The Winterfell Huis Clos


So the story opens. The Stark family, so attaching, is introduced over two chapters. Then we switch to Daenerys and Viserys:

The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men.

(Daenerys I, AGoT)

Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he loved.

(Daenerys I, AGoT)

We meet the woman he loved in the following chapter.

Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child-woman of surpassing loveliness. Ned had loved her with all his heart. Robert had loved her even more. She was to have been his bride.
“She was more beautiful than that,” the king said after a silence. His eyes lingered on Lyanna's face, as if he could will her back to life. Finally he rose, made awkward by his weight. “Ah, damn it, Ned, did you have to bury her in a place like this?” His voice was hoarse with remembered grief. “She deserved more than darkness...”
“She was a Stark of Winterfell,” Ned said quietly. “This is her place.”

(Eddard I, AGoT)

She was a Stark of Winterfell. It was all in the context of the crypts, where the entire Stark dynasty constitutes an imposing presence.

He led the way between the pillars and Robert followed wordlessly, shivering in the subterranean chill. It was always cold down here. Their footsteps rang off the stones and echoed in the vault overhead as they walked among the dead of House Stark. The Lords of Winterfell watched them pass. Their likenesses were carved into the stones that sealed the tombs. In long rows they sat, blind eyes staring out into eternal darkness, while great stone direwolves curled round their feet. The shifting shadows made the stone figures seem to stir as the living passed by. By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts. The oldest had long ago rusted away to nothing, leaving only a few red stains where the metal had rested on stone. Ned wondered if that meant those ghosts were free to roam the castle now. He hoped not. The first Lords of Winterfell had been men hard as the land they ruled. In the centuries before the Dragonlords came over the sea, they had sworn allegiance to no man, styling themselves the Kings in the North.

(Eddard I, AGoT)

We all make an inference: Rhaegar intended to join his special bloodline with the equally special Stark blood.

From the start, the notion that the Targaryens have fire in their blood (“Ours is the house of the dragon,” he would say. “The fire is in our blood.” Daenerys I, AGoT) is mirrored in one of the very emblems of the Starks: their title of King of Winter, their sword Ice (Four hundred years old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes, when the Starks were Kings in the North. Catelyn I, AGoT).

All this is put in our heads insidiously, and never spelled out explicitly – which makes it a more powerful suggestion in my opinion. Perhaps it is part of human nature that we are less likely to challenge a notion that has not been explicitly formulated. Later the importance of the Stark/Targaryen union would be reinforced by the mention of Rhaegar's interest in prophecies, by the notion of the Prince that was promised, and the centrality of Jon Snow to the story.

Now, allow me to suggest that Martin has cleverly fooled us from the beginning.

Lyanna has a special blood indeed. But she has inherited it through her mother – nothing to do with the Starks. An attentive reading of the story provides some clues, and raises innumerable questions. The argumentation relies mainly on reasoning by analogy, but note the inelegance in the asymmetry of two patrilineal dynasties joining in a man of one family with a woman of the other family (indeed neither Winterfell, nor the Iron Throne has ever been ruled by a woman).

Much of the mystery is about Lyanna's mother. She should have been mentioned at some point, either by Eddard, or by Catelyn, of by one of her grandchildren. We know that Eddard's paternal grandfather had a sister, who married a Royce. After all, we know something of Robert's dead mother, of Cersei's dead mother, of Catelyn's dead mother, of Doran Martell's dead mother, of Mace Tyrell's living mother, of Balon Greyjoy's dead mother (but nothing of Jon Arryn's mother, to complete the list of dead mothers of great lords). But Eddard Stark's mother seems always circumvented, despite that the book is largely the story of the Stark family. Was she a taboo subject in Winterfell?

Even if GRRM did not wish to make a remarkable character out of her, he could still have given her a name, a house of origin etc. But we have nothing.

Two hypotheses will be considered without discussion: Lyanna was the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and Jon Snow is the child of Lyanna and Rhaegar. The first hypothesis is essential for our starting point: a heraldic coincidence.

(Series of coincidences are incomparably more meaningful when organised by a structural relation, as I have been inspired to understand. Leaving structuralism aside, there is also an inspiration for my interest in the "true queen". )

Our main thesis will be discussed in the first half. The second part is more digressive, and examines peripheral points.

  1. The Knight of the Laughing Tree
  2. Dalla's brooch
  3. Mance and Rhaegar
  4. Jon Snow
  5. Matrilineality beyond the Wall
  6. Stannis and Val's Crown
  7. Lyanna's Mother and the Flints
  8. Rickard Stark
  9. Old Nan
  10. Benjen Stark
  11. Raymun Redbeard
  12. Skagos
  13. Bael the Bard
  14. Kings-beyond-the-Wall
  15. Rowan
  16. Bran's Visions
  17. Lyanna's Gift
  18. Hardhome
  19. The Moonsingers
  20. Summary and wild Speculations

1. The Knight of the Laughing Tree

This story begins with the Knight of the Laughing Tree, which we assume to be Lyanna. Here is the description of the Knight.
“No one knew,” said Meera, “but the mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces. The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.”
(Bran II, ASoS)

The weirwood sigil is used only by House Marbrand and House Blackwood, as far as I know (it is not confirmed that the tree of House Marbrand is a weirwood). The Marbrands have a burning tree, possibly an allusion to the First Men, or the Andals (I lean towards the First Men, since the Andals cut the trees, while the First Men put them to the torch). So the Marbrand sigil is a sign of hostility towards the trees. House Blackwood is represented by a weirwood covered by a murder of ravens, but there does not seem to be any face on the tree, and the Blackwood heart tree is famously dead.

The sigil displayed by a knight always carries significance, especially the context of a tourney (as it would in he context of a battle). I suppose knights are free to enter tourneys with whatever sigil pleases them. But the weirwood faces allude to the First Men and the Children of the Forest, an archaic reference in the context of a tourney in the Seven Kingdoms, especially in the south of the Realm.

The laughing tree seems like a joke. All the more reason to take the sigil seriously.

If Lyanna Stark was the Knight of the Laughing Tree, where did that idea of using the weirwood sigil come from? Lyanna was forbidden by her father to fight, as Ned Stark told Arya.
“Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her.”
(Arya II, AGoT)
So she was not permitted to joust under the direwolf banner.

In any case, the appearance of the knight is an answer to Howland Reed's prayer to the Old Gods. And the weirwood face refers unmistakably to them.

When did Rhaegar have the idea of abucting Lyanna? Of course, House Stark had existed forever, and the Targaryens never thought it would be good idea to marry a Stark. Rhaegar was convinced of his manifest destiny. But the working of his mind are difficult to decypher.
“Did you know my brother Rhaegar as well?”
“It was said that no man ever knew Prince Rhaegar, truly. I had the privilege of seeing him in tourney, though, and often heard him play his harp with its silver strings.”
(Daenerys I, ASoS)
Maester Aemon seems the one who knew him best.
“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.”
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

So Rhaegar was in search of his true destiny, and has changed his mind several times. The capability to shine on the jousting field seems to have been essential.
“As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior. “‘
(Daenerys I, ASoS)
Here is how he appeared to Daenerys as a vision in Qarth, as he speaks of his son Aegon.
“What better name for a king?”
“Will you make a song for him?” the woman asked.
“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.”
(Daenerys IV, ACoK)

Given all this, the crowning of Lyanna Stark as queen of Love and Beauty must have followed an imperious reason. Especially since the abduction that followed caused a terrible war.

The notion seems to have come abruptly to Rhaegar, as if he recognized something when he saw the knight with the weirwood sigil.

Indeed we learn that Rhaegar was sent by his father to find and unmask the Knight. We are left to believe that he found Lyanna and became infatuated with her.
The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree.
(Bran II, ASoS)
We don't know if the tree was the heart tree of Harrenhal.

2. Dalla's pin

Jon Snow had this interesting thought during Alys Karstark's marriage, the day Val returned to the Wall.
Like so much else, heraldry ended at the Wall.
(Jon X, ADwD)

Like about so much else, Jon Snow is mistaken about heraldry, as we will see. There is only one other moment when the weirwood face appears as a sigil. It's on Val's pin when she returns to the Wall leading Tormund's host.
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. [...] Val patted the long bone knife on her hip.
(Jon XI, ADwD)
A moment later, Val would say.
These clothes were given to me by Dalla, I would sooner not get bloodstains all over them.
(Jon XI, ADwD)

In the Seven Kingdoms, the item used to maintain a cloak closed is a privileged locus for the expression of heraldry.

Just to prove this assertion, here is a little, non-exhaustive, list of characters who have illustrated the thesis: Rhaegar Frey, The Codds, Robett Glover, Balon Swann, Roger Ryswell, Kevan Lannister, "Arya", Robert Strong (a seven-pointed star), The Goodbrothers, Randyll Tarly, Robert Arryn (a crescent moon), Lord Mooton, Lord Hunter, Loras Tyrell, Leo Tyrell, Lord Brax, Baelor Blacktyde (a seven-pointed star), Tyrion, Oberyn's present to Joffrey (a brooch in the shape of a golden scorpion), Stannis (a flame), The Liddle, Bran Stark, Janos Slynt, Theon (shape not mentioned), Theon again, Jaremy Rykker, Wylis Manderly, Wyman Manderly, a Locke, Vyseris (dragon bone, no shape), Renly (emerald, no shape), Boros Blount (a lion), Meryn Trant (a lion), the Blackfish (a black truit). Unless mentioned, the sigil of the wielder's house is represented on the brooch. By brooch, I understand any device used to clasp a cloak.

The other consistent vehicles of heraldry I could find are shields, banners, and cloaks. There are isolated cases of necklaces, helms and pommels, but not rings, not earrings, not bracers.

In the Free Cities, nobody clasp his cloak with anything significant, as far as I can tell. It seems to be largely but not exclusively a masculine habit. The only woman in the above list is Jeyne Poole while she impersonated Arya, then thought to be the "last living Stark".

Here is a telling illustration of the power of brooches as social signals in the Seven Kingdoms.
Egg had the purple eyes of old Valyria, and hair that shone like beaten gold and strands of silver woven together. He might as well wear a three-headed dragon as a brooch as let that hair grow out.
(The Mystery Knight)

By the standards of the Seven Kingdoms, the weirwood face worn by Val and Dalla is a heraldic sign. Precisely the same heraldic sign than the one chosen by Lyanna Stark in Harrenhal.

Of course there is no "House weirwood face" in the Seven Kingdoms. What does the sigil refer to? An ancient extinct house?

But when Val returns to the Wall, a House Thenn had just been created with a sigil etc. The question arises of why did Val wear such an item. Is it a mark of status in the eyes of the wildlings? Is it just an element of a traditional set of clothes? Does she signal something to some kneelers at the Wall? Does Val intend to lead a "House weirwood face", similar to the just created House Thenn?

As we will see, there is more than a coincidence of sigils between Dalla and Lyanna.

3. Mance and Rhaegar

The sight of Val makes a strong impression on Jon Snow.
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)

Perhaps Dalla wore these very clothes when she met Mance, and we can believe that the King-beyond-the-Wall was equally struck.

If the apparition of the Knight of the Laughing Tree decided Rhaegar to elope with Lyanna, it would seem that Mance followed a similar course by wedding Dalla and her weirwood sigil.

There are a few similarities between Mance and Rhaegar. Both were king and bard. We know that Lyanna was moved by Rhaegar's songs.
The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.
(Bran II, ASoS)

We have no proof that Mance's ability as a singer appealed to Dalla, but it seems likely. Here are Dalla and Mance's colors.
A pregnant woman stood over a brazier cooking a brace of hens, while a grey-haired man in a tattered cloak of black and red sat cross-legged on a pillow, playing a lute and singing.
(Jon I, ASoS)

We will return to the song. But it seems a black cloak with red silk is characteristic of the Targaryens. Here is Young Griff about to be revealed as Aegon sixth of the name, wearing garments intended to recall Rhaegar, I suppose.
The prince wore sword and dagger, black boots polished to a high sheen, a black cloak lined with blood-red silk. With his hair washed and cut and freshly dyed a deep, dark blue, his eyes looked blue as well. At his throat he wore three huge square-cut rubies on a chain of black iron, a gift from Magister Illyrio. Red and black. Dragon colors.
(The Lost Lord, ADwD)
Mance would later get the rubies and the black iron, as Rattleshirt.
In the black iron fetter about his wrist, the ruby seemed to pulse.
(Jon IV, ADwD)

But there is no need to invoke Aegon as a proxy for Rhaegar, since the Prince of Dragonstone had the black iron, the rubies and the red silk in Harrenhal.
The crown prince wore the armor he would die in: gleaming black plate with the three-headed dragon of his House wrought in rubies on the breast. A plume of scarlet silk streamed behind him when he rode, and it seemed no lance could touch him.
(Eddard XIV, AGoT)

So the union of Rhaegar and Lyanna seems equivalent to the union of Mance and Dalla, judging by the colors and sigils. The analogy goes farther: Rhaegar defeated every opponent in a tourney before crowning Lyanna. Mance had to earn his kingdom by the force of arms, before he met Dalla, of whom he says.
“It's a wise woman I've found. A true queen.”
(Jon X, ASoS)

There is apparently no reason to believe that Mance is a lost Targaryen (A descendant of Aemon? Of Bloodraven? Of Aegon V? Of the unnamed Targaryen who joined the Watch more than a hundred years ago?). However, the character is extraordinarily gifted, and what we know of him leaves open the question of his parentage. Could the red and black cloak be the sign that Mance is somehow equivalent to a Targaryen without being properly from the lineage. It is no accident that the red silk from Asshai reached him in such an unlikely way.

Of course, Mance calls Dalla a true queen, while Rhaegar crowned Lyanna at Harrenhal.
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty's laurel in Lyanna's lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
(Eddard XI, AGoT)

One of the most curious aspect of the story of Lyanna is that she has been abducted. This is unheard of in the Seven Kingdoms, profoundly barbaric. But it fits the custom of wildling marriage, as we learn from Ygritte.
“Aye, you did. You jumped down the mountain and killed Orell, and afore I could get my axe you had a knife at my throat. I thought you'd have me then, or kill me, or maybe both, but you never did. And when I told you the tale o' Bael the Bard and how he plucked the rose o' Winterfell, I thought you'd know to pluck me then for certain, but you didn't. You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
(Jon III, ASoS)
Val is well aware of the custom. Here she is as she returns to the Wall.
“Har!” laughed Tormund Giantsbane. “Don't bandy words with this one, Lord Snow, she's too clever for the likes o' you and me. Best steal her quick, before Toregg wakes up and takes her first.”
What had that oaf Axell Florent said of Val? “A nubile girl, not hard to look upon. Good hips, good breasts, well made for whelping children.” All true enough, but the wildling woman was so much more. She had proved that by finding Tormund where seasoned rangers of the Watch had failed. She may not be a princess, but she would make a worthy wife for any lord.
But that bridge had been burned a long time ago, and Jon himself had thrown the torch. “Toregg is welcome to her,” he announced. “I took a vow.”
“She won't mind. Will you, girl?”
Val patted the long bone knife on her hip. “Lord Crow is welcome to steal into my bed any night he dares. Once he's been gelded, keeping those vows will come much easier for him.”
(Jon XI, ADwD)

Val seems to have matured somehow when she returns: she feels entitled to wear Dalla's clothes. She seems more assertive. (Curiously, her eyes seem to have changed color from grey to blue.) Her attitude towards Gilly's son has changed as well. We have no indication that she initially reacted so fiercely to Stannis' idea of marrying her to Jon. Did she learn that Jon is kin to her through Lyanna, or through Lyanna's mother during her time beyond the Wall? Ygritte told Jon how much wildlings abhor incest.

However, I am tempted to believe that Dalla and Lyanna are related through the female line. A possibility we will explore below.

4. Jon Snow

Assume that Jon Snow is Lyanna's and Rhaegar's son. Consequently, the differences between Ghost and the other direwolves reflect the differences in the maternal heritages between Jon and the other Stark children.

Lyanna's maternal bloodline could explain why Jon had a different wolf from the other Stark children. When Jon is tempted to accept Stannis' offer to take Winterfell, Ghost reappears.
Red eyes, Jon realized, but not like Melisandre's. He had a weirwood's eyes. Red eyes, red mouth, white fur. Blood and bone, like a heart tree. He belongs to the old gods, this one. And he alone of all the direwolves was white. Six pups they'd found in the late summer snows, him and Robb; five that were grey and black and brown, for the five Starks, and one white, as white as Snow.
(Jon XII, ASoS)

The comparison between Ghost and a weirwood occurs again in the wood where the black brothers swear their vows.
The weirwoods rose in a circle around the edges of the clearing. There were nine, all roughly of the same age and size. Each one had a face carved into it, and no two faces were alike. Some were smiling, some were screaming, some were shouting at him. In the deepening glow their eyes looked black, but in daylight they would be blood-red, Jon knew. Eyes like Ghost's.
(Jon VII, ADwD)

There are a few more white animals with red eyes: the rat cook, Bloodraven, the mouse of Ser Shadrich. Of course, the other Stark children are also descended from Lyanna's mother. But my conjecture is that the power of the genealogy is exclusively matrilineal. It might be transmitted to Jon Snow, but Jon can not transmit it. It might be transmitted genetically, however genetics work in Westeros. However, Ned Stark doesn't appear to have inherited anything from his mother.

It's intriguing to consider that whatever special there is in the matrilineal line can be transmitted by maternal milk.

Has Jon been attributed a white direwolf, by whatever power sent them from beyond the Wall, because of his maternal ancestry?

If one believes in the analogy between Mance+Dalla and Rhaegar+Lyanna, Jon has an alter ego: Mance's son, currently with Sam and Gilly in Oldtown, and believed to be still at the Wall. (The little suggestion I just made about the power of maternal milk could have intriguing consequences after the switch of babies.) A third pair in the series could be formed by Val and Young Griff.

5. Matrilineality beyond the Wall

Beside that Mance seemed infatuated with Dalla, there are a few reasons to believe that Val and Dalla are not ordinary wildlings like Ygritte, Osha etc. They seem more polished than they have any reason to be and they have knowledge of ancient lore.

Here is Dalla speaking the first four of the five sentences we hear from her:
We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.
(Jon X, ASoS)

A statement of which Jon will be reminded later by Val, and that he will repeat to Melisandre. The Horned Lord seems to have lived thousands of years ago. The fifth sentence would come a moment later when Dalla answers Mance.
    "If I sound the Horn of Winter, the Wall will fall. Or so the songs would have me believe. There are those among my people who want nothing more...”
    “But once the Wall is fallen,” Dalla said, “what will stop the Others?” Mance gave her a fond smile. “It's a wise woman I've found. A true queen.”
(Jon X, ASoS)

Dalla does not speak an overly sophisticated language, but she does not employ crude figures of speech like other wildlings do. Ygritte pronounce sentences like Might be it did while Dalla is more articulate in her expression of the hypothetical: Sometimes the shortest road is not the safest, Jon Snow.

Val uses the more polished My Lord instead of the common m'lord, used by all wildlings. It's a mystery how Val and Dalla could have been educated.

In some sense, it is not completely surprising, as knowledge often seems to follow the matrilineal line among the wildlings. Here is Osha:
I was born up there, child, like my mother and her mother before her and her mother before her, born of the Free Folk. We remember.
(Bran VI, AGoT)
Consider Ygritte:
She shrugged. “Might be it did, might be it didn't. It is a good song, though. My mother used to sing it to me. She was a woman too, Jon Snow. Like yours.”
(Jon VI, ACoK)

Much of what Ygritte told Jon is prophetic (the story of Bael the Bard etc). She compared her mother to Jon's mother. The wisewoman who healed Mance followed her mother and her grandmother.
My brothers feared I might die before they got me back to Maester Mullin at the Shadow Tower, so they carried me to a wildling village where we knew an old wisewoman did some healing. She was dead, as it happened, but her daughter saw to me. Cleaned my wounds, sewed me up, and fed me porridge and potions until I was strong enough to ride again. And she sewed up the rents in my cloak as well, with some scarlet silk from Asshai that her grandmother had pulled from the wreck of a cog washed up on the Frozen Shore.
(Jon I, ASoS)

The case of Gilly and other Craster's wives is less clear and deserves an examination. But several women play a prominent role beyond the Wall: Harma, Mother Mole, Morna White Mask. Morna also displayed the weirwood face, as a mask.
The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss his gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred.
(Jon XII, ADwD)

It's not explicitly said that the mask is similar to the faces carved on heart trees. The androgyny is interesting. Is it a way to suggest that the weirwoods are androgynous, just like the dragons are, according to Septon Barth?
Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Should we presume that another union between a dragon and weirwood, this time a female dragon (Daenerys?) and a male weirwood can be expected?

So I believe that Dalla and Val enjoyed a sort of aristocratic status among the Free Folk. They inherited tradition, knowledge, education through the female line. I don't think it's common at all among the wildlings. We know there is no important patrilineal line among the Free Folk, since Mance told Jon Snow.
You don't become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won't follow a name, and they don't care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The other three I slew, when they made it plain they'd sooner fight than follow.
(Jon X, ASoS)

But I suspect you can marry a King-beyond-the-Wall because your mother or grandmother did. However, culture is not homogeneous beyond the Wall. There is patriarchy beyond the Wall (The Thenns, who are distinct from the Free Folk), and even some traces among the Free Folk (Tormund received his armbands from his father, who in turn inherited them from his grandfather etc).

This reminds me very much of the Dothraki, among whom Khals come and go. But the Dosh Khaleen remain, and are the repository of culture and memory.

