(Arya X, ACoK)
We encounter the term necromancy at another moment.
Melisandre smiled. “Necromancy animates these wights, yet they are still only dead flesh. Steel and fire will serve for them. The ones you call the Others are something more.”
(Samwell V, ASoS)

So the intended meaning of necromancy seems animation of the dead, rather than mere communication with them.

Qyburn quickly became Roose's personal physician and his maester. Before he had been part of the Brave Companions, who are perhaps the worst men in Westeros.
“You have done this before,” muttered Jaime, weakly. He could taste blood in his mouth where he’d bitten his tongue.
“No man who serves with Vargo Hoat is a stranger to stumps. He makes them wherever he goes.”
Qyburn did not look a monster, Jaime thought. He was spare and soft-spoken, with warm brown eyes. “How does a maester come to ride with the Brave Companions?”
(Jaime V, ASoS)

Despite his innocent appearance, Qyburn is a man without scrupples and devoid of compassion. In many ways, he was the perfect counterpart to Roose Bolton. I wonder what influence he ever had on Lord Roose. But I see no reason to believe that he could have influenced Roose like he would manipulate Cersei later. In any case, Qyburn has been rewarded handsomely by Roose Bolton, while the other Brave Companions have been abandoned in Harrenhal.

Here is one moment when Qyburn's personal philosophy is mentioned.
“Do you believe in ghosts, Maester?” he asked Qyburn.
The man’s face grew strange. “Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.”
(Jaime VII, ASoS)
The belief that the spirit can be dissociated from the body will surely support Qyburn's later activities.

Here is Qyburn's hope when he leaves Harrenhal.
Roose Bolton said on the mom of their departure. “He has a fond hope that your father will force the Citadel to give him back his chain, in gratitude.”
(JaimeVII, ASoS)
Qyburn proposed his services to Cersei. Here is the first task assigned to him.
“You may suffice,” she decided. “If you fail me you will lose more than a chain, I promise you. Remove the quarrel from my father’s belly and make him ready for the silent sisters.”
(Cersei I, AFfC)
Does the strange smell that came would later emanate from Tywin's corpse come from Qyburn's treatment?

Here is the next task assigned by Cersei.
Qyburn was old, but his hair still had more ash than snow in it, and the laugh lines around his mouth made him look like some little girl’s favorite grandfather. A rather shabby grandfather, though. The collar of his robe was frayed, and one sleeve had been torn and badly sewn. “I must beg Your Grace’s pardon for my appearance,” he said. “I have been down in the dungeons making inquiries into the Imp’s escape, as you commanded.”
“And what have you discovered?”
“The night that Lord Varys and your brother disappeared, a third man also vanished.” “Yes, the gaoler. What of him?”
“Rugen was the man’s name. An undergaoler who had charge of the black cells. The chief
undergaoler describes him as portly, unshaven, gruff of speech. He held his appointment of the old king, Aerys, and came and went as he pleased. The black cells have not oft been occupied in recent years. The other turnkeys were afraid of him, it seems, but none knew much about him.
He had no friends, no kin. Nor did he drink or frequent brothels. His sleeping cell was damp and dreary, and the straw he slept upon was mildewed. His chamber pot was overflowing.”
“I know all this.” Jaime had examined Rugen’s cell, and Ser Addam’s gold cloaks had examined it again.
“Aye, Your Grace,” said Qyburn, “but did you know that under that stinking chamber pot was a loose stone, which opened on a small hollow? The sort of place where a man might hide valuables that he did not wish to be discovered?”
“Valuables?” This was new. “Coin, you mean?” She had suspected all along that Tyrion had somehow bought this gaoler.
“Beyond a doubt. To be sure, the hole was empty when I found it. No doubt Rugen took his ill- gotten treasure with him when he fled. But as I crouched over the hole with my torch, I saw something glitter, so I scratched in the dirt until I dug it out.” Qyburn opened his palm. “A gold coin.”
Gold, yes, but the moment Cersei took it she could tell that it was wrong. Too small, she thought, too thin. The coin was old and worn. On one side was a king’s face in profile, on the other side the imprint of a hand. “This is no dragon,” she said.
“No,” Qyburn agreed. “It dates from before the Conquest, Your Grace. The king is Garth the Twelfth, and the hand is the sigil of House Gardener.”
(Cersei II, AFfC)

