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The Mad King, Aerys II. (illustration credit 86) Though Tywin Lannister did not himself deign to attend the tourney at Harrenhal, dozens of his lords bannermen and hundreds of knights were on hand, and they raised a loud and lusty cheer for the newest and youngest Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. The king was pleased. In his madness, we are told, His Grace believed that they were cheering for him.
Scarce had the thing been done, however, than King Aerys II began to nurse grave doubts about his new protector. The king had seized upon the notion of bringing Ser Jaime into his Kingsguard as a way of humbling his old friend, Grand Maester Pycelle tells us. Only now, belatedly, did His Grace come to the realization that he would henceforth have Lord Tywin’s son beside him day and night … with a sword at his side.
The thought frightened him so badly that he could hardly eat at that night’s feast, Pycelle avows.
Accordingly, Aerys II summoned Ser Jaime to attend him (whilst squatting over his chamberpot, some say, but this ugly detail may have been a later addition to the tale), and commanded him to return to King’s Landing to guard and protect Queen Rhaella and Prince Viserys, who had not accompanied His Grace to the tourney. The lord commander, Ser Gerold Hightower, offered to go in Ser Jaime’s stead, but Aerys refused him.
For the young knight, who had no doubt hoped to distinguish himself in the tourney, this abrupt exile came as a bitter disappointment. Nonetheless, Ser Jaime remained true to his vows. He set off for the Red Keep at once and played no further part in the events at Harrenhal … save perhaps in the mind of the Mad King.
For seven days the finest knights and noblest lords of the Seven Kingdoms contended with lance and sword in the fields beneath the towering walls of Harrenhal. At night, victors and vanquished alike repaired to the castle’s cavernous Hall of a Hundred Hearths, for feasting and celebration.
Many songs and stories are told of those days and nights beside the Gods Eye. Some are even true. To recount every joust and jape is far outside our purpose here. That task we gladly leave to the singers.
Two incidents must not be passed over, however, for they would prove to have grave consequences.
The first was the appearance of a mystery knight, a slight young man in ill-fitting armor whose device was a carved white weirwood tree, its features twisted in mirth. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, as this challenger was called, unhorsed three men in successive tilts, to the delight of the commons.
King Aerys II was not a man to take any joy in mysteries, however. His Grace became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him, and—with no more proof than that— decided that the mystery knight was Ser Jaime Lannister. His newest Kingsguard had defied him and returned to the tourney, he told every man who would listen.
Furious, he commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resumed the next morning, so that he might be unmasked and his perfidy exposed for all to see. But the mystery knight vanished during the night, never to be seen again. This too the king took ill, certain that someone close to him had given warning to “this traitor who will not show his face.” Prince Rhaegar emerged as the ultimate victor at the end of the competition. The crown prince, who did not normally compete in tourneys, surprised all by donning his armor and defeating every foe he faced, including four knights of the Kingsguard. In the final tilt, he unhorsed Ser Barristan Selmy, generally regarded as the finest lance in all the Seven Kingdoms, to win the champion’s laurels.
The cheers of the crowd were said to be deafening, but King Aerys did not join them. Far from being proud and pleased by his heir’s skill at arms, His Grace saw it as a threat. Lords Chelsted and Staunton inflamed his suspicions further, declaring that Prince Rhaegar had entered the lists to curry favor with the commons and remind the assembled lords that he was a puissant warrior, a true heir to Aegon the Conqueror.
And when the triumphant Prince of Dragonstone named Lyanna Stark, daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, the queen of love and beauty, placing a garland of blue roses in her lap with the tip of his lance, the lickspittle lords gathered around the king declared that further proof of his perfidy. Why would the prince have thus given insult to his own wife, the Princess Elia Martell of Dorne (who was present), unless it was to help him gain the Iron Throne? The crowning of the Stark girl, who was by all reports a wild and boyish young thing with none of the Princess Elia’s delicate beauty, could only have been meant to win the allegiance of Winterfell to Prince Rhaegar’s cause, Symond Staunton suggested to the king.
