A Reign of Toads
Aerys II Targaryen
Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm
At thirty-three, Aerys is an inconstant, mercurial, and capricious man. He has the violet eyes and platinum hair of Old Valyria, but his manner distorts them with a too-intense gaze quivering mouth.
In his youth, Aerys II while not being the most intelligent, nor the most diligent of Princes he was described as a youth as having an undeniable charm, he was generous, handsome and resolute, although somewhat quick to anger. He was also vain, proud, and changeable, traits that made him easy prey for lickspittles and flatterers. As he grew older, Aerys became increasingly jealous, suspicious and cruel, prone to furious outbursts.
Aerys was born to Prince Jaehaerys, the second son of King Aegon V, and his sister-wife, Princess Shaera. While still a teenager, Aerys was married to his sister Rhaella, in accordance with the family tradition of dynastic incest. While Aerys’s grandfather, King Aegon V Targaryen was against this incestous marriage (as he had been against incestous marriages for his own children), Jaehaerys was allowed to arrange it. Jaehaerys’s motivation for the marriage was a prophecy, made by a woods witch, which had been interpreted to mean that the prince that was promised would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella.4 According to Ser Barristan Selmy, who was present at the wedding, there was no fondness between the two siblings.7
During his youth, Aerys befriended the young heir to Casterly Rock, Tywin Lannister, who served as a page at the royal court. Aerys also befriended the heir to Storm’s End, his cousin, Steffon Baratheon. The three became inseparable.4
In 259 AC, Rhaella gave birth to their firstborn son and heir, Prince Rhaegar. He was “born in blood and grief” during the disaster known as the tragedy of Summerhall, which killed King Aegon V, his eldest son Prince Duncan, and many others.8 Aerys’s father, Jaehaerys, ascended the Iron Throne after the tragedy. It would later be rumoured that, on the night of Jaehaerys’s coronation, Aerys took the maidenhead of Lady Joanna Lannister, who had come to court for the celebrations.4
Aerys was as a squire during the War of the Ninepenny Kings, and fought in the Stepstones. There, at the age of sixteen, he received his knighthood. Aerys choose to be dubbed a knight by his friend, Tywin. When King Jaehaerys II passed away from illness in 262 AC, after having ruled for only three years, Prince Aerys was crowned as King Aerys II Targaryen.
Aerys’s reign began in 262 AC with great promise. Over the peaceful first dozen years, the realm recovered from the tragic events at Summerhall and the War of the Ninepenny Kings, growing strong and prosperous. However, this would not remain.
Under his father and grandfather, the royal court at King’s Landing had grown stuffy and conservative, filled with hidebound old men. Aerys brought sweeping changes, replacing many prominent officials with younger faces. Impressed by the ruthlessness of the young Tywin Lannister in dealing with rebellion against Casterly Rock, he named Tywin as the Hand of the King.4
Aerys was very active in the early years of his reign and held a splendid court. He loved music, dancing and masked balls, and was exceedingly fond of young beautiful women, filling the court with fair maidens from across the kingdoms. Some say he had as many mistresses as Aegon the Unworthy, though most historians highly doubt that. Whatever the case, Aerys always lost interests in his lovers fairly quickly.4
King Aerys was full of schemes, boasting about his grand plans, then quickly forgetting about them in less than a moon’s turn. Aerys boasted upon his coronation about invading the Stepstones and adding them to the Seven Kingdoms. When Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell visited King’s Landing in 264 AC, the king hatched a plan to build a new Wall hundreds of miles north of the current one and claim all the lands in between. After complaining about the stink of King’s Landing in 265 AC, Aerys wanted to build a new city of white marble on the south bank of the Blackwater. In 267 AC, after a dispute with the Iron Bank of Braavos, Aerys claimed he would build a war fleet and bring the Titan of Braavos to its knees. When he visited Dorne in 270 AC, he told the Princess of Dorne that he would build an underwater canal and make the deserts bloom. Nothing ever came from any of these grandiose schemes, as Aerys was changeable and grew as bored with his ideas as quickly as they came to him.4
Still, the Seven Kingdoms prospered during Aerys’s reign, due to his Hand of the King, for Tywin Lannister was everything Aerys was not. Lord Tywin was diligent, decisive, tireless, fiercely intelligent, just and stern. Eventually, Aerys came to regret his choice for Hand – not because of any lack of competence on Tywin’s part, but rather the opposite.4 He proved to be a brilliant administrator, and as Hand his reputation for brutal effectiveness became so well-known and so widely respected that popular rumor held it was Tywin, not Aerys, who truly ruled the realm.
