This essay contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter
Artwork by Nacho Molina
Following events at the end of A Storm of Swords and the readying of the Golden Company to move on Westeros, the Spider began to aggressively unweave the political and military fabric that kept the Lannisters and Tyrells in power in King’s Landing. Varys’ plan of slow-burn chaos in Westeros seen in the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire now evolved into an active undermining of the political structure of King’s Landing. Taena Merryweather would work to undermine the relationship between Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister, but she would not be Varys’ only pawn in Westeros.
As I’ve re-read key sections from A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter for the Blood of the Conqueror series, I’ve come to the conclusion that Varys’ intelligence strategy in King’s Landing was not limited to Taena Merryweather. Varys needed to undermine the Lannister-Tyrell alliance in King’s Landing, but Varys also needed to disrupt their military power bloc in Eastern Westeros. The Golden Company and Aegon were coming to Westeros, and they would need the waters cleared for their approach.
Enter Aurane Waters.
The Bastard of Driftmark
Aurane Waters is first introduced to readers briefly at the end of A Clash of Kings; called “the Bastard of Driftmark”, Aurane was among the many lords and knights presented to Joffrey after Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater. Driftmark was the ancestral island home of House Velaryon, a family of Valyrian heritage who provided firm allies (and frequent spouses) for their Targaryen cousins before and after the Conquest. In the main story, the Velaryons were staunch Stannis supporters: Lord Monford Velaryon bent the knee to Stannis and sent ships to Dragonstone to await the king’s command.
Aboard one of those ships was Monford Velaryon’s bastard half-brother, Aurane Waters. Aurane Waters was willing to fight for Stannis on the Blackwater, but his reasons for supporting Stannis were unclear. Aurane was likely obligated to sail with his half-brother, but he might have hoped to advance his relatively low station in life by supporting the king who had a reputation for meritocratic elevation. During Robert’s Rebellion, Stannis Baratheon had elevated a common-born smuggler to knighthood. Much later in A Dance with Dragons, Stannis offered Jon Snow the Stark name and the seat of Winterfell if he would only bend the knee.
As we’ll find out later in this analysis, Aurane was nothing if not an opportunist. He may have seen this trait in Stannis and thought of Stannis’ kingship as an opportunity for advancement more than duty owed his king. Besides, wars were dangerous; even the highborn were not immune to death. If Monford Velaryon died in Stannis’ war, Aurane could venture himself forward to Stannis as his heir (provided that he gave good service to Stannis). Monford’s son, Monterys, was a mere six years old, and in a time of crisis for Westeros, Stannis might not be inclined to support a boy lord’s elevation to lordship. Fate, though, had different ideas in mind for Aurane.
Monford did end up dying on the Blackwater aboard the Pride of Driftmark. Aurane survived, but instead of returning to Stannis and presenting his own case for lordship over Monterys, Aurane was captured by the Lannisters. Rather than being executed, Aurane Waters saved his own skin by bending the knee to King Joffrey, alongside a number of captives taken from the Battle of the Blackwater.
Aurane then disappears for an entire book, before making a dramatic re-appearance in A Feast for Crows. At Tommen Baratheon’s wedding feast, Cersei noticed the Bastard of Driftmark drinking with Elinor Tyrell:
It was not the first time the queen had made note of Waters, a lean young man with grey-green eyes and long silver-gold hair. The first time she had seen him, for half a heartbeat she had almost thought Rhaegar Targaryen had returned from the ashes. It is his hair, she told herself. He is not half as comely as Rhaegar was. His face is too narrow, and he has that cleft in his chin. The Velaryons came from old Valyrian stock, however, and some had the same silvery hair as the dragonkings of old. (AFFC, Cersei III)
That Aurane was familiar enough to be dancing with Margaery Tyrell’s second cousin once removed may seem a bit strange. Aurane was a former prisoner of war and supporters of an enemy of the Tyrells. How Aurane ingratiated himself into the graces of the Tyrells is not known, but Aurane’s decision was in keeping with his opportunistic streak. He had no real loyalty to Stannis and likely less to the Tyrells. Elinor and her more powerful cousins likely served the same role that Stannis had to Aurane previously: they were his new means to lift him from his low station. After all, if young Monterys Velaryon remained loyal to Stannis Baratheon – as he seemingly did, given the Velaryon banners to be seen at the wall with Stannis – the crown would presumably take Driftmark away from the treasonous Velaryons (as it had Brightwater Keep from the Stannis-loyal Florents). Who better to become the new Lord of the Tides than a Tyrell ally with a strong blood claim?
