reythrace asked:

hi butterfly! sorry if this is a stupid question, but is the bread & salt / guestright thing literal? does the host really have to present the guest with bread & salt, like a ceremonial thing, or is it just assumed the guest has guest right once he has eaten his first meal? somehow grrm wasn't quite clear on the issue.

No worries, it’s not a stupid question, but nope, “bread and salt” isn’t literal. Any food will do.

Catelyn shifted her seat uncomfortably. “If we are offered refreshment when we arrive, on no account refuse. Take what is offered, and eat and drink where all can see. If nothing is offered, ask for bread and cheese and a cup of wine.”
“I’m more wet than hungry…”
“Robb, listen to me. Once you have eaten of his bread and salt, you have the guest right, and the laws of hospitality protect you beneath his roof.”
Robb looked more amused than afraid. “I have an army to protect me, Mother, I don’t need to trust in bread and salt. But if it pleases Lord Walder to serve me stewed crow smothered in maggots, I’ll eat it and ask for a second bowl.”

–ASOS, Catelyn VI

“And we’re guests in your father’s hall besides.”
“Not you,” she said. “I watched. You never ate at his board, nor slept by his fire. He never gave you guest-right, so you’re not bound to him.”


“If you had been discovered… taken…”
“Your father would have had my head off.” The king gave a shrug. “Though once I had eaten at his board I was protected by guest right. The laws of hospitality are as old as the First Men, and sacred as a heart tree.”

–ASOS, Jon I

Mind you, some form of bread tends to be served at meals (as it is today, in our world), because it’s a staple food and filling. And salt is the most common way to season food, otherwise it’s bland. Plus even plain bread has salt as an ingredient, so the simplest and most stingy of meals should at the very least contain bread and salt. Therefore, “bread” has become a synonym for meals (as in “to break bread with someone”) or food in general, and in ASOIAF “bread and salt” is used as a metaphor for making a living.

So he found himself clad in Groat’s painted wooden armor, astride Groat’s sow, whilst Groat’s sister instructed him in the finer points of the mummer’s joust that had been their bread and salt. –ADWD, Tyrion IX

The Snail shrugged. “I may not have been at Ashford Meadow, but jousting is my bread and salt. I follow tourneys from afar as faithfully as the maesters follow stars.” –The Mystery Knight

That said, when one is hosting a guest, and deliberately and demonstratively engaging in the practice of guest right (which FYI means that neither the host nor the guest may harm the other), bread and salt is customarily offered as part of the meal.

My lord!” Catelyn had almost forgotten. “Some food would be most welcome. We have ridden many leagues in the rain.”
Walder Frey’s mouth moved in and out. “Food, heh. A loaf of bread, a bite of cheese, mayhaps a sausage.”
“Some wine to wash it down,” Robb said. “And salt.”
“Bread and salt. Heh. Of course, of course.” The old man clapped his hands together, and servants came into the hall, bearing flagons of wine and trays of bread, cheese, and butter. Lord Walder took a cup of red himself, and raised it high with a spotted hand. “My guests,” he said. “My honored guests. Be welcome beneath my roof, and at my table.”
“We thank you for your hospitality, my lord,” Robb replied. Edmure echoed him, along with the Greatjon, Ser Marq Piper, and the others. They drank his wine and ate his bread and butter. Catelyn tasted the wine and nibbled at some bread, and felt much the better for it. Now we should be safe, she thought.

–ASOS, Catelyn VI

(btw, note Walder’s use of “mayhaps” here)

She saw to the mulling of the wine first, found a suitable wheel of sharp white cheese, and commanded the cook to bake bread enough for twenty, in case the Lords Declarant brought more men than expected. Once they eat our bread and salt they are our guests and cannot harm us. The Freys had broken all the laws of hospitality when they’d murdered her lady mother and her brother at the Twins, but she could not believe that a lord as noble as Yohn Royce would ever stoop to do the same.

–AFFC, Alayne I

He tore the bread apart and offered half to Davos. “Eat. It’s good.”
It was, though any stale crust would have tasted just as fine to Davos; it meant he was a guest here, for this one night at least. The lords of the Three Sisters had a black repute, and none more so than Godric Borrell, Lord of Sweetsister, Shield of Sisterton, Master of Breakwater Castle, and Keeper of the Night Lamp… but even robber lords and wreckers were bound by the ancient laws of hospitality. I will see the dawn, at least, Davos told himself. I have eaten of his bread and salt.

–ADWD, Davos I

But still, when it comes down to the simplest and most basic interpretation of the laws of hospitality, any food or drink will do. (For the most notable example, reread ADWD and see how Bowen Marsh never accepts Jon’s food when visiting his rooms, whether he’s serving breakfast (eggs and sausages) or only wine.) So really, Robb could have asked Walder Frey for popcorn, and the results would have been the same… well, they would have been the same however that wedding went down, that is.