Monday, April 28, 2014

ASOIAF - The Last of the Dragons: Mance is Rhaegar

The Last of the Dragons

"Will you make a song for him?" the woman asked.
"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire."
-ACOK, Daenerys IV

Spoilers abound from all ASOIAF books and novellas (though I didn’t use anything from the new tPatQ). This theory is far reaching and may break the books for you so tread carefully. Here is a map of everything.

I have expanded on the much hated and impossible theory that Mance Rayder is Rhaegar Targaryen in disguise. This theory reinterprets the Battle on the Trident, the skirmish at the Tower of Joy and the destiny of the Seven Kingdoms. It brings back to life a handful of other characters believed dead including Ser Arthur Dayne, Ser Oswell Whent, and Lady Ashara Dayne. Also exploring the implications of Mance being Rhaegar and the plight of his sister Daenarys and three apparent sons; Aegon VI, Jon Snow and Aemon Steelsong. Feigning death, donning disguises and embracing secret identities are prevalent tactics throughout the series (comprehensive examples listed later) so please suspend your disbelief for a moment and humor the theory. Since this is a super long read, here are the best parts:

·       Mance is Rhaegar in disguise
·       Qhorin Halfhand was Ser Arthur Dayne
·       Oswell Kettleblack is Ser Oswell Whent
·       Aegon VI is really Aegon VI and Varys is an agent for Rhaegar
·       Jon Snow is not dead
·       Baby Aemon Steelsong is headed for Dany
·       A list of 28 main and minor characters who didn’t die and/or donned disguises

I have cited text as often as possible, sometimes using quotes for direct evidence and sometimes for emphasis or to guide interpretation. I’ve tried to abstain from using crackpot theories as cannon; however, there are several significant theories out there which have played a major part in influencing my own and I’d especially like to mention Bran Vras’ Winterfell Hois Clos, Stefan Sasse’s Southron Ambitions and maidenandwarrior’s H+A=M+J. Thanks to those authors and everyone who has speculated on the Knight of the Laughing Tree story, R+J=L and even the few who have already explored Mance = Rhaegar; I hope to take the theory further. Thanks most of all to GRRM for creating such a deep, elegant and interconnected fantasy world.  

Here are the parts:

I.               The Song of Ice and Fire: Early Life and the Introduction to Prophecy
II.              The Prince of Dragonstone Bested them All: The Kidnapping
III.            Elk, Shadowcat and Prince in Black: The Battle of the Trident reimagined
IV.            Our Knees do Not Bend Easily: The Tower of Joy
V.             Shadows Are Friends to Men in Black: Joining the Night’s Watch
VI.            You don’t become King- beyond-the-Wall because your Father Was:  Army Muster
VII.          The Halfhand of the King
VIII.         Sister and Sons
IX.            Conclusions

Of all the great theories in the ASOIAF universe, the best one to start with is Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon (R + L = J), which, in my opinion, elegantly ties together the song of ice and fire. Jon Snow’s story is the union that came of Lyanna Stark, descendent of the ancient blood of the First Men who found and conquered and bound the powers of the icy north, and Rhaegar Targaryan, of the ancient blood of the Valyrians who found and conquered and bound the powers of the fiery east. As the story goes, Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna in the style of wildling courtship and took her to the Tower of Joy where Ned Stark later found her before returning to Winterfell with a baby named Jon Snow. Thus J = L + R = aSoIaF; making these three characters the centerpiece of the entire story.

In my opinion though, Rhaegar, the warrior bard who has caused so much drama and upheaval and grief is also the embodiment of fire as a Targaryen prince and of ice as the King-Beyond-the-Wall and the rest of the story is just the song he is living. But more on that later.

Here is a telling quote from the first time L + R encountered each other.

"Under Harren's roof he ate and drank with the wolves, and many of their sworn swords besides, barrowdown men and moose and bears and mermen. The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head. A black brother spoke, asking the knights to join the Night's Watch."
-ASOS, pg. 281

So I’m going to explore Rhaegar’s early life, the aforementioned kidnapping and the aftermath of the kidnapping. I will then carry it forward with my new interpretations and answer the following questions; who is Jon Snow’s mother, who is the prince that was promised, who is Azor Ahai, and perhaps hint at what Daenerys will do and explore the possibilities for Rhaegar’s sons. Over the course of this essay I will be demonstrating why I believe Mance to be Rhaegar in disguise and what that means going forward.

I.               The Song of Ice and Fire: Early Life and the Introduction to Prophecy

Let’s explore Rhaegar’s story. Rhaegar, ever known for his sad and contemplative songs was once recalled in a dreamprophecy by Dany in the House of the Undying as declaring his son (Aegon VI) to be the prince who was promised, whose song is a song of ice and fire.

"Will you make a song for him?" the woman asked.
"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire."
-ACOK, Daenerys IV

The Targaryen’s are the last of the noble-blooded families of ancient Valyria, first of the fourteen fires of Old Valyria, later of the volcanic island of Dragonstone, eventual conquerors of Westeros and kings of the Seven Kingdoms. Rhaegar’s parents were King Aerys II and his sisterwife Queen Rhaella, the children of King Jaehaerys II, who was himself the second son of King Aegon V (our beloved Egg from Dunk & Egg). One day at the Targaryen summer home of Summerhall, the wife of Aegon V’s first son Duncan the Small, Jenny of Oldstones, brought her friend, a wisewoman, who made a prophecy that the Prince that Was Promised (TPTWP) would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella. Rhaegar’s grandfather Jaehaerys II basically forced Aerys and Rhaella to marry after this and thus Rhaegar was born of that marriage and later his brother Viserys II (deceased) and Danaerys Stormborn would be born to this line as well. It’s a mouthful but there you go.

Rhaegar was born at that very same Summerhall amidst a disaster known as the Tragedy of Summerhall, where a great fire took the lives of King Aegon and Duncan the Small as well as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Duncan the Tall. Others died as well, though a full list is not recounted. Jaehaerys II assumed the throne but died shortly after and then Aerys II took the throne, thus Rhaegar became the Prince of Dragonstone at a very young age.

Rhaegar’s story in the books is patched together through misdirected recollections of his contemporaries. He was remembered for his bookish ways, mature viewpoints and disinterest in swordplay. Also for playing the harp.

As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, 'I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.’
-ASOS page 91

Somewhere amongst the ruins of his birthplace of Summerhall, somewhere amongst the scrolls and lore he was studying, he thought himself the prince who was promised, went to the master-at-arms and said it seems he must be a warrior. I take note of his excellent intellect and curiosity, his comparison to Baelor and his internalization of prophecy.

“Yes. And yet Summerhall was the place the prince loved best. He would go there from time to time, with only his harp for company. Even the knights of the Kingsguard did not attend him there. He liked to sleep in the ruined hall, beneath the moon and stars, and whenever he came back he would bring a song. When you heard him play his high harp with the silver strings and sing of twilights and tears and the death of kings, you could not but feel that he was singing of himself and those he loved.”
-ASOS, pg. 486

Let’s review what all this TPTWP fuss is about.

