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Frustrated, Aerys turned to the Wisdoms of the ancient Guild of Alchemists, who knew the secret of producing the volatile jade green substance known as wildfire, said to be a close cousin to dragonflame. The pyromancers became a regular fixture at his court as the king’s fascination with fire grew. By 280 AC, Aerys II had taken to burning traitors, murderers, and plotters, rather than hanging or beheading them. The king seemed to take great pleasure in these fiery executions, which were presided over by Wisdom Rossart, the grand master of the Guild of Alchemists … so much so that he granted Rossart the title of Lord and gave him a seat upon the small council.
His Grace’s growing madness had become unmistakable by that time. From Dorne to the Wall, men had begun to refer to Aerys II as the Mad King. In King’s Landing, he was called King Scab, for the many times he had cut himself upon the Iron Throne. Yet with Varys the Spider and his whisperers listening, it had become very dangerous to voice any of these sentiments aloud.
Meanwhile, King Aerys was becoming ever more estranged from his own son and heir. Early in the year 279 AC, Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone, was formally betrothed to Princess Elia Martell, the delicate young sister of Doran Martell, Prince of Dorne. They were wed the following year, in a lavish ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing, but Aerys II did not attend.
He told the small council that he feared an attempt upon his life if he left the confines of the Red Keep, even with his Kingsguard to protect him. Nor would he allow his younger son, Viserys, to attend his brother’s wedding.
When Prince Rhaegar and his new wife chose to take up residence on Dragonstone instead of the Red Keep, rumors flew thick and fast across the Seven Kingdoms. Some claimed that the crown prince was planning to depose his father and seize the Iron Throne for himself, whilst others said that King Aerys meant to disinherit Rhaegar and name Viserys heir in his place. Nor did the birth of King Aerys’s first grandchild, a girl named Rhaenys, born on Dragonstone in 280 AC, do aught to reconcile father and son. When Prince Rhaegar returned to the Red Keep to present his daughter to his own mother and father, Queen Rhaella embraced the babe warmly, but King Aerys refused to touch or hold the child and complained that she “smells Dornish.” Amidst all this, Lord Tywin Lannister continued to serve as Hand of the King. “Lord Tywin looms as large as Casterly Rock,” wrote Grand Maester Pycelle, “and no king has ever had so diligent or capable a Hand.” Seemingly secure in his office after the death of Steffon Baratheon, Lord Tywin even went so far as to bring his beautiful young daughter, Cersei, to court.
In 281 AC, however, the aged Kingsguard knight Ser Harlan Grandison passed away in his sleep, and the uneasy accord between Aerys II and his Hand finally snapped, when His Grace chose to offer a white cloak to Lord Tywin’s eldest son.
At five-and-ten, Ser Jaime Lannister was already a knight—an honor he had received from the hand of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, whom many considered to be the realm’s most chivalrous warrior. Jaime’s knighthood had been won during Ser Arthur’s campaign against the outlaws known as the Kingswood Brotherhood, and none could doubt his prowess.
King Aerys II condemns the Darklyns. (illustration credit 84)
Ser Jaime was also Lord Tywin’s heir, however, and carried all his hopes for the perpetuation of House Lannister, as his lordship’s other son was the malformed dwarf, Tyrion. Moreover, the Hand had been in the midst of negotiating an advantageous marriage pact for Ser Jaime when the king informed him of his choice. At a stroke, King Aerys had deprived Lord Tywin of his chosen heir and made him look foolish and false.
Yet Grand Maester Pycelle tells us that when Aerys II announced Ser Jaime’s appointment from the Iron Throne, his lordship went to one knee and thanked the king for the great honor shown to his house. Then, pleading illness, Lord Tywin asked the king’s leave to retire as Hand.
King Aerys was delighted to oblige him. Lord Tywin accordingly surrendered his chain of office and retired from court, returning to Casterly Rock with his daughter. The king replaced him as Hand with Lord Owen Merryweather, an aged and amiable lickspittle famed for laughing loudest at every jape and witticism uttered by the king, no matter how feeble.
