All right, so now I start playing catch up. Having completed the first book, I have a good deal of blogging to do.
Chapter 47 (Eddard XIII): Robert is back from his hunt, and things don't look good. He is pretty badly wounded. But he got the board, and orders them to serve it at his funeral feast. Robert knows he won't survive. But in the end, he finally recognizes his mistakes, and admits he has been a bad king. Too little, too late. Robert dictates his will and names Ned as Joffrey's regent. Ned doesn't have the heart to tell Robert the truth. So then we find out that the Lannisters seem to have had a hand in Robert's death: his squire Lancel was the one keeping him supplied with wine during the hunt. No surprise there. Ned already knew that Cersei was plotting Robert's death; he was warned that something would happen during the melee. He doesn't seem to have heeded the warning very much. While I earlier mentioned how letting Cersei know that he knows the truth of Joff's parentage was unwise, it seems Cersei had already launched her plan by that point, since Robert was already off on his hunt. Keeping quiet wouldn't have saved Robert's life. It might have put Ned in a better position after Robert's death, though. Then Ned refuses an offer of troops from Renly, who would seize the children and firmly establish Ned as Protector. Ned turns him down because he feels Renly's proposal is dishonorable and just plain icky, in a moral sense. Never mind that it leaves him on even shakier ground than before. Then he begins making preparations to see that Stannis becomes king, including the letter that he gives to Tomard to deliver. Littlefinger's game is getting twisted, and at this point in the book we still don't have any idea where his loyalties lie. Actually, I thought at this time that he was on his own side, rather than Ned's or Cersei's.
Chapter 48 (Jon VI): In which Jon and the other new recruits take their oaths, and become full members of Night's Watch. Jon is successful in getting Sam assigned as Aemon's personal steward, but winds up assigned as a steward himself. I sure wasn't expecting that. Ser Alliser sure is a smug one when he hears this. I keep seeing Gunny Hartman from Full Metal Jacket playing Alliser, except with genuine malice. Except then it turns out that Ser Alliser had nothing to do with Jon's assignment. I really was surprised by that turn. Mormont personally asked for Jon as his steward, and wants to send him into command! Well, it's like I'd figured all along: in the Watch, it doesn't matter that Jon is a bastard. If he has what it takes, he will be (and has been) given a fair shot. Now we're seeing that come to pass. Jon goes to swear his oath before the old gods, and Sam decides to accompany him. I found the oath scene to be moving, in a sparse and solemn kind of way. It isn't a big huge ceremony, but it works all the same. Ghost decides they could use a hand.
Chapter 49 (Eddard XIV): Now here's where things totally fall apart for the good guys. Ned allows Arya to have one last lesson with Syrio before she goes back to Winterfell. Good thing, too. More on that later. Varys tells Ned that Renly and Loras headed south (which just happens to be toward Tyrell territory, and Renly's home of Storm's End) that morning. Ned thinks to himself how he had counted on Renly's support. Gee, that's funny, I bet Renly had been thinking the same thing. He seemed rather miffed when Ned refused to back his play. Ned thinks So much for Renly and his hundred swords. Renly likely now sees Ned as unreliable when it comes to doing what it takes to get the job done. He doesn't see a need to put his hundred swords behind a man who is bound to lose by fighting clean when everyone else is fighting dirty. The small council attends Joff and Cersei, and Ned learns just how badly he has bungled things. Littlefinger was right about two things: Ned was wrong to trust him, and the gold cloaks will follow whoever pays them. He was probably even telling the truth about how much gold it took. Tomard dies. That's one letter that's not getting delivered.