Varys would likely be aware of Aurane’s ingratiation with the Tyrells. His little birds monitored and recorded every conversation and movement within the Red Keep. Could Varys have seen Aurane’s opportunism and then approached the Bastard with a better offer? As we come to find out in A Dance with Dragons, Varys was not truly loyal to the Lannister-Baratheon regime. Instead, he was working towards the restoration of the Targaryens (or, at least, nominal Targaryens). Varys’ prior moves against the Lannister-Baratheon regime had been restrained and even helpful in order to delay the chaos of war from erupting too early, but Prince Aegon’s time had now come. The Golden Company was readying in Essos, and with the death of Tywin Lannister, the political dynamic in King’s Landing was ripe for Varys to begin implementing chaos. Not-so-coincidentally, Aurane Waters was presented in front of the Queen Mother at this pivotal moment.
Cersei’s introduction to Aurane Waters occurs shortly after she’s introduced to Taena Merryweather; the timing of these introductions could be coincidental, but as seen above were potentially more sinister. Taena Merryweather was a Myrish woman who outwardly only sought to increase her own family’s standings in Westeros; Aurane was a bastard from a family loyal to a pretender. Now ostensibly sworn to Tommen, the opportunistic bastard of Driftmark fit the profile of a potential agent of Varys – even more so when Aurane’s physical resemblance to Rhaegar Targaryen is examined.
Artwork by Elia Mervi
Like Taena before him, the key feature that Cersei first noticed in Aurane was his appearance. The Velaryons share genetic similarities to the Targaryens, and Aurane’s silvery hair recalled Rhaegar Targaryen to Cersei. In her youth, Tywin Lannister planned to betroth Cersei to Rhaegar; the future queen was thoroughly taken in by the dragon prince:
And so it had, though once she had drawn a picture of herself flying behind Rhaegar on a dragon, her arms wrapped tight about his chest. (AFFC, Cersei V)
Next to Rhaegar, even her beautiful Jaime had seemed no more than a callow boy. The prince is going to be my husband, she had thought, giddy with excitement, and when the old king dies I’ll be the queen. (AFFC, Cersei V)
However, Tywin’s scheme to marry Cersei to Rhaegar failed when Aerys II rejected the match and instead matched Rhaegar with Elia Martell. The rejection led to major political consequences for Westeros, but for Cersei, the emotional pain reverberated years later:
The memory of the rejection still rankled, even after all these years. Many a night she had watched Prince Rhaegar in the hall, playing his silver-stringed harp with those long, elegant fingers of his. Had any man ever been so beautiful? (AFFC, Cersei V)
Though Tywin instructed Cersei never to speak of the attempted betrothal, his failed scheme was common-knowledge enough that Maester Yandel reported on the attempted matching in The World of Ice and Fire:
Perhaps seeking to gain advantage of His Grace’s high spirits, Lord Tywin chose that very night to suggest that it was past time the king’s heir wed and produced an heir of his own; he proposed his own daughter, Cersei, as wife for the crown prince. Aerys II rejected this proposal brusquely, informing Lord Tywin that he was a good and valuable servant, yet a servant nonetheless. Nor did His Grace agree to appoint Lord Tywin’s son Jaime as squire to Prince Rhaegar; that honor he granted instead to the sons of several of his own favorites, men known to be no friends of House Lannister or the Hand. (TWOIAF, Aerys II)
Given that Varys and Illyrio had interest in Westeros long before Varys was appointed master of whisperers, it’s possible that Varys knew of Tywin’s attempt to betroth Cersei and Rhaegar. Could Varys have used this information to deploy Aurane Waters in front of Cersei? Previously, we’ve supposed that Taena Merryweather was planted by Varys due to her exotic, seductive appearance. Cersei’s attraction to Aurane fits a pattern in this context.
Moreover, Aurane Waters’ resemblance to Rhaegar Targaryen became a running narrative feature in Cersei’s mind in A Feast for Crows as it both brought the psychological impact of Rhaegar’s rejection to the fore as well as provided an avenue for Cersei to sexually right the wrong of her previous rejection:
Seen up close, his hair was more silvery than gold, and his eyes were grey-green where Prince Rhaegar’s had been purple. Even so, the resemblance . . . She wondered if Waters would shave his beard for her. Though he was ten years her junior, he wanted her; Cersei could see it in the way he looked at her. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
Even when Cersei got a closer look at Aurane towards the end of A Feast for Crows, she found herself looking at someone who didn’t resemble Rhaegar, but could be “useful.”
Aurane did not resemble Prince Rhaegar as much as she had thought. He has the hair, but so do half the whores in Lys, if the tales are true. Rhaegar was a man. This is a sly boy, no more. Useful in his way, though. (AFFC, Cersei VIII)
The usefulness had in mind for “Rhaegar-Lite” is left deliberately vague, but I suspect that in addition to his appointed duties (something we’ll cover in a moment), Cersei fancied a sexual tryst with Aurane. This seductive allure that Aurane held over Cersei again fits the potential pattern that Varys used to recruit Taena, and his physical appeal to Cersei would have wide-ranging implications.
The Grand Admiral
Artwork by HBO
One of the “vacancies” in the small council at the time of Cersei’s regency was the master of ships. The master of ships has the responsibility to build, maintain and train the royal fleet in peacetime; in wartime, the master of ships would lead the royal navy against enemies of the Iron Throne.
In A Game of Thrones, the position had officially been occupied by Stannis Baratheon. Stannis, though, was not present in King’s Landing. Instead, he had absconded with much of the royal fleet to Dragonstone to prepare for the war that was coming. After decisively allying himself with the Lannisters, Lord Mace Tyrell requested a small council seat at the end of A Clash of Kings. According to the appendix from A Storm of Swords, Mace got his appointment, as master of ships – a seat he would not hold for long.
After Tywin was killed by Tyrion at the end of A Storm of Swords, Cersei plotted to reorder the small council. One of the council positions that Cersei deemed open on the small council was the master of ships. The Lord of Highgarden still technically occupied the position, but Cersei Lannister wanted her inner circle of political advisers cleansed of Tyrells:
Mace Tyrell and his cronies Redwyne and Rowan could not be trusted. (AFFC, Cersei I)
Cersei’s fear of the Tyrells, while paranoid, was not without reason. Readers know that the Tyrells and Littlefinger were behind the assassination of Joffrey, and Mace Tyrell had successfully leveraged his alliance with Tywin Lannister into advantageous royal marriage(s) for Margaery and overall political advancement for himself and some of his lords bannermen. While it would be years before Margaery could have a child by Tommen and the Tyrells would no longer need the little Lannister king, Cersei had reason to fear overweening Tyrell influence.
After Cersei ordered Mace Tyrell to head south for Storm’s End, and most the Reachmen (save for Margaery and her entourage) departed King’s Landing, the queen regent moved against the Tyrells to establish her decidedly non-Tyrell small council:
Cersei had uprooted every rose, and all those beholden to her uncle and her brothers. In their places were men whose loyalty would be to her. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
She had one man in mind to become the master of ships:
“There is talk that you mean to make Aurane Waters the master of ships.”
