The Winterfell Huis Clos


Consider the way we see Qyburn.
Qyburn was old, but his hair still had more ash than snow in it, and the laugh lines around his mouth made him look like some little girl’s favorite grandfather.
(Cersei II, AFfC)

This appearance is not unlike how we are led to see most maesters of the story. In the case of Qyburn, we know for a certainty that we should be wary of his innocuous appearance.

We will keep in mind two startling warnings. The first has been delivered to Sam by Marwyn the Mage.
“Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
And Barbrey Dustin had only poor Theon to vent her resentment.
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.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

My intention here is merely to identify a perspective that would give credence to Barbrey and Marwyn's views. In my opinion, the question of a deliberate and permanent conspiracy at the Citadel remains open – or perhaps only the question of the extent of such a conspiracy.

We will concentrate our attention on three episodes: the Dance of the Dragons, as narrated by Maester Gyldayn, the influence of Walys and his successor Luwin on the Stark family and finally the tenure of Bran as Prince of Winterfell after Robb's departure.

Recall Sam's thought-provoking observation in Braavos.
In the Seven Kingdoms nobles draped themselves in velvets, silks, and samites of a hundred hues whilst peasants and smallfolk wore raw wool and dull brown roughspun. In Braavos it was otherwise. The bravos swaggered about like peacocks, fingering their swords, whilst the mighty dressed in charcoal grey and purple, blues that were almost black and blacks as dark as a moonless night.
(Samwell III, AFfC)

Could it be that Sam was mistaken, and that the Seven Kingdoms are not so different from the free city of Braavos?

This is the second part in a series of three studies on the Citadel. The first part was devoted to the origins of the order. In the final part, we will examine the situation in Oldtown.

(Note: section 1 contains a discussion of The Princess and the Queen. Read at your own peril.)

  1. The Dance of the Dragons
  2. Southron Ambitions
  3. The Prince of Winterfell
  4. Modus Operandi

1. The Dance of Dragons

We return now to Archmaester Marwyn's words to Sam about Maester Aemon.
“Did he?” Archmaester Marwyn shrugged. “Perhaps it’s good that he died before he got to Oldtown. Elsewise the grey sheep might have had to kill him, and that would have made the poor old dears wring their wrinkled hands.”
“Kill him?” Sam said, shocked. “Why?”
“If I tell you, they may need to kill you too.” Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)
Before examining this startling revelation, it is worthwile to recall an episode of the Conquest.
“The realm is full of kings. For the Faith to exalt one above the rest we must be certain. Three hundred years ago, when Aegon the Dragon landed beneath this very hill, the High Septon locked himself within the Starry Sept of Oldtown and prayed for seven days and seven nights, taking no nourishment but bread and water. When he emerged he announced that the Faith would not oppose Aegon and his sisters, for the Crone had lifted up her lamp to show him what lay ahead. If Oldtown took up arms against the Dragon, Oldtown would burn, and the Hightower and the Citadel and the Starry Sept would be cast down and destroyed. Lord Hightower was a godly man. When he heard the prophecy, he kept his strength at home and opened the city gates to Aegon when he came. And His High Holiness anointed the Conqueror with the seven oils. I must do as he did, three hundred years ago. I must pray, and fast.”
(Cersei VI, AFfC)

We see that Lord Hightower followed the advice of the High Septon, not the advice of the Citadel, which does not appear to have played any role in the conquest of Oldtown.

At the beginning of the Dance of the Dragons, the Targaryens seem at the peak of their power. Twenty dragons are now in their possession. It can be expected that the number of beasts will continue to grow. Dragons prosper and multiply in Westeros.

Moreover, the Targaryens themselves have never been so numerous: Viserys had a daughter and six grandchildren by his first wife, and three sons, one daughter and three grandchildren by his second wife. Those descendants are desirable spouses for the highest lord of the realm, and would take residence with their dragons. Over a few generations, the Seven Kingdoms seem destined to a revolution, dragons not being the prerogagive of the royal family in King's Landing but a manifestation of power for the nobility of Westeros which had intermingled with the Targaryens. Lord Borros Baratheon's desire to marry one of his daughters to the Targaryens is a fine illustration of such a development. Had Aemond married a Baratheon's daughter, Storm's End would have been the residence of Vhagar, the largest living dragon, that Aemond's son with the Baratheon's girl could have inherited. (Note that Lord Baratheon had no son.)

That situation would naturally lead some to worry about the course of history. Are the Seven Kingdoms on the way to be ruled by dragonlords?

The demise of the dragons took place over several years, since the last dragon died during the reign of Aegon III. However, after the Dance of the Dragons only a handful of dragons remained, and they weren't controlled by the Targaryen dynasty anymore. It seems reasonable to say that Maester Gyldayn's account ends with the twilight of dragons.

Therefore Marwyn's denunciation of the Citadel as responsible for the death of dragons is in effect an accusation of having plotted or having encouraged the war.

House Hightower, we are told, does not take much part in the wars of the Realm. Indeed, the house remained largely on the fence during the War of the Five Kings, during Robert's Rebellion, during the Conquest (as we saw) and probably as well during the Blackfyre Rebellion. The behaviour of the house during the Dance of the Dragons has been quite different.

We do not know how closely related to the lord of Oldtown ser Otto Hightower was. In any case, Ser Otto was a knight and was reputed to be a learned man. We do not know whether his knowledge or his name earned him the title of hand of the king. In any case, Ser Otto has been Hand of the king since the Old King. He might have succeeded Septon Barth who was Hand during most of Jaehaerys' reign

It's worthwile to make a little note on Barth, and on the literature about dragons.
He was less hopeful concerning Septon Barth’s Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History. Barth had been a blacksmith’s son who rose to be King’s Hand during the reign of Jaehaerys the Conciliator. His enemies always claimed he was more sorcerer than septon. Baelor the Blessed had ordered all Barth’s writings destroyed when he came to the Iron Throne. Ten years ago, Tyrion had read a fragment of Unnatural History that had eluded the Blessed Baelor, but he doubted that any of Barth’s work had found its way across the narrow sea. And of course there was even less chance of his coming on the fragmentary, anonymous, blood-soaked tome sometimes called Blood and Fire and sometimes The Death of Dragons, the only surviving copy of which was supposedly hidden away in a locked vault beneath the Citadel.
(Tyrion IV, ADwD)

I have argued elsewhere that a copy of Barth's book might be in the hands of Doran Martell. However, we know that Barth wrote about the vulnerabilities of dragons.
The eyes were where a dragon was most vulnerable. The eyes, and the brain behind them. Not the underbelly, as certain old tales would have it. The scales there were just as tough as those along a dragon’s back and flanks. And not down the gullet either. That was madness. These would-be dragonslayers might as well try to quench a fire with a spear thrust. “Death comes out of the dragon’s mouth,” Septon Barth had written in his Unnatural History, “but death does not go in that way.”
(Tyrion X, ADwD)

In any case, the scholars of Westeros had certainly a copy of Barth's book, since the ban would come much later. It's worthwile to note that it fell to a septon, not a maester, to write such a treaty. Why did Baelor ban the book after the demise of the dragons? If indeed, Barth found a secret weakness of the beast, there was no point in hiding that anymore.

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

The fact that a picture of Balerion is provided in the book would let me think that the book has been written during the Black Dread's lifetime. The nice picture in colored inks suggests that the book is the original edition and makes me wonder why one would need color to depict a black dragon. (Is there something colored in the dragon? His eyes?). Moreover the tome seems to be apologetic to House Targaryen. But it provides information on dragons, since Tyrion remarks.
When the Halfmaester appeared on deck, yawning, the dwarf was writing down what he recalled concerning the mating habits of dragons, on which subject Barth, Munkun, and Thomax held markedly divergent views.
(Tyrion IV, ADwD)
On this subject, Barth seems to be more reliable, according to Maester Aemon.
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.
(Samwell IV, AFfC)

Maester Aemon seems to have a high regard for Barth's writings, since he asked to be read a passage of importance on his deathbed.