A little detail points to a resemblance between Val and Lyanna. Here is the pool in the Winterfell godswood.
And then Osha exploded up out of the pool with a great splash, so sudden that even Summer leapt back, snarling. Hodor jumped away, wailing “Hodor, Hodor” in dismay until Bran patted his shoulder to soothe his fears. “How can you swim in there?” he asked Osha. “Isn’t it cold?”
“As a babe I suckled on icicles, boy. I like the cold.” Osha swam to the rocks and rose dripping. She was naked, her skin bumpy with gooseprickles.
(Bran II, ACoK)
Note the coldness of the water.

Bran sees a scene at the pool as well.
Now two children danced across the godswood, hooting at one another as they dueled with broken branches. The girl was the older and taller of the two. Arya! Bran thought eagerly, as he watched her leap up onto a rock and cut at the boy. But that couldn’t be right. If the girl was Arya, the boy was Bran himself, and he had never worn his hair so long. And Arya never beat me playing swords, the way that girl is beating him. She slashed the boy across his thigh, so hard that his leg went out from under him and he fell into the pool and began to splash and shout. “You be quiet, stupid,” the girl said, tossing her own branch aside. “It’s just water. Do you want Old Nan to hear and run tell Father?” She knelt and pulled her brother from the pool, but before she got him out again, the two of them were gone.
(Bran III, ADwD)

The scene involves certainly Lyanna and Benjen, almost certainly not many years before the Harrenhal tourney (Lyanna was fourteen at Harrenhal), during the year of the false spring. So it was still the cold season, winter or autumn. It's probably the reason why Benjen was so dismayed. But for Lyanna it's only water: she doesn't seem adverse to cold.

Val does not fear the cold either. Here she is as she leaves the Wall.
She took a deep breath. “The air tastes sweet.”
“My tongue is too numb to tell. All I can taste is cold.”
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come ...”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)
Here is another minor common point between Val and Lyanna.
Val looked the part and rode as if she had been born on horseback. A warrior princess, he decided, not some willowy creature who sits up in a tower, brushing her hair and waiting for some knight to rescue her.
(Jon XI, ADwD)
Lyanna was renowned for her skills as a rider as well.

The dialogue between Mance and Dalla above lets us think that Mance leaves precedence to Dalla in matter of ancient lore. In particular, Mance knows about a few previous King-beyond-the-Wall: Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, and Joramun. In some sense, it's remarkable since some of them lived thousand of years ago and are still remembered.

Given that Dalla's knowledge might have been passed on through the female line, I wonder if those kings of old did not have Dalla's ancestresses at their sides, which is why Dalla could attribute a quote to the Horned Lord. We will examine Raymun and Bael below.

6. Stannis and Val's Crown

After the battle at the Wall, Val and Mance's son have been taken by Stannis. They were given titles which seemed absurd to Jon.
“He's hungry,” said the blonde woman Val, the one the black brothers called the wildling
princess. “He's lived on goats' milk up to now, and potions from that blind maester.”
The boy did not have a name yet, no more than Gilly's did. That was the wildling way. Not even Mance Rayder's son would get a name till his third year, it would seem, though Sam had heard the brothers calling him “the little prince” and “born-in-battle.”
(Jon XI, ASoS)
Jon has warned Stannis that Val is not a princess.
“I would hope the truth would please you, Sire. Your men call Val a princess, but to the free folk she is only the sister of their king's dead wife. If you force her to marry a man she does not want, she is like to slit his throat on their wedding night. Even if she accepts her husband, that does not mean the wildlings will follow him, or you. The only man who can bind them to your cause is Mance Rayder.”
“I know that,” Stannis said, unhappily. “I have spent hours speaking with the man. He knows much and more of our true enemy, and there is cunning in him, I'll grant you. Even if he were to renounce his kingship, though, the man remains an oathbreaker. Suffer one deserter to live, and you encourage others to desert. No. Laws should be made of iron, not of pudding. Mance Rayder's life is forfeit by every law of the Seven Kingdoms.”
(Jon II, ADwD)

We are never told what Stannis has learned from Mance, and what he wanted from him. However, Stannis has plans for Val.
“Good,” King Stannis said, “for the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage. I mean to wed my Lord of Winterfell to this wildling princess.”
Perhaps Jon had ridden with the free folk too long; he could not help but laugh. “Your Grace,” he said, “captive or no, if you think you can just give Val to me, I fear you have a deal to learn about wildling women. Whoever weds her had best be prepared to climb in her tower window and carry her off at swordpoint...”
(Jon XI, ASoS)
Here they are at the Wall for Melisandre's ceremony.
The king's eyes were blue bruises, sunk deep in a hollow face. He wore grey plate, a fur-trimmed cloak of cloth-of-gold flowing from his broad shoulders. His breastplate had a flaming heart inlaid above his own. Girding his brows was a red-gold crown with points like twisting flames. Val stood beside him, tall and fair. They had crowned her with a simple circlet of dark bronze, yet she looked more regal in bronze than Stannis did in gold. Her eyes were grey and fearless, unflinching. Beneath an ermine cloak, she wore white and gold. Her honey-blond hair had been done up in a thick braid that hung over her right shoulder to her waist. The chill in the air had put color in her cheeks.
(Jon III, ADwD)

It seems that Val has accepted to take part in Stannis' ceremony in exchange for the life of Mance. (Here is the clue: Val had lengthily pleaded for Mance's life before, even accepting to marry a kneeler. But she doesn't seem dismayed as "Mance" is burned under her eyes.) In any case, it is not a misunderstanding that Stannis crowned Val for all the Night's Watch and the Free Folk to see.

Val's crown seems a partial version of Robb's crown.
The ancient crown of the Kings of Winter had been lost three centuries ago, yielded up to Aegon the Conqueror when Torrhen Stark knelt in submission. What Aegon had done with it no man could say. Lord Hoster's smith had done his work well, and Robb's crown looked much as the other was said to have looked in the tales told of the Stark kings of old; an open circlet of hammered bronze incised with the runes of the First Men, surmounted by nine black iron spikes wrought in the shape of longswords. Of gold and silver and gemstones, it had none; bronze and iron were the metals of winter, dark and strong to fight against the cold.
(Catelyn I, ACoK)

So Robb's crown is modeled on the crown of Winter. It seems that Val has the same bronze circlet, but it is deprived of the iron swords. It doesn't appear that runes are inscribed on her crown. But Jon might be too far away to see. Since the First Men did not master iron, their crown might have been exactly Val's before the arrival of the Andals in Westeros. It is tempting to speculate on the crown. Perhaps when the Starks became kings of Winter, they took the bronze circlet of the previous dynasty and modified it with their own iron swords (which recall the swords in the crypts of Winterfell.) The crown of Winter might have been like the Egyptian pschent, made by combining the crowns of both lower and upper Egypt. It might be that the black iron part of the Crown of Winter is on the Barrowton Banner, and is alluded to by the Dreadfort merlons, but that's a story for another day. It would have been interesting to see what did Jeyne Westerling's crown look like.

At this stage, I am tempted to guess that the Kings of Winter displaced an earlier matrilineal dynasty, or rather that the queens of Winter were displaced north of the Wall. But let's return to questions we can try to answer.

It seems that Stannis has understood Val's status, perhaps from Mance. It's not clear why Stannis kept it secret from Jon. Even when he is absent, Stannis made strong recommendations so that Jon keeps Val.
“This had best not be some bastard's trick. Will I trade three hundred fighters for three thousand? Aye, I will. I am not an utter fool. If I leave the girl with you as well, do I have your word that you will keep our princess closely?”
She is not a princess. “As you wish, Your Grace.”
“Do I need to make you swear an oath before a tree?”
Was that a jape? With Stannis, it was hard to tell.
(Jon IV, ADwD)
Stannis' men were insistent, even those who never had the chance to be impressed by Val's beauty.
Axell Florent smiled. “The king might say the same if he were here. Yet some provision must be made for His Grace's leal knights, surely? They have followed him so far and at such cost. And we must needs bind these wildlings to king and realm. This marriage is a good first step, but I know that it would please the queen to see the wildling princess wed as well.”
Jon sighed. He was weary of explaining that Val was no true princess. No matter how often he told them, they never seemed to hear.
(Jon IX, ADwD)

Clearly Stannis' interest in Val went beyond anything reasonable if Val were no more than a pretty wildling who happened to be the goodsister of a defeated king-beyond-the-Wall. Stannis might be in need of a figurehead to control the wildling population. But Val is not pliable, and it is exaggerated to crown her. Surely Jon Snow has missed something.

For Stannis, the marriage with Val would go along the lordship of Winterfell. First, Stannis offers both to Jon.
“Good,” King Stannis said, “for the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage. I mean to wed my Lord of Winterfell to this wildling princess.”
(Jon XI, ASoS)
Then he thinks of giving both Winterfell and Val to one of his knights.
“Horpe and Massey aspire to your father's seat. Massey wants the wildling princess too. He once served my brother Robert as squire and acquired his appetite for female flesh. Horpe will take Val to wife if I command it, but it is battle he lusts for. As a squire he dreamed of a white cloak, but Cersei Lannister spoke against him and Robert passed him over. Perhaps rightly. Ser Richard is too fond of killing. Which would you have as Lord of Winterfell, Snow? The smiler or the slayer?”
(Jon IV, ADwD)

The marriage of Val is brought up again by Ser Axell Florent. His exchange with Jon Snow seems trivial. But when Val returns to the Wall, Jon recalls.
“Have you been trying to steal my wolf?” he asked her. “Why not? If every woman had a direwolf, men would be much sweeter. Even crows.”
“Har!” laughed Tormund Giantsbane. “Don’t bandy words with this one, Lord Snow, she’s too clever for the likes o’ you and me. Best steal her quick, before Toregg wakes up and takes her first.”
What had that oaf Axell Florent said of Val? “
A nubile girl, not hard to look upon. Good hips, good breasts, well made for whelping children.” All true enough, but the wildling woman was so much more.
(Jon XI, ADwD)

The internal interrogation: What had that oaf Axell Florent said of Val? seems an invitation to reread what Ser Axell had said earlier the same day (beyond what Jon had just recalled).
Axell Florent smiled. “The king might say the same if he were here. Yet some provision must be made for His Grace’s leal knights, surely? They have followed him so far and at such cost. And we must needs bind these wildlings to king and realm. This marriage is a good first step, but I know that it would please the queen to see the wildling princess wed as well.”
Jon sighed. He was weary of explaining that Val was no true princess. No matter how often he told them, they never seemed to hear. “You are persistent, Ser Axell, I grant you that.”
“Do you blame me, my lord? Such a prize is not easily won. A nubile girl, I hear, and not hard to look upon. Good hips, good breasts, well made for whelping children.”
“Who would father these children? Ser Patrek? You?”
“Who better? We Florents have the blood of the old Gardener kings in our veins. Lady Melisandre could perform the rites, as she did for Lady Alys and the Magnar.”
“All you are lacking is a bride.”
“Easily remedied.” Florent’s smile was so false that it looked painful. “Where is she, Lord Snow? Have you moved her to one of your other castles? Greyguard or the Shadow Tower? Whore’s Burrow, with t’other wenches?” He leaned close. “Some say you have her tucked away for your own pleasure. It makes no matter to me, so long as she is not with child. I’ll get my own sons on her. If you’ve broken her to saddle, well ... we are both men of the world, are we not?”
Jon had heard enough. “Ser Axell, if you are truly the Queen’s Hand, I pity Her Grace.”
Florent’s face grew flushed with anger. “So it
is true. You mean to keep her for yourself, I see it now. The bastard wants his father’s seat.”
(Jon X, ADwD)

Once again Jon Snow has to deny the nobility of Val. This time Ser Axell sets the bar very high by invoking the blood of the old Gardener kings as a qualifier for being Val's consort.

As a matter of comparison, Davos recalls a painful memory.
Queen Selyse had feasted Salla and his captains, the night before the fleet had set sail. Cotter Pyke had joined them, and four other high officers of the Night’s Watch. Princess Shireen had been allowed to attend as well. As the salmon was being served, Ser Axell Florent had entertained the table with the tale of a Targaryen princeling who kept an ape as a pet. This prince liked to dress the creature in his dead son’s clothes and pretend he was a child, Ser Axell claimed, and from time to time he would propose marriages for him. The lords so honored always declined politely, but of course they did decline. “Even dressed in silk and velvet, an ape remains an ape,” Ser Axell said. “A wiser prince would have known that you cannot send an ape to do a man’s work.” The queen’s men laughed, and several grinned at Davos. I am no ape, he’d thought. I am as much a lord as you, and a better man. But the memory still stung.
(Davos II, ADwD)

The metaphor of the princeling and the monkey should apply equally well to Stannis/Davos and to Stannis/Val if Val were just a common wildling. In fact, just like the Targaryen prince, attempts to marry Val to various people. But, Ser Axell has no contempt for the wildling princess, and proclaims his desire to marry her.

More interestingly even, Axell Florent's final assertion in his conversation with Jon confirms that Winterfell should come with Val.

The subtext seems to be that Winterfell belongs to Val, regardless of her consort. Later Stannis would suggest to give Winterfell to Arnolf Karstark, but there is no explicit mention of Val. Of course, the Kings of Winter used to rule from Winterfell and the seat goes with the crown, so Stannis is nothing but consistent here.

What makes Val deserve a crown and Winterfell? See how Jon Snow made the wrong observation during the ceremony at the Wall just after having looked at Val and her crown.
Lady Melisandre wore no crown, but every man there knew that she was Stannis Baratheon's real queen, not the homely woman he had left to shiver at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
(Jon III, ADwD)
The true queen of the day was obviously not Melisandre.

Of course Stannis is advised by Melisandre, who has knowledge of her own. Who knows what Melisandre told Stannis?

7. Lyanna's Mother and the Flints

Let's turn to Lyanna's mother. This is going to be short, since her name is never pronounced. She is not present in Harrenhal with her children. She was not in Winterfell anymore when Brandon and Rickard died, I suppose. She seems to have already been absent from Winterfell in Bran's first vision as a greenseer.
Now two children danced across the godswood, hooting at one another as they dueled with broken branches. The girl was the older and taller of the two. Arya! Bran thought eagerly, as he watched her leap up onto a rock and cut at the boy. But that couldn't be right. If the girl was Arya, the boy was Bran himself, and he had never worn his hair so long. And Arya never beat me playing swords, the way that girl is beating him. She slashed the boy across his thigh, so hard that his leg went out from under him and he fell into the pool and began to splash and shout. “You be quiet, stupid,” the girl said, tossing her own branch aside. “It's just water. Do you want Old Nan to hear and run tell Father?” She knelt and pulled her brother from the pool, but before she got him out again, the two of them were gone.
(Bran III, ADwD)

The children seem to be supervised by Old Nan and not by their mother. We see how fierce a fighter Lyanna was, like a real spearwife (compare with Osha who was a match for Robb).

But we know something about her mother from Bran:
His father's mother's mother had been a Flint of the mountains. Old Nan once said that it was her blood in him that made Bran such a fool for climbing before his fall. She had died years and years and years before he was born, though, even before his father had been born.
(Bran II, ASoS)

Note the importance of the blood. But Old Nan does not say Flint blood, but her blood. I come to realize that perhaps the climbing part does not refer to the Flints. I grant that the Flints live in the mountains, but climbing walls is not exactly the same as mountaineering. The grandmother might have been related to the raiders that climb the Wall. Bran underlines how long ago his greatgrandmother died. But we never hear a word about the grandmother.

We have an example of a wildling woman who came south of the Wall and has a gift for climbing: Squirrel.
Squirrel answered for herself. “Out a window, and straight down to the godswood. I was twelve the first time my brother took me raiding south o' your Wall. That's where I got my name. My brother said I looked like a squirrel running up a tree. I've done that Wall six times since, over and back again. I think I can climb down some stone tower.”
(Theon, ADwD)
The genealogy of Lyanna is confirmed by Jon Snow.
“My father's grandmother was a Flint of the mountains, on his mother's side,” Jon told her. “The First Flints, they call themselves. They say the other Flints are the blood of younger sons, who had to leave the mountains to find food and land and wives. It has always been a harsh life up there. When the snows fall and food grows scarce, their young must travel to the winter town or take service at one castle or the other. The old men gather up what strength remains in them and announce that they are going hunting. Some are found come spring. More are never seen again.”
(Jon X, ADwD)

It seems only Flint sons leave the mountains. The women remain up there. Curiously there are not enough women for the men in the mountains.

We do not know who was Lyanna's maternal grandmother. Like Lyanna's mother she seems to have died or disappeared early (before the birth of Eddard, according to Bran). Her mother was Ned Stark's great-grandmother, and lived probably at the time of Ned Stark's great-grandfather, on the male line, who was either Artos or Willem Stark, who defeated Raymun Redbeard, a King-beyond-the-Wall. So we have the mother of Lyanna's grandmother living at a time a great turmoil, when the wildlings invaded the north. More on Raymun later.

The sigil of the First Flints is unknown. But the sigils of the Flints of Widow's Watch, of Flint's Finger are known, as are the sigils of the Wulls and Liddles. It's surprising that this knowledge has eluded us, since the First Flints are among the most important amountain clans, along the Wulls.

Here is the description of Old Flint, who currently leads the clan.
Old Flint and The Norrey had been given places of high honor just below the dais. Both men had been too old to march with Stannis; they had sent their sons and grandsons in their stead. But they had been quick enough to descend on Castle Black for the wedding. Each had brought a wet nurse to the Wall as well.
(Jon X, ADwD)
Torghen Flint was half a head shorter but must weigh twice as much a stout gruff man with gnarled, red-knuckled hands as big as hams, leaning heavily on a blackthorn cane as he limped across the ice.
(Jon XI, ADwD)

I guess Old Flint is old enough to be Jon Snow's grandfather, even perhaps his great-grandfather. There is good chance that Lyanna's grandmother was related to him, perhaps as his sister or his aunt.

Torghen Flint's features remind me of Tormund (who is first described as short, but immensely broad). It is not noted that Torghen's sons Artos and Black Donnel are particularly short or broad. But Tormund's son is not either. And while we list similarities, Tormund and Torghen might come from the same traditions of nomenclature, which seems obeyed by Tormund's sons Torreg and Torwynd, but not quite Dormund (unless Dormund was destined to become Tormund at the death of his father, and the variant Dormund was used only to differentiate them). Of course, Torghen can be a variant form of Torrhen (the name of the last in the line of the Kings in the north).

Generally, the mountain clans seem closer to the willdlings than other northmen are. Indeed, the mountain clans have not embraced feudalism, they do not take the titles of lord etc.

It's another mystery why Old Flint and The Norrey came so quickly to the Wall with wet nurses. They had been informed by Stannis of the events at the Wall, and they brought wet nurses for (what was believed to be) Mance's son. Is their diligence motivated by a blood relation to the baby's mother?

When the Kings-beyond-the-Wall (Raymun, Bael, Gendel and Gorne, Joramun) were stopped south of the Wall, it was always by the Starks, often helped by the Umbers (Gendel and Gorne, Raymun Redbeard). The Flints do not seem to have ever fought the Free Folk, in the tales we heard. Nevertheless the  Flints are just as close to the Wall as the Umbers are.

We know that the Flints suffer from wildling raids.
“It's peaceful in my dungeons,” grumbled Old Flint. “Give the Weeping Man to me.”
“How many rangers has the Weeper killed?” asked Othell Yarwyck. “How many women has he raped or killed or stolen?”
“Three of mine own ilk,” said Old Flint. “And he blinds the girls he does not take.”
(Jon XI, ADwD)

Why does the Weeper specifically want the Flint women? Does it have something to do with the Flint grandmother, and her female descendants? And why blind the women? However, the Weeper was in Mance's host, along Val and Dalla. Mance does not seem to like him, but the Weeper was never an enemy.

8. Rickard Stark

It's fair to assume that Rickard's wife did not come from any house of importance, otherwise it would be mentioned. Any Stark bannerman would be proud to mention his blood relations to House Stark, the Stark children would have cousins, etc. Since we can't say much on Lyanna's mother, let's examine her father.

Did Rickard marry for love, like Doran Martell? Was he spellbound by a common woman, like Roose has been with the washerwoman of the Weepwater mill? Did he marry a woman out of guilt after taking his first night rights? Did he marry the daughter of another mountain clan chief, or the daughter of a magnar of Skagos?

Roose Bolton said that Lord Rickard was insistent on the first night ban.

That annoyed me, so I gave her the mill and had the brother's tongue cut out, to make certain he did not go running to Winterfell with tales that might disturb Lord Rickard.

(Reek III, ADwD)

Rickard was the only son of Edwyle Stark. Indeed, when Catelyn and Robb considered succession issues.

“Your father's father had no siblings, but his father had a sister who married a younger son of Lord Raymar Royce, of the junior branch. They had three daughters, all of whom wed Vale lordlings. A Waynwood and a Corbray, for certain. The youngest... it might have been a Templeton, but...”

(Catelyn V, ASoS)

Qhorin Halfhand knew Lord Rickard, as he told Jon Snow.

“You are Jon Snow.
You have your father's look.”
“Did you know him, my lord?”
“I am no lordling. Only a brother of the Night's Watch. I knew Lord Eddard, yes. And his father before him.”Jon had to hurry his steps to keep up with Qhorin's long strides. “Lord Rickard died before I was born.”
“He was a friend to the Watch.” Qhorin glanced behind. “It is said that a direwolf runs with you. ”

(Jon V, ACoK)

It is part of the family tradition for the Starks to be a friend to the Watch. Hence Qhorin, a man of few words, shouldn't have to recall it. I feel there is a special insistence on Lord Rickard's affinity with the Watch. We do not know what Lord Rickard did for the Watch. I wonder if Lyanna's mother did not leave Winterfell and return beyond the Wall, like Mance did, as Qhorin told us.