The Prince that Was Promised is a prophecy of a hero or savior who will be born amidst smoke and salt, under a bleeding star, and whose song shall be the song of ice and fire. Azor Ahai is a legendary figure who bears the Red Sword of Heroes, Lightbringer. Lightbringer was forged by thrusting a finely crafted sword through the heart of Azor Ahai’s wife, synonymous with the moon, Nissa Nissa. Prophecy tells that Azor Ahai will be reborn and foretells the coming of the Prince that was Promised. It is unclear if the TPtWP and AA are part of the same prophecy or different but both AA and TPTWP will fight the darkness in the war for the dawn.

Seemingly, Rhaegar discovered a prophecy that made him think he was the prince that was promised. He trains to be a warrior. He later decides he is not the prince that was promised and thinks instead it is his son Aegon. Perhaps he learns the nuances of Azor Ahai and the Prince That Was Promised but who knows.

"Rhaegar, I thought … the smoke was from the fire that devoured Summerhall on the day of his birth, the salt from the tears shed for those who died. He shared my belief when he was young, but later he became persuaded that it was his own son who fulfilled the prophecy, for a comet had been seen above King’s Landing on the night Aegon was conceived, and Rhaegar was certain the bleeding star had to be a comet."
-Maester Aemon to Sam, AFFC chapter 35

It bears mentioning that Old Nan tells the story of the Long Night which occurred long ago and brought about the Last Hero who may or may not have had a legendary sword and may or may not be AA or TPTWP. Hard to say.

So anyway, Rhaegar marries Elia of Dorne, cementing Dorne’s allegiance to the Seven Kingdoms. They first have a baby girl, Rhaenys. Maester Aemon later makes a point of noting that dragons are genderless so TPTWP could be male or female but at this point Rhaegar would not have that interpretation. His wife is weak after giving birth to his firstborn daughter but he has a second child by Elia whom he names Aegon (VI). Elia nearly dies in childbirth the second time. One of Dany’s dreamprophecies in the House of the Undying is a dialogue between Rhaegar and Elia, about Aegon.

"Will you make a song for him?" the woman asked.
"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire."
-ACOK, Daenerys IV

Sorry for using this quote three times already but it’s the best and only instance I know of where they say ‘a song of ice and fire’ in the ASOIAF series. Time goes by and Rhaegar’s father descends into madness as some Targaryens do. A popular theory called Southron Ambitions is that several paramount lords like Stark, Arryn and Tully and perhaps Baratheon and Lannister formed secret marriage alliances to protect themselves from an increasingly unstable King Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King. The paramount lords start fostering their children with other paramount lords and eventually Brandon Stark is betrothed to Catelyn Tully, Robert Baratheon betrothed to Lyanna Stark, Lysa Tully betrothed to Jon Arryn, and some rumors about Cersei Lannister marrying Edmure Tully or Ned Stark or whatever, in the end Cersei ends up marrying Robert. All of this is pretty uncommon in the seven kingdoms because paramount lords usually marry their bannermen and not other paramount lords.

During this time of scheming and consolidation of houses, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, by way of his Kingsguard Ser Oswell Whent, asks Lord Whent of Harrenhal to stage a tournament (Claimed by Barristan in ADWD Chapter 67) thus providing the paramount lords a chance to convene and enact a plan for deposing the king, and make way for Rhaegar to peacefully assume the throne and rule as regent in Aerys’ place.

This type of conspiracy is precedented in The Mystery Knight when Daemon II Blackfyre hosts a rebel tournament at Whitewalls to conspire against the crown.

Since Aerys had not left the Red Keep since the Defiance of Duskendale, Rhaegar and the lords assumed he would not attend this tournament, but Aerys, informed of the plan by his Master of Whisperers (Varys), intervenes and attends the tournament at Harrenhal himself thus preventing the high lords from having their secret meeting. There is a precedent for this as well when Bloodraven attends the rebel tournament in Dunk & Egg’s The Mystery Knight to spy on the rebels.

II.              The Prince of Dragonstone Bested them All: The Kidnapping

So we get to one of the most notable events of the series:

“The tourney Lord Whent staged at Harrenhal beside the Gods Eye, in the year of the false spring. A notable event. Besides the jousting, there was a mêlée in the old style fought between seven teams of knights, as well as archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, a tournament of singers, a mummer show, and many feasts and frolics. Lord Whent was as open handed as he was rich. The lavish purses he proclaimed drew hundreds of challengers. Even your royal father came to Harrenhal, when he had not left the Red Keep for long years. The greatest lords and mightiest champions of the Seven Kingdoms rode in that tourney, and the Prince of Dragonstone bested them all.”
- Barristan to Dany, ASOS Dany chapter 42

An important side story of the tournament is that Howland Reed was getting bullied by some other squires and is saved by the Knight of the Laughing Tree, a mysterious knight with a smiling weirwood sigil. Additionally, the KotLT story and theory behind it, told to Bran Stark by Meera Reed, mentions the beautiful Ashara Dayne and the little crannogman who couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Just a fun little side story but with important future consequences, Ashara Dayne probably did the dirty with Howland and therefore Meera Reed is their daughter.

Ever paranoid of plots against him, Aerys tasks Rhaegar (amongst others) with discovering the identity of this mystery knight, which Rhaegar seemingly never does.

Yet when the jousting began, the day belonged to Rhaegar Targaryen. The crown prince wore the armor he would die in: gleaming black plate with the three-headed dragon of his House wrought in rubies on the breast. A plume of scarlet silk streamed behind him when he rode, and it seemed no lance could touch him. Brandon fell to him, and Bronze Yohn Royce, and even the splendid Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.
-Eddard to Bran, AGOT

I’ll now muddle into a grey area; glamours and such. The bolded quote above indicates my speculation that Rhaegar used ruby glamours to cheat and win the tournament, thus winning the rights to name Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty and some time later steal away with her. It is not necessary to my alternative story if Rhaegar cheated to win, but since he probably organized this tournament and changed the whole course of the kingdom through his victory, it would make sense that he wouldn’t take any chances of losing if it could be helped. There is precedent of black metal and rubies used for glamours (changing appearances) by Maynard Plumm/Bloodraven (at a tournament no less) and Melisandre on Mance, Rattleshirt and herself. She also uses a glamour on Stannis’ sword, Lightbringer, which has a ruby hilt and was noted by Maester Aemon and Samwell Tarly as giving off no heat. Apparently the sword, Lightbringer, should give off heat from its flame.

If Rhaegar used this ruby armor for glamour and manipulation at Harrenhal, perhaps he used it again on the Ruby Ford at the moment of his apparent death, but more on that later. There is also good reason to believe Lyanna Stark was the mysterious Knight of the Laughing Tree, but I digress.

So as everyone knows, Rhaegar wins this tournament and famously declares Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty.

Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
-AGOT Ned Chapter 58

Sometime after the tournament, Rhaegar, evidently attracted to Lyanna more than all others, including his own wife, absconded with Robert Baratheon’s betrothed which was the catalyst that leads to the death of Lyanna’s lord father, Rickard Stark and elder brother Brandon, who are put to death by the Mad King after Brandon showed up in King’s Landing demanding that Rhaegar return Lyanna to Winterfell. Aerys kills them brutally then demands the heads of Robert and Ned from Jon Arryn who refuses. All three call their respective kingdoms’ banners and march to war against the crown.