Henceforth, His Grace told Pycelle, the realm would know for a certainty that the man who wore the crown also ruled the Seven Kingdoms.
Aerys Targaryen and Tywin Lannister had met as boys, had fought and bled together in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, and had ruled the Seven Kingdoms together for close to twenty years, but in 281 AC this long partnership, which had proved so fruitful to the realm, came to a bitter end.
Shortly thereafter, Lord Walter Whent announced plans for a great tourney to be held at his seat at Harrenhal, to celebrate his maiden daughter’s nameday. King Aerys II chose this event for the formal investiture of Ser Jaime Lannister as a knight of the Kingsguard … thus setting in motion the events that would end the Mad King’s reign and write an end to the long rule of House Targaryen in the Seven Kingdoms.
Prince Rhaegar presenting the crown of winter roses to Lyanna Stark. (illustration credit 85) Y EAR of the F ALSE S PRING THE IN THE ANNALS of Westeros, 281 AC is known as the Year of the False Spring. Winter had held the land in its icy grip for close on two years, but now at last the snows were melting, the woods were greening, the days were growing longer. Though the white ravens had not yet flown, there were many even at the Citadel of Oldtown who believed that winter’s end was nigh.
As warm winds blew from the south, lords and knights from throughout the Seven Kingdoms made their way toward Harrenhal to compete in Lord Whent’s great tournament on the shore of the Gods Eye, which promised to be the largest and most magnificent competition since the time of Aegon the Unlikely.
We know a great deal about that tourney, for the things that transpired beneath the walls of Harrenhal were set down by a score of chroniclers and recorded in many a letter and testament. Yet there is much and more that we shall never know, for even whilst the greatest knights of the Seven Kingdoms vied in the lists, other and more dangerous games were being played in the halls of Black Harren’s accursed castle and the tents and pavilions of the lords assembled.
Many tales have grown up around Lord Whent’s tournament: tales of plots and conspiracies, betrayals and rebellions, infidelities and assignations, secrets and mysteries, almost all of it conjecture. The truth is known only to a few, some of whom have long passed beyond this mortal vale and must forever hold their tongues. In writing of this fateful gathering, therefore, the conscientious scholar must take care to separate fact from fancy, to draw a sharp line between what is known and what is simply suspected, believed, or rumored.
This is known: The tourney was first announced by Walter Whent, Lord of Harrenhal, late in the year 280 AC, not long after a visit from his younger brother, Ser Oswell Whent, a knight of the Kingsguard. That this would be an event of unrivaled magnificence was clear from the first, for Lord Whent was offering prizes thrice as large as those given at the great Lannisport tourney of 272 AC, hosted by Lord Tywin Lannister in celebration of Aerys II’s tenth year upon the Iron Throne.
Most took this simply as an attempt by Whent to outdo the former Hand and demonstrate the wealth and splendor of his house. There were those, however, who believed this no more than a ruse, and Lord Whent no more than a catspaw. His lordship lacked the funds to pay such munificent prizes, they argued; someone else must surely have stood behind him, someone who did not lack for gold but preferred to remain in the shadows whilst allowing the Lord of Harrenhal to claim the glory for hosting this magnificent event. We have no shred of evidence that such a “shadow host” ever existed, but the notion was widely believed at the time and remains so today.
But if indeed there was a shadow, who was he, and why did he choose to keep his role a secret? A dozen names have been put forward over the years, but only one seems truly compelling: Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone.
If this tale be believed, ’twas Prince Rhaegar who urged Lord Walter to hold the tourney, using his lordship’s brother Ser Oswell as a go-between. Rhaegar provided Whent with gold sufficient for splendid prizes in order to bring as many lords and knights to Harrenhal as possible. The prince, it is said, had no interest in the tourney as a tourney; his intent was to gather the great lords of the realm together in what amounted to an informal Great Council, in order to discuss ways and means of dealing with the madness of his father, King Aerys II, possibly by means of a regency or a forced abdication.
If indeed this was the purpose behind the tourney, it was a perilous game that Rhaegar Targaryen was playing. Though few doubted that Aerys had taken leave of his senses, many still had good reason to oppose his removal from the Iron Throne, for certain courtiers and councillors had gained great wealth and power through the king’s caprice and knew that they stood to lose all should Prince Rhaegar come to power.