“He liked women, Mance did, and he was not a man whose knees bent easily, that's true. But it was more than that. He loved the wild better than the  Wall. It was in his blood. He was wildling born, taken as a child when some raiders were put to the sword. When he left the Shadow Tower he was only going home again.”
“Was he a good ranger?”
“He was the best of us,” said the Halfhand, “and the worst as well. Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we are, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline. They name themselves the free folk, and each one thinks himself as good as a king and wiser than a maester. Mance was the same. He never learned how to obey.”

(Jon VII, ACoK)

It was in his blood. Mance and Lyanna's mother might have had the same love for the wild. Lyanna might fit Qhorin's portrayal of Mance as well. Were Lyanna and Mance indomitable spirits of the same sort? Let's return to the story of Bael the Bard. The Stark heiress was abducted by Bael.

“Lord Brandon had no other children. At his behest, the black crows flew forth from their castles in the hundreds, but nowhere could they find any sign o' Bael or this maid. For most a year they searched, till the lord lost heart and took to his bed, and it seemed as though the line o' Starks was at its end.

(Jon VI, ACoK)

Brandon the daughterless was certainly a friend to the Watch since the black brothers accepted to range for him. I wonder if Qhorin did not do the same thing for Lord Rickard.

In the story of Bael, there is not mention of the wife of Lord Brandon. Why did they not have any more children? Did she die? Did she leave? It seems similar to what happened with Lyanna's mother.

Let's turn now to Rickard Stark's southron ambitions. This is the story according to Lady Dustin.

“The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though ... there was nothing sweet about that pain. He never wanted her, I promise you that. He told me so, on our last night together ... but Rickard Stark had great ambitions too. Southron ambitions that would not be served by having his heir marry the daughter of one of his own vassals. Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon's brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well. I was left with young Lord Dustin, until Ned Stark took him from me.”

(The Turncloak, ADwD)

Brandon, Lyanna's brother, did not want Catelyn Tully, just like Lyanna did not want Robert Baratheon.
“Robert will never keep to one bed,” Lyanna had told him at Winterfell, on the night long ago when their father had promised her hand to the young Lord of Storm's End. “I hear he has gotten a child on some girl in the Vale.” Ned had held the babe in his arms; he could scarcely deny her, nor would he lie to his sister, but he had assured her that what Robert did before their betrothal was of no matter, that he was a good man and true who would love her with all his heart. Lyanna had only smiled. “Love is sweet, dearest Ned, but it cannot change a man's nature.”
(Eddard IX, AGoT)

Brandon and Lyanna are compared by Lady Dustin.

Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I'd later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.

(The Turncloak, ADwD)

The southron ambitions of Rickard Stark seem to have been uncommon for a Stark. In the days of the Kingdom of the north, it is likely that the Starks married their bannermen. Indeed Jon said that half the nobility of the north has Stark blood. Fairly recently, Edwyle's sister married a Royce, which is hardly surprising considering how House Royce is tied to First Men culture.

Lord Rickard set up a series of alliances of a different nature in the south: the betrothal of Lyanna and Robert, Ned Stark fostered in the Vale, Brandon Stark promised to Catelyn Tully. None of the three houses, Tully, Arryn and Baratheon were followers of the old gods. So Rickard hardly prepared the young Starks to perpetuate the old ways.

The network of alliances made king Aerys feel threatened, as the rest of the story shows.

Lady Dustin deplores Rickard's politics for selfish, and perhaps also unselfish, reasons. She put the blame on Maester Walys.

“They heal, yes. I never said they were not subtle. They tend to us when we are sick and injured, or distraught over the illness of a parent or a child. Whenever we are weakest and most vulnerable, there they are. Sometimes they heal us, and we are duly grateful. When they fail, they console us in our grief, and we are grateful for that as well. Out of gratitude we give them a place beneath our roof and make them privy to all our shames and secrets, a part of every council. And before too long, the ruler has become the ruled.
“That was how it was with Lord Rickard Stark. Maester Walys was his grey rat's name. And isn't it clever how the maesters go by only one name, even those who had two when they first arrived at the Citadel? That way we cannot know who they truly are or where they come from ... but if you are dogged enough, you can still find out. Before he forged his chain, Maester Walys had been known as Walys Flowers. Flowers, Hill, Rivers, Snow ... we give such names to baseborn children to mark them for what they are, but they are always quick to shed them. 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. Once he forged his chain, his secret father and his friends wasted no time dispatching him to Winterfell to fill Lord Rickard's ears with poisoned words as sweet as honey. The Tully marriage was his notion, never doubt it, he...”

(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

It seems that Lady Dustin was about to say more when she was interrupted. She was once close to the Starks and was well placed to understand their motivations. What weakness of Lord Rickard did Walys exploit? Is it related to his wife? Was he heartbroken? Was Rickard so disenchanted by the wild north and the old gods that he was determined to embrace the southron culture?

The punishment inflicted by Aerys to Rickard seems extraordinarily cruel.
“There were trials. Of a sort. Lord Rickard demanded trial by combat, and the king granted the request. Stark armored himself as for battle, thinking to duel one of the Kingsguard. Me, perhaps. Instead they took him to the throne room and suspended him from the rafters while two of Aerys's pyromancers kindled a blaze beneath him. The king told him that fire was the champion of House Targaryen. So all Lord Rickard needed to do to prove himself innocent of treason was... well, not burn.
“When the fire was blazing, Brandon was brought in. His hands were chained behind his back, and around his neck was a wet leathern cord attached to a device the king had brought from Tyrosh. His legs were left free, though, and his longsword was set down just beyond his reach.
“The pyromancers roasted Lord Rickard slowly, banking and fanning that fire carefully to get a nice even heat. His cloak caught first, and then his surcoat, and soon he wore nothing but metal and ashes. Next he would start to cook, Aerys promised... unless his son could free him. Brandon tried, but the more he struggled, the tighter the cord constricted around his throat. In the end he strangled himself.
“As for Lord Rickard, the steel of his breastplate turned cherry-red before the end, and his gold melted off his spurs and dripped down into the fire.

(Catelyn VII, ACoK)

The scene reminds me of the sacrifices to the red god. Of course, the pyromancers are not followers of R'hllor. Perhaps there is some kind of retribution, and some justice in Aerys' punishment. Perhaps Rickard was really scheming against the Targaryens, perhaps he has committed some other grave transgression during his life. Perhaps the old gods felt that he received his due. In any case, the golden spurs are interesting, and might be telling us something that we will have to look at, but not here.

An important question is the disappearance of Lyanna's mother. She might have died shortly after Benjen's birth, but it is never mentioned. Perhaps she flew Winterfell and went beyond the Wall. It would be mentioned if she had been abducted by wildling raiders, I think. She might have been banished by Lord Rickard for some transgression (skinchanging, or something more mundane like adultery), just like Eddard Stark would later offer exile to Cersei instead of punishment for her treason of Robert.

9. Old Nan

Old Nan has been with the Starks for so long that she must know the truth about Lyanna's mother. It's worthwile to recall her story.

The old woman smiled at him toothlessly. “My stories? No, my little lord, not mine. The stories are, before me and after me, before you too.”
She was a very ugly old woman, Bran thought spitefully; shrunken and wrinkled, almost blind, too weak to climb stairs, with only a few wisps of white hair left to cover a mottled pink scalp. No one really knew how old she was, but his father said she'd been called Old Nan even when he was a boy. She was the oldest person in Winterfell for certain, maybe the oldest person in the Seven Kingdoms. Nan had come to the castle as a wet nurse for a Brandon Stark whose mother had died birthing him. He had been an older brother of Lord Rickard, Bran's grandfather, or perhaps a younger brother, or a brother to Lord Rickard's father. Sometimes Old Nan told it one way and sometimes another. In all the stories the little boy died at three of a summer chill, but Old Nan stayed on at Winterfell with her own children. She had lost both her sons to the war when King Robert won the throne, and her grandson was killed on the walls of Pyke during Balon Greyjoy's rebellion. Her daughters had long ago married and moved away and died. All that was left of her own blood was Hodor, the simpleminded giant who worked in the stables, but Old Nan just lived on and on, doing her needlework and telling her stories.

(Bran IV, AGoT)

So Old Nan came to Winterfell in the time of Edwyle, or perhaps before. If she was there for Edwyle's brother, it must in the time of Artos and Willam Stark, around the battle of Long Lake (see below). So she might have been a wildling who came south of the Wall with Raymun Redbeard. The example of Osha shows that wildlings can be accepted as members of the household in Winterfell.

However, Old Nan never mentions such origins and seems quite biased against wildlings.

He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.

(Bran I, AGoT)

The blood drinking can even become more sinister.

Jon remembered Old Nan's tales of the savage folk who drank blood from human skulls.

(Jon II, ACoK)

But we never saw any wildling drinking blood. Wildlings are just occasional invaders.

“Wildlings have invaded the realm before.” Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. “Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather's grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard.”

(Jon IV, ACoK)

Arya recalls Harrenhal.

Walls, doors, halls, steps, everything was built to an inhuman scale that made Arya remember the stories Old Nan used to tell of the giants who lived beyond the Wall.

(Arya VIII, ACoK)

And Old Nan is biased against shapechanging.

Old Nan told scary stories of beastlings and shapechangers sometimes. In the stories they were always evil.

(Bran V, ACoK)

Here is Old Nan's view of the Wall.

It was the end of the world, Old Nan always said. On the other side were monsters and giants and ghouls, but they could not pass so long as the Wall stood strong.

(Bran IV, ASoS)

Giants are not better than wildlings for Old Nan.

Wun Wun was very little like the giants in Old Nan's tales, those huge savage creatures who mixed blood into their morning porridge and devoured whole bulls, hair and hide and horns.

(Jon, ADwD)

So Old Nan is remarkably accurate for certain southern stories (Harrenhal, the Red Keep). She even tells the story of Dagmer Cleftjaw. However, she never has anything good to say about wildlings. Compare with how measuredly Val described her people:

Val had reminded him of that, on his last visit with her. “Free folk and kneelers are more alike than not, Jon Snow. Men are men and women women, no matter which side of the Wall we were born on. Good men and bad, heroes and villains, men of honor, liars, cravens, brutes ... we have plenty, as do you.”

(Jon V, ADwD)

Old Nan never told the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree to Bran. Perhaps she had been forbidden to by Lord Eddard, or it is due to her own bias.

