The possibly true story of the abduction of Lyanna Stark
Spoilers for The World of Ice and Fire
In one branch of Arthurian legend, Queen Gwenhwyfar is sentenced to death for a crime against the king (adultery in the legend– but most significantly, a crime against the crown) The Queen was sentenced to burn, but Sir Lancelot arrived at the last minute and carried her away to safety at his castle, called Joyous Gard. If we consider the parallels between Rhaegar and Lancelot, and that Joyous Gard is very similar to tower of joy, then the pieces click. A king, a crime, punishment by fire and a rescue by a knight. So, what if the famous kidnapping was really a rescue? What if Rhaegar intercepted Lyanna as she was about to be seized by royal soldiers?
Among fans some believe that Rhaegar did kidnap Lyanna Stark, absconding with her perhaps to fulfill a prophecy. Others think Lyanna may have gone willingly to escape her proposed marriage to Robert. There isn’t a huge consensus on whether Rhaegar was a villain or a hero here, in fact just the opposite. GRRM has indicated that more information will come out about the circumstances of this supposed kidnapping.
One thing that seems clear is that the seeds of the event seem to have been sown at the Tourney of Harrenhal. If we take as fact that Lyanna Stark was the Knight of the Laughing Tree, what we’ve recently learned from The World of Ice and Fire becomes quite significant:
King Aerys II was not a man to take any joy in mysteries, however. His Grace became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him […] he commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resumed the next morning, so that he might be unmasked and his perfidy exposed for all to see. But the mystery knight vanished during the night, never to be seen again. This too the king took ill, certain that someone close to him had given warning to “this traitor who will not show his face.”
Given his evident paranoia, it seems very unlikely in the wake of the Tourney of Harrenhal that the Mad King would let go of his paranoia over the KotLT. Significantly, we are told by Jaime that Aerys’ favourite method of punishment was burning: “the King’s Justice” in the reign of Aerys II was fire. Since we’ve speculated that Rhaegar unmasked Lyanna, honouring her as QoLaB in a subtle nod to the courage and chivalry she showed standing up for Howland, it’s possible he thought he was protecting her from his father. But what if it wasn’t so subtle? As TWoIaF tells us:
…when the triumphant Prince of Dragonstone named Lyanna Stark, daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, the queen of love and beauty, placing a garland of blue roses in her lap with the tip of his lance, the lickspittle lords gathered around the king declared that further proof of his perfidy… [it] could only have been meant to win the allegiance of Winterfell to Prince Rhaegar’s cause, Symond Staunton suggested to the king.
What if Aerys was able to put all the pieces together? Or what if someone told him?
“Someone told…. Someone always tells.” -Areo Hotah, AFfC
Surely we can take a hint from Hotah’s words to Arianne Martell. If we assume for a moment that the Mad King did discover the identity of the KotLT, what would he do? Isn’t it likely that he would want to bring her to “justice”?
If Rhaegar had word from King’s Landing that his father intended to seize the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, this could explain the suddenness of Rhaegar’s actions. The commonly accepted timeline, supported by information from TWoIaF, is that the “kidnapping” occurred shortly after Prince Aegon’s birth. We might also have an explanation of why Lord Rickard doesn’t appear to have demanded his daughter back when he arrived in King’s Landing. He may have been notified by Rhaegar and at that point was trying to prevent hostilities from breaking out and mitigate the actions of his eldest son, who apparently stormed into the Red Keep calling for Rhaegar to “come out and die.” If we assume Rhaegar didn’t have time to alert all of the Starks, we get a possible explanation for Brandon’s rash response as well.
It’s plain that Rhaegar would have known full well that such actions by his father could mean open war in the Seven Kingdoms. The obvious plotting and factions alluded to in TWoIaF would have made the political situation in Westeros a powder keg. When Rhaegar said to Jaime ahead of the Battle of the Trident: “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but… it does no good to speak of roads not taken” he may have been tacitly admitting that had lost control of the reins of the plot, but would take them up in earnest again once he won the battle to come. In other words, Rhaegar may have been trying to stop his father’s downward spiral, spirit the girl to safety in secret and then deal with his father by calling a Great Council, but was unprepared for the violence of the reactions of both his father and the rebellious lords.
Most importantly, he might not have reckoned with Brandon Stark’s actions. By the time Rhaegar got Lyanna to safety and had time to hear the news from King’s Landing, it may have been too late. Brandon and Rickard could have been dead and his father calling for Ned’s and Robert’s heads. Aerys could have been furious with his son and his Kingsguards as well.
We learned something new about the actual “kidnapping” in TWoIaF:
With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands, not ten leagues from Harrenhal . . . where Rhaegar would once again come face-to-face with Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and with her light a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.
Based on information from the books, it seems possible that Lyanna was on her way to Riverrun for her brother’s upcoming wedding. Lord Rickard appears to have been en route from Winterfell south, and Brandon had left Riverrun on “an errand” which may have been to meet his sister and return with her to the Tully home. Lyanna may well have been staying at Harrenhal, as many have suggested, and given the distance mentioned in TWoIaF we can consider a few possibilities as the fateful meeting place. The Isle of Faces, another locale that some speculate may have significance to the RLJ narrative, lies well within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. So too does any amount of “open road” or countryside. And while we can’t rule those possibilities out, I wonder about the Inn at the Crossroads.
Given the very rough scale of the published maps, at times conflicting descriptions from the text, and GRRM’s statement that “I did leave the scale out of the map on purpose… I didn’t want to get bogged down in that type of detail” (source) the Inn at the Crossroads seems close enough to Harrenhal to be considered within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. The crossroads is a symbol of choices, meetings and fateful decisions. And interestingly enough the Inn at the Crossroads is the site of another high profile kidnapping– Cat’s seizure of Tyrion. That fateful decision also led to open hostilities in Westeros, and in that case we had the onlookers in the Inn who rushed to tell the family of the kidnap victim what had happened. This could be the explanation for Brandon’s headlong rush to King’s Landing– hearing a story from witnesses of knights with swords seizing his sister and making off with her. It could have looked like a kidnapping, especially if we consider the possibility that Aerys’ soldiers were also present and there was confusion and some kind of fight. In fact, given that we now know that Rhaegar had six companions when he went into the Riverlands, but only Dayne and Whent disappeared into the South with him and Lyanna, it’s possible that Brandon actually pursued the wrong group of four back to King’s Landing. I’d suggest Ser Myles Mooton and Ser Richard Lonmouth as two of the six, since they are mentioned on more than one occasion as close companions of Rhaegar. Based upon their identification in TWoIaF as Rhaegar’s supporters, could Prince Lewyn Martell and Lord Jon Connington have been the other two? Aerys ultimately proved a lack of trust in both, which could have been cemented by their possible involvement with the situation.
There’s also the wording of that passage– coming “face-to-face” with someone and lighting a fire “with her” need not indicate an unwilling captor. In fact, there’s a good chance it indicates complicity. If Lyanna was being rescued from arrest by royal soldiers (think Gold Cloaks scouring the Riverlands for Gendry in ACoK) she probably would have gone willingly.
Taken altogether, the slim facts that we are given, combined with textual parallels and meta textual allusions, it seems a compelling possibility that Rhaegar rescued Lyanna from the the King’s Justice at the Inn at the Crossroads.
As discussed on Radio Westeros E05 RLJ – A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose