Artwork by Mathia Arkoniel
Hello again readers. Today I present you with the final entry in the Three Heads of the Dragon series, Aerion ‘Brightflame’ Targaryen. Prince Aerion Targaryen, also known as Aerion the Monstrous or Aerion Brightflame, born the second son to King Maekar Targaryen, may not be a pretender in the most traditional sense, he still had a role to play under the banner of the pretenders of House Targaryen.
Aerion was an unusual character in the Targaryen dynasty and had distinct ties with both the central kings, princes, and contemporaries of the dynasty, and the various pretenders seeking to oust them. He was a precursor to the Mad King Aerys, he was the despised monster of the family, an enemy of Ser Duncan the Tall, the likely murderer of Haegon Blackfyre, and the drinker of wildfire. Aerion Brightflame was the dragon who burned and his actions still affect Westeros to this day.
The Hatching of a Monster
“Aerion’s quite the monster. He thinks he’s a dragon in human form, you know. That’s why he was so wroth at that puppet show. A pity he wasn’t born a Fossoway, then he’d think himself an apple and we’d all be a deal safer, but there you are.” – The Hedge Knight.
Born the second son to Maekar I Targaryen and Dyanna Dayne, Aerion lived a life of opulence and opportunity that only a royal prince could expect and sustain. His natural advantages were clear even from the beginning, as young Aerion was blessed with good looks due to his shared Targaryen and Dayne lineage. He would be a quick study with morningstar and lance, with horse and tongue.
However, neither his genetics nor his upbringing could ever hide the monster that lurked beneath the pale skin of the Brightflame.
Aerion was cruel, entitled, and arrogant – three dangerous traits for anyone let alone a prince and potential candidate for the Iron Throne. In his youth, Aerion demonstrated early signs of that something was amiss. His brother, Aegon, recalled several instances of being tormented by his older brother, far beyond anything resembling regular sibling infighting. In one instance, Aerion threw Aegon’s pet cat down a well. In another, Aerion visited the young prince in his bedroom and threatened to castrate him all the while joking that the two could marry afterwards. His delight of violence was masked from those who could reasonably punish him (notably his father, Maekar), but when free from reprisal, he would sadistically torment those who could not fight back. Aerion’s viciousness didn’t end with young Aegon though. His sadism went far beyond the family.
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
In 209 AC, Aerion journeyed from King’s Landing to Ashford Meadow to participate in the great tourney hosted by Lord Ashford. His father Maekar hoped Aerion, skilled at the joust, could earn some glory for the fourth branch of the family, long overshadowed by the glories of the elder. There, Aerion continued to demonstrate sociopathic behavior both to Aegon and to a hedge knight by the name of Ser Duncan the Tall.
Peacetime participation in tourneys was expected of a young princes in order to demonstrate their martial valor as well as display the power and prowess of the royal house, but Aerion likely had another motivation. Given his personality and the deeds that would mark that tournament in infamy, Aerion likely had the secondary motivation to assert his own dominance and inflict pain on others.
During his joust against Ser Humfrey Hardyng, Aerion, showed little regard for knightly etiquette or even common courtesy. Instead, he opted to drive his lance through Hardyng’s horse instead of against the knight himself.
Unfortunately for Hardyng, the horse crushed his leg as it died. Not only had Aerion callously injured Hardyng and shamed himself, but he had also shamed his father, who had attended the tourney to watch his sons compete and possibly win victories over their “better cousin”, the son of Baelor Targaryen – Valarr Targaryen.
However, to the good fortune of Hardyng, Prince Baelor Targaryen, awarded Aerion’s horse to Hardyng to replace the one he just lost and even had him declared the victor of the joust. Being overruled and humiliated by his heir apparent uncle in favour of a lesser knight no doubt enraged Aerion, and the Brightflame opted to inflict his desire for vengeance and satisfaction against someone who couldn’t fight back.
The victim Aerion directed his fury towards was a puppeteer by the name of Tanselle, a commoner and a Dornishwoman, effectively a defenseless victim to bear the brunt of Aerion’s rage.