The Mad King could be savagely cruel, as seen most plainly when he burned those he perceived to be his enemies, but he could also be extravagant, showering men who pleased him with honors, offices, and lands. The lickspittle lords who surrounded Aerys II had gained much and more from the king’s madness and eagerly seized upon any opportunity to speak ill of Prince Rhaegar and inflame the father’s suspicions of the son.
Chief amongst the Mad King’s supporters were three lords of his small council: Qarlton Chelsted, master of coin, Lucerys Velaryon, master of ships, and Symond Staunton, master of laws. The eunuch Varys, master of whisperers, and Wisdom Rossart, grand master of the Guild of Alchemists, also enjoyed the king’s trust. Prince Rhaegar’s support came from the younger men at court, including Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool, and Ser Richard Lonmouth. The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell, Elia’s uncle and a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. But the most formidable of all Rhaegar’s friends and allies in King’s Landing was surely Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.
To Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Owen Merryweather, the King’s Hand, fell the unenviable task of keeping peace between these factions, even as their rivalry grew ever more venomous. In a letter to the Citadel, Pycelle wrote that the divisions within the Red Keep reminded him uncomfortably of the situation before the Dance of the Dragons a century before, when the enmity between Queen Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra had split the realm in two, to grievous cost. A similarly bloody conflict might await the Seven Kingdoms once again, he warned, unless some accord could be reached that would satisfy both Prince Rhaegar’s supporters and the king’s.
Had any whiff of proof come into their hands to show that Prince Rhaegar was conspiring against his father, King Aerys’s loyalists would most certainly have used it to bring about the prince’s downfall. Indeed, certain of the king’s men had even gone so far as to suggest that Aerys should disinherit his “disloyal” son, and name his younger brother heir to the Iron Throne in his stead. Prince Viserys was but seven years of age, and his eventual ascension would certainly mean a regency, wherein they themselves would rule as regents.
In such a climate, it was scarce surprising that Lord Whent’s great tournament excited much suspicion. Lord Chelsted urged His Grace to forbid it, and Lord Staunton went even further, suggesting a prohibition against all tourneys.
Such events were widely popular with the commons, however, and when Lord Merryweather warned Aerys that forbidding the tournament would only serve to make him even more unpopular, the king chose another course and announced his intention to attend. It would mark the first time that Aerys II had left the safety of the Red Keep since the Defiance of Duskendale. No doubt His Grace reasoned that his enemies would not dare conspire against him under his very nose. Grand Maester Pycelle tells us that Aerys hoped that his presence at such a grand event would help him win back the love of his people.
If that was indeed the king’s intent, it was a grievous miscalculation. Whilst his attendance made the Harrenhal tourney even grander and more prestigious than it already was, drawing lords and knights from every corner of the realm, many of those who came were shocked and appalled when they saw what had become of their monarch. His long yellow fingernails, tangled beard, and ropes of unwashed, matted hair made the extent of the king’s madness plain to all. Nor was his behavior that of a sane man, for Aerys could go from mirth to melancholy in the blink of an eye, and many of the accounts written of Harrenhal speak of his hysterical laughter, long silences, bouts of weeping, and sudden rages.
Above all, King Aerys II was suspicious: suspicious of his own son and heir, Prince Rhaegar;
suspicious of his host, Lord Whent; suspicious of every lord and knight who had come to Harrenhal to compete … and even more suspicious of those who chose to absent themselves, the most notable of whom was his former Hand, Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock.
At the tourney’s opening ceremonies, King Aerys made a great public show of Ser Jaime Lannister’s investiture as a Sworn Brother of his Kingsguard. The young knight said his vows before the royal pavilion, kneeling on the green grass in his white armor as half the lords of the realm looked on. When Ser Gerold Hightower raised him up and clasped his white cloak about his shoulders, a roar went up from the crowd, for Ser Jaime was much admired for his courage, gallantry, and prowess with a sword, especially in the westerlands.