Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Beautiful lady Ashara Dayne, her relationship with the Starks and the Tourney at Harrenhal
The tourney at Harrenhal holds many great mysteries: the secret purse that funded the event when lord Whent wasn’t that wealthy; the knight of the laughing tree; the reason for crowning lady Lyanna Stark the princess of love and beauty; the crannogman, and the one great mystery and subject of this essay, the beautiful lady Ashara Dayne.
Oftentimes held in castles for the honour of a young lady or for the name day of a mighty lord, tourneys are wonderful celebrations. They bring to hedge knights a chance to a spot of honour as well as visibility, which helps in finding work; dreams to the hearts of young girls and glory to boys and men alike. Winning the purse is rarely bestowed upon the meek or the poor, but ends with the wealthy, as they have better armour, better horses, better weapons, better training, better squires and have been better fed and slept in better beds their whole lives. It’s easier to be honourable and gallant when one is not struggling for survival.
The Tourney at Harrenhal was one such event, but of magnificent proportions. All the heroes of our story at the prime of their lives and in one place, celebrating the name day of a lady of noble birth.
Lady Catelyn’s mother, lady Minisa, was “Whent” by birth, but her family tree hasn’t been disclosed to the readers. The evident conclusion is that lady Catelyn was somewhat related to the host family, but not to what degree. Lord Walter Whent had one brother who was in the kingsguard, Ser Oswell Whent, and lord Whent married lady Shella Whent, who was also Whent by birth. They had five children, four boys and one girl – nameless to date, the one girl was the lady whose name day was being celebrated. The party lasted ten days and the stories read as if it had been a great revel, filled with soirees, romance, music, intrigue, gossip and wine.
Although King Aerys had already gone "mad", the Spider had filled his head with the idea that Prince Rhaegar had arranged for the tourney in order to unite with people who would help him overthrow his own father, so although the king didn’t leave the Red Keep, he managed to go as well, alongside Queen Rhaella and the Knights of the Kingsguard. After the first night, the Mad King sent the new Knight of the Kingsguard, Ser Jaime Lannister, back to the Red Keep with Queen Rhaella and young Prince Viserys.
Present at the tourney were the four Stark children - Brandon, Eddard, Lyanna and Benjen - which is an unusual presence on its own as the northerners aren’t often seen in such events; the Crannogman Howland Reed, the Dustins, the Hornwoods, the Manderlys, the Mormonts, Robert Baratheon, Prince Rhaegar and his wife, Elia, the Knights of the Kingsguard, Jon Connington, Prince Oberyn , Mance Tyrell, Jon Arryn, Yohn Royce, lord Richard Lonmouth, lord Eon Hunter, several Freys, some Blounts and Haighs. Present as well was a man of the night’s watch who inspired young Benjen Stark, at the time only 14 years old, to take the black. Strangely enough, no Tully attended to the event, especially as they were related.
The most fantastic gathering to the real fans of A Song of Ice and Fire is undoubtedly that tourney and it was there that young Ned first saw lady Ashara Dayne. Ned was called “the quiet wolf”. He was a shy and reserved young man, not necessarily awkward, just not one for great parties and loud laughter. His older brother, Brandon, was debonair, expansive and a recognizable hot-head, but Eddard didn’t quite care for shining, so evidently, being seen might not have been as easy to him.
Once he saw lady Ashara, he was swept away. As a shy young man, speaking with a lady so prominent and Dornish, on top of it, which means she wasn’t shy or reserved, but likely more akin to Princess Arianne in manner and culture, surrounded by men, comfortable in her position, and of unsurpassed beauty, he wasn’t equipped to court her before all the Seven Kingdoms and it was his elder brother Brandon, “the Wild Wolf”, who spoke with her on his behalf. It is common knowledge that she and Ned danced and it is said that a great relationship between them came from that tourney.
She was a lady in waiting of Princess Elia Martell and as such, lived in Dragonstone. Eddard was fostered at the Vale. Geographically speaking, they were at very manageable distance. If Ashara was enticing enough to make Ser Barristan the Bold consider treason, abandoning his vows as a Knight of the Kingsguard to be with her, to Eddard, who was young, rich and free, following his heart wasn’t all that hard to fathom.
Their story is first described by Meera Reed in ASOS (Bran II), corroborated by Jojen , but repeated by young Ned Dayne, and again by Harwin (ASOS Arya VIII), mentioned by Cersei and Catelyn in a Game of Thrones and then, in a Dance with Dragons, ser Barristan (the Kingbreaker) refers to lady Ashara’s lover simply as “Stark”, which causes plenty of controversy, making the fandom wonder if Brandon, who was more likely to court ladies, despite his commitment, wasn’t the one who actually had an affair with lady Ashara.
Indeed, it is more akin to Brandon than Eddard to have a whirlwind courtship and leave a lady pregnant, however, that was not a conflicting issue to him, but it would be to Eddard, and if nothing else, George R.R. Martin openly states that he likes to write about the human heart in conflict with itself. Furthermore, Brandon died. What difference could it make to the story if Ashara had a child with Brandon, considering Brandon, Ashara and child are all reported dead? Ned Stark, however, is an entirely different issue. A great lord, a respectable gentleman who cared so deeply for his honour and who taught his sons to be honourable had a child outside wedlock with a great lady and was pushed into marrying another woman to guarantee an army to a war? That is conflict!
Equally, house Dayne doesn’t hate Lord Stark. They talk about him with respect, admiration and affection, which comes from something good, not betrayal. A long courtship, helping Ashara escape during the rebellion with the baby who may or may not be a girl, but the eldest Stark heir regardless, and from Dorne, where women have rights to inheritance, all the while covering up that the body of Ashara and her baby were never found, writing about her with the most intelligent literary devices only George knows how to pile up and use, such as verisimilitude, which is something that gives the appearance of truth; meta-text, a message to the reader written secretly inside the original test, and beautiful metaphors that set a ton similar to fables and songs… That is the most likely scenario.
The Tourney at Harrenhal is the most intriguing part of our story. There are definitely too many questions to be asked about those ten days and the consequence of the connections that were formed then, but Lady Ashara Dayne was written to inspire and built with mysteries. If she is alive, her return will bring more than just knowledge, it will establish order to a country on the brink of collapse.