10. Benjen Stark

The story of the Knight of the laughing Tree and Bran's first vision indicate that Benjen and Lyanna were close. It seems even that Benjen provided the armor for the Knight. Indeed, Benjen proposed the armor first for Howland Reed.
`I could find you a horse, and some armor that might fit', the pup offered.
(Bran II, ASoS)

So we are led to believe that Benjen was complicit to Lyanna's ploy. He was presumably there when Lyanna decided to fight under the auspices of the laughing tree. However, we do not know why he joined the Night's Watch. Did he feel guilty for what happened subsequently? In any case, joining the Watch is an honorable vocation, at least from the Stark point of view. Moreover, Benjen was a third son, deprived of inheritance. So there is no need to invoke mysterious reasons. However, it's tempting to think that Benjen shared some of the knowledge of Lyanna, about that mysterious female lineage. Perhaps, he was tempted to find something, perhaps even his mother, by ranging beyond the Wall.

Benjen seemed to see the wildlings like Old Nan and Ned Stark did: mainly as a nuisance. He was even feared by wildlings, as Mance seems to indicate.
I wanted to see this Robert with my own eyes, king to king, and get the measure of your uncle Benjen as well. He was First Ranger by then, and the bane of all my people.
(Jon I, ADwD)
Ned Stark's views on wildling are expressed early to Catelyn.
“Ben writes that the strength of the Night's Watch is down below a thousand. It's not only desertions. They are losing men on rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this Kingbeyond-the-Wall for good and all.”
“Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear.”
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale
bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
His smile was gentle. “You listen to too many of Old Nan's stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.”
(Catelyn I, AGoT)

Since Benjen was the primary source for Ned, it's likely that his thoughts were similar. So I do not find much reason to think that Ned and Benjen believed that there is something interesting for them beyond the Wall. So the notion that Lyanna's mother "returned" beyond the Wall has to be abandoned.

11. Raymun Redbeard

Here is the story of Raymun Redbeard, the most recent of the kings-beyond-the-Wall.
If the climbers reached the top of the Wall undetected, however, everything changed. Given time, they could carve out a toehold for themselves up there, throwing up ramparts of their own and dropping ropes and ladders for thousands more to clamber over after them. That was how Raymun Redbeard had done it, Raymun who had been King-Beyond-the-Wall in the days of his grandfather's grandfather. Jack Musgood had been the lord commander in those days. Jolly Jack, he was called before Redbeard came down upon the north; Sleepy Jack, forever after. Raymun's host had met a bloody end on the shores of Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and the Drunken Giant, Harmond Umber. Red-beard had been slain by Artos the Implacable, Lord Willam's younger brother. The Watch arrived too late to fight the wildlings, but in time to bury them, the task that Artos Stark assigned them in his wroth as he grieved above the headless corpse of his fallen brother.
(Jon II, ADwD)

Note that the climbing skills of the wildlings were essential for Raymun's invasion, the very skills that Bran is supposed to have inherited from her greatgrandmother. The invasion happened less than ninety years ago, since Artos and Willam Stark ruled after Beron Stark, who fought the ironmen at that time.

Tormund designates a wildling.
“Him with the red hair, he's Gerrick Kingsblood's get. Comes o' the line o' Raymun Redbeard, to hear him tell it. The line o' Redbeard's little brother, you want it true.”
(Jon XII, ADwD)
Gerrick himself adds:
Red-bearded Gerrick Kingsblood brought three daughters. “They will make fine wives, and give their husbands strong sons of royal blood,” he boasted. “Like their father, they are descended from Raymun Redbeard, who was King-Beyond-the-Wall.”
(Jon XII, ADwD)

It's curious that Gerrick mentions blood, since we know from Mance that it counts for nothing beyond the Wall. We hear later from Selyse.
“Gerrick is the true and rightful king of the wildlings,” the queen said, “descended in an unbroken male line from their great king Raymun Red-beard, whereas the usurper Mance Rayder was born of some common woman and fathered by one of your black brothers.”
No, Jon might have said, Gerrick is descended from a younger brother of Raymun Redbeard. To the free folk that counted about as much as being descended from Raymun Redbeard's horse. They know nothing, Ygritte. And worse, they will not learn.
(Jon XIII, ADwD)
And when Tormund hears the news.
“King o' the Wildlings?” Tormund roared. “Har! King o' My Hairy Butt Crack, more like.”
“He has a regal look to him,” Jon said. “He has a little red cock to go with all that red hair, that's what he has. Raymund Redbeard and his sons died at Long Lake, thanks to your bloody Starks and the Drunken Giant. Not the little brother. Ever wonder why they called him the Red Raven?” Tormund's mouth split in a gap-toothed grin. “First to fly the battle, he was. 'Twas a song about it, after. The singer had to find a rhyme for craven, so ...” He wiped his nose. “If your queen's knights want those girls o' his, they're welcome to them.”
“Girls,” squawked Mormont's raven. “Girls, girls.”
That set Tormund to laughing all over again. “Now there's a bird with sense. How much do you want for him, Snow? I gave you a son, the least you could do is give me the bloody bird.”
(Jon XIII, ADwD)

“Girls, girls.” Of course Mormont's raven words have sometimes a prophetic meaning. It seems the raven invites us to pay attentions to girls. The daughters of Raymun? If a daughter of Raymun is none other than the Flint ancestress, that would make of Jon Snow a descendant of Raymun.

In any case, we do not have the means to reconstitute the genealogy beyond the Flint woman, beyond the fact that her blood was the origin of Bran's passion for climbing.

Let's attempt to constitute a timeline of events in the north. First recall the list of Stark lords in the crypts of Winterfell.
Lyanna and Brandon, Lord Rickard Stark their father, Lord Edwyle his father, Lord Willam and his brother Artos the Implacable, Lord Donnor and Lord Beron and Lord Rodwell, one-eyed Lord Jonnel, Lord Barth and Lord Brandon and Lord Cregan who had fought the Dragonknight.
(Bran VII, ACoK)

Let's assume that the list is in reverse order, and that the conjunction and designates a relation between siblings. Here is the approximative timeline:
  • One hundred years ago: the rebellion in Skagos, which took many years to quell. 
  • Ninety years ago: Beron is Lord of Winterfell and at war with the Ironmen. (See The Mystery Knight.)
  • Artos and Willam defeat Raymun at Long Lake, when Willam is Lord.
  • Edwyle is Lord of Winterfell.
  • He is followed by his son Rickard.
  • Forty years ago: Brandon, heir to Rickard is born.
  • Seventeen years ago: Rickard, Lord of Winterfell dies. He is of fighting age.
Sixty seven years ago: Aemon and Bloodraven came to the Wall, probably before Rickard was born, since Rickard was of fighting age when he died.

On this basis, the battle of Long Lake could have happened from forty years ago to eighty years ago. However, Lord Umber was called Hoarfrost fifty years ago. Indeed Jon told Stannis Hother Umber's story.
 “You might say so. A whore who tried to rob him, fifty years ago in Oldtown.” Odd as it might seem, old Hoarfrost Umber had once believed his youngest son had the makings of a maester.
(Jon IV, ADwD)

Since Hoarfrost Umber had sons, including the Greatjon's father, it means that either Harmond Umber preceded Hoarfrost, or that Harmond was the Greatjon's father, or perhaps an older uncle. So it's not impossible that Crowfood and Whoresbane were at the battle of Long Lake (more precisely perhaps, Crowfood lost his eye when he was thought dead at the battle, while Whoresbane was in Oldtown).

It's not clear if the battle happened before or after Aemon and Bloodraven came to the Wall (sixty seven years ago). Then Jack Musgood was Lord Commander. Perhaps Bloodraven followed Sleepy Jack as Lord Commander.

12. Skagos

A common speculation is that Ned Stark's mother, or more precisely his mother's father, was from the Isle of Skagos, since Rickon is brought there by Osha, apparently on Osha's own initiative.

Skagos rebelled one hundred years ago. During the second Blackfyre rebellion, ninety years ago, Beron Stark was Lord of Winterfell. So the Lord of Winterfell who died during the rebellion of Skagos preceded Beron.
Only a hundred years ago Skagos had risen in rebellion. Their revolt had taken years to quell and claimed the life of the Lord of Winterfell and hundreds of his sworn swords.
(Samwell II, AFfC)
Here are the Stark Lords as Bran sees them in the crypts.
Lyanna and Brandon, Lord Rickard Stark their father, Lord Edwyle his father, Lord Willam and his brother Artos the Implacable, Lord Donnor and Lord Beron and Lord Rodwell, one-eyed Lord Jonnel, Lord Barth and Lord Brandon and Lord Cregan who had fought the Dragonknight.
(Bran VII, ACoK)

If the list is in order, the Skagos rebellion preceded the rule of Beron, who fought the ironmen, which in turn preceded Artos and and Willam, the brothers who fought Raymun. The Dragonknight died before his brother Aegon the Unworthy, who, in turn, died one hundred and seventeen years ago.

Skagos means stone in the Old Tongue. And Flint is a type of stone. Are there cultural affinities between the Flints and the Skagosi? Roose Bolton alludes to the fact that certain mountain clans still practice the first night tradition, and seems to believe the Skagosi do the same. Could all that explain why a Flint girl could marry a Skagosi Magnar?

If Lyanna's mother has left Winterfell at some point, could she be in Skagos, perhaps alive? Is it possible that Dalla and Val came from Skagos?

Here is the story of the meeting of Mance and Dalla.
“My lady is blameless. I met her on my return from your father's castle. The Halfhand was carved of old oak, but I am made of flesh, and I have a great fondness for the charms of women... which makes me no different from threequarters of the Watch. There are men still wearing black who have had ten times as many women as this poor king. You must guess again, Jon Snow.”
(Jon I, ASoS)

Mance had come to Winterfell to see Robert by crossing the Wall at Longbarrow, in the eastern part. Later we hear that wildlings have boats in the bay of Seals from Whoresbane Umber. Could it be that Mance went to the bay of Seals, and paid a visit to Skagos, upon his return? It's not impossible. But I don't see as much supported the notion that Val and Dalla originate from Skagos.

The unicorn is the emblematic Skagosi animal. What is a unicorn, if not an animal completely equipped for jousting? Is this related to Lyanna's prowess as a jouster?

The culture of Skagos is mysterious. But a few hints suggest that the Skagosons are close to the Thenns in some sense (their lords are called Magnar, and they share the habit of cutting the hearts of their enemies.)