The reason for Aeron’s violent outburst was poetic. Given that the puppeteers showed a dragon dying in battle against a knight, it no doubt reminded Aerion of how his previous joust had just ended. That he, a powerful dragon, was effectively wrecked and technically defeated by a lesser knight infuriated him. The sawdust blood spilling from its neck was a lingering reminder of his own fallibility, his own weakness, and for a common Dornish girl to remind him of that was unforgivable. Claiming that “the dragon ought never lose” was an ironic statement considering that the dragon did indeed lose the day before.
To the luck of puppeteer Tanselle, there was an unexpected hero at the tourney who actually respected knightly oaths. Ser Duncan the Tall was at Ashford to earn money; when he witnessed Aerion terrorising Tanselle he lurched into action, tackling the prince and kicking his teeth in, and out. Much like Tanselle’s story, the knight fought the dragon, causing it to bleed.
Unfortunately for Dunk, Aerion was a prince of the blood and Dunk soon found himself arrested and imprisoned despite the pleas of his young squire Egg, who revealed himself to be none other than Aerion’s younger brother Aegon Targaryen in disguise. Bravely, Dunk’s young squire told his monstrous older brother that he cut his hair off because he didn’t want to look like Aerion.
Trial of Seven
Artwork by Mark Simonetti
Not one for half measures in his cruelty, Aerion made no secret of his desire to see Dunk punished. Aerion demanded that Dunk lose a hand, a foot, and all of his teeth for his “crimes.” While Dunk had Baelor in his corner to seek leniency, there was only so much the crown prince could do, especially since Maekar himself would be sitting as a judge in the trial and would no doubt not take kindly to his own brother taking the side of a common hedge knight over Maekar’s own son and Baelor’s own nephew. Baelor could also not be seen to be openly flouting the established law of the land, lest it endanger royal credibility even for the best of reasons. Therefore, Baelor looked to work within system, and suggested to Ser Duncan that if he were a talented knight, he could win a trial by combat, win innocence and keep his limbs and teeth.
Aerion, likely humiliated by his two consecutive losses to lesser men, demanded a trial by the seven against Ser Duncan. He was supported in this demand by his father who respected Aerion’s call for vengeance as well as Daeron’s accusation that Dunk had absconded with Aegon after Daeron and the boy stopped off at an inn.
The fact that Baelor Targaryen not only declared him the loser in his joust and even told Ser Duncan that he would have attacked Aerion if Dunk had not gotten there first implied just how Aerion’s own family perceived him. To Daeron and the other Targaryens, Aerion was seen as entitled and sadistic – so much so, that some of Aerion’s relatives would even support lower class men when they put the Brightflame in his place. Even Daeron, Aerion’s own brother, told Dunk that he would take a fall during the trial and withdraw his accusation against the hedge knight, further highlighting how much Aerion’s own family disdained him.
At the trial, Aerion, ever the vicious, charming sociopath, smiled and claimed it was a way for Daeron, his brother, to claim vengeance against the knight as well. Aerion even went so far as to bribe Ser Steffon Fossoway, one of Dunk’s champions, with a chance of a lordship if he joined Aerion instead of Duncan, ultimately leading to the historical rivalry between the red and green apple Fossoways.
Ultimately the trial went ahead and Dunk even earned the support of Prince Baelor Targaryen who rode on the side of the hedge knight and against his cousin, Aerion Brightflame. The crown prince was willing to risk injury, humiliation, maiming, and even death in a trial by seven, on the side of hedge knight no less, because Aerion Brightflame was such a sadistic and shameful embarrassment to the Targaryens, and because Dunk was in the right in his defense of Tanselle against the sadistic prince.
“This man protected the weak, as every true knight must. Let the gods determine if he was right or wrong.” – The Hedge Knight.
During the trial, Aerion demonstrated his castle-learned martial talent. In a fierce match against Ser Duncan, he pierced Dunk’s side with a lance before striking him with a morningstar.
However, Aerion’s own arrogance prevented him from winning his trial with any sense of graciousness as he couldn’t resist verbally taunting the wounded Ser Duncan about the mutilation the prince would inflict on the hedge knight if he chose to yield.
However, Ser Duncan refused Aerion’s “kind” offer and the dragon prince responded by attempting to smash the hedge knight’s face in. Duncan then subdued Aerion by wrestling the prince to the ground and beating his arse like a fucking drum.
As a side note, this is a minor piece of evidence that adds to the theory that Brienne is a descendant of Ser Duncan the Tall as she used similar tactics against Ser Loras Tyrell in A Clash of Kings.
