A Read of Ice and Fire

A Read of Ice and Fire: “The Rogue Prince”

Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Today’s entry is “The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother: a consideration of the early life, adventures, misdeeds, and marriages of Prince Daemon Targaryen, as set down by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown”, which appears in the anthology Rogues, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

Previous entries of the Read are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual section covered and for the material covered previous to this post. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.

And now, the post!

 

The Rogue Prince

What Happens

Over the centuries, House Targaryen has produced both great men and monsters. Prince Daemon was both.

After the loss of his son and heir Baelon, Old King Jaehaerys I made Ser Otto Hightower his Hand, and Otto’s daughter Alicent became the ailing king’s constant companion, to where he sometimes mistook her for one of his own daughters. When he died, his grandson Viserys succeeded him. Viserys had only one living child, his daughter Rhaenyra, upon whom he doted. Viserys I’s reign was peaceful and happy, and his daughter was adored by all the kingdom, becoming a dragonrider at the age of seven. The only fly in the ointment was Viserys’s wild younger brother, Daemon.

Daemon had been married young to the Lady of Runestone, but could not stand her, referring to her as “the bronze bitch” and finding any excuse to be gone from Arryn’s Vale. Viserys put him on the small council, but Daemon was bored by governance, and instead was soon put in charge of the ramshackle City Watch, which he reformed and outfitted with their now-iconic gold cloaks. His methods of law enforcement were successful but often excessively brutal, and he gained a notorious reputation as a gambler and lecher in the low neighborhoods of the capital.

Though Viserys refused to acknowledge Daemon as his heir, he was tolerant of his brother’s excesses, and Princess Rhaenyra adored him. Ser Otto Hightower, however, disliked him intensely, and wrote to his brother that Daemon would be “another Maegor the Cruel” if allowed to take the throne. Otto wanted Rhaenyra to succeed her father, but primogeniture precedent indicated that Daemon’s claim exceeded Rhaenyra’s. In the same year that Queen Aemma became pregnant, Ser Criston Cole was appointed to the Kingsguard, and Rhaenyra was smitten with him, and asked that he be made her personal bodyguard. Also at this time Ser Harwin Strong, called “Breakbones” joined the court from his father’s hold at Harrenhal.

Queen Aemma and her child both died at the birthing. When Viserys heard that Daemon had been jesting about it in a brothel that same day, he was livid, and soon after formally declared Rhaenyra his heir. Furious, Daemon left court and went to Dragonstone with his concubine Mysaria. When she became pregnant, Daemon gave her a dragon’s egg, but Viserys commanded that he take it back and go home to his wife. Daemon did so, sending Mysaria back to Lys, but she lost the child during a storm at sea, and Daemon’s heart hardened against Viserys thereafter.

Viserys was urged to remarry, but rejected the idea of wedding Lady Laena Velaryon, who was only twelve, and announced that he would marry Lady Alicent Hightower instead. Lord Corlys Velaryon was displeased at his daughter being scorned by the royal family just as his son and wife had been in earlier years. Lord Corlys skipped the wedding to meet with Prince Daemon instead, and they concocted a scheme to annex the Stepstones from the Triarchy, who had been demanding more and more exorbitant fees for ships to pass them in the Narrow Sea. Viserys supported their efforts from afar, counting it well worth it to keep his brother out of mischief.

Alicent birthed Aegon, Helaena and Aemond in quick succession, but Rhaenyra kept her favored position despite Alicent and her father Otto’s objections. Eventually Viserys stripped Otto of his position as Hand and sent him away to shut him up. Peace was maintained on the surface between the queen’s advocates and the princesses, but some observed that the dragons of each group tended to snap and spit flame at each other. At the infamous tourney where the “greens” and “blacks” earned their names, Daemon appeared, styling himself “King of the Narrow Sea”, but he immediately knelt to his brother, who welcomed him home.