Maester Munkun's work came much later since it is an account of the Dance of the Dragons. It is mentioned by the Halfmaester Haldon to Tyrion who does not hold Munkun in high regard.
“I fear that you’re mistaken. In The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling, Maester Munkun writes—”
“—that it was Vhagar. Grand Maester Munkun errs. Ser Byron’s squire saw his master die, and wrote his daughter of the manner of it. His account says it was Syrax, Rhaenyra’s she-dragon, which makes more sense than Munkun’s version. Swann was the son of a marcher lord, and Storm’s End was for Aegon. Vhagar was ridden by Prince Aemond, Aegon’s brother. Why should Swann want to slay her?”
(Tyrion III, ADwD)

Let's return to ser Otto Hightower. The man must have been made himself indispensable to the Targaryens for having been the hand of three kings. But that does not justify that he managed to wed his own daughter to the king. Of course, Alicent was Viserys' second spouse, and Rhaenyra had been named heir to the Crown, undermining thus the importance of the marriage.

Alicent was not of the Old Blood of Valyria, and might have been thought worthy of giving birth to the heir to the Iron Throne. Ironically, the Great Council that named Rhaenyra heir to the Crown might have made of Alicent a suitable second wife. Indeed, once the inheritance of Rhaenyra was secured, the second marriage became an event of little consequence.
In 111 AC, a great tourney was held at King’s Landing on the fifth anniversary of the king’s marriage to Queen Alicent. At the opening feast, the queen wore a green gown, whilst the princess dressed dramatically in Targaryen red and black. Note was taken, and thereafter it became the custom to refer to “greens” and “blacks” when talking of the queen’s party and the party of the princess, respectively. In the tourney itself, the blacks had much the better of it when Ser Criston Cole, wearing Princess Rhaenyra’s favor unhorsed all of the queen’s champions, including two of her cousins and her youngest brother, Ser Gwayne Hightower.
(The Princess and the Queen)

The tourney of the year 111 celebrated the fifth anniversary of the marriage of Viserys and Alicent. Why celebrate so pompously such an anniversary if not to affirm again the validity of the marriage? Why confirm the validity of a marriage if it wasn't controversial in the first place ?

Despite that the marriage seems to have been controversial, and Alicent appears to have been shunned by the Blacks (Rhaenyra, Daemon and the Velaryons). The tourney seems to have been a theater for confrontation rather than reconciliation.

I can only suppose that Ser Otto, who ruled the Realm as Hand of the King, then worked tirelessly to shift the balance of power and to reinforce the green faction. Little by little he made acceptable the notion that Viserys' sons by Rhaenyra could inherit the Throne.

It does not follow necessarily from Alicent's central role in the conflict that House Hightower had to support the Greens. Cadet branches sometimes take opposite sides from main branches etc. Familial solidarity is not sufficient reason to make the venerable House Hightower take side. In the initial stages of the war, the Hightowers had to face a stiff opposition in the Reach, and they were on the brink of defeat before Daeron came to the rescue. It does not seem the support given to the Green was an easy political path for the Hightowers. However, we saw that during the tourney of the year 111, Alicent has been defended by her cousins, and her brothers. Thus it seems that House Hightower was wholly part of the green faction from the beginning.

The personal antipathy between Princess Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent was the very seed that led to the conflict. We are going to examine whatever we can perceive of the role of maesters in the way the war unfolded.

We will need to keep in mind the pronouncement from Daemon Targaryen.
It is no easy thing for a man to be a dragonslayer. But dragons can kill dragons, and have. Any maester who has ever studied the history of Valyria can tell you that.
(The Princess and the Queen)
The last sentence is particularly thought-provoking.

First, it is important to note that the Princess and the Queen is an account from Gyldayn, an archmaester at the Citadel, who might have been biased in his report especially if the Citadel was a covert actor in the War.

By far the most important maester in the story is Grand Maester Orwyle. Let's recall that the Grand Maester is designated by the Conclave. One can hardly conceive the Grandmaester as anything but the expression of the collective will of the archmaesters of the Citadel. The political prerogatives of the Grand Maester reside in his role of advisor to the king and in his seat at the small council. While most archmaesters consider themselves as scholars, the Grand Maester has a political position. He is not necessarily chosen among the archmaesters, since the Conclave proposed to name Maester Gormon as a replacement for Pycelle. Of course, the Citadel has to maintain at least an appearance of neutrality in the conflicts of the Realm. Any deviation from such a policy might lead to a loss of prestige and trust. So the Grand Maester is not expected to take any side.

Consider the meeting of the small council that followed the death of King Viserys. It is essential to note that at that point only Otto Hightower, Alicent and Criston Cole seem to be plotting a coup.
Grand Maester Orwyle opened the meeting by reviewing the customary tasks and procedures required at the death of a king. He said, “Septon Eustace should be summoned to perform the last rites and pray for the king’s soul. A raven must needs be sent to Dragonstone at once to inform Princess Rhaenyra of her father’s passing. Mayhaps Her Grace the queen would care to write the message, so as to soften these sad tidings with some words of condolence? The bells are always rung to announce the death of a king, someone should see to that, and of course we must begin to make our preparations for Queen Rhaenyra’s coronation—”
Ser Otto Hightower cut him off. “All this must needs wait,” he declared, “until the question of succession is settled.” As the King’s Hand, he was empowered to speak with the king’s voice, even to sit the Iron Throne in the king’s absence. Viserys had granted him the authority to rule over the Seven Kingdoms, and “until such time as our new king is crowned,” that rule would continue.
(The Princess and the Queen)

The words of Maester Orwyle seem devilishly calculated to sound innocent while putting pressure on the Blacks. Indeed, the suggestion that the Queen offers her condolences to the Princess would certainly be a gesture of goodwill, but I suppose anyone who knows the relation between those women would guess that it would be inacceptable to Alicent. Indeed, the widow of the king should feel entitled to receive condolence. So I suppose Maester Orwyle knew that his suggestion would be rejected. Has he hurt deliberately Alicent's and Otto's pride?

Moreover, Orwyle mentions the coronation as the next inevitable event. Surely, it would have been more astute not to mention the coronation so bluntly, but rather to talk only of the funerals. In a case of unresolved conflict, when all parties distrust each other but are not determined to confront each other, it is preferable to maintain a polite fiction by not bringing up the elephant in the room, until smart intermediaries can help solve the situation.

Even after the small council meeting, there is little enmity between the Targaryens from both sides. Here is Rhaenyra after her coronation at Dragonstone.
Her first act as queen was to declare Ser Otto Hightower and Queen Alicent traitors and rebels. “As for my half brothers, and my sweet sister Helaena,” she announced, “they have been led astray by the counsel of evil men. Let them come to Dragonstone, bend the knee, and ask my forgiveness, and I shall gladly spare their lives and take them back into my heart, for they are of my own blood, and no man or woman is as accursed as the kinslayer.
(The Princess and the Queen)
Here is the reaction of Aegon at the news of Viserys' death.
Prince Aegon was with a paramour when he was found. At first, the prince refused to be a part of his mother’s plans. “My sister is the heir, not me,” he said. “What sort of brother steals his sister’s birthright?
(The Princess and the Queen)
However it is to be contrasted with Aegon's belliquosity after Rhaenyra's coronation.
Word of Rhaenyra’s coronation reached the Red Keep the next day, to the great displeasure of Aegon II. “My half sister and my uncle are guilty of high treason,” the young king declared. “I want them attainted, I want them arrested, and I want them dead.”
Cooler heads on the green council wished to parlay. “The princess must be made to see that her cause is hopeless,” Grand Maester Orwyle said. “Brother should not war against sister. Send me to her, that we may talk and reach an amicable accord.”
Aegon would not hear of it. Septon Eustace tells us that His Grace accused the grand maester of disloyalty and spoke of having him thrown into a black cell “with your black friends.” But when the two queens—his mother Queen Alicent and his wife Queen Helaena—spoke in favor of Orwyle’s proposal, the king gave way reluctantly. So Grand Maester Orwyle was dispatched across Blackwater Bay under a peace banner, leading a retinue that included Ser Arryk Cargyll of the Kingsguard and Ser Gwayne Hightower of the gold cloaks, along with a score of scribes and septons.
(The Princess and the Queen)

At this point, both parties seem amenable to a compromise. Let's turn now to Orwyle's main initiative.
The terms offered by the king were generous. If the princess would acknowledge him as king and make obeisance before the Iron Throne, Aegon II would confirm her in her possession of Dragonstone, and allow the island and castle to pass to her son Jacaerys upon her death. Her second son, Lucerys, would be recognized as the rightful heir to Driftmark, and the lands and holdings of House Velaryon; her boys by Prince Daemon, Aegon the Younger and Viserys, would be given places of honor at court, the former as the king’s squire, the latter as his cupbearer. Pardons would be granted to those lords and knights who had conspired treasonously with her against their true king.
Rhaenyra heard these terms in stony silence, then asked Orwyle if he remembered her father, King Viserys. “Of course, Your Grace,” the maester answered. “Perhaps you can tell us who he named as his heir and successor,” the queen said, her crown upon her head. “You, Your Grace,” Orwyle replied. And Rhaenyra nodded and said, “With your own tongue you admit I am your lawful queen. Why then do you serve my half brother, the pretender? Tell my half brother that I will have my throne, or I will have his head,” she said, sending the envoys on their way.
Aegon II was two-and-twenty, quick to anger and slow to forgive. Rhaenyra’s refusal to accept his rule enraged him. “I offered her an honorable peace, and the whore spat in my face,” he declared. “What happens now is on her own head.”
Even as he spoke, the Dance began.
(The Princess and the Queen)

Of course, the terms offered by Aegon were not generous. However, a compromise must begin with something. The initial terms of a negotiation are sometimes far removed from what would be accepted by both sides eventually. The task of the negotiator consists precisely in facilitating communication between both parties communicate and in imaginining a mutually agreeable resolution.

At the time of Orwyle's expedition to Dragonstone, the greens were in position of strength. Queen Alicent would be much more accommodating when on the verge of losing King's Landing.
Upon seeing that resistance was hopeless, the Dowager Queen Alicent emerged from Maegor’s Holdfast with her father Ser Otto Hightower, Ser Tyland Lannister, and Lord Jasper Wylde the Ironrod. (Lord Larys Strong was not with them. The master of whisperers had somehow contrived to disappear.) Queen Alicent attempted to treat with her stepdaughter. “Let us together summon a great council, as the Old King did in days of old,” said the Dowager Queen, “and lay the matter of succession before the lords of the realm.” But Queen Rhaenyra rejected the proposal with scorn. “We both know how this council would rule.” Then she bid her stepmother choose: yield, or burn.
(The Princess and the Queen)
Later Rhaenyra would spare the Dowager Queen.
Queen Alicent was fettered at wrist and ankle with golden chains, though her stepdaughter spared her life “for the sake of our father, who loved you once.” Her own father was less fortunate. Ser Otto Hightower, who had served three kings as Hand, was the first traitor to be beheaded.
(The Princess and the Queen)
After the Conquest of King's Landing, compromise is considered.
Cognizant of all these threats, Queen Rhaenyra’s Hand, old Lord Corlys Velaryon, suggested to Her Grace that the time had come to talk. He urged the queen to offer pardons to Lords Baratheon, Hightower, and Lannister if they would bend their knees, swear fealty, and offer hostages to the Iron Throne. The Sea Snake proposed to let the Faith take charge of Queen Alicent and Queen Helaena, so that they might spend the remainder of their lives in prayer and contemplation. Helaena’s daughter, Jaehaera, could be made his own ward, and in due time married to Prince Aegon the Younger, binding the two halves of House Targaryen together once again. “And what of my half brothers?” Rhaenyra demanded, when the Sea Snake put this plan before her. “What of this false king Aegon, and the kinslayer Aemond? Would you have me pardon them as well, them who stole my throne and slew my sons?”
“Spare them, and send them to the Wall,” Lord Corlys answered. “Let them take the black and live out their lives as men of the Night’s Watch, bound by sacred vows.”
“What are vows to oathbreakers?” Queen Rhaenyra demanded to know. “Their vows did not trouble them when they took my throne.”
Prince Daemon echoed the queen’s misgivings. Giving pardons to rebels and traitors only sowed the seeds for fresh rebellions, he insisted. “The war will end when the heads of the traitors are mounted on spikes above the King’s Gate, and not before.” Aegon II would be found in time, “hiding under some rock,” but they could and should bring the war to Aemond and Daeron. The Lannisters and Baratheons should be destroyed as well, so their lands and castles might be given to men who had  proved more loyal. Grant Storm’s End to Ulf White and Casterly Rock to Hard Hugh Hammer, the prince proposed … to the horror of the Sea Snake. “Half the lords of Westeros will turn against us if we are so cruel as t destroy two such ancient and noble houses,” Lord Corlys said.
It fell to the queen herself to choose between her consort and her Hand. Rhaenyra decided to steer a middle course.
(The Princess and the Queen)

Daemon's intransigeance seems to be a major obstacle to peace. However, it was Rhaenyra who refused abruptly Orwyle's proposal for peace. I can't help concluding that Orwyle's failure is due to his own awkwardness, since it seems that both parties were amenable to compromise.

We can see in this episode the failure of Orwyle's good intentions...

...or, alternately, the preemption of peacemaking to ensure that hostilities would follow, and that antipathy would be solidified. Indeed, there would be no more attempt at peaceful resolution until Rhaenyra had won the Throne. Whether Orwyle was ill intentioned is not possible to establish with certainty. But can we opt to judge a tree by its fruits: Grand Maester Orwyle's mission precipitated the war.

We hear once more of Grand Maester Orwyle.
With both the Lord Protector and the King’s Hand absent, and King Aegon himself burned, bedridden, and lost in poppy dreams, it fell to his mother the Queen Dowager to see to the city’s defenses. Queen Alicent rose to the challenge, closing the gates of castle and city, sending the gold cloaks to the walls, and dispatching riders on swift horses to find Prince Aemond and fetch him back.
As well, she commanded Grand Maester Orwyle to send ravens to “all our leal lords,” summoning them to the defense of their true king. When Orywle hastened back to his chambers, however, he found four gold cloaks waiting for him. One man muffled his cries as the others beat and bound him. With a bag pulled down over his head, the grand maester was escorted down to the black cells.
Queen Alicent’s riders got no farther than the gates, where more gold cloaks took them into custody. Unbeknownest to Her Grace, the seven captains commanding the gates, chosen for their loyalty to King Aegon, had been imprisoned or murdered the moment Caraxes appeared in the sky above the Red Keep … for the rank and file of the City Watch still loved Daemon Targaryen, who had commanded them of old.
The queen’s brother Ser Gwayne Hightower, second in command of the gold cloaks, rushed to the stables intending to sound the warning; he was seized, disarmed, and dragged before his commander, Luthor Largent. When Hightower denounced him as a turncloak, Ser Luthor laughed. “Daemon gave us these cloaks,” he said, “and they’re gold no matter how you turn them.” Then he drove his sword through Ser Gwayne’s belly and ordered the city gates opened to the men pouring off the Sea Snake’s ships. 
(The Princess and the Queen)

It seems to me that Orwyle was not arrested on Alicent's order, but by the gold cloaks loyal to Daemon Targaryen. Of course, neutralizing a maester is a way to cut communication – the customary initial move in any surprise assault over a fortress. We do not hear again about Orwyle. Perhaps it's worthwile to recall the story of Grand Maester Gerardys.
“Quite true,” Varys said. “And the second Aegon fed Grand Maester Gerardys to his dragon.”
(Tyrion II, ASoS)

It would seem Gerardys was Orwyle's successor, since Aegon II's rule did not last long. But when Aegon returned to the throne, the King's dragon, Sunfyre, had passed away at Dragonstone. Perhaps, Gerardys was fed to another dragon. In any case, we can wonder about the treason Gerardys was faulted with.

If Orwyle was instrumental in the demise of the dragons, we can wonder whether other maesters were involved. The risk of uncovering a conspiracy grows with the number of conspirators. However, the maesters have a monopoly on communication that would facilitate all sorts of coordination.