III.            Elk, Shadowcat and Prince in Black: The Battle of the Trident reimagined

A Game of Thrones, the book, begins about 15 years after Robert’s Rebellion, otherwise known as the War of the Usurper, of which a key moment which shifted the balance of power in Westeros occurred when the allied rebel armies of Stark, Arryn, Tully and Baratheon led by Robert Baratheon met the loyalist armies of the Targaryens led by the Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in the Battle of the Trident.

If the Battle on the Trident had gone differently, here would be the alternate reality:

Prince Rhaegar shook his head. "My royal sire fears your father more than he does our cousin Robert. He wants you close, so Lord Tywin cannot harm him. I dare not take that crutch away from him at such an hour."

Jaime's anger had risen up in his throat. "I am not a crutch. I am a knight of the Kingsguard."

Rhaegar had put his hand on Jaime's shoulder. "When this battle's done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but... well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return."
-Jaime 1 AFFC

The Battle went otherwise.

Multiple sources mention the battle, which ended when Robert caved in the ruby encrusted breastplate of Rhaegar, scattering his rubies and his retainers across the Ruby Ford, while he lay dying in the waters. Ruby, ruby, ruby. Notably, two of the Kingsguard were also killed in this battle, Prince Lewyn Martell and Ser Jonathor Darry. Rhaegar also had two squires, Myles Mooten who died earlier at the Battle of the Bells and Richard Lonmouth, the Knight of Skulls and Kisses, whose death is presumed at the Trident but unaccounted for.

So we get to my first big leap; Rhaegar surviving Robert’s legendary warhammer blow on the Ruby Ford, hang in there. As my theory will go on to claim that Mance is Rhaegar in disguise, I’d like to use Mance’s origin story and his story of his abandonment of the Night’s Watch. Mostly everything we know about Mance’s origin came from him or Qhorin. This theory then assumes Mance has lied to Jon Snow and the readers but there are some interesting allegories to be found.

First of all, Mance Rayder is mentioned as early as the first chapter of the first book, in the second paragraph with the story of the Night’s Watch deserter:

The man had been taken outside a small holdfast in the hills. Robb thought he was a wildling, his sword sworn to Mance Rayder, the King beyond-the-Wall.
AGOT, Bran Chapter 1

From Mance’s mouth we hear his origin story:

 “My birth is as low as a man’s can get, no septon’s ever smeared my head with oils, I don’t own any castles, and my queen wears furs and amber, not silk and sapphires. I am my own champion, my own fool, and my own harpist. You don’t become King- beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won’t follow a name, and they don’t care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The other three I slew, when they made it plain they’d sooner fight than follow.”
(Jon X, ASoS)

His mention here of sapphires is telling. Here is a list of all 25 times in ASOIAF when sapphires were mentioned and a secret was being withheld. What is Mance not sharing?

Say the secret is that Mance is Rhaegar, his birth was as high as a man’s can get, a septon anointed his head with oils, he was the Prince of Dragonstone and he clad himself in silks. He is still his own champion, fool and harpist and he became King-beyond-the-Wall by his own merit, despite his crazy father.

Ok, I’d next like to repurpose Mance’s story of abandoning the Wall with Rhaegar’s ‘death’.

“One day on a ranging we brought down a fine big elk. We were skinning it when the smell of blood drew a shadowcat out of its lair. I drove it off, but not before it shredded my cloak to ribbons. Do you see? Here, here, and here?” He chuckled. “It shredded my arm and back as well, and I bled worse than the elk. My brothers feared I might die before they got me back to Maester Mullin at the Shadow Tower, so they carried me to a wildling village where we knew an old wisewoman did some healing. She was dead, as it happened, but her daughter saw to me. Cleaned my wounds, sewed me up, and fed me porridge and potions until I was strong enough to ride again. And she sewed up the rents in my cloak as well, with some scarlet silk from Asshai that her grandmother had pulled from the wreck of a cog washed up on the Frozen Shore. It was the greatest treasure she had, and her gift to me.” He swept the cloak back over his shoulders. “But at the Shadow Tower, I was given a new wool cloak from stores, black and black, and trimmed with black, to go with my black breeches and black boots, my black doublet and black mail. The new cloak had no frays nor rips nor tears... and most of all, no red. The men of the Night’s Watch dressed in black, Ser Denys Mallister reminded me sternly, as if I had forgotten. My old cloak was fit for burning now, he said.”
“I left the next morning... for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.”
(Jon I, ASoS)
A fun side gamed called the Corn Code theory might indicate that the ‘here, here, and here?’ question indicates uncertainty in the story. But I won’t get into that.

I would repurpose this story instead as the story of Rhaegar meeting Robert on the Trident. Robert is symbolized by the big elk (stag of Baratheon) and the shadowcat is Robert’s fury. They wound each other. Robert is so wounded that he cannot continue on to King’s Landing and Rhaegar, per the story, was bleeding worse than the elk. Instead of getting to Maester Mullin and the Shadow Tower, Rhaegar probably wanted to be with Lyanna at the Tower of Joy where his Queen of Love and Beauty was on her deathbed. Anyway, he is hurt too bad to make it far so his brothers bring him somewhere for immediate care. Rhaegar is nursed back to health, perhaps by some kind of wisewoman. The only one I know he is associated with is the Ghost of High Heart, who was once brought to Summerhall by Jenny of Oldstones and foretold of TPTWP. At Summerhall, the wisewoman foretold that TPTWP would be born of Aerys and Rhaella’s line. The Ghost is alive per Arya and Brotherhood Without Banners encounter, but who knows what happened with Rhaegar after the Battle.

This would be the point of the theory where Rhaegar ‘dies’ and dons a new disguise. I think the red silk from Asshai in his cloak may be part of a glamour, but I agree that is a stretch.  Rhaegar then hides in the Riverlands until he can reunite with Ser Arthur Dayne and head to the Wall.
As cool as Mance’s background story is, a cog from Asshai crashing or washing up on the Frozen Shore north of the Wall doesn’t make any sense. I made a proposal earlier that he used the rubies as a glamour in the Harrenhal Tourney. Perhaps the red silk plays a part in that too.

The crown prince wore the armor he would die in: gleaming black plate with the three-headed dragon of his House wrought in rubies on the breast. A plume of scarlet silk streamed behind him when he rode, and it seemed no lance could touch him. Brandon fell to him, and Bronze Yohn Royce, and even the splendid Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.
-Eddard to Bran, AGOT

Here is what Melisandre says of glamours:

“The spell is made of shadow and suggestion. Men see what they expect to see. The bones are part of that.” Was I wrong to spare this one? “If the glamor fails, they will kill you.”
Melisandre, ADwD

We will come back to the part about Rhaegar/Mance joining and abandoning the Night’s Watch soon.

IV.            Our Knees do Not Bend Easily: The Tower of Joy

After the Battle of the Trident and with Robert wounded, Ned leads the armies to King’s Landing and Storm’s End, then takes a small detachment of his close friends to pursue Lyanna. He finds Lyanna under guard by three Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy near the Prince’s Pass in the Red Mountains of Dorne.