Daemon soon returned to his debauching ways, but also struck up a great friendship with his niece Rhaenyra. There are conflicting accounts as to how he fell out again with the King. Septon Eustace wrote that Daemon had seduced Rhaenyra, and that Viserys sent Daemon away after she begged to marry Daemon despite him already being married. The court fool Mushroom, on the other hand, claims that Daemon gave Rhaenyra extensive “lessons” in the sexual arts in order that she might seduce Ser Criston Cole, but that Cole was horrified by her advances. Whichever is true, Viserys exiled Daemon, and he returned to the Stepstones. Ser Criston Cole became Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

Princess Rhaenyra’s hand in marriage had long been hotly contested. Viserys rejected Alicent’s idea to wed her to Aegon, and instead settled on Laenor Velaryon, despite the open secret that Laenor preferred his “handsome squires” over women. Rhaenyra objected violently until Viserys threatened to remove her from the succession, upon which she agreed to the marriage. However, according to Mushroom, she then made one last attempt to seduce Ser Criston Cole, and when he rejected her again, went to the bed of Ser Harwin Strong instead. True or not, thenceforth Ser Cole was the princess’s most bitter enemy.

Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding was attended by both Ser Harwin and Laenor’s favorite Ser Joffrey Lonmouth. At the tourney, Ser Criston Cole made a point of maiming both knights severely, and Ser Joffrey died of his wounds soon after. Laenor returned to Driftmark thereafter and acquired a new favorite (Ser Qarl Correy), only returning sporadically, and Ser Harwin remained at court with the princess. Some doubted that the marriage was ever consummated, though Mushroom claimed that the princess enjoyed watching Laenor and Qarl together, even as he also claimed she left Laenor on those nights to be with Harwin instead.

Rhaenyra soon gave birth to Jacaerys, officially Laenor’s son, though the boy looked nothing like him. Viserys ordered that Jacaerys and Alicent’s youngest son Daeron should share a wet nurse in hopes of fostering a bond between them, but this would prove to be in vain. A year later Daemon’s long-estranged wife died in a fall from her horse; Daemon tried to secure her lands and fortune, but was informed in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome in the Vale. Daemon then went to Driftmark, where he met and supposedly fell in love with Lady Laena Velaryon, now twenty-two years old. He killed her betrothed in a duel, and wed her two weeks later. Laena and Daemon traveled extensively abroad thereafter to avoid Viserys’s wrath.

Rhaenyra meanwhile gave birth to her second son Lucerys, who also looked more like Ser Harwin Strong than his official father. Alicent’s cutting commentary on Rhaenyra’s sons’ lack of resemblance to their father deepened the animosity between the women, and Rhaenyra soon began residing at Dragonstone full time. In Pentos, Laena gave birth to twin daughters, named Baela and Rhaena, and Viserys once again reconciled with Daemon and allowed them back at court. Rhaenyra later had a third son, named after Laenor’s friend Ser Joffrey, who once again looked nothing like a Targaryen. Nevertheless Viserys gave each of her sons dragon eggs, and told Jacaerys that the throne would be his one day. Alicent’s sons resented Rhaenyra’s sons for ousting them from the succession, and their enforced closeness only heightened their enmity.

Rhaenyra and Laena, however, became great friends, and Rhaenyra soon announced her eldest sons’ betrothal to Laena and Daemon’s twin daughters. However, soon after Laena died in childbirth, taking the child with her, and it was said that Rhaenyra was there to comfort Daemon in his grief. Soon after, Laenor Velaryon died, stabbed to death by his own favorite Ser Qarl Correy, who disappeared thereafter. Septon Eustace claims jealousy as the motive, but Mushroom insisted that Prince Daemon had in fact paid Correy to murder Laenor.

After Laenor’s funeral at Driftmark, Prince Aemond, then still dragonless and smarting about it, snuck out to claim Laena’s dragon Vhagar for himself. He succeeded despite Joffrey Velaryon’s attempt to stop him, but afterward all three of Rhaenyra’s sons accosted him, and Lucerys put out Aemond’s eye when he called them “Strongs”. Queen Alicent wanted Lucerys’s eye put out in return, but Viserys only commanded that anyone referring to Rhaenyra’s sons as “Strongs” again would lose their tongues. He took his sons back to King’s Landing, while Rhaenyra and her children remained at Dragonstone. Viserys sent Ser Harwin Strong back to Harrenhal, which according to Mushroom thrilled Prince Daemon, who now had unfettered access to his niece.