Let's turn to another unfortunate episode at Storm's End.
The tragedy that befell Lucerys Velaryon at Storm’s End was never planned, on this all of our sources agree. The first battles in the Dance of the Dragons were fought with quills and ravens, with threats and promises, decrees and blandishments. The murder of Lord Beesbury at the green council was not yet widely known; most believed his lordship to be languishing in some dungeon. Whilst sundry familiar faces were no longer seen about court, no heads had appeared above the castle gates, and many still hoped that that the question of succession might be resolved peaceably.
The Stranger had other plans. For surely it was his dread hand behind the ill chance that brought the two princelings together at Storm’s End, when the dragon Arrax raced before a gathering storm to deliver Lucerys Velaryon to the safety of the castle yard, only to find Aemond Targaryen there before him. Prince Aemond’s mighty dragon Vhagar sensed his coming first. Guardsman walking the battlements of the castle’s mighty curtain walls clutched their spears in sudden terror when she woke, with a roar that shook the very foundations of Durran’s Defiance. Even Arrax quailed before that sound, we are told, and Luke plied his whip freely as he forced him down.
Lightning was flashing to the east and a heavy rain falling as Lucerys leapt off his dragon, his mother’s message clutched in his hand. He must surely have known what Vhagar’s presence meant, so it would have come as no surprise when Aemond Targaryen confronted him in the Round Hall, before the eyes of Lord Borros, his four daughters, septon, and maester, and two score knights, guards, and servants.
“Look at this sad creature, my lord,” Prince Aemond called out. “Little Luke Strong, the bastard.” To Luke he said, “You are wet, bastard. Is it raining, or did you piss yourself in fear?”
Lucerys Velaryon addressed himself only to Lord Baratheon. “Lord Borros, I have brought you a message from my mother, the queen.”
“The whore of Dragonstone, he means.” Prince Aemond strode forward, and made to snatch the letter from Lucerys’s hand, but Lord Borros roared a command and his knights intervened, pulling the princelings apart. One brought Rhaenyra’s letter to the dais, where his lordship sat upon the throne of the Storm Kings of old.
No man can truly know what Borros Baratheon was feeling at that moment. The accounts of those who were there differ markedly one from the other. Some say his lordship was red-faced and abashed, as a man might be if his lawful wife found him abed with another woman. Others declare that Borros appeared to be relishing the moment, for it pleased his vanity to have both king and queen seeking his support.
Yet all the witnesses agree on what Lord Borros said and did. Never a man of letters, he handed the queen’s letter to his maester, who cracked the seal and whispered the message into his lordship’s ear. A frown stole across Lord Borros’s face. He stroked his beard, scowled at Lucerys Velaryon, and said, “And if I do as your mother bids, which one of my daughters will you marry, boy?” He gestured at the four girls. “Pick one.”
Prince Lucerys could only blush. “My lord, I am not free to marry,” he replied. “I am betrothed to my cousin Rhaena.”
“I thought as much,” Lord Borros said. “Go home, pup, and tell the bitch your mother that the Lord of Storm’s End is not a dog that she can whistle up at need to set against her foes.” And Prince Lucerys turned to take his leave of the Round Hall.
But Prince Aemond drew his sword and said, “Hold, Strong!”
Prince Lucerys recalled his promise to his mother. “I will not fight you. I came here as an envoy, not a knight.”
“You came here as a craven and a traitor,” Prince Aemond answered. “I will have your life, Strong.

At that Lord Borros grew uneasy. “Not here,” he grumbled. “He came an envoy. I want no blood shed beneath my roof.” So his guards put themselves between the princelings and escorted Lucerys Velaryon from the Round Hall, back to the castle yard where his dragon Arrax was hunched down in the rain, awaiting his return.
Aemond Targaryen’s mouth twisted in rage, and he turned once more to Lord Borros, asking for his leave. The Lord of Storm’s End shrugged and answered, “It is not for me to tell you what to do when you are not beneath my roof.” And his knights moved aside as Prince Aemond rushed to the doors.
(The Princess and the Queen)

The tragedy would not have happened if the susceptibilities of Lord Borros had not been roused. One can wonder about the role of the maester, who, suggestively enough, whispered into the ear of his Lord. Certainly the choice of words by the maester did count. Even before the letter had been read, it was clear for all that the situation was explosive and could lead to bloodshed if mismanaged.

A third key episode of the war involved a maester.
From King’s Landing came a raven bearing the queen’s message to Manfryd Mooton, Lord of Maidenpool: he was to deliver her the head of the bastard girl Nettles, who was said to have become Prince Daemon’s lover and who the queen had therefore judged guilty of high treason. “No harm is to be done my lord husband, Prince Daemon of House Targaryen,” Her Grace commanded. “Send him back to me when the deed is done, for we have urgent need of him.”
Maester Norren, keeper of the Chronicles of Maidenpool, says that when his lordship read the queen’s letter he was so shaken that he lost his voice. Nor did it return to him until he had drunk three cups of wine. Thereupon Lord Mooton sent for the captain of his guard, his brother, and his champion, Ser Florian Greysteel. He bade his maester to remain as well. When all had assembled, he read to them the letter and asked them for their counsel.
“This thing is easily done,” said the captain of his guard. “The prince sleeps beside her, but he has grown old. Three men should be enough to subdue him should he try to interfere, but I will take six to be certain. Does my lord wish this done tonight?”
“Six men or sixty, he is still Daemon Targaryen,” Lord Mooton’s brother objected. “A sleeping draught in his evening wine would be the wiser course. Let him wake to find her dead.”
“The girl is but a child, however foul her treasons,” said Ser Florian, that old knight, grey and grizzled and stern. “The Old King would never have asked this, of any man of honor.”
“These are foul times,” Lord Mooton said, “and it is a foul choice this queen has given me. The girl is a guest beneath my roof. If I obey, Maidenpool shall be forever cursed. If I refuse, we shall be attainted and destroyed.
To which his brother answered, “It may be we shall be destroyed whatever choice we make. The prince is more than fond of this brown child, and his dragon is close at hand. A wise lord would kill them both, lest the prince burn Maidenpool in his wroth.”
“The queen has forbidden any harm to come to him,” Lord Mooton reminded them, “and murdering two guests in their beds is twice as foul as murdering one. I should be doubly cursed.” Thereupon he sighed and said, “Would that I had never read this letter.”
And up spoke Maester Norren, saying, “Mayhaps you never did.”
What was said after that is unknown. All we know is that the maester, a young man of two-and-twenty, found Prince Daemon and the girl Nettles at their supper that night, and showed them the queen’s letter. After reading the letter, Prince Daemon said, “A queen’s words, a whore’s work.” Then he drew his sword and asked if Lord Mooton’s men were waiting outside the door to take them captive. When told that the maester had come alone and in secret, Prince Daemon sheathed his sword, saying, “You are a bad maester, but a good man,” and then bade him leave, commanding him to “speak no word of this to lord nor love until the morrow.”
How the prince and his bastard girl spent their last night beneath Lord Mooton’s roof is not recorded, but as dawn broke they appeared together in the yard, and Prince Daemon helped Nettles saddle Sheepstealer one last time. It was her custom to feed him each day before she flew; dragons bend easier to their rider’s will when full. That morning she fed him a black ram, the largest in all Maidenpool, slitting the ram’s throat herself. Her riding leathers were stained with blood when she mounted her dragon, Maester Norren records, and “her cheeks were stained with tears.” No word of farewell was spoken betwixt man and maid, but as Sheepstealer beat his leathery brown wings and climbed into the dawn sky, Caraxes raised his head and gave a scream that shattered every window in Jonquil’s Tower. High above the town, Nettles turned her dragon toward the Bay of Crabs, and vanished in the morning mists, never to be seen again at court or castle.
Daemon Targaryen returned to the castle just long enough to break his fast with Lord Mooton. “This is the last that you will see of me,” he told his lordship. “I thank you for your hospitality. Let it be known through all your lands that I fly for Harrenhal. If my nephew Aemond dares face me, he shall find me there, alone.”
Thus Prince Daemon departed Maidenpool for the last time. When he had gone, Maester Norren went to his lord to say, “Take the chain from my neck and bind my hands with it. You must need deliver me the queen. When I gave warning to a traitor and allowed her to escape, I became a traitor as well.” Lord Mooton refused. “Keep your chain,” his lordship said. “We are all traitors here.” And that night, Queen Rhaenyra’s quartered banners were taken down from where they flew above the gates of Maidenpool, and the golden dragons of King Aegon II raised in their stead.
(The Princess and the Queen)

The account of the episode comes from Maester Norren himself. It is possible that Norren was sincere in his account. However, the episode was of some consequence since it resulted in the (figurative) divorce between Rhaenyra, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and Daemon, Protector of the Realm. Who knows who had advised Rhaenyra to proceed to the arrest of Nettles? As a result, the (then triumphant) Blacks lost their most effective leader, two dragons defected from their cause, as well as Lord Mooton. Maester Norren could have simply destroyed the letter. After all, ravens are unreliable and messages get lost from time to time.

One other event of the war, seemingly insignificant, is mentioned.
On Maiden’s Day in the year 130 AC, the Citadel of Oldtown sent forth three hundred white ravens to herald the coming of winter, but this was high summer for Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen.
(The Princess and the Queen)

Of course, the announcement of the change of season is business as usual for the maesters of the Citadel, and is not connected in any way to the war. But this is the moment the tide turned against the Blacks. If the maesters of Oldtown had decided to give some support to the Green to prolong the war, the sending of the white ravens would have been an interesting mean to broadcast a message.

