Patchface, the „lackwit“ fool, a member of Stannis Baratheon’s household and companion to his only daughter Shireen, is certainly an intriguing character. We do not know much about him or his songs and pronouncements. They obviously make little sense to those around him and there is much speculation in fandom as to what they might mean.
Patchface’s survival suggests an association with the Drowned God. Most of his “visions” take place “under the sea” and his vocabulary, which features fish, mermaids, merwives, starfish, crabs, seahorses, seashells and the like, is difficult to decipher.
This essay investigates Patchface’s background in Volantis and establishes that Patchface
(1) is a carrier of the dreaded disease Greyscale,
(2) infected Shireen with Greyscale.
Patchface’s background in Volantis
Let’s begin with Master Cressen’s thoughts on the boy who was washed ashore on that fateful day the Windproud sank just short of Storm’s End. Lord Steffen Baratheon, his wife and all crew met their death that day.
Patchface had come to them as a boy. Lord Steffon of cherished memory had found him in Volantis, across the narrow sea……
“We have found a most splendid fool,” he wrote Cressen, a fortnight before he was to return from his fruitless mission. “Only a boy, yet nimble as a monkey and witty as a dozen courtiers. He juggles and does magic, and he can sing prettily in four tongues. We have bought his freedom and hope to bring him home with us. Robert will be delighted with him, and perhaps in time he will even teach Stannis how to laugh.”
ACOK – Prologue
The above passage describes Patchface as Lord Steffon found him in the free City of Volantis. Patchface was a very talented child.
A splendid fool. A clever, witty boy who could sing in four languages, possibly also speak those four languages. Being captured as a slave in a land beyond Volantis guarantees that he must have had a mother tongue in addition to the language of Volantis. He may have lived at other locations prior to ending up in Volantis, giving him the opportunity to learn further languages.
Don’t forget that young children learn languages quickly, a great deal faster than adults.
The boy could also juggle and is described as “nimble as a monkey.” It sounds as though he was an athletic child, perhaps capable of acrobatics.
Lord Steffon compares him to a courtier, in fact, to a dozen courtiers. A courtier is a person who is in attendance at the court of a king. Courtiers include nobles, clerks, soldiers and king’s favourites – the emphasis here is on people of importance to the king. Lord Steffon’s comparison is really high level, suggesting that Patchface was a slave to a person very high up the social ladder.
Patchface was also able to perform magic – whether the magic in question here involved tricks of illusion or a form of sorcery is not clear. But from all this, we do get the impression that Patchface was indeed a very talented, intelligent boy before the accident.
The point I make is this:
Why would his Volantine master only make use of Patchface as a clown or fool? Given the boy’s talents, he should have been assigned much more useful, profitable duties. He would have been a great asset to his master. His knowledge of languages alone would have made him an excellent translator and negotiator for his master.
A knowledge of magic in its mundane form could have made him invaluable as well, perhaps to gain advantage over business partners to the benefit of his master. Even his nimbleness may have been employed in a profitable manner. Climbing, breaking in to gain access to important information (akin to Vary’s “little birds”) etc. come to mind.
Patchface, because of his talents, appears to belong to the “upper-class” of slaves, a class of slaves that can be regarded as being very useful and profitable to their masters.
Why then did Patchface serve as a fool?
The case for “upper-class slaves”
Do we have any examples of “upper-class slaves” in the books?
Certainly. Missandei is the best example in this regard. As Kraznys’ slave in Astapor, Missandei had the task of translating for her master. She does this extraordinarily well, considering her age. At 10 years old, she speaks 12 languages and also serves as a scribe. She is seen reading scrolls several times in ADwD. During the negotiations with Daenerys, she displays knowledge, eloquence and even wisdom. She translates her master’s words, expertly circumventing the insults Kraznys directs at Dany and augments information regarding the Unsullied where necessary. As a freed woman at Dany’s side, she has proven herself as an invaluable aide. There are numerous quotes supporting the fact that Missandei is an intelligent, knowledgeable and wise young woman:
The little scribe with the big golden eyes was wise beyond her years. She is brave as well. She had to be to survive the life she’s lived.