We can note that Qyburn has been smarter than other inquirers by finding the coin. However, he seems to have been fooled by Varys. Indeed, Qyburn never appears to realize that Rugen and Varys are the same person. It could be that Qyburn tells only half of what he says to Cersei. Moreover, the coin seems to have been planted there to turn Cersei against the Tyrells.
“Ser Gregor.” Qyburn shrugged. “I have examined him, as you commanded. The poison on the Viper’s spear was manticore venom from the east, I would stake my life on that.”
“Pycelle says no. He told my lord father that manticore venom kills the instant it reaches the heart.”
“And so it does. But this venom has been thickened somehow, so as to draw out the Mountain’s dying.”
“Thickened? Thickened how? With some other substance?”
“It may be as Your Grace suggests, though in most cases adulterating a poison only lessens its potency. It may be that the cause is... less natural, let us say. A spell, I think.”
Is this one as big a fool as Pycelle? “So are you telling me that the Mountain is dying of some black sorcery?”
Qyburn ignored the mockery in her voice. “He is dying of the venom, but slowly, and in exquisite agony. My efforts to ease his pain have proved as fruitless as Pycelle’s. Ser Gregor is overly accustomed to the poppy, I fear. His squire tells me that he is plagued by blinding headaches and oft quaffs the milk of the poppy as lesser men quaff ale. Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told.”
“His size,” the queen suggested, frowning. “Gregor is a very large man. Also a very stupid one. Too stupid to know when he should die, it seems.” She held out her cup, and Senelle filled it once again. “His screaming frightens Tommen. It has even been known to wake me of a night. I would say it is past time we summoned Ilyn Payne.”
“Your Grace,” said Qyburn, “mayhaps I might move Ser Gregor to the dungeons? His screams will not disturb you there, and I will be able to tend to him more freely.”
“Tend to him?” She laughed. “Let Ser Ilyn tend to him.”
“If that is Your Grace’s wish,” Qyburn said, “but this poison... it would be useful to know more about it, would it not? Send a knight to slay a knight and an archer to kill an archer, the smallfolk often say. To combat the black arts...” He did not finish the thought, but only smiled at her.
He is not Pycelle, that much is plain. The queen weighed him, wondering. “Why did the Citadel take your chain?”
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them. I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him. For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile... but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.”
“Do you?” That intrigued her. “Very well. The Mountain is yours. Do what you will with him, but confine your studies to the black cells. When he dies, bring me his head. My father promised it to Dorne. Prince Doran would no doubt prefer to kill Gregor himself, but we all must suffer disappointments in this life.”
“Very good, Your Grace.” Qyburn cleared his throat. “I am not so well provided as Pycelle, however. I must needs equip myself with certain...”
“I shall instruct Lord Gyles to provide you with gold sufficient for your needs. Buy yourself some new robes as well. You look as though you’ve wandered up from Flea Bottom.” She studied his eyes, wondering how far she dared trust this one. “Need I say that it will go ill for you if any word of your... labors... should pass beyond these walls?”
“No, Your Grace.” Qyburn gave her a reassuring smile. “Your secrets are safe with me.”
(Cersei II, AFfC)

The passage reveals that Qyburn's ambitions and disappointment with the Citadel. It seems that Qyburn was expelled for his cruelty, not for his practice of sorcery. After all, Marwyn is disliked but tolerated by the archmaesters, and magic is a recognized, if sulfurous, discipline at the Citadel. However, the categories "magic", "sorcery", "black arts" are a bit broad. Spells are frowned upon, but tolerated at the Citadel. Certain specific activities, like necromancy might still be taboo at the Citadel.

Of course, opening the body of the living to understand the dead, seems like necromancy.

Anyhow, the dialogue with Cersei seems to show that Qyburn is competent. Qyburn's interest in the Mountain is quite interesting, since it will turn out that the body in agony that went into the black cells would emerge again as Robert Strong.