Yet if this were true, why did Lady Lyanna’s brothers seem so distraught at the honor the prince had bestowed upon her? Brandon Stark, the heir to Winterfell, had to be restrained from confronting Rhaegar at what he took as a slight upon his sister’s honor, for Lyanna Stark had long been betrothed to Robert Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End. Eddard Stark, Brandon’s younger brother and a close friend to Lord Robert, was calmer but no more pleased. As for Robert Baratheon himself, some say he laughed at the prince’s gesture, claiming that Rhaegar had done no more than pay Lyanna her due … but those who knew him better say the young lord brooded on the insult, and that his heart hardened toward the Prince of Dragonstone from that day forth.
And well it might, for with that simple garland of pale blue roses, Rhaegar Targaryen had begun the dance that would rip the Seven Kingdoms apart, bring about his own death and thousands more, and put a welcome new king upon the Iron Throne.
The False Spring of 281 AC lasted less than two turns. As the year drew to a close, winter returned to Westeros with a vengeance. On the last day of the year, snow began to fall upon King’s Landing, and a crust of ice formed atop the Blackwater Rush. The snowfall continued off and on for the best part of a fortnight, by which time the Blackwater was hard frozen, and icicles draped the roofs and gutters of every tower in the city.
As cold winds hammered the city, King Aerys II turned to his pyromancers, charging them to drive the winter off with their magics. Huge green fires burned along the walls of the Red Keep for a moon’s turn. Prince Rhaegar was not in the city to observe them, however. Nor could he be found in Dragonstone with Princess Elia and their young son, Aegon. With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands. Not ten leagues from Harrenhal, Rhaegar fell upon Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and carried her off, lighting a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.
Rhaegar Targaryen, the Prince of Dragonstone. (illustration credit 87) But that tale is too well-known to warrant repeating here.
R OBERT’S R EBELLION WHAT FOLLOWED PRINCE Rhaegar’s infamous abduction of Lyanna Stark was the ruin of House Targaryen. The full depth of King Aerys’s madness was subsequently revealed in his depraved actions against Lord Stark, his heir, and their supporters after they demanded redress for Rhaegar’s wrongs. Instead of granting them fair hearing, King Aerys had them brutally slain, then followed these murders by demanding that Lord Jon Arryn execute his former wards, Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark. Many now agree that the true start of Robert’s Rebellion began with Lord Arryn’s refusal and his courageous calling of his banners in the defense of justice. Yet not all the lords of the Vale agreed with Lord Jon’s decision, and soon fighting broke out as loyalists to the crown attempted to bring Lord Arryn down.
The fighting then spread across the Seven Kingdoms like wildfire, as lords and knights took sides.
Many alive today fought in these battles, and so can speak with greater knowledge of them than I, who was not there. I therefore leave it to such men to write the true and detailed history of Robert’s Rebellion; far be it for me to offend those who yet live by presenting an imperfect summary of events, or mistakenly praising those who have since proved unworthy. So instead, I will look only to the lord and knight who ascended the Iron Throne at the end, repairing a realm nearly destroyed by madness.
King Robert Baratheon, the First of His Name. (illustration credit 88) Robert Baratheon proved himself a fearless, indomitable warrior as more and more men flocked to his banner. Robert was the first over the walls at Gulltown, when Lord Grafton raised his banner for Targaryens, and from there he sailed to Storm’s End—risking capture by the royal fleet—to call his banners. Not all came willing: Aerys’s Hand, Lord Merryweather, encouraged certain stormlords to rise up against Lord Robert. Yet it was an effort that proved fruitless following Lord Robert’s victories at Summerhall, where he won three battles in a single day. His hastily gathered forces defeated Lords Grandison and Cafferen in turn, and Robert went on to kill Lord Fell in single combat before taking his famous son Silveraxe captive.
More victories were to come for Lord Robert and the stormlords as they marched to join forces with Lord Arryn and the Northmen who supported their cause. Rightly famed is Robert’s grand victory at Stoney Sept, also called the Battle of the Bells, where he slew the famous Ser Myles Mooton—once Prince Rhaegar’s squire—and five men besides, and might well have killed the new Hand, Lord Connington, had the battle brought them together. The victory sealed the entry of the riverlands into the conflict, following the marriage of Lord Tully’s daughters to Lords Arryn and Stark.