13. Bael the Bard

Here is the story in full, in a conversation between Jon and Ygritte.
“Were they your kin?” he asked her quietly. “The two we killed?”
“No more than you are.”
“Me?” He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You said you were the Bastard o' Winterfell.”
“I am.”
“Who was your mother?”
“Some woman. Most of them are.” Someone had said that to him once. He did not remember who.
She smiled again, a flash of white teeth. “And she never sung you the song o' the winter rose?” “I never knew my mother. Or any such song.”
“Bael the Bard made it,” said Ygritte. “He was King-beyond-the--Wall a long time back. All
the free folk know his songs, but might be you don't sing them in the south.” “Winterfell's not in the south,” Jon objected.
“Yes it is. Everything below the Wall's south to us.”
He had never thought of it that way. “I suppose it's all in where you're standing.”
“Aye,” Ygritte agreed. “It always is.”
“Tell me,” Jon urged her. it would be hours before Qhorin came up, and a story would help
keep him awake. “I want to hear this tale of yours.” “Might be you won't like it much.”
“I'll hear it all the same.”
“Brave black crow,” she mocked. “Well, long before he was king over the free folk, Bael was a great raider.”
Stonesnake gave a snort. “A murderer, robber, and raper, is what you mean.”
“That's all in where you're standing too,” Ygritte said. “The Stark in Winterfell wanted Bael's head, but never could take him, and the taste o' failure galled him. One day in his bitterness he called Bael a craven who preyed only on the weak. When word o' that got back, Bael vowed to teach the lord a lesson. So he scaled the Wall, skipped down the kingsroad, and walked into Winterfell one winter's night with harp in hand, naming himself Sygerrik of Skagos. Sygerrik means `deceiver' in the Old Tongue, that the First Men spoke, and the giants still speak.
“North or south, singers always find a ready welcome, so Bael ate at Lord Stark's own table, and played for the lord in his high seat until half the night was gone. The old songs he played, and new ones he'd made himself, and he played and sang so well that when he was done, the lord offered to let him name his own reward. `All I ask is a flower' Bael answered, `the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o' Winterfell.'
“Now as it happened the winter roses had only then come into bloom, and no flower is so rare nor precious. So the Stark sent to his glass gardens and commanded that the most beautiful o' the winter roses be plucked for the singer's payment. And so it was done. But when morning come, the singer had vanished... and so had Lord Brandon's maiden daughter. Her bed they found empty, but for the pale blue rose that Bael had left on the pillow where her head had lain.”
Jon had never heard this tale before. “Which Brandon was this supposed to be? Brandon the Builder lived in the Age of Heroes, thousands of years before Bael. There was Brandon the Burner and his father Brandon the Shipwright, but-”
“This was Brandon the Daughterless,” Ygritte said sharply. “Would you hear the tale, or no?” He scowled. “Go on.”
“Lord Brandon had no other children. At his behest, the black crows flew forth from their
castles in the hundreds, but nowhere could they find any sign o' Bael or this maid. For most a year they searched, till the lord lost heart and took to his bed, and it seemed as though the line o' Starks was at its end. But one night as he lay waiting to die, Lord Brandon heard a child's cry. He followed the sound and found his daughter back in her bedchamber, asleep with a babe at her breast.”
“Bael had brought her back?”
“No. They had been in Winterfell all the time, hiding with the dead beneath the castle. The maid loved Bael so dearly she bore him a son, the song says... though if truth be told, all the maids love Bael in them songs he wrote. Be that as it may, what's certain is that Bael left the child in payment for the rose he'd plucked unasked, and that the boy grew to be the next Lord Stark. So there it is-you have Bael's blood in you, same as me.”
“It never happened,” Jon said.
She shrugged. “Might be it did, might be it didn't. It is a good song, though. My mother used to sing it to me. She was a woman too, Jon Snow. Like yours.” She rubbed her throat where his dirk had cut her. “The song ends when they find the babe, but there is a darker end to the story. Thirty
years later, when Bael was King-beyond-the-Wall and led the free folk south, it was young Lord Stark who met him at the Frozen Ford... and killed him, for Bael would not harm his own son when they met sword to sword.”
“So the son slew the father instead,” said Jon.
“Aye,” she said, “but the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing. When Lord Stark returned from the battle and his mother saw Bael's head upon his spear, she threw herself from a tower in her grief. Her son did not long outlive her. One o' his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”
“Your Bael was a liar,” he told her, certain now.
“No,” Ygritte said, “but a bard's truth is different than yours or mine. Anyway, you asked for the story, so I told it.” She turned away from him, closed her eyes, and seemed to sleep.
(Jon VI, ACoK)

Ygritte perversely insists on Jon's mother, on the fact she was not different from her mother. It's probably uninentional, but who knows. The story of Bael the Bard is strangely similar to the story of Lyanna and Rhaegar. (Abduction of the daughter of the Stark in Winterfell by a singer and future king, blue roses.) An important difference resides in the absence of male heir for Lord Brandon, while Lord Rickard had three sons. Since the archetype was known to Mance, it would be disapointing if Mance did not have his suspicions about Jon's parentage.

Since the story features a Stark Lord, and not a Stark King, the story of Bael happened after the Conquest. Among the Stark lords in the crypts, we have Lord Barth and Lord Brandon and Lord Cregan who had fought the Dragonknight, which seem to be siblings. Since Brandon had no male heir, it might be that Barth and Cregan were Brandon's older brothers, or that they died before Brandon. So the story of Bael might have happened at that time. The Dragonknight died before the death of his brother Aegon the Unworthy one hundred and seventeen years ago.

If Barth and Cregan's brother was Brandon the daughterless, then the son of Bael was Jonnel. But there is no mention that Bael's son was missing one eye in the story.

In any case, the story of Bael might be the most recent occurence of a break of patrilineality in the Stark lineage. Also, it might the model of what happens in case of a break of patrilineality. The new Stark in Winterfell had to come from beyond the Wall, and the new Stark in Winterfell had to be born of a wildling type marriage (that is a bride is stolen by a worthy man), and not of a regular marriage. Indeed, Lord Brandon had no plan for marrying his daughter to any of his bannermen. The fact that Bael and the Stark heiress hid in the crypts, where the statues watch over visitors, would indicate that their union has been validated by the Stark dynasty.

It might be worth noticing that if we exchange the gender of Bael and Brandon's daughter, we might get a scenario close to what has happened with Lyanna's mother. (Of course much of the story has to be discarded to fit the analogy: the bard, the disappearance in the crypts etc). It would even suggest that Lyanna's mother was a Skagosi, as Bael claimed to have been, something that we were already left to believe because of Rickon's destination to Skagos.

14. Kings-beyond-the-Wall

Here are the Kings-beyond-the-Wall mentioned by Mance.

“Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I've come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall.”

(Jon X, ASoS)

Whatever the wildling know about those kings, might have come through the wildling women, or characters like old Nan.

“Wildlings have invaded the realm before.” Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. “Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather's grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard.”
“Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne, and in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. Each man of them broke his strength on the Wall, or was broken by the power of Winterfell on the far side... but the Night's Watch is only a shadow of what we were, and who remains to oppose the wildlings besides us? The Lord of Winterfell is dead, and his heir has marched his strength south to fight the Lannisters. The wildlings may never again have such a chance as this. I knew Mance Rayder, Jon. He is an oathbreaker, yes... but he has eyes to see, and no man has ever dared to name him faintheart.”

(Jon III, ACoK)

If Dalla's knowledge is as deep as it seems to be, it might be that her ancestresses were consorts of the kings-beyond-the-Wall of old. The fact that knowledge is passed from mother to daughter explains why she could quote The Horned Lord. Since Mance undertook his quest for the Horn of Joramun after having met Dalla, it is reasonable to think that she might have suggested to find the fabled horn.

15. Rowan

The washerwoman Rowan displays a remarkable respect for the Starks. She seems to lead the other washerwomen in Winterfell. She reacts strongly when Theon speaks the Stark words.

Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. “Winter is coming ...”
Rowan gave him a hard look. “You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard's words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did—”
(Theon, ADwD)

Rowan says Lady Arya. As a matter of comparison, let's recall how Holly designates "Arya".

“Get her up, turncloak.” Holly had her knife in hand. “Get her up or I will. We have to go. Get the little cunt up on her feet and shake some courage into her.”

(Theon, ADwD)

That opens the question of the parentage of Rowan to the Starks via Lyanna's mother.

16. Lyanna's gift

If Jon Snow is Rhaegar and Lyanna's son, his gift of warging might come from his mother. (Varamyr said that none of his sons inherited the gift from him. But that doesn't preclude a matrilineal transmission. However nothing is said on Varamyr's mother.)

But then, the Stark children should have inherited their gifts through their mother, Catelyn Stark, as well. Another long story for another day.

Perhaps Lyanna's mother has been exiled from Winterfell because she was a bloody skinchanger. Hence, the taboo surrounding her afterwards. Varamyr tells us that wargs are hunted mercilessly south of the Wall.

“The free folk fear skinchangers, but they honor us as well. South of the Wall, the kneelers hunt us down and butcher us like pigs.”

(Prologue, ADwD)

Eddard Stark seemed ambivalent at the idea of adopting the direwolves pups. Here is his first reaction at the sight of the wolves.

Father frowned. “This is only a dead animal, Jory,” he said. Yet he seemed troubled.

(Bran I, AGoT)

Of course Lord Eddard's uneasiness might come from the reminiscences of the Starks of old. Did he finally acquiese because of his mother? Many in Winterfell, especially the horse master, are hostile to the idea. There is no indication that Lyanna had the gift of skinchanging. Perhaps she had it and never developped it. Perhaps her horseriding skills were aided by some affinity with horses. Didn't Lady Dustin compare Lyanna (along with her brother Brandon) to a centaur?

“Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.”
(The Turncloak, ADwD)

And Roose used essentially the same comparison when he compared Lyanna to Domeric.

Not even Lord Rickard's daughter could outrace him, and that one was half a horse herself.
(Reek III, ADwD)
(The notion that Domeric and Lyanna rode concurrently is problematic though.)

So there is no good indication that Lyanna had any latent skinchanging ability, beyond theses allusions.

Perhaps the female direwolf found in the first chapter is the body of Lyanna's mother second life: Lyanna's mother came back to Winterfell and brought direwolves for her grandchildren. Tempting, but supported by no indication in the text.

17. Bran's visions

In the cave of the children, Bran has visions from the Winterfell godswood, in reverse chronological order. We saw the vision of Lyanna and Benjen. Here are the next two visions.

He saw no more of his father, nor the girl who looked like Arya, but a woman heavy with child emerged naked and dripping from the black pool, knelt before the tree, and begged the old gods for a son who would avenge her. Then there came a brown-haired girl slender as a spear who stood on the tips of her toes to kiss the lips of a young knight as tall as Hodor.

(Bran III, ADwD)

The second vision appears to feature Dunk, who seems to have come to Winterfell in the time of Beron Stark, a bit less than ninety years ago. So the first vision happened in the time of Rickard or Edwyle or Willam or Artos or Donnor or Beron. It's possible that the naked woman was Lyanna's mother, or perhaps Lyanna's grandmother on the paternal side, since Rickard was an only son.

Here is Bran's last vision.

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand.
“No,” said Bran, “no, don't,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man's feet drummed against the earth ... but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.