– thoughts of Daenerys Targaryen
She relied so much on the little scribe that she oft forgot that Missandei had only turned eleven.
– thoughts of Daenerys Targaryen
Eleven years of age, yet Missandei is as clever as half the men at this table and wiser than all of them.
– Barristan Selmy, comparing Missandei to the ruling council of Meereen
Kraznys, her former master, knew this and made use of her accordingly, to his benefit.
Another example of an “upper-class slave” is the old man who came to ask Daenery’s permission to return to his master in Meereen. The poor man had no use for his freedom, preferring to return to his former master’s household where he had enjoyed the position of tutor to his master’s children. He was obviously held in high regard in his master’s household and probably enjoyed comforts and most importantly, respect and security that came with his position.
These examples show that slave masters make use of the talents and abilities of intelligent slaves accordingly, and to their own benefit.
The question arises again: why was Patchface, a boy with outstanding abilities, considered only good enough to serve as a fool in his master’s eyes?
A probable answer to this question is that Patchface was somehow “spoiled” and that on account of this, was not of much use to his master. He must have been ‘tainted or inferior’ in a manner visible to the public, otherwise the master would have kept him by his side and made use of his talents. Instead, Patchface played the role of a fool.
I think you see what I am getting at here. So what reason could Patchface’s master have had for declaring him a fool, thus waiving the opportunity to reap substantial benefits from the boy’s talents? In particular, in what way was Patchface tainted?
Dealing with Spoiled Talent
A clue to the answer can be found in the practice of tattooing slaves. In Volantis, slaves were tattooed according to their profession. As a designated fool, Patchface is tattooed in a motley design. Red and green squares cover his entire face and neck. These red and green squares adequately cover up any otherwise visible blemishes on his face.
The witty, clever lad that Lord Steffon had written of never reached Storm’s End; the boy they found was someone else, broken in body and mind, hardly capable of speech, much less wit. Yet his fool’s face left no doubt of who he was. It was the fashion in the Free City of Volantis to tattoo the faces of slaves and servants; from neck to scalp the boy’s skin had been patterned in squares of red and green motley. ACOK, Prologue
The following suspicion emerges:
Patchface’s master was well aware of his slave’s talents but the boy had contracted greyscale. Children do overcome greyscale but remain visibly scarred for life and are likely to be shunned by the people sharing their environment.
Patchface was too valuable to be gotten rid of (by simply killing him, for example) and so his master declared him a fool and had his face and neck tattooed accordingly. By resorting to this measure, the master kept his options to sell his slave profitably open. The chances of selling the child were good; after all, the boy exhibited many talents. The master’s gamble succeeded – he was able to sell the boy to Lord Steffon, a foreigner from afar who would suspect nothing about the boy’s affliction.
*Please note: My argument is that Patchface had greyscale as a child and is still a carrier of the disease. Regarding his master: however clever or valuable, a slave disfigured by greyscale would have been an embarrassment. Thus, his best course of action was not to kill the boy but to hide the disfigurement and eventually sell him to recover his investment.
Patchface and the Shrouded Lord
Remember the Shrouded Lord is associated with greyscale. Now consider these quotes where Tyrion mirrors Patchface and The Shrouded Lord mirrors Stannis:
From the letter Lord Steffon wrote a fortnight before returning to Storm’s End:
“Robert will be delighted with him (Patchface), and perhaps in time he will even teach Stannis how to laugh.”
Haldon to Tyrion on the journey down the Rhoyne in Essos:
This time Duck laughed, and Haldon said, “What a droll little fellow you are, Yollo. They say the Shrouded Lord will grant a boon to any man who can make him laugh. Perhaps his Grey Grace will choose you to ornament his stony court.”
ADWD, Tyrion III
Both quotes center around a jester-figure (Tyrion often “plays the fool” in his role as Yollo on the Shy Maid) making a stern, grim character laugh (the Shrouded Lord / Stannis) supporting the idea that Patchface may be associated with the Shrouded Lord who is said to bestow his grey kiss (grey scale) on humans.