After his return to Harrenhal, both Harwin and his father Lyonel died in a fire that many believed was not an accident, though no one could agree on who was behind it; the most disturbing possibility was that it was King Viserys himself. Lyonel had been Viserys’s Hand, so after consideration the king reinstated Ser Otto Hightower to the office. At the same time came the news that Rhaenyra had wedded her uncle Daemon in secret, and soon after she gave birth to a son who actually looked like a Targaryen. She named him Aegon, which Alicent took (rightly) as a slight to her own son Aegon (now the Elder). Rhaenyra had another son by Daemon, named Viserys, the same year Aegon the Elder wedded his sister Helaena, who shortly thereafter had twins named Jaehaerys and Jaehaera, who showed signs of birth defects. Later Helaena had a son, Maelor.

Meanwhile Ser Vaemond Velaryon was contesting Rhaenyra’s sons’ claim to the Velaryon lands and title on the grounds that they were really Strongs, whereupon she had Daemon remove Vaemond’s head and feed him to her dragon. Vaemond’s brothers went to King’s Landing to protest, and Viserys had their tongues removed as he had promised. Viserys wounded himself on the throne, though, and was much weakened. Alicent and Rhaenyra et al affected a reconciliation for his benefit, but things turned sour once the king had left, and the princess and her family left for Dragonstone again. Viserys’s health failed rapidly thereafter, and in the year 129 AC he went to sleep and never awoke.

The tale of Prince Daemon Targaryen’s bold deeds, black crimes, and heroic death in the carnage that followed are well known to all, so we shall end our story here.

After this the storm broke, and the dragons danced and died.

Commentary

Ah, so this is basically a prequel to “The Princess and the Queen” (and just when I thought I was done typing the name “Rhaenyra”, too). I see now why some people were contending that I should read this story first.

But, I did not, and honestly I feel better about following publication order anyway (Rogues was published a year later than Dangerous Women), so it is what it is. And having read TPATQ first certainly made this story easier to follow – if rather lacking in suspense.

What’s interesting to me is that it purports to be a study of Prince Daemon’s life leading up to the Dance of Dragons conflict, but that’s really only true of the first half or so of the story. The second half is much more concerned with the Targaryens overall, and the events leading up to the Dance, and Daemon himself seems to fall into the background of the account, at least in terms of being the focus of most of the events that occur.

Honestly, I’d have to say that my overall impression of this story is that it is a failure.

It would have been fine if this narrative had (a) been incorporated into TPATQ in the first place, or (b) taken a more personal, character POV tack, to contrast with the distanced historical account of TPATQ. But TRP did neither of those things, instead following the exact same format as the earlier story, but with none of TPATQ’s dramatic tension, owing to the fact that the audience already knows exactly where its events will end up leading.

Granted, the effort to introduce tension by presenting conflicting accounts of events was interesting in the abstract, and certainly capable of generating discussion (like, was Mushroom really the only one who dared to tell it like it was, or was he just deeply perverted and creepy in addition to having, apparently, the biggest mouth in Westeros?), but I would have been far more interested in getting Daemon’s actual point of view (or anyone’s point of view, really) than in hearing, yet again, a third-to-fourth-hand account of what Archmaester Gyldayn thinks we ought to know about things.

I dunno, but if I kind of thought this format was cheating a little in TPATQ, I definitely think it’s cheating here. Especially since it didn’t really even seem to stick to its thesis (i.e. an in-depth look at Prince Daemon). I mean, we learn a little bit more about him than what we got from TPATQ, I guess, but nothing that we needed to have an entirely separate story for, in my opinion. I would have wanted an insight into his character, but at such a remove and with so much unreliability in the narrator, that was basically not possible, at least not in my opinion.

Was Daemon both a monster and a great man? I think that he was. But I also think that both assessments hinge much more upon things he did in TPATQ than anything he did here, so again, why have this story at all?

Which isn’t to say there was nothing interesting in the story whatsoever. It’s an interesting moral cross-section, for instance, that Viserys was furious at Daemon for sleeping with Rhaenyra – not because she was his niece, but because he was married to another woman. I mean, I’ve known this about the Targaryens long since, obviously, but it’s still hilarious to me that incest is just fine but OMG adultery is beyond the pale!

(Well, okay, the offense is probably not even so much “adultery” as it is “messing up the lines of succession”, which in a way I can even be sympathetic about. I mean, if you already have to deal with charting sisters marrying brothers and uncles and aunts marrying nieces and nephews on a family tree, coming down on out-of-wedlock bastards is probably just more of an effort to avoid utter genealogical confusion than anything else. Though if you ask me that ship sailed ages ago. I mean, were Daemon’s daughters by Laena still supposed to marry Rhaenyra’s sons by allegedly-Laenor after Daemon and Rhaenyra got married?? Because if so, every genealogist in the Western world just threw down their pens and stormed off for a drink, and they don’t even know why. Good Lord.)

Of course, I have my own moral cross-section to deal with, since in my opinion the only thing wrong with Laenor’s preference for men was that he should have been left free to pursue it, rather than being forced into a marriage with someone whom he could never feel more than platonic affection for (unless you believe Mushroom’s tales of threesomes, of course, but even then his overall preference for his own gender is clear). But obviously that does not correspond with the mores of the time.

Although, it should be noted, the historical account barely even bothers to be euphemistic about Laenor’s sexual orientation, so it seems that in Westeros (at least at the time), homosexual inclinations seemed to be considered more of an embarrassing inconvenience than an insupportable abomination. Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

I also had a moment of wtf-ery when the story contended that Rhaenyra’s sons – who were six, five, and three (!!) respectively – successfully sliced up ten-year-old Aemond. Because seriously, has Martin ever seen a five or six-year-old stood up next to a ten-year-old? I mean, forget about the apparently deeply precocious and robust toddler Joffrey carrying out ambushing schemes and being all “You stay away from her!” when most kids that age can barely string a sentence together or run in a straight line, I’m really not buying that a five and six-year-old would not have gotten the tar beaten out of them by a kid twice their age (and height, and weight, and muscular/coordination development). Yes, they’ve all had arms training, I don’t care, that is completely ridiculous in my book.

But then, it’s been consistently established that Martin really does not have an accurate picture of childhood developmental stages across the board (and at this point I must assume he’s deliberately maintaining that ignorance for continuity reasons), so I guess that’s not all that surprising, but still. Sheesh.

In much more random notes:

(Lady Laena herself seemed untroubled. “Her ladyship shows far more interest in flying than in boys,” her maester observed.)

Hah. Yeah, when I was twelve, dragons would have won over boys by a landslide in holding my interest.

…Actually that might still be true. I mean, I can’t say for sure, obviously, but dragons, y’all. C’mon.

And:

(Amongst those thus enslaved was Lady Johanna Swann, a fifteen-year-old niece of the Lord of Stonehelm. When her infamously niggardly uncle refused to pay the ransom, she was sold to a pillow house, where she rose to become the celebrated courtesan known as the Black Swan, and ruler of Lys in all but name. Alas, her tale, however fascinating, has no bearing upon our present history.)

But let it be noted for the record that I totally want to hear that tale. I probably would have been a lot more interested in that tale than I was in this one.

So, yeah, I was not terribly impressed by this one, y’all. The Maester’s Cliff Notes conceit worked well enough the first time, but I feel like it should have remained a one-trick pony. Which is maybe a bit of a sour note to go on hiatus with, but what can you do.

 

And thus ends, for the nonce, The Read of Ice and Fire!

Which is pretty wacky. I haven’t been at this nearly as long as I have the WOT Reread, but it’s been nearly five years, holy smokes, so it ain’t nothing to sneeze at, either.

A lot of you have been asking what is next for me and the Read, other than the obvious answer of “wait until the next book comes out.” Some people have suggested that I should recap the HBO series, or cover The World of Ice and Fire companion book, or even do a Reread of the Read.

All of which are good ideas (even if the idea of doing a Reread of the entire series kind of makes my head feel like it might explode), but as I said earlier, I think it is a good idea for me to take a break from all things ASOIAF, at least until the head explode-y feelings die down a bit.

So the question of “what next?” will be tabled for the moment. I know, my darlings, but trust me, this is for the best.

I do want to take a moment, though, to say a sincere and heartfelt Thank You to everyone who has come along on this crazy long-ass ride with me. Even when I wasn’t enjoying it, I still got to enjoy that y’all were enjoying me not enjoying it, and that made it… uh, enjoyable, even when it wasn’t.

I swear that sentence made sense in my head.

But nevertheless! My point is, I have enjoyed sharing this experience with you, very much, and I look forward to whatever way we end up continuing to share it in the future. Y’all are all rock stars. Thank you.


And Happy Holidays, and Happy 2016! Mwah, my dears, be well. Watch this space, and cheers!

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