Once again, Aerion was beaten into submission by a “lesser person” than his royal self. Aerion yielded but then tried to stab Ser Duncan with a dagger, showing just how much he respected knightly chivalry. When this failed, the hedge knight dragged Aerion’s right royal arse across the field and had the prince repeat his yield before Lord Ashford thereby ending the trial in favour of Ser Duncan and his champions.
Unfortunately and because of Aerion’s cruelty, the trial was not without cost as both Ser Humfrey Beesbury and Ser Humfrey Hardyng were killed during the trial as was the crown prince himself. Baelor Targaryen, victor at Redgrass Field, had been accidentally killed by his own brother Maekar.
Maekar, no doubt extremely guilt ridden over Baelor’s death and shamed by Aerion’s cowardly yielding to Dunk, likely placed a heavy amount of blame on his monstrous son for the death of Baelor. Aerion had caused the death of Baelor and Maekar didn’t want to look at or even be around his son so he exiled Brightflame to Lys and away from the Targaryens and the Iron Throne.
Exiles In Arms
While little is known about Aerion’s time in exile, we do know that he did serve with the Second Sons mercenary company at one point. While Aerion’s personality was loathsome and treacherous this was no detriment to service in a sellsword company, unless you specifically betrayed them. Moreover, Aerion’s martial prowess seen at Ashford Meadow would have been welcomed by a sellsword company eager to recruit trained men into their service.
Another thing we know of Aerion’s exile in Lys comes from Martin himself and relates to children fathered by Aerion while he was in exile.
“[Summary: sandrews asks if Duncan from the Hedge Knight fathered a family, is the family existant at the time of the books, why Aemon Targaryen did not appear in the story, and whether Dany has any kin in Lys because of Aerion Brightfire’s exile.]
The answers to (i) and (ii) will have to wait until I write more stories of Dunk and Egg, or possibly until later volumes in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.
As to (iii), well, Aemon was at the Citadel in Oldtown, studying for his maester’s chain. He had no part in the story I was telling in “The Hedge Knight,” so I saw no reason to drag him on stage.
Lastly, (iv), well, Aerion Brightfire did not stay in Lys all his life, only a few years. He may have fathered a few bastards there, which would mean Dany has “relatives” of a sort in Lys… but they would be very distant relatives, from the wrong side of the blanket.” – SSM, October 14th 1998.
While Martin did not write conclusively on any bastards fathered by Aerion in Lys, I’d be quite surprised if the prince did not end up having a few dragonspawn running around in a Free City or two. He was of royal blood and a child, or children, of Targaryen blood, even a bastard, could be extremely valuable to certain parties in Essos.
The Beast from the Sea
Artwork by Marc Simonetti
Aerion did not remain in exile forever. A few years after his Essosi exile, he returned to Westeros and took part in the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Little is known of his conduct in the Rebllion, but we do know that Aerion fought on the side of the Targaryens under the command of senior Westerosi commander and his own father, Maekar. Although the Targaryens emerged from the conflict as victors, it was not a victory without cost.
Now, if you have been closely following this essay series you’ll know that both SomethingLikeALawyer and I have come to the agreement that the Blackfyre pretender Haegon Blackfyre was likely “slain treacherously after he surrendered his sword” by Aerion Brightflame himself. This would explain how Aerion’s deeds equal in infamy what his father and brother earned in glory. This is the reason why Aerys I Targaryen exiled Bittersteel to the Wall, because Aerion had compromised the honour of the Iron Throne by murdering Haegon while he yielded. A similar case would be when Aegon V spared Bloodraven execution and exiled him to the Wall after his bad conduct murder of Aenys Blackfyre.
However, and this is where it gets really weird, I think Aerion might have had something to do with the Third Blackfyre Rebellion but not because he was a legitimate supporter. I think the dragon prince had something a lot more dangerous, and psychotic, planned that only a seriously morally compromised man would even consider.
Consider this, you are Aerion Targaryen and you have just been exiled to Essos by your own father due to the actions of a bunch of lesser men and now find yourself surrounded by lesser foreigners. You enjoy violence and cruelty and will look for an opportunity to engage in both; so you join the Second Sons where you can satiate your rage. Speaking of sellswords also looking to satiate their rage, who else do we know that lives in Essos and frequently plays a part in the warring amongst the Free Cities? The Golden Company who are headed by none other than Aegor ‘Bittersteel’ Rivers.
