Warning: Massive spoilers ahead for those who haven't read A Dance With Dragons. Don't proceed if you do not wish to be spoiled.

In A Dance With Dragons Epilogue, we see the following conversation between Kevan Lannister and Varys:

"Aegon?" For a moment he did not understand. Then he remembered. A babe swaddled in a crimson cloak, the cloth stained with his blood and brains.

"Dead. He's dead."

"No." The eunuch's voice seemed deeper. "He is here."

Before that, Aegon explains to Tyrion how he escaped King's Landing:

“A true friend, our Lord Connington. He must be, to remain so fiercely loyal to the grandson of the king who took his lands and titles and sent him into exile. A pity about that. Elsewise Prince Rhaegar’s friend might have been on hand when my father sacked King’s Landing, to save Prince Rhaegar’s precious little son from getting his royal brains dashed out against a wall.”

The lad flushed. “That was not me. I told you. That was some tanner’s son from Pisswater Bend whose mother died birthing him. His father sold him to Lord Varys for a jug of Arbor gold. He had other sons but had never tasted Arbor gold. Varys gave the Pisswater boy to my lady mother and carried me away.”

“Aye.” Tyrion moved his elephants. “And when the pisswater prince was safely dead, the eunuch smuggled you across the narrow sea to his fat friend the cheesemonger, who hid you on a poleboat and found an exile lord willing to call himself your father. It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape once you take the Iron Throne … assuming that our fair Daenerys takes you for her consort.”

Of course it makes a splendid story but then the question arises, Why couldn't Varys save Rhaenys as well?

Rhaenys was important because:

  1. She was Aegon's heir if any mishap was to befall their uncle Viserys (Targaryens prefer male succession in aftermath of Dance of Dragons. See succession of King Viserys II despite claims of sisters of King Baelor).
  2. She was potential bride for Aegon.

But yet, she was left to her fate, apparently while her younger brother was saved.

Finding a silver-haired babe is no small deed. Sure there are bound to be silver-haired bastards sired by Lyseni Sailors on Whores of King's Landing (Yet this boy was supposedly sold by his father, not mother) but Rhaenys had common hair and looks and would have been easier to be replaced with a body double as compared to the typical Targaryen Princeling Aegon. Yet there was no effort at all.

Princess Elia was with "fake" Aegon when Gregor Clegane broke into her room. So if Varys' story is correct, She must have been taken into confidence by the eunuch. How on earth did Varys manage to make a mother agree to leaving her one child to beasts like Amory Lorch while saving the other? It is clear nevertheless, Varys never made any substantial effort to save the princess as well, if he made any efforts at all.

How does Varys explain that? Does he ever?1 Because I don't remember anything like Varys talking about Princess Rhaenys except the little speech he gave to Eddard Stark regarding her murder and her kitten. Then of course there are other indicators, suggesting that Varys may have been lying altogether (Linked post contains similar level of spoilers).

It is just very disconcerting that no one, be it Tyrion, Jon Connington or Aegon himself raises this question that why couldn't Rhaenys be saved as well?

1. If he doesn't, We Do not Know yet is a perfectly valid answer until we do.

  • 3
    Nothing in canon, but I'm strongly of the opinion that "the mummer's dragon" (Aegon) is a red herring. I think he was set up after the fact and is actually the kid from Pisswater, or in some other way not the true Aegon. There's no way to actually prove the truth in either case, all they need is a convincing story and enough victories to back it up.
    – Paul
    Aug 22, 2016 at 11:15
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    Aegon is the easier story to sell. As you point out, silver hair, while not unheard of outside the Targs, is uncommon enough that most folks will be at least partially swayed into believing the story by it being there. Also, Rhaenys was considerably older (walking and talking), which makes it more likely that more folks would recognize/dispute an older version that wasn't quite right. Finally, I don't think many of the nobles in Westeros would apply your logic to the situation, it's still very much a patrilineal society.
    – Paul
    Aug 22, 2016 at 11:24
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    @Skooba Would you kill me if I said Tyrion? :V
    – Aegon
    Aug 22, 2016 at 12:44
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    I also like the theory that Tyrion is the third dragon. Also interesting is that Dany's, Tyrion's and Jon's mother all died during or shortly after giving birth to them
    – Ivo
    Aug 22, 2016 at 12:55
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    @Mooz Idk how I missed your comment, I just read it. This is actually a pretty interesting point. Maybe the ruse was there alright and upon realizing it, Tywin ordered the corpse to be disfigured in a way that it couldn't be recognized. Even Kevan thought they all took Tywin's word on the matter
    – Aegon
    Apr 1, 2017 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


There's a plethora of reasons that Varys could have said to convince people that Rhaenys wasn't able to be saved. I don't think there is canon evidence for the reasoning he may have given, but we can speculate:

  • She wasn't as important

As you said in the question, male heirs are preferred over their female counterparts. Whilst ensuring that Aegon would have had a relative to wed to keep the bloodline pure, that probably wasn't a priority when the possibility of having their entire family wiped out was upon them.

This means that he may have just expended more effort in rescuing Aegon than Rhaenys, and she was collateral damage in order to make the deception more believable. Having the corpse of one child would make everyone else more likely to believe that the other is also who they were supposed to be, and people wouldn't look as closely at the baby to make sure it was the right child.

