Defiance of Duskendale

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The aftermath of the Defiance of Duskendale - by Marc Simonetti ©

The Defiance of Duskendale, which took place in 277 AC, was a landmark event during the reign of King Aerys II Targaryen. The Defiance began when the Lord of Duskendale refused to pay taxes, demanding a new town charter and certain rights for citizens and ended with the extirpation of one noble family and a severe rift between the king and his Hand of the King, Lord Tywin Lannister.


Duskendale, which had once been an important port on Blackwater Bay and a seat of kings, had seen its wealth shrink and trade dwindle due to the growth of King's Landing, nearby. Denys Darklyn, Lord of Duskendale, wished to halt this decline. He desired to win a charter for Duskendale, similar as Dorne had received nearly a century before. Lord Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King, however, firmly rejected the proposal. Lord Denys was infuriated at Tywin's refusal, and devised a new plan, which would eventually have severe consequences. Some say Lord Denys had been driven by the influence of his Myrish wife, Lady Serala.[1]

The Defiance of Duskendale

The Defiance began in 277 AC when Lord Denys ceased to pay his taxes,[1] to demonstrate his anger.[2] Aware of the strained relationship between King Aerys II Targaryen and Lord Tywin, he instead invited Aerys to come to Duskendale to hear his petition. When Tywin advised him not to go, Aerys, who wished to distance himself from his Hand, decided to deal with the problem personally. Aerys travelled to Duskendale with a small escort led by only one Kingsguard knight, Ser Gwayne Gaunt, to bring the defiant Lord Darklyn to heel. Upon arrival, however, the king was imprisoned. Some of the king's escort were killed defending their king, including Ser Gwayne, who was slain by Denys's master-at-arms, Ser Symon Hollard.[1][3] Aerys was shoved roughly, stripped of his royal raiment, and even struck.[1] Young Robin Hollard, a squire, pulled the king's beard.[3]

Lord Denys refused to give up the king, and threatened that he would kill Aerys at the first sign of an assault. As Lord Tywin Lannister could not attack Duskendale, he besieged it with a sizable host.[3][1]

The Defiance lasted half a year.[1][3] Lord Denys remained convinced that it was a matter of time until Tywin would offer better terms. However, Tywin gave Duskendale a final demand to surrender the king, promising that refusal would result in the loyalists storming the town, and executing everyone inside.[1]

The Defiance was eventually ended when Ser Barristan Selmy offered to perform a solo rescue mission. Lord Tywin gave him a day before he would storm the castle. Barristan scaled the walls unseen at night, making his way into the Dun Fort disguised as a hooded beggar, before scaling those walls as well. He freed King Aerys out of the dungeons, and while bringing the king to safety, avenged his sworn brother, Ser Gwayne Gaunt, by slaying his killer, Ser Symon Hollard. Before the castle's gates could be closed, Ser Barristan had managed to get a horse and brought the king to safety, despite an arrow wound to the chest.[1][4] Without a hostage, Lord Denys surrendered.[1]


King Aerys's vengeance was terrible. Though Lord Denys begged for mercy, the king demanded the deaths of Denys and his immediate family, as well as his uncles, aunts, and distant kinsmen living in Duskendale. House Hollard, Lord Denys's goodkin, were attainted and executed as well. Ser Jon Hollard, who had been married to Lord Denys's sister, died together with his wife and young son. Robin Hollard, the squire who had pulled Aerys's beard when he had first been seized, died upon the rack. The only exception was young Dontos Hollard, whose life was spared when Ser Barristan Selmy requested it. Aerys, unable to refuse the man who had saved his life, granted this boon. Lord Denys's wife, Lady Serala, had her tongue and womanly parts torn out, after which she was burned alive. As cruel as her death was, her enemies believe she should have suffered worse.[1][3]

The lands and incomes of Duskendale were granted to House Rykker, while the lands of House Hollard were taken away, their villages burned, and their castle torn down.[3]

Despite what happened, the people of Duskendale still love Lord Denys. They blame his foreign wife, and half of them still feel that the punishment Aerys gave her was too kind by half.[3]

Following his half year of captivity at Duskendale, Aerys II Targaryen was forever a changed man. It is believed by some that it was the Defiance which caused the king's madness.[3] Barristan Selmy, however, claims that it had always been in him, with the lapses of madness growing more frequent over time,[5] and it is considered that the Defiance shattered what little sanity Aerys had left.[1] His madness grew significantly worse in the years that followed. He would no longer allow others to touch him, and as a result, his hair and fingernails grew longer and longer. No blades were allowed near him, except for the swords of his Kingsguard, and his judgements became more severe and crueler. From the end of the Defiance in 277 AC, until the tourney at Harrenhal in 281 AC, Aerys refused to leave the Red Keep.[1][6]

Furthermore, his experience at Duskendale had convinced Aerys that his son and heir, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, had conspired with Tywin to have Aerys killed during the Defiance by storming the walls, which would have allowed for Rhaegar to ascend the Iron Throne and marry Lord Tywin's daughter. Aerys grew mistrustful of Tywin as a consequence, going as far as to refuse to meet with Tywin without the presence of all his Kingsguard knights. Relations with his son became more strained, and the king began to mistrust everyone, from the smallfolk to his own wife, Queen Rhaella Targaryen.[1]

Recent Events

A Feast for Crows

The story of the Defiance of Duskendale is recounted to Brienne of Tarth when she travels to Duskendale in search of Sansa Stark.[3]

A Dance with Dragons

Now in Meereen, hoping with a heavy heart for Queen Daenerys Targaryen's return, Ser Barristan Selmy reflects on how many kings he has known. He remembers that he stood in his white cloak beside the Iron Throne as madness consumed Jaehaerys II's son Aerys, and tells himself that he did his duty and kept his vows. However, he admits that some nights, he wonders whether he had done that duty too well. As Aerys's Kingsguard, he had seen things that pained him to recall. More than once he has wondered how much of the blood was on his own hands. Ser Barristan thinks that if he had not gone into Duskendale to rescue Aerys from Lord Darklyn's dungeons, the king might well have died there as Tywin Lannister sacked the town. Prince Rhaegar's ascension might have been for the better. These thoughts leave the memory of Duskendale bitter to Ser Barristan.[6]


Duskendale had been his finest hour, yet the memory tasted bitter on his tongue.[6]

Barristan Selmy