I looked for you on the Trident,” Ned said to them.
“We were not there,” Ser Gerold answered.
“Woe to the Usurper if we had been,” said Ser Oswell.
“When King's Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your king with a golden sword, and I wondered where you were.”
“Far away,” Ser Gerold said, “or Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells.”
“I came down on Storm's End to lift the siege,” Ned told them, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty. I was certain you would be among them.”
“Our knees do not bend easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne.
“Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with him.”
“Ser Willem is a good man and true,” said Ser Oswell.
“But not of the Kingsguard,” Ser Gerold pointed out. “The Kingsguard does not flee.”
“Then or now,” said Ser Arthur. He donned his helm.
“We swore a vow,” explained old Ser Gerold.
Ned’s wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”
-AGOT Chapter 39

I’d like to note Ser Arthur’s comment, ‘Our knees do not bend easily,’ as another important character says something similar later.

Here is my alternate theory on the skirmish at the Tower of Joy. The fight takes place with seven northmen against three Kingsguard; Lord Commander Gerold Hightower, Ser Oswell Whent, and Ser Arthur Dayne against the northmen; Ned Stark, Howland Reed and Lord Dustin, a Cassel, a Wull, a Glover, and a Ryswell.

We should assume the Kingsguard are as legendary that day as they should be, because why wouldn’t they be, and hold their own against the seven. As Jaime Lannister remembered he could, Arthur Dayne fights against several men, including Ned Stark, the best of the northern fighters, and Martyn Cassel, captain of Ned’s household guard. Howland Reed at first refuses to fight his brother-in-law, Ser Arthur, and abstains from the fighting, trying to calm hotter heads and propose a peace agreement. Lord Dustin and Mark Ryswell, family friend of the Dustins (Barbrey Ryswell had married Lord Dustin) take on the aging White Bull, Ser Gerold Hightower. Let’s say all three suffer injury and die of their wounds because I don’t have any leads on them from after this day. Theo Wull (Bucket), advanced in age and Ethan Glover, former squire of Ned’s brother Brandon and rusty from dwelling for months in the dungeons of King’s Landing since Brandon’s death, take on Ser Oswell who defeats them both. As the fighting settles and the odds turn in favor of the Kingsguard, Arthur presses the attack on Ned but Howland finally enters the fray in defense of his liege lord and severs the fingers of the Sword of the Morning’s fighting hand.

I learned from Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, who could have slain all five of you with his left hand while he was taking a piss with his right.
-Jaime to Kingsguard, ASOS chapter 67

Ser Arthur continues to fight with his left hand and Ned decides to yield. Thus Howland Reed saves Ned from Ser Arthur.

“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star. They called him the Sword of the Morning, and he would have killed me but for Howland Reed.”
-Ned Stark to Bran, ACOK chapter 21

The fighting subsides and the two remaining Kingsguard escort Ned to his dying sister’s bedside, where he first meets the infant Jon Snow. Lyanna makes Ned promise to care for the child, to keep him secret and safe. She dies with a smell of blood and roses in the air.

“Promise me, Ned.”
-AGOT, Ned chapter 48

So this story is only different from the original in that Ser Oswell and Ser Arthur survive instead of die. Since they were two of the best swordmen in the realm (albeit not much accreditation to Ser Oswell’s exploits, just that he was part of the most legendary Kingsguard of all time) and since there is a sliver of evidence which lets me think they lived, let’s say they lived and keep going with this.

The four remaining combatants, Ser Arthur, Ser Oswell, Ned and Howland, reach a settlement. Howland Reed and Ned resolve to return to Starfall, with the bones of Ser Arthur (which are actually those of Lord Dustin.. I say this because Lady Barbrey is mad that she never received Lord Dustin’s bones) and the sword Dawn, to lay the foundations of the lie of Ser Arthur’s death, claim Howland’s wife Ashara Dayne and their infant daughter Meera, who was conceived at the Tournament of Harrenhal, and return to Greywater Watch in the Neck. Ashara fakes her death with the legendary leap from the Palestone Tower and has been living in the Neck unseen since then. Nobody has seen Howland Reed but a handful of times since this day, and their castle has no maesters or ravens and apparently floats around, so Ashara living in secrecy seems plausible.

Ser Arthur agrees to take the black at the Shadow Tower under the name of Qhorin Halfhand, hoping to reunite with his liege, Prince Rhaegar, soon to be disguised as Mance Rayder. Remember my theory has Howland Reed chopping off some of his fingers while saving Ned, which is badass, but Qhorin’s story is that a wildling chopped of some of his fingers with an ax. Potato/Patato. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Qorgyle of Sandstone, friend of Winterfell and originally from a castle close to the Dayne’s Starfall, maybe helps with this ruse.

Ser Oswell, a good man and true, cannot agree to take the black and accuses Ser Arthur of doing the one thing the Kingsguard must not, giving up the safety of the only assuredly living king, Jon Snow. Ser Oswell instead adopts the name of Oswell Kettleblack to embrace his shame and flees to the Vale. He eventually joins the service of Petyr Baelish and his sons serve on Cercei’s Kingsguard and as bodyguards. Is this too much of a stretch?.. guy with the same first name who was on the Kingsguard himself, didn’t die, fled and had sons who through connections and some prowess get on the Kingsguard too. Maybe but I like it and the Kettleblacks are a little mysterious.

Here are the people involved at the Tower of Joy:

·       Eddard Stark – returns to Winterfell with infant Jon Snow
·       Howland Reed – returns to Greywater Watch with Ashara Dayne and infant Meera Reed
·       Ser Arthur Dayne – takes the Black as Qhorin Halfhand
·       Ser Oswell Whent – Fleas to the Vale as Oswell Kettleblack
·       Ser Gerold Hightower – Deceased or returns to the Hightower in Oldtown
·       Lord Willam Dustin - Deceased
·       Ethan Glover - Deceased
·       Martyn Cassel - Deceased
·       Theo Wull  - Deceased
·       Mark Ryswell – Deceased
·       Lyanna Stark - Deceased
·       Jon Snow – returns to Winterfell with Eddard Stark

V.             Shadows Are Friends to Men in Black: Joining the Night’s Watch

So now we have both Rhaegar and Arthur alive and with the purpose of taking the Black to defend the realm at the Wall. Rhaegar wants to do this to serve a great cause of battling the coming winter in the song of ice and fire. Arthur wants to serve his friend and king. Both were wounded in their battles. Both are well known, easily recognized characters so they would need fail-proof disguises and cover stories.

So yes, it’s convenient to the entire plot of the story for Rhaegar to still be alive and to continue his pursuit of prophecy and defense of the realm of men. He seemingly died at Robert’s hand on the Trident with hundreds of witnesses etc. but maybe glamours, maybe faked death, maybe carried away and was only wounded. Maybe it wasn’t Rhaegar but someone disguised in his famous armor like when Garlan Tyrell wore Renly’s famous green armor and antlered helm in the Battle of the Blackwater and hundreds believed it was Renly’s ghost. Remember people close to Rhaegar like Ser Jonathor Darry and Ser Richard Lonmouth also died in this battle with no attribution to their death. Maybe people were distracted because they were chasing his scattered rubies or getting the wounded Robert to safety. Sure GRRM said Rhaegar died and was cremated but he can’t very well say otherwise, and Rhaegar’s sister survived her little adventure into Drogo’s funeral pyre and was reborn as the Mother of Dragons. There are plenty of instances where those thought dead were actually not dead. I know, it’s a stretch but it’s possible, and if he didn’t die it would have to be kept secret and where better to start again fresh but as a man of the Night’s Watch, whose purpose is to defend the realms of men.

Rhaegar, now healed and disguised as Mance rendezvouses with Ser Arthur and proceeds to the Shadow Tower.  Mance takes the vows, stays awhile but eventually heads beyond-the-wall for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.

A reminder of what Rhaegar was like:

“What was he truly like?”
The old man considered a moment. “Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded.”
- Barristan and Dany, about Rhaegar, ASOS page 111

Let’s quickly recap.

The lords of the seven kingdoms want to get rid of the crazy king and put the younger prince into power instead. The prince thinks it’s a good idea for him to take power as regent, especially if it can be done peacefully but Aerys shows up at the tournament and derails the coup d’etat. Rhaegar, however, has always had bigger plans. He unmasks the Knight of the Laughing Tree and is surprised to discover a woman as fierce and brave as any man at the tournament. He keeps her identity secret but falls in love with her, naming her the Queen of Love and Beauty and later stealing her away in the tradition of wilding courtship. War ensues, one thing leads to another and Rhaegar realizes his duty to the realm might be better conducted away from the throne. He fakes his death at the Ruby Ford, sharing his plan to do so only with his trusted friend Ser Arthur Dayne and his second wife, Lyanna Stark, both of whom later tell Ned at the Tower of Joy, swearing him to secrecy and entrusting him with the prince that was promised, Jon Snow.

Rhaegar assumes the identity of Mance Rayder and Ser Arthur assumes the identity of his friend Qhorin Halfhand. Both join the Night’s Watch at the Shadow Tower and are known as capable rangers. Both Qhorin and Mance have back stories and people attest to their time on the wall, though nothing overly specific. Some trickery was needed to disguise them, place them and create background stories, but at least they are at the Shadow Tower which is the least exposed of all Night’s Watch castles.

If Mance is Rhaegar why doesn’t he look like Rhaegar? The series is rife with disguises (Mance as Abel, Varys as Rugen, etc.), glamours (Bloodraven as Maynard Plumm, Mance as Rattleshirt, Melisandre’s manipulation of ‘Lightbringer’), and identify theft (Jaqen H’gar as the Alchemist, Jaqen H’gar as Pate, Arya as whoever, the Faceless Men’s wall of faces). It seems that the Faceless Men can assume the identify of anyone with a similar body type by magically adhering the face of a corpse to their own face. If Rhaegar has access to this type of magic (there isn’t any evidence of this) anything is possible. Similar to this, Mance spends several months captive at the wall, disguised as Rattleshirt under glamour. Maybe we can add the title of Lord of Bones to Mance’s list of titles and as Melisandre tells Mance the bones remember perhaps there are some lingering memories that stay with the bones and impart the wearer, similar to the faces the Faceless Men use.

Here is a list of 28 main and minor characters in the series that either seemed to die and didn’t or assumed a disguise of some sort:

1.     Catelyn Stark – Lady Stoneheart (UnCat)
2.     Beric Dondarrion dies seven times (lanced by Gregor Clegane, maced by Burton Crakehall, hanged by Amory Lorch, stabbed by Gregor Clegane, arrowed by brave companions, sworded by Sandor Clegane, lifeforcedrained by Catelyn Tully)
3.     Patchface and Aeron Damphair – Drowned … ish
4.     Bran and Rickon were killed by Theon – except they weren’t
5.     Aegon Targaryen believed dead or Aegon Blackfyre in disguise as Young Griff
6.     Jon Connington believed dead in disguise as Griff
7.     Barristan Selmy – disguised as Arstan Whitebeard
8.     Arya is presumed dead but she’s no one (Cat of the Canals, Blind Beth, Nan, Weasel, Arry)
9.     Ramsay presumed dead disguised as Reek
10.  Theon becomes Reek
11.  Tyrion disguised as Hugor Hill
12.  Sansa disguised as Alayne Stone
13.  Maester Aemon is a Targaryen not really a disguise, just outlived everyone who knew
14.  Davos Seaworth dies at the hands of the Manderlys except he doesn’t
15.  Brienne of Tarth dies at the teeth of Biter, disguised as the hound, except she doesn’t
16.  Mance is burned except he isn’t cuz that was Rattleshirt disguised as Mance
17.  Mance disguised as Abel the singer
18.  Jeyne Poole disguised as Arya Stark
19.  Sarella Sand disguised as Arellas the Sphinx in the Citadel
20.  Jaqen H'gar (Faceless man/Alchemist) becomes Pate in the Citadel
21.  Varys disguised as Rugen the gaoler
22.  Aegon V Targaryen disguised as Egg the squire
23.  Bloodraven disguised as Maynard Plumm
24.  Daemon Blackfyre disguised as John the Fiddler
25.  Lyanna Stark disguised as the Knight of the Laughing Tree (probable theory)
26.  Gregor Clegane reanimated as Ser Robert Strong/Gregorstein (probable theory)
27.  Sandor Clegane disguised as the gravedigger on Quiet Isle (somewhat possible theory)
28.  Rolly Duckworth and Daario Naharis as Ned and Ben Stark (widely discredited theories)

Ok, so Rhaegar and Arthur do this secret identity stuff and serve for a time at the wall. During this time, Mance makes frequent trips to Winterfell, perhaps to counsel with Ned, perhaps to see his son Jon Snow, perhaps to visit the tomb of his dead wife, Lyanna, perhaps to continue investigating his greater calling of fighting the cold forces of evil. Why was Mance, a regular old Night’s Watchman from the Shadow Tower escorting Lord Qorgyle of Castle Black to Winterfell all the time? Weird.

You were just a boy, and I was all in black, one of a dozen riding escort to old Lord Commander Qorgyle when he came down to see your father at Winterfell. 
(Jon I, ASoS)

Recall the story of Bael the Bard, a wildling King-Beyond-the-Wall who stole away the only daughter of Lord Stark and fathered a son with her. Recall Rhaegar, a famous singer, stealing away Lyanna Stark and fathering a son on her. Recall finally Mance Rayder, disguised as Abel the bard, infiltrating Winterfell under control of Roose Bolton to save the fake Arya Stark. Bael the bard, Abel the bard, Mance Rayder the warrior bard, Rhaegar the warrior bard, Abel, able, Bael, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Glenn Beck word association!! Ok, moving on.

VI.            You don’t become King- beyond-the-Wall because your Father Was:  Army Muster

Rhaegar is now Mance. Eventually, Mance abandons the Night’s Watch to join the Free Folk north of the wall. He spends years rallying most of the wilding clans to his cause by besting their clan champions and joining them to his army. Apparently there were five other would-be kings-beyond-the-wall. Mance killed three while Tormund and the Magnar of Thenn joined his cause.