A little detail about Qyburn's garment intrigues me.
“I have informers sniffing after the Imp everywhere, Your Grace,” said Qyburn. He had garbed himself in something very like maester’s robes, but white instead of grey, immaculate as the cloaks of the Kingsguard. Whorls of gold decorated his hem, sleeves, and stiff high collar, and a golden sash was tied about his waist. “Oldtown, Gulltown, Dorne, even the Free Cities. Wheresoever he might run, my whisperers will find him.”
(Cersei IV, AFfC)

Qyburn hasn't displayed any coquetry up to now. He was dressed in a maester's robe in Harrenhal. Of course the color white contrasts with the grey of the maesters and the black of the Night's Watch. For Melisandre's ceremony at the Wall, Val has been dressed in white and gold as well (under an ermine cloak). Septa's robes are sometimes white. However, I see no reasonable association with Qyburn's garment.

We learn in passing that Qyburn has inherited Varys' network of informants.
Varys had all of us believing he was irreplaceable. What fools we were. Once the queen let it become known that Qyburn had taken the eunuch’s place, the usual vermin had wasted no time in making themselves known to him, to trade their whispers for a few coins. It was the silver all along, not the Spider. Qyburn will serve us just as well.
(Cersei IV, AFfC)

However, informants might still be loyal to Varys and feed Qyburn whatever information Varys wants to distil. Qyburn never expresses any opinion about Varys during his tenure as master of whisperers. It is worthwile to note that Qyburn has informants in the Free Cities.

We turn now to Qyburn's great project.
“Ser Gregor.” Qyburn shrugged. “I have examined him, as you commanded. The poison on the Viper’s spear was manticore venom from the east, I would stake my life on that.”
“Pycelle says no. He told my lord father that manticore venom kills the instant it reaches the heart.”
“And so it does. But this venom has been thickened somehow, so as to draw out the Mountain’s dying.”
“Thickened? Thickened how? With some other substance?”
“It may be as Your Grace suggests, though in most cases adulterating a poison only lessens its potency. It may be that the cause is... less natural, let us say. A spell, I think.”
Is this one as big a fool as Pycelle? “So are you telling me that the Mountain is dying of some black sorcery?”
Qyburn ignored the mockery in her voice. “He is dying of the venom, but slowly, and in exquisite agony. My efforts to ease his pain have proved as fruitless as Pycelle’s. Ser Gregor is overly accustomed to the poppy, I fear. His squire tells me that he is plagued by blinding headaches and oft quaffs the milk of the poppy as lesser men quaff ale. Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told.”
“His size,” the queen suggested, frowning. “Gregor is a very large man. Also a very stupid one. Too stupid to know when he should die, it seems.” She held out her cup, and Senelle filled it once again. “His screaming frightens Tommen. It has even been known to wake me of a night. I would say it is past time we summoned Ilyn Payne.”
“Your Grace,” said Qyburn, “mayhaps I might move Ser Gregor to the dungeons? His screams will not disturb you there, and I will be able to tend to him more freely.”
“Tend to him?” She laughed. “Let Ser Ilyn tend to him.”
“If that is Your Grace’s wish,” Qyburn said, “but this poison... it would be useful to know more about it, would it not? Send a knight to slay a knight and an archer to kill an archer, the smallfolk often say. To combat the black arts...” He did not finish the thought, but only smiled at her.
He is not Pycelle, that much is plain. The queen weighed him, wondering. “Why did the Citadel take your chain?”
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them. I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him. For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile... but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.”
“Do you?” That intrigued her. “Very well. The Mountain is yours. Do what you will with him, but confine your studies to the black cells. When he dies, bring me his head. My father promised it to Dorne. Prince Doran would no doubt prefer to kill Gregor himself, but we all must suffer disappointments in this life.”
(Cersei II, AFfC)

We have few ideas of what Qyburn is attempting with the body of Gregor Clegane. Since it Qyburn's own initiative, it is conducted in secret, and for a goal known only to Qyburn. It is safe to say that it is all for no one but Qyburn's benefit.

Most curious is Qyburn's sacrifice of women for all this.
“Any men of substance shall be fined. Half their worth should be sufficient to teach them a sharp lesson and refill our coffers, without quite ruining them. Those too poor to pay can lose an eye, for watching treason. For the puppeteers, the axe.”
“There are four. Perhaps Your Grace might allow me two of them for mine own purposes. A woman would be especially...”
“I gave you Senelle,” the queen said sharply.
“Alas. The poor girl is quite... exhausted.”
Cersei did not like to think about that. The girl had come with her unsuspecting, thinking she was along to serve and pour. Even when Qyburn clapped the chain around her wrist, she had not seemed to understand. The memory still made the queen queasy. The cells were bitter cold. Even the torches shivered. And that foul thing screaming in the darkness... “Yes, you may take a woman. Two, if it please you. But first I will have names.”
(Cersei V, AFfC)

It reminds, of course, of Frankenstein's monster. However, the women used by Qyburn are not pregnant. But their womanhood seems important somehow. Does Qyburn need their generative organs? A wizard once castrated Varys for some sorcery. Arya is told that she will not be able to bear children if she is to become a faceless man.
“Should Ser Loras fall, Your Grace will need to find another worthy for the Kingsguard,” Lord Qyburn said as they crossed over the spiked moat that girded Maegor’s Holdfast.
“Someone splendid,” she agreed. “Someone so young and swift and strong that Tommen will forget all about Ser Loras. A bit of gallantry would not be amiss, but his head should not be full of foolish notions. Do you know of such a man?”
“Alas, no,” said Qyburn. “I had another sort of champion in mind. What he lacks in gallantry he will give you tenfold in devotion. He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”
“So you say. Words are wind. When the hour is ripe, you may produce this paragon of yours and we will see if he is all that you have promised.”
“They will sing of him, I swear it.” Lord Qyburn’s eyes crinkled with amusement. “Might I ask about the armor?”
“I have placed your order. The armorer thinks that I am mad. He assures me that no man is strong enough to move and fight in such a weight of plate.”
(Cersei VII, AFfC)
Here is the result after several months of hard work.
No. Her savior was real. Eight feet tall or maybe taller, with legs as thick around as trees, he had a chest worthy of a plow horse and shoulders that would not disgrace an ox. His armor was plate steel, enameled white and bright as a maiden’s hopes, and worn over gilded mail. A greathelm hid his face. From its crest streamed seven silken plumes in the rainbow colors of the Faith. A pair of golden seven-pointed stars clasped his billowing cloak at the shoulders.
A white cloak.
Ser Kevan had kept his part of the bargain. Tommen, her precious little boy, had named her champion to the Kingsguard.
Cersei never saw where Qyburn came from, but suddenly he was there beside them, scrambling to keep up with her champion’s long strides. “Your Grace,” ered, as they entered the gates. “If it please Your Grace, Ser Robert has taken a holy vow of silence,” Qyburn said. “He has sworn that he will not speak until all of His Grace’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm.”
(Cersei II, ADwD)

Ser Robert seems even larger than Robert Clegane ever was. Note that Ser Robert is not slow. Has Qyburn really sent the head of the Mountain to Dorne? The question is asked plainly by Obara Sand.
“What did the Mountain look like? How do we know that this is him? They could have dipped the head in tar. Why strip it to the bone?”
“Tar would have ruined the box,” suggested Lady Nym, as Maester Caleotte scurried off. “No one saw the Mountain die, and no one saw his head removed. That troubles me, I confess, but what could the bitch queen hope to accomplish by deceiving us? If Gregor Clegane is alive, soon or late the truth will out. The man was eight feet tall, there is not another like him in all of Westeros. If any such appears again, Cersei Lannister will be exposed as a liar before all the Seven Kingdoms. She would be an utter fool to risk that. What could she hope to gain?”
“The skull is large enough, no doubt,” said the prince. “And we know that Oberyn wounded Gregor grievously. Every report we have had since claims that Clegane died slowly, in great pain.”
“Just as Father intended,” said Tyene. “Sisters, truly, I know the poison Father used. If his spear so much as broke the Mountain’s skin, Clegane is dead, I do not care how big he was. Doubt your little sister if you like, but never doubt our sire.”
(The Watcher, ADwD)

Indeed, Cersei would have no reason to send a false head to Dorne. But Qyburn might have taken the initiative of the deception.
We have only Qyburn's word for the authenticity of the skull. Qyburn has attended Cersei's audience when a dwarf head was fraudulently offered to Cersei as Tyrion's. He must have had some nerves if he sent a false skull to Sunspear. And Cersei has warned him.
Cersei gave the chainless maester a warning look. “Play me for a fool, and you’ll die screaming. You are aware of that, I trust?”
“Always, Your Grace.”
(Cersei VII, AFfC)
In any case, the skull brought to Sunspear is exceptionnally large.
He allowed himself a brief glance at the chest. The skull rested on a bed of black felt, grinning. All skulls grinned, but this one seemed happier than most. And bigger. The captain of guards had never seen a larger skull. Its brow shelf was thick and heavy, its jaw massive. The bone shone in the candlelight, white as Ser Balon’s cloak. “Place it on the pedestal,” the prince commanded. He had tears glistening in his eyes.
(The Watcher, ADwD)

