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She was reading her little lord a tale of the Winged Knight . . .

The unexpectedly released new TWOW sample chapter opens with a line that calls back another scene in her last chapter in AFFC, where Sansa is also trying to get little Robert Arryn out of bed, promising to read him all the stories he wants and give him all the lemoncakes he wants if he’ll do so. The latter delicacy will come later, but here she’s making good of her word in what is essentially a scene meant to show that Alayne Stone is still exercising a beneficial influence on Sweetrobin, employing the trappings of the songs she’s left behind to embolden and hold control over a difficult child she takes care of. She is making use of method acting from the very beginning, appearing in full Alayne mode since the initial lines, from her first thoughts on the need to make Harry Hardyng accept and love her and her use of her bastardy to stop the insistent demands of a little boy with a huge crush on her that wants to marry her and expresses displeasure at the presence of the Heir, demonstrating a surprising awareness about people’s real impressions and ambitions concerning his seat we’d not heard of before:

I hate that Harry,” Sweetrobin said when she was gone. “He calls me cousin, but he’s just waiting for me to die so he can take the Eyrie. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.” . . . “He wants my father’s castle, that’s all, so he pretends.” The boy clutched the blanket to his pimply chest. “I don’t want you to marry him, Alayne. I am the Lord of the Eyrie, and I forbid it.” He sounded as if he were about to cry. “You should marry me instead. We could sleep in the same bed every night, and you could read me stories.

Internally, Alayne thinks like Sansa and expresses that she cannot be married so long as the Imp is alive, a significant line that does help properly frame her behaviour towards Harry, as well as reminiscing the time she was trueborn and noble and was meant for this boy, but outwardly she resorts to her status as a natural daughter of the Lord Protector, arguing that the bannermen won’t let such an union go unchallenged because of him, mixing her identities when she says any child of theirs would be baseborn. Similar to her exasperation in her last chapter when the boy-lord was particularly obstinate, she is harsh in her thoughts when Sweetrobin insists that he could have her despite marrying another, which prompts Alayne to retort with whether he’d want to dishonour her so and leave. On the whole, the scene does show three salient points: that she’s pretty much still the only one that can have Sweetrobin behave as best he can, that the boy is quite aware of his surroundings, and that Sansa is not aware that Sweetrobin is being poisoned; on the contrary, she tells the little boy that he’ll someday have someone appropriate for a consort, and in her internal thoughts, she wishes him to live long enough to have a wife that can appreciate something beautiful in him, like his hair.

Searching for her “father,” Alayne goes freely and confidently through the castle describing the scenery, alluding to a detail that can be of significance at a later date: the scattered papers on Baelish’s solar that look, and reveals the destination of the much speculated-about tapestries of the former king. Alongside her walk, she reflects on the upcoming tournament, which we get to know was her idea, with the purpose of empowering young Lord Arryn and give him security by reproducing his favourite story about Ser Artys Arryn.

 […] the eight victors would be expected to spend the next three years at Lord Robert’s side, as his own personal guard (Alayne had suggested seven, like the Kingsguard, but Sweetrobin had insisted that he must have more knights than King Tommen).

Baelish had found the idea “clever” and preparations were made for the youth of the Vale to attend a tourney where sixty-four knights would compete for one of the eight places and wings in the Winged Knights guard for Sweetrobin. Aside the positive impact on the little lord’s morale, this is also a political move that will render fruits to Baelish in terms of tightening his control of the Vale and keeping the nobles in check, which accounts for why he accepted it readily. Most contestants are in the castle for one month or so already, and some of the knights are in the yard, training some and courting Myranda Royce others. In the scene where she “rescues” Randa from her admirers, we get the first instance showing her new level of maturity, as Alayne has come far from the proper little lady that blushed at compliments and overtly sexual comments, due to her influence, as now she does reply with banter of her own to the knights, a flirtatiousness of which we’d gotten a glimpse before and that is amplified a lot in this chapter, and doesn’t react going beet-red at Randa’s racy remarks but instead does for the first time call the bedding act by its name, and later giggles at the older lady’s joke on Lyn Corbray’s inclinations. Showing quite a great deal of confidence, she dares to use her “father” as a means to boldly poke and prod Ser Lyn over the newly-married Lord Corbray’s impending fatherhood, coming from a marriage arranged by Baelish, which leads to the startling discovery that Lyn is definitely very infuriated at losing his place as heir and resentful of Littlefinger for this; resentment he doesn’t hide to the girl. Alayne concludes that the man could in reality be Baelish’s foe pretending to be his ally pretending to be his foe, a discovery that could have interesting and potentially negative consequences for the Lord Protector and his plans. No less interesting a discovery with potential for trouble is that the Mad Mouse, into whom she bumps right after leaving the yard, has definitely identified her as Sansa Stark.

“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

“I suppose not. But now you must excuse us, ser, we need to find my lord father. “

She has no clue about what he was really alluding to, though, and concentrates her efforts again on finding her Baelish to greet the upcoming last guests, wisely ignoring Randa’s pointed questions about her “father’s” little finger. She doesn’t find him before the Waynwood party arrive, so has to race to the gates with the Royce girl, reminiscing along the way of similar races she had in Winterfell with her sister and friend Jeyne, another example of Sansa is very much there despite the chapter never mentioning her real name even once in accordance with the needs of acting like she’s someone else. There, she greets Lady Anya Waynwood, who addressed Lady Royce and herself, introducing her grandson Roland, her younger son Wallace, and her ward Harrold, to whom Alayne has a nervous yet hopeful reaction, wishing him to like her as it’s crucial for her “father’s” plan:

My Harry.  My lord, my lover, my betrothed.

Ser Harrold Hardyng looked every inch a lord-in-waiting; clean-limbed and handsome, straight as a lance, hard with muscle. Men old enough to have known Jon Arryn in his youth said Ser Harrold had his look, she knew. He had a mop of sandy blond hair, pale blue eyes, an aquiline nose. Joffrey was comely too, though, she reminded herself.   A comely monster, that’s what he was.  Little Lord Tyrion was kinder, twisted though he was.

She admires his handsomeness, going through a mental list of the things he could be as she does so, but immediately compares him to Joffrey, who was her first and most lamented mistake of judgement as a young girl, a sign that this worldlier version of herself can no longer be seduced by looks alone, a hard lesson. She does understand the need to win him over, despite the lack of genuine sentiments towards him, so she behaves graciously and charmingly, but also notices that, unlike the gallant flirter Ser Roland and the eager Ser Wallace, he doesn’t look pleased to meet her. Indeed, he ends up insulting her rudely when she offers to escort him to his place in the castle, saying that there’s no reason as to why it’d please him to be escorted by “Littlefinger’s bastard,” which almost has Alayne in tears. Stone-faced, she begs her leave, wishing in her head for Hardyng to fall off his horse in the tilts and be humiliated as she goes to search for Baelish. On the path, she finds Lothor Brune, who bestows on the boy the epithet of Harry the Arse, for which Alayne is grateful.

Despite working for Baelish and taking part in some unsavoury activities, Martin seems to have pinpointed Brune as someone that Sansa can regard as a friend and potential ally, and the “quick hug” she gives him is another example of her ability to forge alliances in hostile settings. Finally locating her father in the vaults – the Lord Protector had been having a meeting on the Vale’s food stores—Alayne shares her distress over Harry’s ill-mannered words: “…He called me your bastard. Right in the yard, in front of everyone.” Although he is quick to reassure her by citing realistic reasons for Harry’s behaviour, Petyr’s callous self-interest is revealed when he shifts seamlessly into his Littlefinger persona:

Petyr put his arm around her … “Charm him. Entrance him. Bewitch him.”

“I don’t know how,” she said miserably.

“Oh, I think you do,” said Littlefinger, with one of those smiles that did not reach his eyes.

It’s easy to forget with the overwhelming carefree tone of this chapter, but the insidious coercion LF employs over Sansa is still in effect, and his only concern about any misgivings she might have is how soon she gets over them. Another significant detail in their conversation is that LF mentions her hair will be shining in the firelight at the feast, which suggests that Sansa’s natural hair colour is returning, an auburn shade that makes her resemblance to her mother even more striking. As LF predicts, Alayne rules the night with constant requests for dancing and knights vying for her attention. The highlight of the feasting comes when a massive lemon cake is wheeled out in the shape of the Giant’s Lance, with a sugary Eyrie on top. Sansa thinks that the cake was made especially for her as Robert only came to love the delicacy because it was her favourite. The phallic symbolism of the cake can be interpreted through the lens of sexuality and power, but it’s also a remarkable display of lavish extravagance that brings to mind the Purple Wedding—an event that ended in disaster. Alayne is rewarded when Harry comes to her table as the dancing is underway and pleads her forgiveness for his rude comments. She hesitates in accepting his apology, but grants his request for a dance. After struggling to think of what to say to capture his interest, she settles on an interesting choice to ask about his bastards, in order “to see if Ser Harrold would lie.” Why this focus on honesty, especially as Harry’s bastards are common knowledge and Alayne herself is participating in a deceit? The answer may be found in the fact that honesty is a particular quality that Sansa values when it comes to judging the merits of her suitors, as she once recalled with bitterness the “Lannister lies” fed to her by Tyrion in contrast to Sandor’s “a dog can smell a lie” brand of candour and trustworthiness.

While he doesn’t lie about his bastard children, Harry does show considerable insensitivity towards the girl who bore his first child, Cissy, commenting that she has grown as “fat as a cow.” It’s not a remark that would endear anyone to him, and it’s to Sansa’s credit that rather than find anything funny about Harry’s comments on Cissy, she goes for the harmless teasing about names when he mentions that “it is different with Saffron,” the girl he has left currently pregnant. It is this teasing manner and her sharp play of words that finally attracts Harry’s true interest in her as more than a pretty girl with a large dowry:

 I hope you joust better than you talk.”

For a moment he looked shocked. But as the song was ending, he burst into a laugh. “No one told me you were clever.

Having been successfully disarmed, Harry asks Sansa for her favor to wear in the tourney; Sansa is still following through with LF’s script, however, and withholds this token, telling Harry that it is “promised to another.” It’s an intriguing comment that further suggests the relative insignificance of Sansa’s relationship with Harry, and ushers in the prospect of unforeseen characters and events emerging ahead.