It was Tywin who settled the dispute with the Iron Bank of Braavos in 267 AC, as Tywin was shrewd enough not to make an enemy of the Iron Bank. He paid the Bank back the loans owed to them by the Iron Throne with the gold of Casterly Rock. Tywin also appeased the High Lords by repelling all the laws, rights and protections that were granted to the smallfolk by King Aegon V Targaryen.4
Tywin won the support of the wealthy merchants by reducing tariffs on shipping to Oldtown, Lannisport and King’s Landing, which increased trade. He sternly punished any baker caught mixing sawdust with bread, built new roads and repaired old ones, held splendid tournaments about the realm to the delight of knights and commons both. Despite these accomplishments, Tywin was little loved for he was also humorless, unforgiving, unbending, proud and insensitive. Traits that earned him many rivals, even his bannermen while greatly respecting him and loyally following him to war, bore him little love.4
The relationship between Aerys and Tywin was always complicated. When he was still a prince, Aerys had developed a crush on Joanna Lannister who was to marry her cousin Tywin. Aerys was present at the wedding in 263 AC and drank too much during the feast, leading to him joking that it was a great pity that the lord’s right to the first night had been abolished and to taking certain liberties during the bedding. It is said that Tywin did not forget Aerys’s behavior.104
Aerys’s marriage to his younger sister, Rhaella, was less happy than Tywin’s. Aerys was known to keep many mistresses, and whilst Rhaella turned a blind eye to her husbands infidelities, she objected heavily against “turning my ladies into whores”. In 263 AC, Lady Joanna Lannister was dismissed by Rhaella, shortly after having married Lord Tywin. Whilst no official reason was given for Joanna’s abrupt dismissal, she was not the first of Rhaella’s ladies to be dismissed in this fashion, nor was she the last.4
Aerys’s many relationships were not the only string on his marriage. Rhaella’s difficulties with childbirth played their part as well. In 263 AC and 264 AC, Rhaella had a miscarriage. In 267 AC, whilst Aerys was away in the westerlands, Rhaella gave birth to the stillborn Princess Shaena. Prince Daeron, born in 279 AC, survived for only half a year. After Daeron, a second stillbirth followed in 270 AC, and a miscarriage in 271 AC. In 272 AC, Prince Aegon was born two months premature. He would die in 273 AC.4
While Aerys was compassionate at first, comforting Rhaella in her grief, he turned suspicious in time. By 270 AC, he had decided that Rhaella had been unfaithful to him, and that none of the stillbirths, miscarriages and dead princes had been his, as the gods would not want a bastard to sit the Iron Throne. He soon confined Rhaella to Maegor’s Holdfast, and ordered that two septa’s would sleep in her bed from that moment forth, to ensure she would remain faithful.4
Meanwhile, Aerys’s relationship with his Hand was breaking down as well, the pairs friendship fraying. Where previously Aerys had heeded Tywin’s counsel, he now often disagreed with his Hand and did the opposite of what Tywin suggested. When Myr and Tyrosh became involved in a trade war against Volantis, Lord Tywin suggested that Westeros remained neutral. King Aerys, in response, provided gold and arms to the Volantenese. When House Bracken and House Blackwood had a border dispute, Lord Tywin wanted to act in favor for House Blackwood, leading to Aerys siding with House Bracken. Over Tywin’s objections, Aerys doubled the port fees for Oldtown and King’s Landing and tripled them at Lannisport and other ports in Westeros. Trade suffered and a delegation of merchants arrived before the Iron Throne to protest. Aerys lied to them and blamed the matter on his Hand of the King stating, “Lord Tywin shits gold, but of late he has been constipated and had to find some other ways to fill our coffers.”
Aerys restored the port fees to the previous levels, which won him much popularity and acclaim for himself, whilst the King’s lies and actions left Tywin with nothing but scorn. Aerys objected to many of Tywin’s appointments and filled the offices with men of his own choosing. When Tywin suggested his own brother, Ser Tygett Lannister, as master-at-arms for the Red Keep, Aerys appointed Ser Willem Darry instead.4
By now, Aerys had become aware of the tales being told in his Kingdoms; that it was Lord Tywin who truly ruled the Seven Kingdoms and that Aerys was but a hollow figurehead. These statements greatly angered the King. When Lord Tywin’s captain of guard, Ser Ilyn Payne, had been overheard to repeat this statement, Aerys had the man’s tongue torn out with hot pincers.1112 The angered King became determined to disprove the tales, and to humble Tywin, his “overmighty servant”, putting him back into his place.