“Has someone been informing on me?” When he did not answer, Cersei tossed her hair back, and said, “Waters is well suited to the office. He has spent half his life on ships.” (AFFC, Jaime II)
Cersei was set on naming Aurane to the Small Council, but Jaime had both personal and professional concerns about the appointment:
“Paxter Redwyne would be a better choice. He commands the largest fleet in Westeros. Aurane Waters could command a skiff, but only if you bought him one.”
“You are a child, Jaime. Redwyne is Tyrell’s bannerman, and nephew to that hideous grandmother of his. I want none of Lord Tyrell’s creatures on my council.”
“Tommen’s council, you mean.”
“You know what I mean.”
Too well. “I know that Aurane Waters is a bad idea.” (AFFC, Jaime II)
In the end, Cersei had overrode any of Jaime’s concerns, and Aurane was appointed to the small council, but not as master of ships. Instead of master of ships, Aurane and the rest of the small council were styled in the vein of the Free Cities:
She had even given them new styles, borrowed from the Free Cities; the queen would have no “masters” at court beside herself. Orton Merryweather was her justiciar, Gyles Rosby her lord treasurer. Aurane Waters, the dashing young Bastard of Driftmark, would be her grand admiral. (AFFC, Cersei IV)
Though he was not a lord in his own right, Grand Admiral Aurane Waters now had the direct ear of the queen regent, and he had command of the royal fleet. As we’ll find out, Aurane’s role in both of these venues would be consequential.
Downplaying the Threat of the Golden Company
In Essos, the Golden Company was racing towards Volantis. The sellswords had walked away from an easy campaign in the Disputed Lands to fulfill the “contract writ in blood.” Their plan was to march up to Volantis and await Daenerys Targaryen, her dragons and her army; when Daenerys arrived, they would present Prince Aegon to Daenerys, the two would wed and then the Golden Company and Daenerys and her followers (and dragons) would invade Westeros together. That was the plan, but the Iron Throne heard differently.
Mid-way through A Feast for Crows, the Iron Throne became aware of the Golden Company’s movements. Shortly after Cersei Lannister completed her coup of the small council, she convened her new councilors. After a council discussion on Walder Frey, the conversation turned towards the Golden Company’s movements near Volantis. The counselor who brought the topic up was surprising:
“Whilst we await Lord Walder’s death, there is another matter,” said Aurane Waters. “The Golden Company has broken its contract with Myr.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
On its surface, Aurane bringing this matter to the small council’s attention was an odd move, especially if he was truly an agent of Varys. However, Aurane’s next statement was suspicious:
“Around the docks I’ve heard men say that Lord Stannis has hired them and is bringing them across the sea.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
By reporting that the Golden Company was hired by Stannis, Aurane downplayed the threat of the Golden Company and confused the intelligence picture that the Iron Throne had of their aims. For her part, Cersei had already heard about the Golden Company’s movements in Essos from Qyburn, and she was dismissive of them:
“What would he pay them with?” asked Merryweather. “Snow? They are called the Golden Company. How much gold does Stannis have?”
“Little enough,” Cersei assured him. “Lord Qyburn has spoken to the crew of that Myrish galley in the bay. They claim the Golden Company is making for Volantis. If they mean to cross to Westeros, they are marching in the wrong direction.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
She was so dismissive of the Golden Company that they don’t come up again in her chapters in A Feast for Crows. They do reappear in Cersei’s POV chapters in A Dance with Dragons, but only after they landed in Westeros.
The intriguing detail about Aurane’s report of the Golden Company’s movement is that it dovetails neatly with the military deception that Jon Connington planned to use in his invasion of Westeros:
“I expect they did,” said Jon Connington, “but what messages would they have carried? At best, some garbled account of raiders from the sea.” Even before they had sailed from Volon Therys, he had instructed his captains to show no banners during these first attacks. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Connington sought to disguise the Golden Company’s invasion of Westeros as mere sellsword raids instead of the macro-threat to King Tommen’s reign that they truly were. However, if the raiders were to have an identity, Connington had a specific idea on who he hoped the Lannisters would suspect was attacking:
Let the Lannisters suspect Stannis Baratheon, pirates from the Stepstones, outlaws out of the woods, or whoever else they cared to blame. If the reports that reached King’s Landing were confused and contradictory, so much the better. The slower the Iron Throne was to react, the longer they would have to gather their strength and bring allies to the cause. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Stannis Baratheon would be the obvious candidate to attack the shores with sellswords given his history of using sellswords and sellsails to augment his flagging sworn swords. Aurane Waters, along with Qyburn, helped plant the disinformation that it was Stannis, not Aegon, who was behind the Golden Company’s movements.