(Bran III, ADwD)

It seems that the scene is the foundation of Winterfell. The bronze sickle brings us back to the First Men.The woman is said to be white-haired (a color emblematic of the weirwood, and of Val and Dalla). But it is not said she was old. Obviously she is some form of priestess. It's tempting to believe there is a sort of continuity with Val and Dalla. But it seems unlikely, since Val carries a bone knife, which appears to have some ritual value, and is not a bronze weapon of any sort.

18. Hardhome

We hear about Hardhome, beyond the Wall, from three sources. There is the tale of Mother Mole.

Jon ignored him. “We have been questioning the wildlings we brought back from the grove.
Several of them told an interesting tale, of a woods witch called Mother Mole.”
“Mother Mole?” said Bowen Marsh. “An unlikely name.”
“Supposedly she made her home in a burrow beneath a hollow tree. Whatever the truth of that, she had a vision of a fleet of ships arriving to carry the free folk to safety across the narrow sea. Thousands of those who fled the battle were desperate enough to believe her. Mother Mole has led them all to Hardhome, there to pray and await salvation from across the sea.”
Othell Yarwyck scowled. “I'm no ranger, but ... Hardhome is an un-holy place, it's said. Cursed. Even your uncle used to say as much, Lord Snow. Why would they go there?”
Jon had a map before him on the table. He turned it so they could see. “Hardhome sits on a sheltered bay and has a natural harbor deep enough for the biggest ships afloat. Wood and stone are plentiful near there. The waters teem with fish, and there are colonies of seals and sea cows close at hand.”
“All that's true, I don't doubt,” said Yarwyck, “but it's not a place I'd want to spend a night. You know the tale.”
He did. Hardhome had been halfway toward becoming a town, the only true town north of the Wall, until the night six hundred years ago when hell had swallowed it. Its people had been carried off into slavery or slaughtered for meat, depending on which version of the tale you believed, their homes and halls consumed in a conflagration that burned so hot that watchers on the Wall far to the south had thought the sun was rising in the north. Afterward ashes rained down on haunted forest and Shivering Sea alike for almost half a year. Traders reported finding only nightmarish devastation where Hardhome had stood, a landscape of charred trees and burned bones, waters choked with swollen corpses, blood-chilling shrieks echoing from the cave mouths that pocked the great cliff that loomed above the settlement.
Six centuries had come and gone since that night, but Hardhome was still shunned. The wild had reclaimed the site, Jon had been told, but rangers claimed that the overgrown ruins were haunted by ghouls and demons and burning ghosts with an unhealthy taste for blood. “It is not the sort of refuge I'd chose either,” Jon said, “but Mother Mole was heard to preach that the free folk would find salvation where once they found damnation.”
Septon Cellador pursed his lips. “Salvation can be found only through the Seven. This witch has doomed them all.”
“And saved the Wall, mayhaps,” said Bowen Marsh. “These are enemies we speak of. Let them pray amongst the ruins, and if their gods send ships to carry them off to a better world, well and good. In this world I have no food to feed them.”
Jon flexed the fingers of his sword hand. “Cotter Pyke's galleys sail past Hardhome from time to time. He tells me there is no shelter there but the caves. The screaming caves, his men call them. Mother Mole and those who followed her will perish there, of cold and starvation. Hundreds of them. Thousands.”

(Jon VIII, ADwD)

Arya hears of Hardhome in Braavos.

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

(The Blind Girl, ADwD)

Note that Old Nan knew the story of Hardhome. Finally, we have the letter sent by Cotter Pyke.

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

(Jon XII, ADwD)

Why are children and women so much more interesting than men to slavers? I suppose that men can be put to work in galleys etc and are a valuable merchandise. The waters in the Shivering Sea seem very dangerous, at the moment, as the travels of Davos, Sam and Cotter Pyke show. Why did the slavers come to Hardhome at this moment?

Lys is one of the few places where the old blood of Valyria is strong. Are the slavers in fact looking for a particular woman among the wildling? And why is the Sealord so much interested? We see that the Braavosi captains would only take women and children as well. Did the Braavosi banker Tycho Nestoris make an inquiry on what happened at the Wall? Very odd interest in wildling women (and children).

Was Hardhome once the seat of this hypothetical wildling female nobility? Is Mother Mole part of it as well? The burrow below a hollow tree seems like a cave of the children of the forest.

While we are indulging in wild speculations, the fate of Hardhome recalls the Doom of Valyria. It is said early that the sword Ice is four hundred years old, and was forged in Valyria. So it arrived in the hands of the Kings of Winter shortly before the Doom. Since no amount of gold seems to be enough to purchase a Valyrian sword these days, and since the Starks never appeared particularly wealthy, I wonder what sort of payment was asked of them for the sword.

19. The Moonsingers

Let's return to Val and Dalla and offer another wild speculation, which is of no importance for the subject at hand. The first time we saw them was in Mance's tent among the wildling.

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)

We see again the the white tent before the assault on the Wall.
Even at this distance there was no mistaking Mance Rayder's huge white tent, sewn together from the pelts of snow bears.
(Jon IX, ASoS)
Let's recall what were Dalla's clothes.
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. [...] Val patted the long bone knife on her hip.
(Jon XI, ADwD)
The immaculate whiteness reminds me of a tradition encountered by Arya in Braavos.
“The Moonsingers led us to this place of refuge, where the dragons of Valyria could not find us,” Denyo said. “Theirs is the greatest temple.
That is the Temple of the Moonsingers.”
It was one of those that Arya had spied from the lagoon, a mighty mass of snow-white marble topped by a huge silvered dome whose milk glass windows showed all the phases of the moon. A pair of marble maidens flanked its gates, tall as the Sealords, supporting a crescent-shaped lintel.
(Arya I, AFfC)

Like the Moonsingers once did, Dalla and Mance attempt to lead a persecuted people (not by dragons, fire beings, but by the Others, ice creatures) to a safer place. Dalla seems to be the one who warned Mance that stopping the Others is more important than triumphing over the Night's Watch. The centrality of the worship of the moon for the Braavosi sect seems to find an echo in Val when she announces to Jon the time of her return to the Wall.
Val glanced at the sky. The moon was but half-full. “Look for me on the first day of the full moon.”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)
She insists with her final words.
“The first night of the full moon, then.”
(Jon VIII, ADwD)

The bone knife could refer to the moon as well, as the moon is described four times in Bran's chapter in the cave of the Children.
The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife.
(Bran III, ADwD)
Finally the Val sings to Craster's son.
“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?” A faint smile brushed her lips.
(Jon VIII, ADwD)
Mirri Maz Durr tells us that the moonsingers are known for their birthing songs.
A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing songs.
(Daenerys VII, AGoT)

That is all for the similarity between the moonsinger tradition and what we see in Dalla and Val. Is there a connection in the present time? Or should we imagine that the wildling slaves of Valyria brought with them a tradition that would later become the moonsingers?

I do not think Val and Dalla are envoys from Braavos. They seem part of the Free Folk, they use the word kneeler, Dalla knows well the Wall, the Horned Lord etc. It would be a bit more believable that Dalla (or both sisters) has been to Braavos for a time. I find preferable that moonsingers envoys educated Dalla somehow. Indeed, Mirri Maz Durr's tale shows that the moonsinger do travel widely – traveling north of the Wall from Braavos is much easier than sailing to Asshai. If there are moonsingers among the Jogos Nhai, a people who lives far away from Braavos, perhaps even on another continent, there can very well be a branch north of the Wall, especially since ships from the Free Cities come north of Eastwatch to trade with the Free Folk. But I am far from certain that there has been a direct contact with the Moonsingers.

Since the moonsingers were Valyrian slaves, it is possible that, just like the people of Hardhome, they were originally wildlings taken away to work in the mines of Valyria.

The way Val spoke to Jon before she left the Wall, her appearance when she returned seems to point to a form of moon worshipping, or at least a way of counting time based on the phases of the moon. When Bran is in the cave of the Children of the Forest, the phases of the moon are mentioned regularly and form the tempo of life down there.

The bone knife that Dalla had with her on her return to the Wall (and she had no need for it since she had been given a metal knife when she left) and threatened to geld Jon Snow with, is interesting. It suggests a ritual role. Note that in Bran's final vision a woman sacrifices a victim with a bronze weapon, and bronze is the mark of the First Men. The use of bone suggests an even more archaic period. The First Men came to Westeros equipped with the knowledge of bronze. So the use of bone weapons does not come from them. It has to refer, then, to the children of the forest, who, by all accounts, did not master metallurgy. For instance, Maester Luwin about the Dawn Age.
The wars went on until the earth ran red with blood of men and children both, but more children than men, for men were bigger and stronger, and wood and stone and obsidian make a poor match for bronze.
(Bran VII, AGoT)
There is no mention of bone weapons in the Dawn Age though.

20. Summary and wild speculations

Recapitulation of our claims.
  • Rhaegar wanted to join the Dragon and the Weirwood, not the Dragon and the Direwolf.
  • The Weirwood refers to a female line, probably established beyond the Wall, whose sigil is the weirwood face.
  • Lyanna's mother, and her mother etc were part of this line.
  • So are Val and Dalla.
  • Hence the coincidence of sigils: the mystery knight defending the crannogman at Harrenhal and Val leading the Free Folk.
  • Hence the weirwood-looking direwolf attributed to Jon Snow.
  • Hence the choice of Dalla as Mance's queen.
  • Hence the crowning of Val by Stannis, and his belief that Winterfell belongs to Val's consort.
  • Hence the presence of Old Flint, kin to Lyanna's mother's mother, at Castle Black to provide assistance to Mance's son.
  • Hence the marriage of Rhaegar and Lyanna in the wildling style.
More speculative are the following extrapolations from the text.
  • Lyanna's mother left Winterfell and disappeared beyond the Wall or in Skagos, the possible place of origin of her father.
  • Rickard Stark's disenchantment with the north, after the disappearance of his wife, led him to southron ambitions.
  • Benjen joined the Night's Watch.
  • Val and Dalla were educated by Lyanna's mother.
  • Lyanna's ancestry on the female line three or four generations back might lead to the consort of Redmun Redbeard.
  • The Weeper's interest in Flint women would be justified by the fact that Lyanna's grandmother was a Flint, and might have left descendants in the mountains.
  • The Lyseni slavers in Hardhome take only children and women because they are in search of certain special women.
Even more speculative.
  • Jon Snow's warging ability came, at least partly, from his mother. (Which implies that the other Stark children received their gift through their own mother Catelyn Stark, née Tully, daughter of Minisa Tully, née Whent in Harrenhal – a huge subject.)
  • More generally, there might be other important matrilineal lines in Westeros, including a Targaryen one. That would explain the Targaryen incest: something might happen when someone is born of the joining of the special patrilineal and matrilineal lines. The Targaryens had both lines in their family, at least until a certain point.
  • Then, one can speculate about Lyanna's gift, in relation to her horsemanship.

The Winterfell Huis Clos