Another thing with the woods witches is that they seem to be the ones with the actual experience to certain ailments… such as greyscale.
Val warns Jon about Shireen because she, being a very possible woods witch or woods trainee, has more experience with greyscale than Jon… who has zero experience. Now, this is NOT a negative dig at Jon, but more a clear example at how what is taught at the Citedel is not always the truth or best method, and those sometimes inferior methods are passed as “truth” which can cause a huge epidemic. At this point Jon still knows nothing, but he is learning and this was Val giving him lesson #1 on such a topic.
And this is not to be confused with Val being a nasty bi-otch, or the sort. Quite the opposite because when Val meets Shireen, the two have a heartfelt conversation about both being “princesses”, and how Shireen never had a sister, just a cousin she liked (Edric), but he sailed away.
There is a chance that greyscale, or the deadlier grey plague, will come in to play at the wall or up north in the next books. The diseases thrive in cold, damp locations and we already see in Jon’s ADWD chapters how cramped and confined everyone is. People with the experience of Val are going to be invaluable.
Here we have Val showing some knowledge of medicinal herbs:
A Dance with Dragons – Jon XI“Greyscale.”“The greydeath is what we call it.”“It is not always mortal in children.”“North of the Wall it is. Hemlock is a sure cure, but a pillow or a blade will work as well. If I had given birth to that poor child, I would have given her the gift of mercy long ago.”
This was a Val that Jon had never seen before. “Princess Shireen is the queen’s only child.”“I pity both of them. The child is not clean.”“If Stannis wins his war, Shireen will stand as heir to the Iron Throne.”“Then I pity your Seven Kingdoms.”“The maesters say greyscale is not—”“The maesters may believe what they wish. Ask a woods witch if you would know the truth. The grey death sleeps, only to wake again. The child is not clean!”“She seems a sweet girl. You cannot know—”“I can. You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Val seized his arm. “I want the monster out of there. Him and his wet nurses. You cannot leave them in that same tower as the dead girl.”
A Dance with Dragons – Tyrion V“We’d do well not to breathe the fog either,” said Haldon. “Garin’s Curse is all about us.”The only way not to breathe the fog is not to breathe. “Garin’s Curse is only greyscale,” said Tyrion. The curse was oft seen in children, especially in damp, cold climes. The afflicted flesh stiffened, calcified, and cracked, though the dwarf had read that greyscale’s progress could be stayed by limes, mustard poultices, and scalding-hot baths (the maesters said) or by prayer, sacrifice, and fasting (the septons insisted). Then the disease passed, leaving its young victims disfigured but alive. Maesters and septons alike agreed that children marked by greyscale could never be touched by the rarer mortal form of the affliction, nor by its terrible swift cousin, the grey plague. “Damp is said to be the culprit,” he said. “Foul humors in the air. Not curses.”
A Dance with Dragons – Jon XIIIIt was the answer that Jon Snow had expected. This queen never fails to disappoint. Somehow that did not soften the blow. “Your Grace,” he persisted stubbornly, “they are starving at Hardhome by the thousands. Many are women—”“—and children, yes. Very sad.” The queen pulled her daughter closer to her and kissed her cheek.The cheek unmarred by greyscale, Jon did not fail to note. “We are sorry for the little ones, of course, but we must be sensible. We have no food for them, and they are too young to help the king my husband in his wars. Better that they be reborn into the light.”That was just a softer way of saying let them die.