In 272 AC, to celebrate Aerys’s tenth year on the Iron Throne, Tywin hosted the Anniversary Tourney in King’s Landing. Lady Joanna Lannister returned to the court for this event, bringing with her her six-year old twins, Cersei and Jaime. Drunkenly, Aerys asked Joanna if nursing her children had ruined her breasts. Whilst the question was a great amusement for Lord Tywin’s rivals, it humiliated Lady Joanna. Lord Tywin attempted to resign the next morning, but Aerys refused to accept. And thus, Tywin Lannister remained Hand of the King.4
Courtiers at the court who wished to win the kings favor and gain advancement soon learned the best way to gain the Kings eye was to mock and make japes about Lord Tywin. King Aerys continued to undermine and slight his Hand, which amused many Lords who were rivals of Lord Tywin or who simply disliked the humorless man. Tywin Lannister suffered all these slights in silence, never showing any public display of weakness. When Joanna Lannister died in childbirth in 273 AC, the King had been heard to remark that Joanna had died, and Tywin had begotten his dwarf son instead from the gods, “to teach him some humility at last”. These reports would reach Casterly Rock, where Lord Tywin was in mourning. From that moment on, all the old affection between the old childhood friends was gone. Yet still, Lord Tywin continued to serve the realm as Hand of the King, whilst King Aerys grew increasingly violent, suspicious and erratic.4
The Kings madness abated slightly with the birth of another son, who he named Jaehaerys, in 274 AC. In fact, Jaehaerys’s birth which almost restored the king to his old self. This changed when Jaehaerys died later that same year. In a black rage, Aerys had the boys wet nurse beheaded, convinced it had been her fault. He soon had a change of heart, and declared that his mistress was to blame, having poisoned the young babe. Aerys had her and her entire family tortured and eventually executed. Under torture, all confessed to murdering Prince Jaehaerys, though their accounts on Jaehaerys’s death greatly differed from one another.4
After this deed, however, Aerys changed his mind yet again. He fasted for a fortnight, and made a walk of repentance across the city, to the Great Sept of Baelor. There, he prayed with the High Septon. When he returned, he announced that he would remain true to his wife and marital vows from that moment forth. From that day on in 275 AC, King Aerys II Targaryen lost interest in all other women.4
In 276 AC, Rhaella gave birth to a son named Viserys. While the boy was healthy enough, Aerys was paranoid about the boys safety. Kingsguard knights were ordered to stand over the babe, day and night. No one, not even Queen Rhaella, was allowed to be alone with Viserys. Gifts that came from all over the realm for the new Prince were piled up in the yard and burned on Aerys’s orders, as the king feared they might be cursed or ensorcelled. When Rhaella’s milk dried up, Aerys made his own food taster suckle on the nipples of the wet nurse, to ensure there was no poison on them.4
Later that year, Lord Tywin Lannister staged a tournament in honor of Viserys’s birth at Lannisport. It has been suggested by history that this tourney was arranged as a gesture for reconciliation.4 At this tourney, Lord Tywin proposed a marriage between his daughter Cersei and Prince Rhaegar to King Aerys. However, Aerys’s fear of Tywin’s power and ambition led him to reject the offer rudely, saying that Tywin was a mere servant of the crown, and no servant’s daughter was fit to marry a prince of royal blood. The tourney ended without a final feast and Aerys departed in a chilly atmosphere. Tywin would not forget the insult.
Lord Denys Darklyn of Duskendale had desired to win a charter for Duskendale, which would give him more autonomy from the crown. He made his proposal to the crown in 277 AC, but Lord Tywin Lannister, however, refused the proposal, but Lord Denys would not give up so easily. Having noticed the detoriated relationship between Aerys and Tywin, Lord Denys decided to withhold his payments to the crown, and instead invited the king to Duskendale to hear his petition for a new charter. While Aerys had planned to refuse the invitation, the king changed his mind when Lord Tywin suggested Aerys refuse the invitation. Eager to demonstrate his ability to handle the situation without the help of his Hand, Aerys decided to settle the issue personally. Taking a small force that included only one Kingsguard knight, Ser Gwayne Gaunt, Aerys personally marched to Duskendale to end the defiance of Lord Denys. The invitation proved to be a trap, however, and Aerys walked right into it. His escort killed trying to defend their king, Aerys was taken prisoner.
Outrage was the response to this news from Duskendale. As Hand of the King, it fell to Lord Tywin Lannister to resolve the crisis. He massed an army and laid siege to the town in what became known as the Defiance of Duskendale. The situation has remained in a stalemate for six months, with Lord Denys threatening to execute the king at the first sign that Tywin intended to storm the town.
Aerys was rescued by Ser Barristan Selmy but emerged from Duskendale a changed man—nearly feral, cut and bled, with long twisted fingernails and a scraggly matted beard.