This military deception was so successful that even into the timeline of A Dance with Dragon, Kevan Lannister still believed that it was Stannis who was attacking southern Westeros:
“We have had reports of sellswords landing all over the south,” Ser Kevan was saying. “Tarth, the Stepstones, Cape Wrath … where Stannis found the coin to hire a free company I would dearly love to know.” (ADWD, Cersei I)
This is not direct evidence that Aurane was in the employ of Varys – it falls somewhere in the realm of circumstantial evidence. Given that Qyburn was also instrumental in informing Cersei’s viewpoint on the plans and allegiance of the Golden Company, it also can’t be shown conclusively that Aurane wasn’t merely reporting bad widely-reported information to Cersei. Moreover, we get another viewpoint of the Golden Company’s movements in Essos through Arianne Martell’s POV in A Feast for Crows that is similarly misinformed:
“And the Golden Company broke its contract with Myr, just as the Myrmen were about to go to war with Lys.”
“The Lyseni bought them off,” suggested Sylva.
“Clever Lyseni,” Drey said. “Clever, craven Lyseni.”
Arianne knew better. If Quentyn has the Golden Company behind him . . . “Beneath the gold the bitter steel,” was their cry. You will need bitter steel and more, brother, if you think to set me aside. Arianne was loved in Dorne, Quentyn little known. No company of sellswords could change that. (AFFC, The Queenmaker)
However, when the misinformation that Aurane presented to Cersei on the Golden Company is coupled with his only other major advisement on the small council, Aurane looks a bit more suspicious.
Dividing the Lannisters and Tyrells
When the Ironborn invaded the Reach, the Tyrells demanded that Cersei allow the Redwyne Fleet to sail west to confront the threat of the Ironborn. Cersei in turn demanded that Dragonstone be taken prior to any movement of the Redwynes to the Reach. Fortunately for Cersei, Aurane was present at this fateful small council meeting to aid in dividing the Lannisters and Tyrells:
Aurane Waters bristled at Ser Loras’s suggestion. “If Lord Redwyne sails his ships away, how are we to supply our men on Dragonstone? Without the Arbor’s galleys, how will we maintain the siege of Storm’s End?”
“The siege can be resumed later, after – “
Cersei cut him off. “Storm’s End is a hundred times more valuable than the Shields, and Dragonstone . . . so long as Dragonstone remains in the hands of Stannis Baratheon, it is a knife at my son’s throat. We will release Lord Redwyne and his fleet when the castle falls.” (AFFC, Cersei VII)
By representing the Tyrells’ insistence of sailing for the Reach as a means by which they could abandon the more strategically significant sieges of Dragonstone and Storm’s End to Cersei, Aurane’s counsel potentially served to loosen the fragile Lannister-Tyrell alliance. Aurane’s short role in this incident mirrors Taena Merryweather’s role in setting the Lannisters and Tyrells apart. To Cersei Lannister, Aurane’s questions made the Tyrells appear disloyal. To Loras and Margaery Tyrell, Aurane’s questions and Cersei’s subsequent response were further evidence of the pettiness and animosity that Cersei and her small council displayed toward real threats that the Reach faced from the Ironmen.
In Cersei’s very next chapter, none other than Aurane Waters brought news to Cersei of the fall of Dragonstone and Loras Tyrell’s wounding. His actions in weakening the Lannister-Tyrell alliance complete, Aurane was now providing the information necessary for Cersei to give leave for the Redwynes to make for the Reach. In this, Aurane Waters now moved to the final, pirate-y phase of his mission.