That would rule out that any of the dwarf skulls has been sent instead of the Mountain's. Perhaps Qyburn put his hands on a real giant's skull, but the only known such skull is at the Wall with Rattleshirt.

The Mountain's head is never described as anything but proportionate to his body, which is accord with the exceptionnally large skull that has been brought to Dorne.

Did Gregor Clegane die after Qyburn has taken him to the black cells? Tyene thought he had to. Unless Qyburn found a way to cure the Mountain... And Qyburn claims to understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown. So we can imagine he could have saved the Mountain. We can note the symmetric situation of Sandor Clegane who has been saved by the Elder Brother's miraculous gift of healing.

So one possible scenario is that Qyburn saved Clegane, and that Clegane is still alive. But we can note at least one difference between the Mountain and Robert Strong. The latter seems even more monstrous than the former. Ser Robert's height amount to at least eight feet, while Ser Gregor wasn't quite as tall. If Clegane is still alive why can't he speak?
“The silent giant.” Lord Randyll grimaced. “Tell me, ser, where did this man come from?” demanded Mace Tyrell. “Why have we never heard his name before? He does not speak, he will not show his face, he is never seen without his armor. Do we know for a certainty that he is even a knight?”
We do not even know if he’s alive. Meryn Trant claimed that Strong took neither food nor drink, and Boros Blount went so far as to say he had never seen the man use the privy. Why should he? Dead men do not shit. Kevan Lannister had a strong suspicion of just who this Ser Robert really was beneath that gleaming white armor. A suspicion that Mace Tyrell and Randyll Tarly no doubt shared. Whatever the face hidden behind Strong’s helm, it must remain hidden for now. The silent giant was his niece’s only hope. And pray that he is as formidable as he appears.
(Epilogue, ADwD)

The Elder Brother's ambiguous words about Sandor's death would apply to Gregor as well. The man is not alive anymore as he was once. We can note that both brothers are silent now.

Is Ser Robert a sort of wight? Or is Ser Robert a creature similar to Coldhands. Coldhands might just an unremarkable ranger animated by the spirit of Lord Brynden (can greenseer inhabit dead bodies?). But he does speak, while Ser Gregor doesn't. Is possible that the wights do not speak because the spirits that inhabit them are not speaking creatures?

The very size of Robert Strong reminds me of the story of Clarence Crabb.
“Ser Clarence Crabb, I said. I got his blood in me. He was eight foot tall, and so strong he could uproot pine trees with one hand and chuck them half a mile. No horse could bear his weight, so he rode an aurochs.”
“What does he have to do with this smugglers’ cove?”
“His wife was a woods witch. Whenever Ser Clarence killed a man, he’d fetch his head back home and his wife would kiss it on the lips and bring it back t’ life. Lords, they were, and wizards, and famous knights and pirates. One was king o’ Duskendale. They gave old Crabb good counsel. Being they was just heads, they couldn’t talk real loud, but they never shut up neither. When you’re a head, talking’s all you got to pass the day. So Crabb’s keep got named the Whispers. Still is, though it’s been a ruin for a thousand years. A lonely place, the Whispers.”
(Brienne III, AFfC)

Ser Clarence was just as tall as Robert Strong is. The Whispers might very well have been the lair of a greenseer, since a young weirwood has recently grown there, presumably from a network of ancient roots.

Is the existence of Ser Robert is due to ancient First Men magic, or to the greenseers? That would raise two questions: were the black cells of the Red Keep dug in a cavern of the children of the Forest? Do Qyburn necromantic abilities originate with the greenseers?

Why choose the name Strong, which once loomed large (to quote Jon Connington) in the Seven Kingdoms? The Strongs ruled Harrenhal once. Did Qyburn get better acquainted with the Strongs during his sojourn in Harrenhal?

The Winterfell Huis Clos