In the three episodes of the Dance of the Dragons we examined, maesters had in their power to make the war change course for the better. Of course, their behaviours remain open to interpretation, and they certainly left not tracks of their manipulations. Like Barbrey Dustin, we are left to wonder.
The grey rats read and write our letters, even for such lords as cannot read themselves, and who can say for a certainty that they are not twisting the words for their own ends?
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

2. Southron Ambitions

The expression comes again from Barbrey 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)
Here Barbrey Dustin's view on the episode.
“If I were queen, the first thing I would do would be to kill all those grey rats. They scurry everywhere, living on the leavings of the lords, chittering to one another, whispering in the ears of their masters. But who are the masters and who are the servants, truly? Every great lord has his maester, every lesser lord aspires to one. If you do not have a maester, it is taken to mean that you are of little consequence. The grey rats read and write our letters, even for such lords as cannot read themselves, and who can say for a certainty that they are not twisting the words for their own ends? What good are they, I ask you?”
“They heal,” said Theon. It seemed to be expected of him.
“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)
We will return to Barbrey's shrewd analysis.

It seems Barbrey Dustin inquired about Maester Walys. Without even considering the political situation at the time of the Tully marriage, we discern in Barbrey's account the close relationship between House Hightower and the Citadel. That a Hightower girl becomes the mistress of an archmaester indicate they are both part of the same society. It would seem that Walys' noble parentage played an important part in his dispatching to Winterfell.

Ultimately it paints the picture of House Hightower using its influence over the Citadel for assigning maesters to places according to their purposes.

We can wonder whether Walys' father was archmaester Walgrave, and his mother the moustached woman on the portrait found by Pate in Walgrave's trunk.
Inside, Pate had found a bag of silver stags, a lock of yellow hair tied up in a ribbon, a painted miniature of a woman who resembled Walgrave (even to her mustache), and a knight’s gauntlet made of lobstered steel.
(Prologue, AFfC)
The painted miniature seems to be a specialty of Myr, as we learned through Renly.
Ned was not sure what to make of Renly, with all his friendly ways and easy smiles. A few days past, he had taken Ned aside to show him an exquisite rose gold locklet. Inside was a miniature painted in the vivid Myrish style, of a lovely young girl with doe’s eyes and a cascade of soft brown hair. Renly had seemed anxious to know if the girl reminded him of anyone, and when Ned had no answer but a shrug, he had seemed disappointed. The maid was Loras Tyrell’s sister Margaery, he’d confessed, but there were those who said she looked like Lyanna.
(Eddard IV, AGoT)

Or, perhaps, the style of the painting is Myrish, while the miniature format is standard in the Seven Kingdoms. However, having such miniature painted and kept is not done without strong reasons. The resemblance of Walgrave to the portrait suggests that the woman could be Walgrave's mother, sister or daughter. The mustache recalls Selyse Florent who might have been raised at Brightwater Keep, which is located near the source of the Honeywine, not far from Oldtown.

So Walys might be Walgrave's son. But we have no means to confirm this. The name Walys seems to share a prefix with Walgrave. There are other instances of prefixes common to a family (Tywin-Tyrion). The suffix -ys evokes the nomenclature of the former Valyrian empire and of the current Free Cities (Varys, Corlys, Aenys etc)

Walgrave mistakes Pate for his former colleague maester Cressen. Cressen was once maester at Storm's End. We see him advise Stannis to join forces with the Arryns and the Starks (and implicitly the Tullys).
“Be that as it may, my lord,” Maester Cressen said gently. “Great wrongs have been done you, but the past is dust. The future may yet be won if you join with the Starks. There are others you might sound out as well. What of Lady Arryn? If the queen murdered her husband, surely she will want justice for him. She has a young son, Jon Arryn’s heir. If you were to betroth Shireen to him-”
(Prologue, ACoK)

It seems that Cressen is encouraging (unsuccessfully) Stannis to recreate the coalition that overthrew the Targaryens.

What does Barbrey Dustin mean by southron ambitions? She certainly speaks from a northern point of view, and points to the fact that Starks lords should marry in the north.

Obviously the marriage of Brandon Stark and Catelyn Tully was central to Lord Rickard's project. The project has been conceived before Robert's Rebellion, and does not seem to have resulted in an alliance to support Robert. Meanwhile Eddard Stark had been fostered with Robert at the Eyrie. So it seems that a Stark-Tully-Arryn-Baratheon coalition was in the works. Why a coalition of such scale if not to confront the Iron Throne? So it is perfectly understandable that King Aerys felt threatened.

If Lady Barbrey is right in attributing the organization of the coalition to the Citadel, one wonders why would the Citadel mingle thus in the affairs of the Realm. Daenerys seems to count on the Hightower for her return to Westeros.
“The first time I beheld her, I thought she was a goddess come to earth, the Maid herself made flesh. Her birth was far above my own. She was the youngest daughter of Lord Leyton Hightower of Oldtown. The White Bull who commanded your father’s Kingsguard was her greatuncle. The Hightowers are an ancient family, very rich and very proud.”
“And loyal,” Dany said. “I remember, Viserys said the Hightowers were among those who stayed true to my father.”
“That’s so,” he admitted.
(Daenerys I, ACoK)

Unless the Hightowers adopted their "hands off" approach, it does not seem the Hightowers were part of the Stark-Tully-Arryn-Baratheon alliance. However, I do not see any Hightower man, except the White Bull, involved in the defense of the Targaryen dynasty during the Rebellion. Men should have been sent with the Tyrell host that fought Robert and Stannis. Even the White Bull himself was committed to protecting Lyanna Stark and her secrets, not Aerys, not Viserys, not Aegon, not Rhaenys. So the Hightowers professed loyalty to the Targaryens, but did little. We need to keep in mind that armed forces are not the Hightowers' preferred means of action.

It is interesting to note Lord Hightower's self-imposed isolation in the High Tower.
Some claimed a man could see all the way to the Wall from the top. Perhaps that was why Lord Leyton had not made the descent in more than a decade, preferring to rule his city from the clouds.
(Prologue, AFfC)
To be sure. Lord Leyton’s locked atop his tower with the Mad Maid, consulting books of spells.
(Samwell V, AFfC)

We can suspect that Lord Leyton's isolation is related to the demise of House Targaryen. We can only wonder what the books of spells are. The Mad Maid is Melora Hightower, Lord Leyton's eldest daughter.

We will study elsewhere the political relations of the Hightowers to the other houses of the Reach. Let's return to the works of the Conclave and the southron ambitions.

If the Conclave sent a manipulative maester to Lord Rickard Stark, it could be that Walys' successors attempted to continue Walys' work. Perhaps a close reading of Maester Luwin's behaviour would reveal an abuse of influence of Lord Eddard. Consider the first appearance of Luwin, arriving in the Starks' nuptial bedroom to bring a message, while the lordly couple is conducting an argument over the decision to accept the Handship.
The maester was a small grey man. His eyes were grey, and quick, and saw much. His hair was grey, what little the years had left him. His robe was grey wool, trimmed with white fur, the Stark colors. Its great floppy sleeves had pockets hidden inside. Luwin was always tucking things into those sleeves and producing other things from them: books, messages, strange artifacts, toys for the children. With all he kept hidden in his sleeves, Catelyn was surprised that Maester Luwin could lift his arms at all.
(Catelyn II, AGoT)

The maester's colors have in principle nothing to do with the Starks. Luwin initially appears like an illusionist, instead of the wise scholar to which we would be later accustomed. We have a clear demonstration of Luwin's access to the Starks' intimacy.
“Perhaps I should withdraw,” Maester Luwin said.
“No,” Catelyn said. “We will need your counsel.” She threw back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded across the room. Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged into it, then knelt over the cold hearth.
“Maester Luwin-” Ned began.
“Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn said. “This is no time for false modesty.”
(Catelyn II, AGoT)