Cersei Plays the Game of Thrones, Experiences Massive Piracy
“Might we discuss the fleet?” asked Aurane Waters. “Fewer than a dozen of our ships survived the inferno on the Blackwater. We must needs restore our strength at sea.” (AFFC, Cersei V)
Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek
Aurane Waters’ most infamous act wasn’t to act as an ineffectual (deliberately or otherwise) counselor to Cersei Lannister; it was his theft of the royal fleet. In this single act, Aurane Waters undid one of the few positive steps that Cersei Lannister had taken as queen regent and, more importantly, cleared a sea lane for the Golden Company as they made their final approach to Westeros.
The Golden Company’s invasion of Westeros faced a tough task in taking Westeros, but it faced obstacles before even landing on the shores of Westeros. Varys and Illyrio’s hope by the start of the timeline of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons was that Daenerys would march or sail west to Volantis, link-up with Aegon and then invade Westeros with Aegon. That plan gave Aegon a better chance of taking Westeros than invading Westeros alone, but it faced a major limitation. Even if Daenerys joined up with Aegon, they faced a significant shortage of ships to transport the armies across the Narrow Sea. The Redwyne Fleet was now sailing for the Reach, but the royal fleet still stood athwart the Golden Company’s invasion route to Westeros.
Aurane Waters spent much of his time as grand admiral of the royal fleet building and crewing ships. Less than a dozen of the original warships of the royal fleet survived the Battle of the Blackwater, so Cersei Lannister commissioned the construction of ten three-decked dromonds to augment the royal fleet’s flagging numbers. Though the royal fleet was smaller than any fleet the Golden Company would use to sail to Westeros, they had the potential to significantly impact the invasion.
The Golden Company and Daenerys Targaryen had no warships. Though the Golden Company would eventually use Volantene galleys to ferry the sellswords across the Narrow Sea, they could not match the naval warfighting capabilities that the Iron Throne possessed. Even if Daenerys joined up with the Golden Company, using her dragons to cleave a path through the royal fleet wasn’t a sure thing either. The Blacks lost the Battle of the Gullet during the Dance of the Dragons despite using four dragons. More importantly than losing the battle itself, the Blacks lost two of their four dragons (Vermax and Stormcloud) to actions in and around the battle.
Given the potential for Aegon’s army to suffer significant casualties before they even reached Westeros, Varys and Illyrio needed a way to get the royal fleet out of the way. Here, Aurane Waters came into his greatest utility. Aurane’s role in stealing the fleet is well-known, but the steps he took to steal it show that the plot was underway well-before the fall of Cersei Lannister:
Step One: Appointment to the small council: We’ve covered this in-depth previously, but Aurane’s appointment as grand admiral gave him a title and some powers.
Step Two: Rebuilding the royal fleet: Cersei commissioned the construction of ten dromonds to augment the mostly-destroyed royal fleet.
Step Three: Choosing “good” crews. Here’s where Aurane began his conspiracy to steal the fleet. Just after Cersei’s bloodless coup of the small council, Aurane had a specific suggestion on how to crew his ships:
“Our new dromonds will need oarsmen,” said Aurane Waters. “Let us instruct the lords to send their poachers and thieves to me henceforth, instead of to the Wall.” (AFFC, Cersei IV)
In hindsight, Aurane’s move is somewhat humorous. Instead of crewing his ships with upright Westerosi citizens, Aurane’s men would be the criminal class of Westeros – men unlikely to raise moral objections to say… high seas piracy. In retrospect, this should have been a red flag as to what Aurane was planning to do with the royal fleet, but Cersei agreed to Aurane’s idea (in no small part due to her attraction to Aurane), and the ships were crewed with men who wouldn’t mind a little piracy.