In the prologue to ACoK we meet Maester Cressen standing on his balcony. He thinks of the stone gargoyles, hellhounds and wyverns (he describes them as “grotesques”), which used to make him feel uneasy when he first came to Dragonstone. Now they are old friends. As he looks at the red comet, he
…wondered if his gargoyles had ever seen its like. They had been here so much longer than he had, and would still be here long after he was gone. If stone tongues could speak…..
If stone tongues could speak – is this an allusion to Patchface and grey scale? Moments later, Maester Pylos announces that they have visitors. Shireen wants to see the white raven and her fool is with her. Of course, Patchface does speak, but no one can make much sense of his words.
Later in the same book Littlefinger likens Shireen (whose face is disfigured by greyscale) to the stone gargoyles which adorn Dragonstone. Additionally, he describes Patchface as a grotesque fool, a lackwit with a tattooed face. (ACoK, Tyrion II)
Do these references foreshadow Patchface as a former victim of greyscale, possibly a carrier of the disease?
To summarize the above:
- On account of his obvious former intelligence and talents, Patchface belonged to the “upper-class” of the slave society in the Free City of Volantis and should have been employed to benefit his master accordingly. Instead, we find that Patchface played the role of a fool in Volantis.
- Patchface contracted greyscale which left the typical stone like blemishes on his face.
- Patchface was designated a fool by his slave master because he was visibly tainted.
- .Patchface’s master declared Patchface a fool, which granted him opportunity to have the boy tattooed to cover up the signs of the disease.
- The master subsequently recovered his investment by selling Patchface to Lord Steffon.
- Patchface is associated with The Shrouded Lord who bestows his “grey kiss” (greyscale) on humans.
Shireen, Patchface and Greyscale
The next natural question arises:
Was Shireen infected by Patchface?
My answer is yes, but do we have any evidence for this?
The first thing to consider here is Shireen’s age and when exactly Patchface came to be part of Stannis Baratheon’s household.
Sinking of the Windproud:
King Aery’s II sent Lord Steffon Baratheon to seek a bride for his son Prince Rhaegar. It was on this journey to Volantis that Lord Steffon found and bought Patchface’s freedom. So when was this?
Rhaegar was unmarried at the time of the voyage. Backtracking calculations of the birth of Rhaenys, Rhaegar’s first daughter, and going back in time from there gives us an indication of when Rhaegar and Princess Elia of Dorne were married – probably in 279 BC. The Windproud must have sunk before this date, so we can conclude that Patchface arrived in Westeros approx. in 278 or 279 BC.
Shireen is mentioned in early 299 AC to be turning 10 on her next nameday. According to birth calculations given here, Shireen was born in 289 AC.
However fuzzy the timeline may be, it is clear that Patchface was in Westeros and at Storm’s End prior to Shireen’s birth. We can safely assume that he was a permanent member of Stannis’ household at the time of Shireen’s birth.
This establishes the possibility of close physical contact between Shireen and Patchface from Shireen’s birth onwards. Shireen contracts greyscale in the crib, as a baby.
We are introduced to Shireen in the prologue to A Clash of Kings. She is about 10 years old and already bears the mark of greyscale at this time. Maester Cressen describes Patchface as “her fool” in this chapter so we can discern a close relationship here, one that must have existed for some time. Further, in all chapters involving Shireen and Patchface, we see that they always appear together. They are always in close physical proximity to one another, almost inseparable.
What do we know about greyscale?
- Greyscale is a disease that can leave flesh stiff and dead. The skin is cracked and flaking, mottled black and grey and stone-like to the touch. The tongue and lips can also turn to stone.
- It generally affects children, especially in cold, damp climates. The victims are disfigured but also rendered immune to the rarer fatal form and to the grey plague.
- Maesters know that recovered children are immune but they do not assume the children to be carriers, neither are they considered a health threat to people around them.