We learn in passing that Maester Walys has been replaced by Luwin before the birth of Robb. So Luwin served as advisor to the Starks during Robert's Rebellion. The message brought by Luwin is sealed, and I can't make sense of the episode. If the message was destined to Catelyn Stark, why give it to Luwin? And why bring the message with the Myrish lense. Here is what happens after Catelyn has read the letter.
“Now we truly have no choice. You must be Robert’s Hand. You must go south with him and learn the truth.”
She saw at once that Ned had reached a very different conclusion. “The only truths I know are here. The south is a nest of adders I would do better to avoid.”
Luwin plucked at his chain collar where it had chafed the soft skin of his throat. “The Hand of the King has great power, my lord. Power to find the truth of Lord Arryn’s death, to bring his killers to the king’s justice. Power to protect Lady Arryn and her son, if the worst be true.”
Ned glanced helplessly around the bedchamber. Catelyn’s heart went out to him, but she knew she could not take him in her arms just then. First the victory must be won, for her children’s sake. “You say you love Robert like a brother. Would you leave your brother surrounded by Lannisters?”
“The Others take both of you,” Ned muttered darkly. He turned away from them and went to the window. She did not speak, nor did the maester. They waited, quiet, while Eddard Stark said a silent farewell to the home he loved. When he turned away from the window at last, his voice was tired and full of melancholy, and moisture glittered faintly in the corners of his eyes. “My father went south once, to answer the summons of a king. He never came home again.”
“A different time,” Maester Luwin said. “A different king.”
(Catelyn II, AGoT)

Luwin's interventions subtly push Lord Eddard to go to King's Landing. Instead of appealing to duty, like Catelyn did, he speaks of justice and protection of the innocent. Luwin is keenly aware of Ned's soft spot. Catelyn takes Luwin's meaning and double down, to finally win the argument. It's quite interesting that Ned brings up his father after realizing that he would go to King's Landing.

In my opinion, Maester Luwin's intervention was decisive, and provides a fine illustration of Barbrey Dustin's thesis on the influence of maesters. Whether Luwin had an agenda remains to be demonstrated. We can note that in the same chapter the good maester lobbied for sending Jon Snow to the Night's Watch. There had been a little sign that Luwin has had some influence over Jon's decision to join the Watch.
Uncle Benjen studied his face carefully. “The Wall is a hard place for a boy, Jon.”
“I am almost a man grown,” Jon protested. “I will turn fifteen on my next name day, and Maester Luwin says bastards grow up faster than other children.”
(Jon I, AGoT)

Jon recalls frequently's Luwin's teaching. It's certain that Luwin could have instilled in Jon the notion of joining the Watch. It's conceivable that maester Luwin understood Jon's parentage. (Luwin has been Jon's physician, and had access to all his non-obvious physical characteristics, among which there could conceivably be Targaryen features. Moreover, as we just saw, he had an intimate understanding of the Stark family. Luwin was already with the Starks when Ned came home with Jon.)

Luwin brings up the fate of Jon when Ned and Catelyn debate who should stay at home while Ned will serve as Hand of the King.
“What of Jon Snow, my lord?” Maester Luwin asked.
(Catelyn II, AGoT)
The Citadel had let Targaryen spend his life at the Wall, in the person of Aemon, why not another one?
Catelyn armored her heart against the mute appeal in her husband’s eyes. “They say your friend Robert has fathered a dozen bastards himself.”
“And none of them has ever been seen at court!” Ned blazed. “The Lannister woman has seen to that. How can you be so damnably cruel, Catelyn? He is only a boy. He-”
His fury was on him. He might have said more, and worse, but Maester Luwin cut in. “Another solution presents itself,” he said, his voice quiet. “Your brother Benjen came to me about Jon a few days ago. It seems the boy aspires to take the black.”
Ned looked shocked. “He asked to join the Night’s Watch?”
Catelyn said nothing. Let Ned work it out in his own mind; her voice would not be welcome now. Yet gladly would she have kissed the maester just then. His was the perfect solution. Benjen Stark was a Sworn Brother. Jon would be a son to him, the child he would never have. And in time the boy would take the oath as well. He would father no sons who might someday contest with Catelyn’s own grandchildren for Winterfell.
Maester Luwin said, “There is great honor in service on the Wall, my lord.”
“And even a bastard may rise high in the Night’s Watch,” Ned reflected. Still, his voice was troubled. “Jon is so young. If he asked this when he was a man grown, that would be one thing, but a boy of fourteen...”
“A hard sacrifice,” Maester Luwin agreed. “Yet these are hard times, my lord. His road is no crueler than yours or your lady’s.
(Catelyn II, AGoT)

Here again a difficult decision had to be taken. Maester Luwin seems to have come to the conversation with a definite opinion and this seems to have been decisive.

Maester Luwin knows very well that he would rule Winterfell after Ned Stark's departure. Indeed, Ned Stark tells him.
“Maester Luwin, I trust you as I would my own blood. Give my wife your voice in all things great and small. Teach my son the things he needs to know. Winter is coming.”
(Catelyn II, AGoT)
And we see in effect soon afterwards what would happen.
Ned and the girls were eight days gone when Maester Luwin came to her one night in Bran’s sickroom, carrying a reading lamp and the books of account. “It is past time that we reviewed the figures, my lady,” he said. “You’ll want to know how much this royal visit cost us.”
Catelyn looked at Bran in his sickbed and brushed his hair back off his forehead. It had grown very long, she realized. She would have to cut it soon. “I have no need to look at figures, Maester Luwin,” she told him, never taking her eyes from Bran. “I know what the visit cost us. Take the books away.”
“My lady, the king’s party had healthy appetites. We must replenish our stores before-” She cut him off. “I said, take the books away. The steward will attend to our needs.”
“We have no steward,” Maester Luwin reminded her. Like a little grey rat, she thought, he
would not let go. “Poole went south to establish Lord Eddard’s household at King’s Landing.” Catelyn nodded absently. “Oh, yes. I remember.” Bran looked so pale. She wondered whether
they might move his bed under the window, so he could get the morning sun.
Maester Luwin set the lamp in a niche by the door and fiddled with its wick. “There are several appointments that require your immediate attention, my lady. Besides the steward, we need a captain of the guards to fill Jory’s place, a new master of horse-”
Her eyes snapped around and found him. “A master of horse?” Her voice was a whip.
The maester was shaken. “Yes, my lady. Hullen rode south with Lord Eddard, so-”
“My son lies here broken and dying, Luwin, and you wish to discuss a new master of horse? Do you think I care what happens in the stables? Do you think it matters to me one whit? I would gladly butcher every horse in Winterfell with my own hands if it would open Bran’s eyes, do you understand that? Do you?”
He bowed his head. “Yes, my lady, but the appointments-”
“I’ll make the appointments,” Robb said.
Catelyn had not heard him enter, but there he stood in the doorway, looking at her. She had
been shouting, she realized with a sudden flush of shame. What was happening to her? She was so tired, and her head hurt all the time.
Maester Luwin looked from Catelyn to her son. “I have prepared a list of those we might wish to consider for the vacant offices,” he said, offering Robb a paper plucked from his sleeve.
Her son glanced at the names. He had come from outside, Catelyn saw; his cheeks were red from the cold, his hair shaggy and windblown. “Good men,” he said. “We’ll talk about them tomorrow.” He handed back the list of names.
“Very good, my lord.” The paper vanished into his sleeve.
(Catelyn III, AGoT)

It comes as a surprise that Robb steps in. But that conversation reminds me that a subtle way to excercise control consists in proposing carefully calculated alternatives, leaving in effect little options, but preserving the illusion of free will. Hence Luwin has prepared a list, but might very well have made the choice already.

Catelyn's interaction with Maester Luwin illustrates finely again Lady Dustin's observations.
“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.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

However, Luwin does not seem responsible for Robb's subsequent expedition to avenge his father and defend the Tully bannermen.
Maester Luwin counseled Robb to remain at Winterfell, and Bran pleaded with him too, for his own sake as much as Rickon’s, but his brother only shook his head stubbornly and said, “I don’t want to go. I have to.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)

We shall note that the Fall of Winterfell happened while Luwin was in charge of the castle along with Ser Rodrik, and later as an advisor of Theon Greyjoy. Whatever secrets maester Luwin held perished with him at the foot of the heart tree of Winterfell, but a reading of the story that would put the blame on him for the disaster might have merit. At no point do we see Luwin blaming himself for having advised Ned Stark to go south.

Let's return to the southron ambitions of the previous Stark generation. Why did the maesters conspire against Aerys? Was it to get rid of a mad king and restore sanity to the governance of the Seven Kingdoms? Was it to eliminate for good the Targaryen dynasty. Marwyn told us that Targaryens are not welcome among the ranks of the archmaesters.
The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.
(Samwell V, AFfC)
So, even after the Dance of the Dragons, the Citadel mistrusts the Targaryens.