Step Four: Choosing the “right” captains
At the last session he [Pycelle] had complained bitterly about the men that Aurane Waters had chosen to captain her new dromonds. Waters meant to give the ships to younger men, whilst Pycelle argued for experience, insisting that the commands should go to those captains who had survived the fires of the Blackwater. “Seasoned men of proven loyalty,” he called them. Cersei called them old, and sided with Lord Waters. “The only thing these captains proved was that they know how to swim,” she’d said. “No mother should outlive her children, and no captain should outlive his ship.” Pycelle had taken the rebuke with ill grace. (AFFC, Cersei V)
This was a particularly clever move on Aurane’s part. Where Pycelle counseled the wise choice of captaining the royal fleet with loyal men, Aurane manipulated Cersei’s ageism and projected fear of growing old into allowing him to hand-pick younger men to lead the fleet. In actuality, Aurane essentially boosted men into command positions who had no explicit ties to the Lannister regime. His captains owed their status not to the Lannisters but to Aurane alone. So, when Aurane would order the fleet to set sail for the Stepstones, they wouldn’t question the grand admiral. They would obey the man who had raised them to positions of prominence.
Step Five: Finding the pretense to sail out to sea
“What of Lord Waters? His ships . . . if he brings his crews ashore, he should have enough men to . . .”
“Lord Merryweather is right,” said Lord Waters. “If it please Your Grace, I will launch the rest of our new dromonds. The sight of them upon the Blackwater with King Tommen’s banner flying from their masts will remind the city who rules here, and keep them safe should the mobs decide to run riot again.” (AFFC, Cersei X)
The arrest of Margaery Tyrell by the Faith Militant provided the opportunity for Aurane to set sail with his new fleet. Couching this to match up with Cersei’s paranoia and the growing instability that it caused King’s Landing gave Aurane the cover necessary to steam the fleet out of King’s Landing to the Narrow Sea and the Stepstones beyond.
Step Six: Pirate King!
“As soon as word of Your Grace’s present troubles reached the river, Lord Waters raised sail, unshipped his oars, and took his fleet to sea. Ser Harys fears he means to join Lord Stannis. Pycelle believes that he is sailing to the Stepstones, to set himself up as a pirate.” (AFFC, Cersei X)
Surprise! Aurane didn’t have good intentions in mind when he set sail with his fleet of brand new massive warships crewed by criminals and captained by men whose only loyalty was to Aurane. In contrast to Ser Harys’ fear, Aurane didn’t make for the North to join up with Stannis. In The Winds of Winter, we find out that Pycelle was right. Aurane headed south for Stepstones to become the Lord of Waters and a pirate king to boot.
Aurane’s theft of the royal fleet is perhaps his most well known act in the story. The common belief is that Aurane was out for himself and took the royal fleet when convenience afforded him the opportunity. However, the amount of coordination and planning that Aurane put into absconding with the royal fleet speaks to something more at work.
Varys’ intent in King’s Landing was to weaken the military and political threat that Aegon and the Golden Company would have to face in Westeros. While Aurane’s actions may well have been a happy coincidence that had nothing to do with Varys’ meddling, it’s suspicious that it so easily dovetailed with Varys’ strategic intent.
The Golden Company’s good fortune, while having a component of good luck behind it (Varys had nothing to do with the invasion of the Reach for instance), had the advantage of Varys’ covert and overt manipulations at work. Taena Merryweather had fed Cersei Lannister’s paranoia of the Tyrells and successfully started the process of tearing apart the Lannister-Tyrell power bloc in King’s Landing. Varys had Pycelle and Kevan Lannister murdered to send the capital into a final political tailspin just as Aegon and the Golden Company scored early military victories in the Stormlands.
It’s not a stretch for Aurane’s theft of the royal fleet to be of a similarly intentional deconstruction on Varys’ part. The waters needed to be cleared of any hostile sails to give Aegon and the Golden Company the opportunity to reach the shores of Westeros unopposed. More importantly, in the long-term strategic picture, Aegon and the Golden Company had no real fleet to boast of. They would need the massive dromonds that Aurane commanded for their own royal fleet.