Mance had spent years assembling this vast plodding host, talking to this clan mother and that magnar, winning one village with sweet words and another with a song and a third with the edge of his sword, making peace between Harma Dogshead and the Lord o’ Bones, between the Hornfoots and the Nightrunners, between the walrus men of the Frozen Shore and the cannibal clans of the great ice rivers, hammering a hundred different daggers into one great spear, aimed at the heart of the Seven Kingdoms. He had no crown nor scepter, no robes of silk and velvet, but it was plain to Jon that Mance Rayder was a king in more than name.
(Jon II, ASoS)

I like the part about a hundred different daggers. It reminds me of the swords that make up the Iron Throne. After years of this, Mance becomes known as the King-Beyond-The-Wall with a massive, though undisciplined army. Knowing winter is coming, and knowing the Others are coming, his goal is to get the wildings south of the wall. Maybe for the same reason as Jon wants the wildlings south of the wall, because hundreds of thousands of dead wildlings will be reanimated as undead wights.

You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred.
Tormund to Jon, Jon XII, ADwD

“Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I’ve come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall.” 
Mance to Jon, ASoS, Jon X

Mance searches through old graves looking for the Horn of Winter and seemingly never finds it. Jon and Sam did once find a horn filled with dragonglass spears at the Fist of the First Men. The horn seemed broken and so Jon gave it to Sam and the horn is now with Mance’s son Aemon Steelsong on their way to Dany. More on that soon.

Mance finally attacks the Wall, is routed by Jon and more so by Stannis. Stannis would be Mance’s cousin but that’s probably not relevant here, although Stannis saw his father drown on a return trip from the free cities to look for a bride for Rhaegar under Aerys’ orders. Anyway, Mance is captured and his wife Dalla dies during the battle birthing his son. A quick side story:

Jon switched Gilly’s baby with Mance’s baby so that Melisandre can’t burn the baby for kingsblood and sends Gilly, Sam, the baby, and Maester Aemon off to Oldtown. Gilly and Sam discuss naming Mance’s baby Aemon Steelsong, a notably Targaryen name, after the maester. Let’s just call this a beautiful poetic coincidence. If Mance is Rhaegar, Dalla would be his third wife and Aemon Steelsong his third son. This would be his second wife to die in child birth, the other being Lyanna Stark. His first wife, Elia, almost died birthing Aegon and Rhaenys before that.

Sam and co. arrive in Oldtown. Sam says:

“Can Gilly stay aboard till I return?”
“Gilly can stay as long as she likes.” She poked Sam in the belly with a finger. “She does not eat so much as some.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

Sam the Slayer, gets off the boat and immediately meets Alleras the Sphinx and Marwyn the Mage who hears Sam’s story and immediately leaves. Sam asks Marwyn what he’s going to do:

“Get myself to Slaver’s Bay, in Aemon’s place. The swan ship that delivered Slayer should serve my needs well enough. The grey sheep will send their man on a galley, I don’t doubt. With fair winds I should reach her first.”
“Sphinx, look after this one.”
“I will,” Alleras answered, but the archmaester was already gone. They heard his boots stomping down the steps.
“Where has he gone?” asked Sam, bewildered.
“To the docks. The Mage is not a man who believes in wasting time.”
(Samwell V, AFfC)

So Mance’s baby, Aemon Steelsong, may accidently be headed for Daenarys aboard the Cinnamon Wind with Marwyn. Dany would be Aemon’s aunt. Let’s get back to the original theory and cite a few more pieces of speculation.

VII.          The Halfhand of the King

If we could prove that Qhorin Halfhand was Ser Arthur Dayne it would lend a lot more credence to Mance being Rhaegar. Sadly, there isn’t much direct evidence but it is fun to reread thinking it could be true.

When Jon and Qhorin first meet:

The ranger gave his horse into the care of one of his men and followed. “You are Jon Snow. You have your father’s look.”
(Jon V, ACoK)

Jon is never described as looking like Ned Stark, though he is mentioned as looking like Arya who is described as looking Lyanna. I believe Robb, Sansa and Bran are noted more for their Tully features. Qhorin as Arthur would know Jon’s father, Mance/Rhaegar but this proves nothing for Qhorin maybe just knows the ‘Stark look’.. Mance later says:

The singer rose to his feet. “I’m Mance Rayder,” he said as he put aside the lute. “And you are Ned Stark’s bastard, the Snow of Winterfell.”
Stunned, Jon stood speechless for a moment, before he recovered enough to say, “How... how could you know...”
(Jon I, ASoS)

Note he did not say Ned Stark’s son or bastard son. These comments are interesting because both Qhorin and Mance recognize Jon on site. However, Mance has secretly seen Jon Snow multiple times in Winterfell, including when Robert came to ask Ned to be Hand:

 I took a lute and a bag of silver, scaled the ice near Long Barrow, walked a few leagues south of the New Gift, and bought a horse. All in all I made much better time than Robert, who was traveling with a ponderous great wheelhouse to keep his queen in comfort. A day south of Winterfell I came up on him and fell in with his company. Freeriders and hedge knights are always attaching themselves to royal processions, in hopes of finding service with the king, and my lute gained me easy acceptance.” He laughed. “I know every bawdy song that’s ever been made, north or south of the Wall. So there you are. The night your father feasted Robert, I sat in the back of his hall on a bench with the other freeriders, listening to Orland of Oldtown play the high harp and sing of dead kings beneath the sea. I betook of your lord father’s meat and mead, had a look at Kingslayer and Imp... and made passing note of Lord Eddard’s children and the wolf pups that ran at their heels.”

Here it seems that Mance does refer to Ned as Jon’s lord father, but also distinguishes that from Lord Eddard’s children, no longer referring to Jon. Not sure what to make of this.

Here is a recount of Qhorin and Jon on Jon’s first ranging. The next few quotations are pretty long but they have some deep stuff and I’ve highlighted some noteworthy parts:

Ghost padded restlessly by Jon's side. From time to time he would stop and turn, his ears pricked,
as if he heard something behind them. Jon did not think the shadowcats would attack living men, not unless they were starving, but he loosened Longclaw in its scabbard even so.
A wind-carved arch of grey stone marked the highest point of the pass. Here the way broadened as it began its long descent toward the valley of the Milkwater. Qhorin decreed that they would rest here until the shadows began to grow again. "Shadows are friends to men in black," he said.
Jon saw the sense of that. It would be pleasant to ride in the light for a time, to let the bright mountain sun soak through their cloaks and chase the chill from their bones, but they dared not. Where there were three watchers there might be others, waiting to sound the alarm.
Stonesnake curled up under his ragged fur cloak and was asleep almost at once. Jon shared his salt beef with Ghost while Ebben and Squire Dalbridge fed the horses. Qhorin Halfhand sat with his back to a rock, honing the edge of his longsword with long slow strokes. Jon watched the ranger for a few moments, then summoned his courage and went to him. "My lord," he said, "you never asked me how it went. With the girl."
"I am no lord, Jon Snow." Qhorin slid the stone smoothly along the steel with his two-fingered hand.
"She told me Mance would take me, if I ran with her."
"She told you true."
"She even claimed we were kin.
She told me a story . . . "
" . . . of Bael the Bard and the rose of Winterfell. So Stonesnake told me. It happens I know the song. Mance would sing it of old, when he came back from a ranging. He had a passion for wildling music. Aye, and for their women as well."
"You knew him?"
"We all knew him." His voice was sad.
They were friends as well as brothers, Jon realized, and now they are sworn foes. "Why did he desert?"
"For a wench, some say. For a crown, others would have it." Qhorin tested the edge of his sword with the ball of his thumb. "He liked women, Mance did, and he was not a man whose knees bent easily, that's true. But it was more than that. He loved the wild better than the Wall. It was in his blood. He was wildling born, taken as a child when some raiders were put to the sword. When he left the Shadow Tower he was only going home again."
"Was he a good ranger?"
"He was the best of us," said the Halfhand, "and the worst as well. Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we are, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline. They name themselves the free folk, and each one thinks himself as good as a king and wiser than a maester. Mance was the same. He never learned how to obey."
"No more than me," said Jon quietly.
Qhorin's shrewd grey eyes seemed to see right through him. "So you let her go?" He did not sound the least surprised.
"I did not command it. I told you to do what needed to be done, and left you to decide what that would be." Qhorin stood and slid his longsword back into its scabbard. "When I want a mountain scaled, I call on Stonesnake. Should I need to put an arrow through the eye of some foe across a windy battlefield, I summon Squire Dalbridge. Ebben can make any man give up his secrets. To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow. I know more of you now than I did this morning."
"And if I had slain her?" asked Jon.
"She would be dead, and I would know you better than I had before. But enough talk. You ought be sleeping. We have leagues to go, and dangers to face. You will need your strength."
 (Jon VII, ACoK)

This passage points out how well Qhorin knew Mance, and how highly he thought of him. His comment about Mance’s knees not bending easily echoes Ser Arthur Dayne’s comment to Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy that the knees of the Kingsguard do not bend so easily. Qhorin shrewdly seeing through Jon may indicate Qhorin taking a deeper look at the important character that is Jon Snow, sizing him up. The comment about leading men by knowing them first would echo Rhaegar leading the wildings by becoming one of them as Mance.

It seems that the wildlings will only accept Jon Snow’s defection of the Watch under certain conditions. Here is how Qhorin charges him:

“We may escape them yet,” the ranger said. “Or not.”
“I’m not afraid to die.” It was only half a lie.
“It may not be so easy as that, Jon.”
He did not understand. “What do you mean?”
“If we are taken, you must yield.”
“Yield?” He blinked in disbelief. The wildlings did not make captives of the men they called the crows. They killed them, except for . . . “They only spare oathbreakers. Those who join them, like Mance Rayder.”
“And you.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Never. I won’t.”
“You will. I command it of you.”
“Command it? But . . .”
Our honor means no more than our lives, so long as the realm is safe. Are you a man of the Night’s Watch?”
“Yes, but—”
“There is no but, Jon Snow. You are, or you are not.”
Jon sat up straight. “I am.”
“Then hear me. If we are taken, you will go over to them, as the wildling girl you captured once urged you. They may demand that you cut your cloak to ribbons, that you swear them an oath on your father’s grave, that you curse your brothers and your Lord Commander. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. Do as they bid you . . . but in your heart, remember who and what you are. Ride with them, eat with them, fight with them, for as long as it takes. And watch.”
“For what?” Jon asked.
“Would that I knew,” said Qhorin. “Your wolf saw their diggings in the valley of the Milkwater. What did they seek, in such a bleak and distant place? Did they find it? That is what you must learn, before you return to Lord Mormont and your brothers. That is the duty I lay on you, Jon Snow.”

There is a little cited story of one of Qhorin’s exploits. Apparently, he spent a year alone in the Skirlling Pass on a ranging, his company all dead, and survived to return to the Shadow Tower. I’ll have to look harder for this quote. I would surmise that he used that time to meet for a final time with Mance, who was gathering an army in the Frostfangs beyond the Skirlling Pass, and make plans for the reunion of Jon Snow and Rhaegar as Mance. Until I find the quote, forget that. Anyway, here is Qhorin’s demise:

The big spearwife narrowed her eyes and said, “If the crow would join the free folk, let him show us his prowess and prove the truth of him.”
“I’ll do whatever you ask.” The words came hard, but Jon said them.
Rattleshirt’s bone armor clattered loudly as he laughed. “Then kill the Halfhand, bastard.”
“As if he could,” said Qhorin. “Turn, Snow, and die.”
And then Qhorin’s sword was coming at him and somehow Longclaw leapt upward to block. The force of impact almost knocked the bastard blade from Jon’s hand, and sent him staggering backward. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you.
Even when Ghost's teeth closed savagely around the ranger's calf, somehow Qhorin kept his feet. But in that instant, as he twisted, the opening was there. Jon planted and pivoted. The ranger was leaning away, and for an instant it seemed that Jon's slash had not touched him. Then a string of red tears appeared across the big man's throat, bright as a ruby necklace, and the blood gushed out of him, and Qhorin Halfhand fell.
He knew, he thought numbly. He knew what they would ask of me.
AKOK, Jon chapter 68

Interesting about the ruby reference but no matter. If Qhorin Halfhand is Ser Arthur Dayne then it seems like a dull ending for the infamous Sword of the Morning. Even a bywatcher of the fight comments:

Ragwyle laughed. "Who would have thought it? Qhorin Halfhand slain by some lordling's byblow."
AKOK, Jon chapter 68

However, perhaps this was always Ser Arthur’s purpose. It would be a bittersweet irony if Qhorin/Arthur, of the Kingsguard and Night’s Watch, died defending the Targaryen prince Jon Snow, as he was first thought to have done at the Tower of Joy. At least he died with steel in his hand, serving and protecting his king’s son.

We can only die. Why else do we don these black cloaks, but to die in defense of the realm?
Qhorin to Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, AKOK, Jon chapter 43

VIII.         Sister and Sons

I’m going to wrap up with some conjectures about the future of the story and where I think things are headed.

Let’s look at the uncertain statuses of Rhaegar’s sister and sons after A Dance With Dragons. We last found Daenarys in a feverish stupor on the Dothraki Sea. She and Drogon seem to be bonding as they encountered the horde of Khal Jhoqo. As the Dothraki value an indisputable champion and renowned rider, it would seem that the once and future Khalessi is about to command a powerful khalasar. Her eastern seat of power, Meereen, is in absolute disarray with the united slaver armies besieging the city, the Son’s of the Harpy staging an insurgency while a plague ravages the city from within, and the Iron Fleet under Victarion Greyjoy recently invading the shores of Slaver’s Bay. There are also two full grown, rider-less dragons on the loose. Dany’s long stated goal is to take the Iron Throne, however, she has had quite a journey building the army she plans to retake Westeros with and may be surprised to learn that her brother and several nephews are alive and well… ish. It is fitting that the Battle of Ice between Stannis and Winterfell and the Battle of Fire at Meereen are taking place at the same time. I’d imagine the showy but impractical slaver armies will wither under dragon fire and Ser Barristan’s bold leadership. We can also assume that Victarion will help fight Dany’s enemies at least until he can attempt to claim her and/or her dragons. Since the dragons are the best possible weapon against The Others, the sooner the dragons can get to the Wall under competent selfless riders, the better for the Realm.

