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His Grace’s new fidelity was apparently pleasing to the Mother Above, it must be said, for the following year, Queen Rhaella gave the king the second son that he had prayed for. Prince Viserys, born in 276 AC, was small but robust, and as beautiful a child as King’s Landing had ever seen.
Though Prince Rhaegar at seventeen was everything that could be wanted in an heir apparent, all Westeros rejoiced to know that at last he had a brother, another Targaryen to secure the succession.
The birth of Prince Viserys only seemed to make Aerys II more fearful and obsessive, however.
Though the new young princeling seemed healthy enough, the king was terrified lest he suffer the same fate as his brothers. Kingsguard knights were commanded to stand over him night and day to see that no one touched the boy without the king’s leave. Even the queen herself was forbidden to be alone with the infant. When her milk dried up, Aerys insisted on having his own food taster suckle at the teats of the prince’s wet nurse, to ascertain that the woman had not smeared poison on her nipples. As gifts for the young prince arrived from all the lords of the Seven Kingdoms, the king had them piled in the yard and burned, for fear that some of them might have been ensorcelled or cursed.
Later that same year, Lord Tywin Lannister, perhaps unwisely, held a great tournament at Lannisport in honor of Viserys’s birth. Mayhaps it was meant to be a gesture toward reconciliation.
There the wealth and power of House Lannister was displayed for all the realm to see. King Aerys at first refused to attend, then relented, but the queen and her new son were kept under confinement back at King’s Landing.
There, seated on his throne amongst hundreds of notables in the shadow of Casterly Rock, the king cheered lustily as his son Prince Rhaegar, newly knighted, unhorsed both Tygett and Gerion Lannister, and even overcame the gallant Ser Barristan Selmy, before falling in the champion’s tilt to the renowned Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.
Perhaps seeking to gain advantage of His Grace’s high spirits, Lord Tywin chose that very night to suggest that it was past time the king’s heir wed and produced an heir of his own; he proposed his own daughter, Cersei, as wife for the crown prince. Aerys II rejected this proposal brusquely, informing Lord Tywin that he was a good and valuable servant, yet a servant nonetheless. Nor did His Grace agree to appoint Lord Tywin’s son Jaime as squire to Prince Rhaegar; that honor he granted instead to the sons of several of his own favorites, men known to be no friends of House Lannister or the Hand.
By this time it was plain to see that Aerys II Targaryen was already sliding rapidly into madness, but it was in the year 277 AC that His Grace plunged irrevocably into the abyss, with the Defiance of Duskendale.
The ancient harbor town of Duskendale had been a seat of kings of old, in the days of the Hundred Kingdoms. Once the most important port on Blackwater Bay, the town had seen its trade dwindle and its wealth shrink as King’s Landing grew and burgeoned, a decline that its young lord, Denys Darklyn, wished to halt. Many have long debated why Lord Darklyn chose to do what he did, but most agree that his Myrish wife, the Lady Serala, played some part. Her detractors blame her entirely for what transpired; the Lace Serpent, as they name her, poisoned Lord Darklyn against his king with her pillow talk. Her defenders insist that the folly lay with Lord Denys himself; his wife is hated simply because she was a woman of foreign birth who prayed to gods alien to Westeros.
It was Lord Denys’s desire to win a charter for Duskendale that would give it more autonomy from the crown, much as had been done for Dorne many years before, that began the trouble. This did not seem to him such a vast demand; such charters were common across the narrow sea, as Lady Serala most certainly had told him. Yet it was understandable that Lord Tywin, as Hand, firmly rejected his proposals, for fear it might set a dangerous precedent. Infuriated at the refusal, Lord Darklyn then devised a new plan to win his charter (and with it, lower port fees and tariffs to allow Duskendale once more to vie for trade with King’s Landing)—a plan that was pure folly.
The Defiance of Duskendale began quietly enough. Lord Denys, seeing that Aerys’s erratic behavior had begun to strain his relations with Lord Tywin, refused to pay the taxes expected of him and instead invited the king to come to Duskendale and hear his petition. It seems most unlikely that King Aerys would ever have considered accepting this invitation … until Lord Tywin advised him to refuse in the strongest possible terms, whereupon the king decided to accept, informing Grand Maester Pycelle and the small council that he meant to settle this matter himself and bring the defiant Darklyn to heel.
Against Lord Tywin’s advice, the king traveled to Duskendale with a small escort led by Ser Gwayne Gaunt of the Kingsguard. The invitation proved to be a trap, however—and one that the Targaryen king walked into blindly. He was seized with his escort, and some of the men—most notably Ser Gwayne—were killed while attempting to defend their king.
The immediate response to the news from Duskendale was shock, then outrage. There were those who urged a sudden assault upon the town to free the king and punish the rebels for this enormity. But Duskendale was surrounded by strong walls, and the Dun Fort, the ancient seat of House Darklyn, which overlooked the harbor, was even more formidable. Taking it by storm would be no easy task.
Lord Tywin thus sent out riders and ravens, gathering forces while commanding the Darklyns to give up the king. Lord Denys instead sent word that, if any attempt was made to break his walls, he would put His Grace to death. Some in the small council questioned this, declaring that no son of Westeros would ever dare commit such a heinous crime, but Lord Tywin would not chance it.
Instead, with a sizable host, he moved to surround Duskendale, blockading it by land and by sea.
With a royal host massed outside of his walls and his supply chain cut off, Lord Darklyn’s determination began to falter. He made several efforts to parley, but Lord Tywin refused to hear him, instead repeating his demand for the complete and unconditional surrender of the town and castle and the release of the king.
The blockade of Duskendale. (illustration credit 83) The Defiance lasted for half a year. Within the walls of Duskendale, the mood soon began to sour as the stores and larders ran dry. Yet, huddled within the ancient Dun Fort, Lord Denys was convinced that it was only a matter of time before Lord Tywin would weaken and offer better terms.
Those who knew the resolve of Tywin Lannister knew better. Instead, the Hand’s heart grew harder, and he sent Duskendale’s lord one final demand for surrender. Should he refuse again, Lord Tywin promised, he would take the town by storm and put every man, woman, and child within to the sword. (The tale, oft told, that Lord Tywin sent his bard to deliver the ultimatum, and commanded him to sing “The Rains of Castamere” for Lord Denys and the Lace Serpent is a colorful detail that is, alas, unsupported by the records).
Most of the small council were with the Hand outside Duskendale at this juncture, and several of them argued against Lord Tywin’s plan on the grounds that such an attack would almost certainly goad Lord Darklyn into putting King Aerys to death. “He may or he may not,” Tywin Lannister reportedly replied, “but if he does, we have a better king right here.” Whereupon he raised a hand to indicate Prince Rhaegar.
Scholars have debated ever since as to Lord Tywin’s intent. Did he believe Lord Darklyn would back down? Or was he, in truth, willing, and perhaps even eager, to see Aerys die so that Prince Rhaegar might take the Iron Throne?
None will ever know for certain, thanks to the courage of Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard.
Ser Barristan offered to enter the town in secret, find his way to the Dun Fort, and spirit the king to safety. Selmy had been known as Barristan the Bold since his youth, but this was a boldness that Tywin Lannister felt bordered on madness. Yet such was his respect for the prowess and courage of Ser Barristan that he gave him a day to attempt his plan before storming Duskendale.
The songs of Ser Barristan’s daring rescue of the king are many, and, for a rarity, the singers hardly had to embroider it. Ser Barristan did indeed scale the walls unseen in the dark of the night, using nothing but his bare hands, and he did disguise himself as a hooded beggar as he made his way to the Dun Fort. It is true, as well, that he managed to scale the walls of the Dun Fort in turn, killing a guard on the wallwalk before he could raise the alarm. Then, by stealth and courage, he found his way to the dungeon where the king was being kept. By the time he had Aerys Targaryen out of the dungeon, however, the king’s absence had been noted, and the hue and cry went up. And then the true breadth of Ser Barristan’s heroism was revealed, for he stood and fought rather than surrender himself or his king.
And not only did he fight, but he struck first, taking Lord Darklyn’s good-brother and master-atarms, Ser Symon Hollard, and a pair of guards unawares, slaying them all—and so avenging the death of his Sworn Brother, Ser Gwayne Gaunt of the Kingsguard, who had been killed at Hollard’s hand.
He hurried with the king to the stables, fighting his way through those who tried to intervene, and the two were able to ride out of Dun Fort before the castle’s gates could be closed. Then there was the wild ride through the streets of Duskendale, while horns and trumpets sounded the alarm, and the race up to the walls as Lord Tywin’s archers attempted to clear it of defenders.
With the king escaped and safe, there was nothing left for Lord Darklyn save surrender, but it is doubtful he knew the terrible revenge that the king intended. When Darklyn and his family were presented to him in chains, Aerys demanded their deaths—and not only Darklyn’s immediate kin but his uncles and aunts and even distant kinsmen in Duskendale. Even his good-kin, the Hollards, were attainted and destroyed. Only Ser Symon’s young nephew, Dontos Hollard, was spared—and only then because Ser Barristan begged that mercy as a boon, and the king he had saved could not refuse him. As to Lady Serala, hers was a crueler death. Aerys had the Lace Serpent’s tongue and her womanly parts torn out before she was burned alive (yet her enemies say that she should have suffered more and worse for the ruin she brought down upon the town).
Captivity at Duskendale had shattered whatever sanity had remained to Aerys II Targaryen. From that day forth, the king’s madness reigned unchecked, growing worse with every passing year. The Darklyns had dared lay hands upon his person, shoving him roughly, stripping him of his royal raiment, even daring to strike him. After his release, King Aerys would no longer allow himself to be touched, even by his own servants. Uncut and unwashed, his hair grew ever longer and more tangled, whilst his fingernails lengthened and thickened into grotesque yellow talons. He forbade any blade in his presence save for the swords carried by the knights of his Kingsguard, sworn to protect him. His judgments became ever harsher and crueler.
Once safely returned to King’s Landing, His Grace refused to leave the Red Keep for any cause and remained a virtual prisoner in his own castle for the next four years, during which time he grew ever more wary of those around him, Tywin Lannister in particular. His suspicions extended even to his own son and heir. Prince Rhaegar, he was convinced, had conspired with Tywin Lannister to have him slain at Duskendale. They had planned to storm the town walls so that Lord Darklyn would put him to death, opening the way for Rhaegar to mount the Iron Throne and marry Lord Tywin’s daughter.
Determined to prevent that from happening, King Aerys turned to another friend of his childhood, summoning Steffon Baratheon from Storm’s End and naming him to the small council. In 278 AC, the king sent Lord Steffon across the narrow sea on a mission to Old V olantis, to seek a suitable bride for Prince Rhaegar, “a maid of noble birth from an old Valyrian bloodline.” That His Grace entrusted this task to the Lord of Storm’s End rather than his Hand, or Rhaegar himself, speaks volumes. The rumors were rife that Aerys meant to make Lord Steffon his new Hand upon the successful completion of this mission, that Tywin Lannister was about to be removed from office, arrested, and tried for high treason. And there was many a lord who took delight in that prospect.
The gods had other notions, however. Steffon Baratheon’s mission ended in failure, and on his return from V olantis, his ship foundered and sank in Shipbreaker Bay, within sight of Storm’s End.
Lord Steffon and his wife were both drowned as their two elder sons watched from the castle walls.
When word of their deaths reached King’s Landing, King Aerys flew into a rage and told Grand Maester Pycelle that Tywin Lannister had somehow divined his royal intentions and arranged for Lord Baratheon’s murder. “If I dismiss him as Hand, he will kill me, too,” the king told the grand maester.
In the years that followed, the king’s madness deepened. Though Tywin Lannister continued as Hand, Aerys no longer met with him save in the presence of all seven Kingsguard. Convinced that the smallfolk and lords were plotting against his life and fearing that even Queen Rhaella and Prince Rhaegar might be part of these plots, he reached across the narrow sea to Pentos and imported a eunuch named Varys to serve as his spymaster, reasoning that only a man without friends, family, or ties in Westeros could be relied upon for the truth. The Spider, as he soon became known to the smallfolk of his realm, used the crown’s gold to create a vast web of informers. For the rest of Aerys’s reign, he would crouch at the king’s side, whispering in his ear.
In the wake of Duskendale, the king also began to display signs of an ever-increasing obsession with dragonfire, similar to that which had haunted several of his forebears. Lord Darklyn would never have dared defy him if he had been a dragonrider, Aerys reasoned. His attempts to bring forth dragons from eggs found in the depths of Dragonstone (some so old that they had turned to stone) yielded naught, however.