It should be stressed perhaps that it seems that a barrier between trustworthy and untrustworthy people has been set up that prevents the latter sort to reach the rank of archmaester. So the Conclave is a club of like-minded people, much more than the Citadel as a whole is. We will return later to its current composition.

We are left without much definite conclusion about the southron ambitions of Rickard Stark and the role of the Citadel in the plot.

Did Ned Stark achieve what his father was looking for: the handship and the possibility to rule the Realm, and the marriage of his daughter to the king? Indeed, Lord Eddard would have ruled the Seven Kingdoms, and Sansa would have married Joffrey if Robert had not been assassinated. Of course, Lyanna Stark was promised to Robert Barratheon, so that Lord Rickard could see one day his grandson on the Iron Throne.

The theme is classical now: the highest mark of success for an ambitious lord of the Seven Kingdoms is to seek the position of Hand of the King, and therefore rule the realm (at when the king is such as Robert Baratheon), and marry his daughter to the crown prince. Consider: Tywin Lannister, Ned Stark, Otto Hightower, Mace Tyrell. And Rickard Stark?

But why would the Citadel have supported, and even organized, such a conspiracy? To get rid of the Targaryens for good? To counter the prophecies in which Rhaegar and Aemon were so much interested? Did it have anything to do with the Starks? Weakening the old gods?

A major consequence of the Stark-Tully marriage was certainly that a sept has been built in Winterfell. Thus the Stark children were educated in part by a septa. Thus a major step has been taken to reduce the influence of the old gods in the north. It remains to see the extent of the defiance of the maesters towards the old powers in the north.

3. The Prince of Winterfell

After Bran came to rule Winterfell, he has ser Rodrik as military commander and Maester Luwin as his main advisor. Luwin gives advice to Bran during the Harvest Feast, and in fact largely rules the domain.

Bran is also subject to the influence of the three-eyed-crow. Meanwhile, Maester Luwin devotes much energy to dismiss the old powers of Westeros.
“Maester Luwin says there are no more giants. He says they’re all dead, like the children of the forest. All that’s left of them are old bones in the earth that men turn up with plows from time to time.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)
Luwin wants to make a maester of Bran.
“I don’t want to be broken,” he whispered fiercely to Maester Luwin, who’d been seated to his right. “I want to be a knight.”
“There are some who call my order the knights of the mind,” Luwin replied. “You are a surpassing clever boy when you work at it, Bran. Have you ever thought that you might wear a maester’s chain? There is no limit to what you might learn.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)
But he does not want Bran to get close to certain studies.
“I want to learn magic,” Bran told him. “The crow promised that I would fly.”
Maester Luwin sighed. “I can teach you history, healing, herblore. I can teach you the speech of ravens, and how to build a castle, and the way a sailor steers his ship by the stars. I can teach you to measure the days and mark the seasons, and at the Citadel in Oldtown they can teach you a thousand things more. But, Bran, no man can teach you magic.”

(Bran VI, AGoT)
The old powers do not seem to like Luwin either.
“Do you see? It’s quite empt-”
The darkness sprang at him, snarling.
Bran saw eyes like green fire, a flash of teeth, fur as black as the pit around them. Maester Luwin yelled and threw up his hands. The torch went flying from his fingers, caromed off the stone face of Brandon Stark, and tumbled to the statue’s feet, the flames licking up his legs. In the drunken shifting torchlight, they saw Luwin struggling with the direwolf, beating at his muzzle with one hand while the jaws closed on the other.

(Bran VII, AGoT)

It's likely that the direwolves are inhabited by the children of the forest. It's ironic that Luwin dismisses them once more as he is trying to recover from the direwolf's bite.
Tears were streaming down the maester’s face, yet he shook his head doggedly. “The children... live only in dreams. Now. Dead and gone. Enough, that’s enough. Now the bandages. Pads and then wrap, and make it tight, I’ll be bleeding.”

(Bran VII, AGoT)
After that incident, Luwin tells grudgingly the story of the children of the forest – he might know much more.
“Here, they are,” said Osha, as she bit off the end of the last bandage with her teeth. “North of the Wall, things are different. That’s where the children went, and the giants, and the other old races.”
Maester Luwin sighed. “Woman, by rights you ought to be dead or in chains. The Starks have treated you more gently than you deserve. It is unkind to repay them for their kindness by filling the boys’ heads with folly.”
(Bran VII, AGoT)
Later Luwin attempts to prevent Bran from dreaming.
The door to his bedchamber opened. Maester Luwin was carrying a green jar, and this time Osha and Hayhead came with him. “I’ve made you a sleeping draught, Bran.”
Osha scooped him up in her bony arms. She was very tall for a woman, and wiry strong. She bore him effortlessly to his bed.
“This will give you dreamless sleep,” Maester Luwin said as he pulled the stopper from the jar. “Sweet, dreamless sleep.”
“It will?” Bran said, wanting to believe.
“Yes. Drink.”
Bran drank. The potion was thick and chalky, but there was honey in it so it went down easy. “Come the morn, you’ll feel better.” Luwin gave Bran a smile and a pat as he took his leave. Osha lingered behind. “Is it the wolf dreams again?”
Bran nodded.
“You should not fight so hard, boy. I see you talking to the heart tree. Might be the gods are trying to talk back.”
(Bran I, ACoK)

In effect, Luwin's potion did not stop Bran's warging ability to develop. But after that point, Bran stops seeing the three-eyed-crow in his dreams. Luwin locked the direwolves in the godswood. However, Luwin is countered by the arrival of Jojen and Meera.
Luwin set down his quill. “No one truly knows, Bran. The children are gone from the world, and their wisdom with them. It had to do with the faces in the trees, we think. The First Men believed that the greenseers could see through the eyes of the weirwoods. That was why they cut down the trees whenever they warred upon the children. Supposedly the greenseers also had power over the beasts of the wood and the birds in the trees. Even fish. Does the Reed boy claim such powers?”
“No. I don’t think. But he has dreams that come true sometimes, Meera says.”
“All of us have dreams that come true sometimes. You dreamed of your lord father in the crypts before we knew he was dead, remember?”
“Rickon did too. We dreamed the same dream.”
“Call it greensight, if you wish... but remember as well all those tens of thousands of dreams that you and Rickon have dreamed that did not come true. Do you perchance recall what I taught you about the chain collar that every maester wears?”
(Bran IV, ACoK)
Here is the result of the Luwin's treatment.
“I don’t have dreams. Maester Luwin gives me sleeping draughts.”
“Do they help?”
Meera said, “All of Winterfell knows you wake at night shouting and sweating, Bran. The women talk of it at the well, and the guards in their hall.”
(Bran IV, ACoK)
Here is the end of the tirade against the evil dreams.
“Perhaps magic was once a mighty force in the world, but no longer. What little remains is no more than the wisp of smoke that lingers in the air after a great fire has burned out, and even that is fading. Valyria was the last ember, and Valyria is gone. The dragons are no more, the giants are dead, the children of the forest forgotten with all their lore.
“No, my prince. Jojen Reed may have had a dream or two that he believes came true, but he does not have the greensight. No living man has that power.”
(Bran IV, ACoK)
Bran has stopped dreaming. But Jojen has his greendreams and predicts the future.
“The sea is coming here,” Bran said. “Jojen saw it in a green dream. ‘Mebelly is going to drown.”
Maester Luwin tugged at his chain collar. “The Reed boy believes he sees the future in his dreams, Ser Rodrik. I’ve spoken to Bran about the uncertainty of such prophecies,
(Bran V, ACoK)

This precedes shortly Theon's conquest of Winterfell. Then Bran would take refuge in the crypts, without Maester Luwin's potion, and there his third eye would open. After that Bran would undertake his quest to find the Three-Eyed-Crow.

Thus, the story of Bran as Prince of Winterfell can be read as a struggle for influence between Maester Luwin and the Three-Eyed-Crow. Luwin attempted desperately to protect Bran with his sleeping potions, and by locking away the direwolves.

Whether Luwin was aware that he was dealing with a greenseer remains to be seen. But it is clear that Luwin is quite knowledgeable about the children of the forest and the greenseers, and reluctant to share his knowledge with Bran. Only the presence of Osha, who knows about the children of the forest, forces Luwin to say what he knows. I believe also that Luwin understood the nature of Bran's dreams, while he dismissed their importance.