In The Winds of Winter, we’re going to see Aegon and the Golden Company in action. We also know from Jon Connington that the Golden Company has landed all over the shores of southern Westeros. Intriguingly, some of the Golden Company’s sellswords also seems to ended up in the Stepstones:
“The damned Volantenes are so eager to be rid of us they are dumping us ashore on any bit of land they see,” said Franklyn Flowers. “I’ll wager you that we’ve got lads scattered all over half the bloody Stepstones too.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)
Could Aurane play a part in ferrying these wayward sellswords into Westeros on behalf of Prince Aegon? I think this is a likely possibility – especially as the Golden Company’s elephants haven’t turned up in Westeros yet. Perhaps these famed elephants will need the massive warships that Aurane has in his possession to make the final journey into Westeros.
Conclusion: The Rogue Pirate
The Sea Snake was determined to put an end to the Triarchy’s rule over the Stepstones, and in Daemon Targaryen he found a willing partner, eager for the gold and glory that victory in war would bring him. (The Rogue Prince)
Artwork by Chase Stone
Historically, Aurane Waters’ best analogue is the rogue prince: Daemon Targaryen. Prince Daemon Targaryen was a rogue in every possible sense of the word. He ingratiated himself with women (taking many as lovers), fathered bastards and spurned his brother on the Iron Throne when he saw fit. Perhaps most infamously, Daemon Targaryen invaded the Stepstones alongside of Lord Corlys Velaryon to dispossess the Kingdom of the Three Daughters who had imposed high tariffs on seabound merchant trade.
However, Daemon went one step further than “liberating” the Stepstones. In 109 AC, Daemon crowned himself King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea. Daemon’s invasion and coronation triggered an international war as the Kingdom of the Three Daughters dispatched a fleet to retake the Stepstones. Dorne joined in the war against Daemon. The war was bloody and ultimately “boring” for Daemon Targaryen. As the tide turned against him, Daemon took leave of the Stepstones and returned to King’s Landing, abandoning his kingdom in the Stepstones forever.
Aurane Waters was of a similar mind as his historical (and biological) forebear. At council meetings, Cersei sensed Aurane’s boredom at the tedium. Where Aurane was most lively was when he was ingratiating himself with highborn women to further his own advancement. The Bastard of Driftmark, much as Daemon Targaryen before him, held no true loyalties to anyone other than himself and his own advancement.
In the end, I can only unsatisfactorily conclude that Aurane’s actions can only be classified as “suspicious.” As much as I’d personally would have wanted to conclusively finger Aurane as an agent of Varys’, there’s no silver bullet proving it. However, Aurane’s role in downplaying the threat of the Golden Company, driving the Lannisters and Tyrells apart and his theft of the royal fleet fit so nicely with Varys’ intelligence preparation of the political and military battlefields for Aegon that he can’t be dismissed as an agent of Varys.
That said, even if Aurane Waters was an agent of Varys, he didn’t wrap himself into the Varys-Illyrio conspiracy for any ideological or familial reasons. His modus operandi was one of supreme self-aggrandizement. When Aurane Waters returns in The Winds of Winter, we can expect him to bow low to the bright-black dragon (and probably to the Mother of Dragons too… whenever she arrives), but when he rises, he’ll expect his reward.
Thanks for reading! Special thanks to co-blogger NFriel who helped unravel a lot of the disparate ideas floating around my head. Additional thanks to VinceThatWasPromised, JoeMagician, AgentKnitter, guildensterncrantz for providing some feedback to a very early (and bad) draft of this work. Cheers to all of you!
- Ladies of Fire: Start with Part 1: A Bride for a Prince and then read the whole series by NFriel
- The Court of Viserys I by NFriel
- High Tide: The Rise and Fall of House Velaryon by BookShelfStud
- Aurane and Salladhor Saan? by PoorQuentyn
- An alternate take on Aurane Waters by Nobody Ever Suspects the Butterfly