The royalist forces were left reeling and scattered by such victories though they did their best to rally. The Kingsguard were dispatched to recover the remnant of Lord Connington’s force, and Prince Rhaegar returned from the south to take command of the new levies being raised in the crownlands.
And after a partial victory at Ashford, which led to Robert’s withdrawal, the Stormlands were left open to Lord Tyrell. Bringing the might of the Reach to bear, the reachlords swept away all resistance and settled in to besiege Storm’s End. Shortly afterward, the host was joined by Lord Paxter Redwyne’s mighty fleet from the Arbor, completing the siege by land and sea. That siege wore on until the conclusion of the war.
From Dorne, in defense of Princess Elia, ten thousand spears came over the Boneway and marched to King’s Landing to bolster the host that Rhaegar was raising. Those who were there at court during this time have recounted that Aerys’s behavior was erratic. He was untrusting of any save his Kingsguard—and then only imperfectly, for he kept Ser Jaime Lannister close at all hours to serve as a hostage against his father.
When Prince Rhaegar at last marched up the kingsroad to the Trident, with him were all but one of the Kingsguard who had remained in King’s Landing: Ser Barristan the Bold, Ser Jonothor Darry, and Prince Lewyn of Dorne. Prince Lewyn took command of the Dornish troop sent by his nephew, the Prince Doran, but it is said that he did so only after threats from the Mad King, who feared that the Dornishmen looked to betray him. Only the young Ser Jaime Lannister remained in King’s Landing.
Of the famous battle on the Trident, much has been written and said. But all know that the two armies clashed at the crossing that would ever after be called the Ruby Ford for the scattered rubies on Prince Rhaegar’s armor. The opponents were well matched. Rhaegar’s forces numbered some forty thousand, a tenth part of which were anointed knights, while the rebels had somewhat fewer men, but those they possessed were tested in battle, while much of Rhaegar’s force was raw and new.
The battle at the ford was fierce, and many lives were lost in the fray. Ser Jonothor Darry was cut down in the midst of the conflict, as was Prince Lewyn of Dorne. But the most important death was yet to come.
The battle screamed about Lord Robert and Prince Rhaegar both, and by the will of the gods, or by chance—or perhaps by design—they met amidst the shallows of the ford. The two knights fought valiantly upon their destriers, according to all accounts. For despite his crimes, Prince Rhaegar was no coward. Lord Robert was wounded by the dragon prince in the combat, yet in the end, Baratheon’s ferocious strength and his thirst to avenge the shame brought upon his stolen betrothed proved the greater. His warhammer found its mark, and Robert drove the spike through Rhaegar’s chest, scattering the costly rubies that blazed upon the prince’s breastplate.
Some men on both sides stopped fighting at once, leaping instead into the river to recover the precious stones. And a general rout quickly began as the royalists started fleeing the field.
Lord Robert’s wounds prevented him from taking up the pursuit, so he gave that into the hands of Lord Eddard Stark. But Robert proved his chivalry when he refused to allow the gravely wounded Ser Barristan to be killed. Instead, he sent his own maester to tend the great knight. In such fashion did the future king win the fierce devotion of his friends and allies—for few men were ever so openhanded and merciful as Robert Baratheon.
E ND THE BIRDS FLEW AND couriers raced to bear word of the victory at the Ruby Ford. When the news reached the Red Keep, it was said that Aerys cursed the Dornish, certain that Lewyn had betrayed Rhaegar. He sent his pregnant queen, Rhaella, and his younger son and new heir, Viserys, away to Dragonstone, but Princess Elia was forced to remain in King’s Landing with Rhaegar’s children as a hostage against Dorne. Having burned his previous Hand, Lord Chelsted, alive for bad counsel during the war, Aerys now appointed another to the position: the alchemist Rossart—a man of low birth, with little to recommend him but his flames and trickery.