Now, these free companies fight one another as a side effect of the rivalry of the Free Cities so it stands to reason that they would regularly be in and about each others’ business. Moreover, we know that the Golden Company maintains an intelligence network and even has a spymaster. In A Dance With Dragons Lysono Marr directs the company’s intelligence outfit and even has a similar look to Aerion.
An exiled Targaryen prince joining up with the Second Sons would be big news that a spymaster would be likely hear of. So, there’s now a disaffected Targaryen exile in close proximity to Bittersteel, and I doubt that’s an opportunity that someone like Bittersteel would miss. So the question rears its three ugly heads, what’s an exile to do? Kill him? Killing Aerion would send a message no doubt but it also risked the wrath of the likes of Maekar Targaryen. Or do you recruit him instead? Bittersteel was no stranger to symbolic politics and a disaffected Targaryen prince joining the Blackfyres would be one hell of a political symbol for the Blackfyres, especially if that disaffected prince was a son of the heir to the Iron Throne itself.
Here’s my theory: Aerion is approached by Bittersteel or a Golden Company representative and in his rage, the dragon prince is taken in by the idea of joining the Blackfyre cause as a double agent so he can get revenge against both the Iron Throne and his father.
Eventually Aerion was called back from exile and returned to Westeros. Shortly after, the Blackfyres landed and the Third Blackfyre Rebellion broke out. However, the rebellion went completely against the Blackfyres and they lost, badly. In the chaos as Haegon Blackfyre gave up his sword, possibly to Aerion, someone the Blackfyres trusted, and he was then murdered by the very man he thought would deliver him his throne, Aerion Brightflame. A present day equivalent would be the Red Wedding where Catelyn saw the Northmen entering the feast hall at the Twins as her saviours, only to witness them cut down Stark loyalists and her own son, Robb.
Why would Aerion do such a thing?
Cowardly and opportunistic, Aerion likely couldn’t risk Haegon Blackfyre being taken alive and revealing the truth about Aerion’s betrayal to his father or worse, Bloodraven, an anti-Blackfyre hardliner. Aerion had shown willingness to kill those who could bear witness to his actions before. He attempted the same with Ser Duncan the Tall at the Ashford Tourney in 209AC. Could he not do the same to Haegon as he yielded? Few people would question Aerion killing a Blackfyre rebel and he was not without his cunning as his killing of Haegon, however dishonourable, was a good way for him to make amends to his father for Ashford Tourney-gate while eliminating a potential witness to his betrayal.
Unfortunately for Aerion, Bittersteel had been captured alive and Aerion had just murdered Bittersteel’s Blackfyre candidate. Aerion would be in danger if Bittersteel talked as Bloodraven had the reputation for heads, spikes, and walls as seen at the conclusion of the Second Blackfyre Rebellion.
Luckily for Aerion, both he and Bloodraven were on the same page regarding the possible execution of Bittersteel. They both wanted his head, albeit for different reasons.
Now, most of you would be right to question why the hell wouldn’t Bittersteel give up Aerion upon finding out what Aerion did to Haegon? Well, he should have but I have a few ideas in mind that could fit the narrative;
- He simply didn’t know what Aerion had done and had no reason to give up Aerion since having a Blackfyre double agent in place would be useful for future Blackfyre Rebellions. I doubt anyone would tell him given that the murder of a yielding Blackfyre is a good symbol for the pro-Blackfyre rebels to use.
- He didn’t know and refused to talk during any interrogation attempted by the Targaryens out of stubborn spite. Again, this fit with Bittersteel’s character.
- He didn’t know and refused to talk during any interrogation attempted by the Targaryens both out of spite and out of honour. If Aerion had signed a contract with Bittersteel and the Golden Company then Bittersteel would be honour-bound to protect Aerion.
- He did know and used the information to blackmail Aerion into helping him escape captivity. We know that pro-Blackfyre spies helped Bittersteel escape but we don’t know who they actually were. It could have been Aerion. Plus, if Aerion helped free Bittersteel then he was just as responsible for the continuation of the Blackfyre Rebellions as anyone else involved, something that gives the Aegon Brightfyre Theory a really weird twist.