- Val, “the wildling princess” believes that those who have overcome the disease are nevertheless unclean. She claims greyscale sleeps in former victims, only to wake again. She says survivors of greyscale are “dead” and suggests they should be killed. She demands that Monster, Mance’s child (in reality Gilly’s son) be removed from the vicinity of Shireen.
- Haldon suggests that the Shrouded Lord does not bestow his “kiss” lightly, implying that he chooses his victims intentionally?
Notes on why Val holds the opinion that Shireen, a survivor of greyscale, is unclean:
Medical history shows that surviving victims of a disease may develop immunity but may nevertheless be carriers of the disease. A carrier does not suffer from the disease but can still transmit it to other persons. Famous cases in the real world such as Typhoid Mary come to mind.
Typhoid Mary was a cook and transmitted the disease due to poor hygiene. She is believed to have infected at least 51 people and to have caused the deaths of at least three persons. She was forced into quarantine for several years on two separate occasions after investigations proved her as a transmitter of typhoid fever. Typhoid Mary served as a transmitter only; she remained free of disease herself.
More on Greyscale:
We learn more about greyscale and the stone men in Tyrion’s chapter in ADwD, ch. 18.
Tyrion is a passenger on the Shy Maid, together with Griff, Young Griff, Lemore and others. They are sailing along the River Rhoyne in the section known as ‘The Sorrows’ and pass beneath the Bridge of Dream, which is populated by Stone Men afflicted by greyscale. The party on the ship suffers an attack from the Stone Men. Griff (Jon Connington) subsequently contracts greyscale after coming into physical contact during the fighting. Tyrion was warned to not let the Stone Men touch him. Physical contact together with the environmental conditions prevalent in the Sorrows, which are described as cold, damp and foggy, probably facilitate transmission of the disease.
Shireen grew up on Dragonstone, certainly in a damp climate. If Patchface had the disease as a child, he could very well be an infectious carrier. Patchface seems to have been Shireen’s playmate from quite early on in her life. Perhaps he even had physical contact with Shireen when she was a baby.
A legitimate objection here is if Patchface is a carrier, why has nobody else apart from Shireen contracted Greyscale so far? One can argue that children may be more susceptible to the disease or that though the environmental conditions were “right;” perhaps no one else came into very close physical contact with Patchface. In Tyrion’s chapter in ADWD, Haldon gives us an interesting clue: he says that the Shrouded Lord does not bestow his “grey kiss” lightly. This suggests that not everyone contracts the disease when exposed to it and if this mythical entity is indeed involved, it seems he specifically chooses his victims to suit whatever purpose he has in mind. Personally, I believe Haldon’s statement suggests that not everyone who is exposed to a carrier will contract the disease. Despite coming into one of the stone men, Tyrion did not fall ill, but Jon Connington did!
Given this information, we can conclude that the weather conditions on Dragonstone and the physical proximity of a carrier in the person of Patchface caused Shireen to contract the disease.
Was Shireen infected with greyscale via Patchface?
- Timeline: Patchface was part of Stannis’ household prior to Shireen’s birth.
- Patchface became Shireen’s constant close companion as evidenced by him following her around and them being almost inseparable. He is essentially her only playmate. This establishes a close proximity and physical contact between the two.
- Patchface is a carrier of greyscale as established in the essay above.
- The weather conditions at Dragonstone facilitate the transmission of greyscale
- Patchface infected Shireen with greyscale when she was a young child.
- Both Patchface and Shireen are carriers of greyscale. Given the right conditions, both have the potential to infect others with the disease.
Given that greyscale is not always fatal in children, but fatal in adults, what implications does this have for individual characters and groups of people in the story?
Could both Patchface and Shireen transmit the more virulent form of the disease known as the grey plague to persons in their vicinity?
The next essay in this series investigates Patchface’s possible affiliation with the Drowned God and Bloodraven – Patchface, the Fool with Many Voices
Credit: Featured Image of Patchface and Shireen from http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/File:Patchface.jpg