As mentioned before, Mance’s baby Aemon Steelsong may be aboard the Cinnamon Wind with Gilly and Marwyn the Mage (and the strange horn from the Fist of the First Men that Jon gave Sam as a drinking horn) bound for Dany and Meereen. Somehow Marwyn, this secret Targaryen baby and this probably important dragon horn are going to come into Daenarys periphery. A weird irony is that the wisewoman who made Dany miscarry and turned Drogo into a zombie learned her magic from Marwyn, and now Marwyn is heading to Dany with her baby nephew. Don’t forget, Victarion has a magical horn as well and plans to harness a dragon with it. We will see how that goes. As for Aemon, I think he will end up in Dany’s care somehow and she will treat him as her own, although he is actually her nephew.

Moving on to Aegon VI, there is much speculation that he is not who he claims to be, whether he knows this or not, and is secretly a Blackfyre. He was raised under a carefully scripted upbringing by Illyrio and Varys to be the best possible leader a kingdom could ask for. He was sent to rendezvous with Dany but after some conversation with Tyrion Lannister, he changed his plans and brought the Golden Company to the stormlands and somehow captured Storm’s End. His reason for doing so was to have something to offer Daenarys in a marriage proposal besides just his name. I am of the opinion that Aegon is not a fake and that his story is true. If this is so, it would seem that Varys is a long standing agent for Rhaegar. After all, Varys claims to have saved Aegon from the Lannister army during the Sack of King’s Landing. All things considered, it might have been Rhaegar’s desire for his father to attend the Tournament of Harrenhal and prevent himself from being ushered to the Iron Throne, setting up instead for the story that played out. Varys was the one who whispered for Aerys to attend that tournament. Varys also did his best to secure Ned Stark a path to join the Night’s Watch after his arrest for treason. Perhaps Aegon will marry Arianne Martell to keep Dorne in the fold, as Aegon’s father once did, though this may be unnecessary as he is half Dornish already. There is definitely the chance that Aegon and Daenarys will collide against each other like the Targaryens did in the Dance of the Dragons or the Blackfyre rebellions. They both seem to have serious resolve and seem set on their own entitlements, but with winter arriving, external pressures may bring them together. Let us return to the second son of Rhaegar and the true purpose for all these promised princes.

Lord Commander Jon Snow was murdered on the Wall, Julius Caesar style, by his fellow brothers. If everything in my theory so far is true, his death is hardly final. Like his father Rhaegar and his half-brother Aegon VI, death may only be a symbolic rebirth for a greater purpose. Death may free Jon Snow from his oaths as a brother of the Night’s Watch. Though it seems Mance is currently captured by Ramsay in Winterfell, this plays a part in convincing Jon Snow to act rashly and draw the ire of his garrison. A reunion seems to be in the offing.

For the entire series, winter has been coming but in the epilogue of A Dance With Dragons, the white raven brings word that winter has come. Varys returns to King’s Landing to remove the competent leadership perhaps with the assistance of or in tandem with Baelish and/or the Kettleblacks, Aegon has taken Storm’s End as Orys Baratheon once did for Aegon the Conqueror, Daenarys finally has control of a dragon and Jon Snow may soon learn that Mance is Rhaegar, that Rhaegar is his father and that they are Azor Ahai and the Prince that Was Promised, who will need to rally the Seven Kingdoms to their cause in the Battle for the Dawn.

Alternatively, Aegon may be a fake, Varys may be evil and Daenarys may instead battle them or stay in Meereen. I hope not, Aegon seems legit even though he was introduced super late in the books. IDK.

IX.            Conclusions

So, if Mance is Rhaegar then Rhaegar is still alive. If Rhaegar is still alive, he is the rightful ruler as King of the Seven Kingdoms, Lord of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men. He is also King-Beyond-the-Wall. He also might be prisoner to Ramsay in a cold cage in Winterfell for all the north to see but this sets up nicely for the great reveal.

If Aegon is really Aegon VI, he is the heir to the throne and the Prince of Dragonstone. He also solidifies Rhaegar’s marriage to Dorne.

If Rhaegar actually married Lyanna, then Jon Snow is legitimized as Jon Targaryen and second in line after Aegon. Jon solidifies Rhaegar’s marriage to the North.

Aemon Steelsong is a legitimate son of Mance Rayder, who was married to Dalla, so Aemon Steelsong would be third in line to the throne. This would solidify Rhaegar’s marriage to the lands beyond-the-wall.

Baby Aemon might soon be in the possession of his aunt, Daenarys, who has no claim to the throne by the laws of male heredity but the Targaryens are known for marrying their siblings and cousins so she might marry Rhaegar, Aegon, Jon or Aemon.

Rhaegar as Mance as Rattleshirt beat Jon Snow in a sword fight so let’s say he is the best swordsman of this group and that he ends up with his old buddy Ser Arthur’s legendary sword Dawn, which seems to make sense as Lightbringer since it was forged from a meteor from outer space thousands of years ago and is called Dawn which is when the light of day is brought to the dark of night. That makes Rhaegar/Mance into Azor Ahai.

Since Dany has a dreamprophecy where Rhaegar named Aegon the prince that was promised it seems to make sense that Aegon is TPTWP. However, Jon Snow is a better fit for having a song of ice and fire, since his mother was ice and his father was fire. Baby Aemon is also a good fit for ice and fire since Mance is fire and Dalla is ice. Dany fits the born amidst smoke and salt bit.

Maybe Dany can rally the eastern cities, the free cities and the Ironborne through Victarion who brings the Iron Islands and by Euron’s conquest, Highgarden, Oldtown and the Reach, Aegon can bring Dorne, Aegon and/or Stannis the Stormlands, Jaime the Westerlands, Rickon the North, Sansa the Vale and Riverlands, Mance the wildlings, Bran the Old Gods and Arya the full fury of a thousand wolves.

We could just say they are all promised princes and princesses and they will all be part of the greater song when the full forces of ice clash with the full forces of fire. As for me, I’m rooting for Rhaegar.

A parting thought:

I think Mance’s name, which seems to reference no other character or plot device, simply means home. A manse is a home. Home for Mance would be Summerhall, so his adopted name would constantly remind Rhaegar of summer.

And yet Summerhall was the place the prince loved best. He would go there from time to time, with only his harp for company.
-ASOS, pg. 486

I hope you enjoyed this, thanks for reading. Here’s a famous wildling song which I like to think Mance wrote one time to give himself strength on his long lonely mission. Of course there is no evidence for this. J

Ooooooh, I am the last of the giants,
my people are gone from the earth.
The last of the great mountain giants,
who ruled all the world at my birth.
Oh the smallfolk have stolen my forests,
they’ve stolen my rivers and hills.
And the’ve built a great wall through my valleys,
and fished all the fish from my rills.
In stone halls they burn their great fires,
in stone halls they forge their sharp spears.
Whilst I walk alone in the mountains,
with no true companion but tears.
They hunt me with dogs in the daylight,
they hunt me with torches by night.
For these men who are small can never stand tall,
whilst giants still walk in the light.
Oooooooh, I am the LAST of the giants,
so learn well the words of my song.
For when I am gone the singing will fade,
and the silence shall last long and long