Finally Luwin is defeated by the course of events, Theon's conquest and Ramsay's sack. All this opens another question. Is Bran's story a recurring story? When greenseers were numerous in Westeros, were lords under their influence? How many maesters in the past have protected the lords of Winterfell (and elsewhere) from intrusion in their dreams?

There is currently a relationship that resembles closely what we saw with Luwin and Bran. Indeed, Maester Colemon is taking care of Sweetrobin in the Vale. He prepares potions to treat the epilepsia of Lord Robert Arryn. But we have examined all that already and noted that Sweetrobin might follow the same trajectory as Bran – and might have the same gift. It's unclear whether Maester Colemon was already in the service of Jon Arryn, when the Stark-Arryn-Baratheon-Tully alliance was constituted.

4. Modus Operandi

How can we understand the maesters of the Citadel as covert operators?

Barbrey Dustin explained to us plainly how medical expertise gives the maester enormous power and prestige in his assigned familial environment. Other elements serve the maesters to make themselves trusted if not indispensable to a lordship.

Primarily, the maesters are selected for their intelligence and their assiduity as students. Only the brightest are sent to the Citadel and only devoted pupils are awarded a chain. As a consequence, they are usually smarter and far more knowledgeable than the men they serve. As Lady Barbrey noted, they enjoy a strategic position by taking care of all communications, and they are always at their lords' side. To conduct academic matters, humbleness is probably an advantage. It is even more so to make oneself accepted and trusted. Hence the accent put on humility in the education of maesters.
“It is a lesson,” Armen said, “the last lesson we must learn before we don our maester’s chains. The glass candle is meant to represent truth and learning, rare and beautiful and fragile things. It is made in the shape of a candle to remind us that a maester must cast light wherever he serves, and it is sharp to remind us that knowledge can be dangerous. Wise men may grow arrogant in their wisdom, but a maester must always remain humble. The glass candle reminds us of that as well. Even after he has said his vow and donned his chain and gone forth to serve, a maester will think back on the darkness of his vigil and remember how nothing that he did could make the candle burn... for even with knowledge, some things are not possible.”
(Prologue, AFfC)

Moreover, the Citadel has a network advantage with respect to any concurrent organization. The raven communication system is already in place, and everybody adheres to it. So there is no practical option for replacing a system that covers entirely the Seven Kingdoms and seems to give satisfaction. (King Baelor once tried to replace ravens by doves, though.) In a word, the ravens make the maesters indispensible to the Kingdom as a whole, and not merely to a particular lordship. That makes hardly possible for any lord to get rid of his maester: there can be substitutes for education (septons) and medical advice (woodswitches), but being left out of communication channels is annoying.

Barbrey Dustin underlines cleverly that displaying a maester at one's side is a social marker. Being deprived of one is to be relegated to the rank of petty lord. Barbrey hints that knowing the secrets of people holds more value than owning their gold, precisely the conclusion reached by Varys early in life. The maesters know the bodies and the family secrets of those they serve, and hold thus enormous power, without any incentive of solidarity. (Compare with a captain of guards whose fate is intimately related to his lord's.) A maester comes as a stranger and might leave for another position. He has no blood ties with the man he serves.

In their most cynical moments, maesters can be effective and discreet murderers, especially since they have knowledge of poison, and since they treat the sick and the wounded. Who can say how a wound had become infected, why a child is stillborn, or why the mother bled to death on the birthbed? And Archmaester Marwyn just confirms what has been hinted at by Maester Cressen: maesters make use of poison.

Trusted, smart, wise, modest, positioned at the heart of power, armed with the power of life and death: An individual maester has the means to do so much. All that is missing for a tremendous political organization is common purpose – ideology perhaps – and coordination.

The ravens evidently provide means of communication between maesters. We know that there is communication internal to the order (for instance for the calculation required for the change of seasons).

Another advantage of the maesters has not been mentioned by Barbrey Dustin: they are the principal historians of the Seven Kingdoms, giving thus a new twist to the common saying that history is written by the victors – in that case the victors might be already historians.

I suppose a certain subservience to the hierachy of the Citadel is to be expected. To become a maester, one needs to conform to the intellectual norms of the archmaesters, and probably as well to their political opinions. See how Arwen the Acolyte has espoused all the views of his teachers. The best servants of the Citadel might hope to serve in the finest castle, and even to be promoted archmaester.

In any case, the Citadel has the privilege of the assignations. Hence, a maester not well trusted would spend his life on a mountain in the Vale or at Bear Island or at the Wall, like Maester Aemon. While the great house will be served by the favorite pupils of the archmaesters.

That is not to say there is a deliberate conspiracy or a endoctrination. To work for the elimination of the supernatural, or for some other political cause, a process of selection of like minded people could suffice. For this, there is no need of an explicit ideology, as the real world proves. Hence, we see that novices and acolytes are discouraged to practice any form of magic. Those who do might even be denied other links by the archmaesters, or have their chain taken. See what happened to Qyburn.
“Do you believe in ghosts, Maester?” he asked Qyburn.
The man’s face grew strange. “Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.”
(Jaime VII, ASoS)

If there is a deliberate conspiracy at the Citadel, it might exist at the level of the archmaesters, and at that level only. It wouldn't be realistic that every maester leaves the Citadel with a secret agenda. Even the archmaesters are not all on the same page. Marwyn introduces to us the distinction between mainstream (the grey sheep) and non mainstream maesters. It is to be understood that the grey sheep is the political heart of the Citadel.

The remaining question is: could the maesters really coordinate to manipulate the whole realm, and manufacture wars, regicides, marriages?

About the true purpose of the maesters, I see no reason to believe they have an agenda very different from what we are been told, for instance by Luwin. It might simply be that they are more effective agents than we are led to believe. Theon has an interesting conversation with Luwin as he is about to lose Winterfell.
The small grey man was unafraid. “My order serves.”
“Yes, but whom?”
“The realm,” Maester Luwin said, “and Winterfell. Theon, once I taught you sums and letters, history and warcraft. And might have taught you more, had you wished to learn. I will not claim to bear you any great love, no, but I cannot hate you either. Even if I did, so long as you hold Winterfell I am bound by oath to give you counsel. So now I counsel you to yield.”
(Theon VI, ACoK)

Luwin acknowledges that he serves primarily neither a man nor a house, but a place, and more generally this abstaction called the realm. This word recalls strongly the "realm of men" of the oath of the Night's Watch. It recalls the title "Protector of the realm" carried by the King. It recalls also Varys' discourse to the dying Kevan Lannister.
The eunuch set the crossbow down. “Ser Kevan. Forgive me if you can. I bear you no ill will. This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children.”
(Epilogue, ADwD)

Of course, claiming to work for the realm might just be an exercise in self-indulgence. In any case, it is perilously close to empty rethoric, since all non-tribal political agencies operate with a propaganda of this sort.

We find in Pycelle the sentiment that maesters work for the greater good – and also that it is the mark of great men to work for the greater good.
“Ser Jaime, I have seen terrible things in my time,” the old man said. “Wars, battles, murders most foul... I was a boy in Oldtown when the grey plague took half the city and three-quarters of the Citadel. Lord Hightower burned every ship in port, closed the gates, and commanded his guards to slay all those who tried to flee, be they men, women, or babes in arms. They killed him when the plague had run its course. On the very day he reopened the port, they dragged him from his horse and slit his throat, and his young son’s as well. To this day the ignorant in Oldtown will spit at the sound of his name, but Quenton Hightower did what was needed. Your father was that sort of man as well. A man who did what was needed.”
(Jaime I, AFfC)

Note also the condescension for the ignorant, putting clearly the men of the Citadel above the smallfolk. The class distinction appears also with the expression: knights of the mind. Luwin is a modest man. But a conversation with Bran seems to bring up his pride.
“I don’t want to be broken,” he whispered fiercely to Maester Luwin, who’d been seated to his right. “I want to be a knight.”
“There are some who call my order the knights of the mind,” Luwin replied. “You are a surpassing clever boy when you work at it, Bran. Have you ever thought that you might wear a maester’s chain? There is no limit to what you might learn.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)

So the maesters are not without pride and class-conscience. To concentrate the last three quoted passages in one sentence: The knights of the mind do what is needed for the realm. Whether that makes them the true heroes of the true villains of the story remains to be seen.

The Winterfell Huis Clos