Additionally, if Bittersteel did indeed give up Aerion then there were reasons as to why nothing happened to that princely shitheel;
- Bloodraven and the Targaryens won’t kill Aerion due to kinslaying taboo, especially Maekar after what happened to Baelor Breakspear at the Ashford Tourney.
- In WWII, the British utilised known German spies to spread disinformation back to the enemy, sometimes without their knowledge. It wouldn’t be beyond Bloodraven, King of the Spies, to use Aerion to do the same thing to the Blackfyres.
- Sending Aerion back into exile wasn’t an option given that he possibly joined the Blackfyres as a double agent the last time the Targaryens exiled his royal arse to Lys. They couldn’t risk him doing something like that again.
As a side note and to draw a nice parallel between Aerion Brightflame and Aerys II Targaryen, if Aerion was spared and used as an unwitting source of disinformation by the Targaryens to the Blackfyres, then Aerion may have been driven to madness by sheer paranoia that Bittersteel could give him up at any moment or that Bloodraven or his father would discover the truth about his possible role in the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Much like Aerys II, Aerion could have been driven to madness through a tormenting paranoia about enemies seeking to harm him.
Dragon Marriage and Dragonspawn
Unfortunately, Aerion was not destined to spend his life alone. He was eventually married to his cousin, Daenora Targaryen, and together they had one child, a son named Maegor:
“In the book canon, of course, there has only been only King Maegor, the reputation of Maegor the Cruel being so black. England has had only one King John, for much the same reasons. (Prince Aerion Brightflame did name his son Maegor, but that was meant as a provocation, and in any case the boy never sat the Iron Throne).” – SSM, June 9th 2015.
Aerion named his only son and heir Maegor as a provocation. He was willing to name his son after the most infamously cruel king in the history of the Targaryen Dynasty – the present day equivalent of naming a child Aerys.
Fortunately, the same year as his son’s birth, Aerion downed a cup of wildfire under the delusion that it would transform him into a dragon. Why Aerion thought that drinking wildfire would turn him into a dragon is a mystery. Madness was an obvious culprit, but what delusion was Aerion operating under? Did he believe that he could become a nigh invincible creature that had little reason to fear anyone, something that Aerion was likely desperate for in his last days? Or was there a chance that this was a suicide that the monarchy marketed as the last desperate mad act of the deluded Aerion Brightflame?
Regardless of the delusion that caused him to quaff the substance, Aerion Brightflame ended his life screaming.
His son was passed over in the succession a year later, no doubt due to several reasons; the lovely name his father bestowed upon him, the fact that his father was well hated by his own family, and because Aerion Brightflame was insane, cruel, and a possible Blackfyre spy.
Aerion Brightflame was a prince who relished in his own sense of royal superiority and cruelty, and was indirectly responsible for the death of the heir to the Iron Throne, Prince Baelor Breakspear, a far better man than he could ever have aspired to be.
The Brightflame happily lorded his position over knights and peasants alike, something that won him no friends and actually resulted in him frequently being beaten down by those very same people he viewed as lesser.
His cruelty even extended to his own family as he sexually threatened Egg and branded his own son with the infamous name of Maegor as a simple provocation. Aerion was at one point exiled by his own father to Lys, and even served among the Second Sons for a time. In Essos, he may have fathered a few bastard children among the Free Cities before later abandoning them. In fact, we may have already met one of the descendants of Aerion, many years after his forebears mingled their blood with certain other dragons in exile. Dragons bright and black indeed.
Additionally, if you accept my theory, there’s a chance that Aerion’s pettiness and entitlement even led to him joining forces with exiles of House Blackfyre and Bittersteel leading him to serve as a double agent against House Targaryen, his own family.
However, Aerion’s reign of terror and cruelty did not last long as he ended his life by drinking wildfire, whether this was as a last desperate act of delusional madman or a suicide remains to be seen.
Aerion Brightflame is one of the shining examples of Targaryen madness. So arrogant and vain, he believed he was a dragon in human form. In a way, he was. Aerion was greedy, violent, cruel, and beautiful. He encapsulated the worst aspects of the Targaryens and of dragons themselves. Luckily for the Targaryens, Aerion carried this belief to his grave by drinking wildfire.
Aerion Brightflame was the dragon who burned and thank the gods he did.