  • He tried, but couldn't save her

Ned was captured and Sansa was taken hostage in aGoT, yet Arya managed to escape. Similarly, Varys may have had a plan to rescue them both firmly in place, along with replicas, yet when the time came he wasn't able to get to Rhaenys and decided to not risk Aegon's life in order to look for her.

  • He couldn't find a replacement

He says he bought a baby from a man in exchange for wine, as the guy had other sons, but how many people would give up their (8 year old?) child for such a fee, or for anything? If they raised her for that long, it's unlikely that they would give her up to an unknown fate.

It would have been much more difficult to find a replacement child for her than for a baby, particularly one who looks convincingly enough like her to hold up to scrutiny. She would have been at court for years, so many lords would know her face, as opposed to a newborn that most people wouldn't recognize.

  • It was harder to conceal a child than a baby

Carrying around a baby, as long as it doesn't cry, can be hidden quite easily under a large cloak (a disguise Varys makes use of on several occasions). It would be trivial to get Aegon out of the city without anyone paying attention to Varys, and also smuggling the replacement in.

However, it would be much more difficult to smuggle out a young girl, particularly if his deception was revealed and people were looking for the escapees. In addition, he would have had to have found a way to get a young girl into the castle without arousing suspicion before taking a different one out without anybody asking questions. If there was any hint of such things happening and he was caught, they would all have been killed.


Why doesn't he explain why he didn't save her?

No-one asks. Why doesn't anyone ask? Well, the story about saving Aegon on it's own is already audacious and daring enough. As Tyrion said in your quote:

It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape

It's already potentially the stuff of legend. It's just not very common to react to the revelation that someone did something audacious and stunning by demanding to know why they didn't do another even more audacious and stunning thing at the same time.

This isn't a cheesy superhero movie where the expectation is that if someone has to choose between saving one of two people against formidable odds, they'll somehow contrive to save both while delivering a pithy one-liner. This is a world where heroes struggling to choose who to save against formidable odds typically fail to save either and die a tragic failure.

Why did he actually not save her?

If the plan was real, adding Rhaenys would have more than doubled the risk of failure (since she's more difficult to swap and to smuggle), without more than doubling the dynastic "rewards": the law of diminishing returns applies to heirs as much as it does economics, and while two heirs are better than one, they're not more than twice as good. Diminishing returns doesn't apply to the intrinsic value of human lives - but hey, this is Varys we're talking about, that's never been his concern.

Big problems with substituting her:

  • Children are more recognisable than babies. What if the person who charged into that bedroom wasn't a murderous brute, but was someone capable of saying "Hang on, why does the princess have another girl's face?". Or, more likely, a diligent solider who takes the princess captive and brings her somewhere someone who would recognise the princess sees her, e.g. a high ranking lord or someone at court who defects like Pycelle, Barristand and Jaime (and Varys!) did.
  • Then there's the period after the substitution while the war is still ongoing. How do you prevent anyone who knows the princess from seeing the princess's face, or hearing her voice, for an unknown period of time? Very few people can be in on the deception, since some will defect and could use this secret to save their necks.
  • The baby's silver hair isn't that big an issue. There are heaps of examples of characters successfully disguising (non-baby) hair with dye or shaving.
  • Smuggling a recognisable child princess out of a city without being recognised is also much, much harder than smuggling a baby. Shave the kid if you're worried about the silver hair, but you can't change a princess's face or make a frightened, confused young child princess convincingly impersonate a commoner overnight. What do you do if she throws a Royal Tantrum when served a bowl of brown on a dirty, smelly ship, instead of nutmeg-roasted lamb? Substituting babies is so easy, we see people do it for real with Gilly's and Mance's kids, and get away with it.

Varys isn't in the habit of taking big risks to save someone out of kindness when the risk/benefit analysis is unfavourable, as he made clear while telling Ned that he could rescue him, but wouldn't. Gilly and Val agreed (reluctantly) to a baby swap to save a baby, so it's not something people wouldn't consider.

That's if the plan was real...

Were either of them rescued at all?

Personally, I'm of the view that there are many little holes and out-of-character oddities in Varys's account, and the simplest explanation is that the whole thing is a convenient cover story and good PR for (probably) a conveniently located orphaned Blackfyre (or maybe a Dayne). But that's a whole other question... there are heaps of theories as you well know!

One thing that goes for all of them, however, is that Varys being unsure if Westerosi lords would buy his story gives us an explanation for what otherwise appears to be an uncharacteristic "Bond villain" moment with Kevan, where he needlessly takes a risk by telling an adversary his plan before killing them.

If the whole thing is a lie, this is actually a smart move: testing if it's a good enough lie to take in an intelligent, level-headed lord like Kevan. If he sees through the lie, meh, he's dead anyway, and you learned that you need to raise your game.

But we're getting speculative now, so let's stop...

  • +1 but few nits to pick. There is no silver dye in ASOIAF. And Westerlanders aren't supposed to know Rhaenys by face. There is no mention of any public appearance the princess made. She was born and lived on Dragonstone, away from court, and presumably moved to KL after Rhaegar returned from Dorne. So the likelihood of a Westerlander sensing a swap is very low.
    – Aegon
    Aug 23, 2016 at 5:27
  • Oh and what's true for Westerlanders is also true for Stormlanders, Riverlanders and Northmen
    – Aegon
    Aug 23, 2016 at 5:57
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    Which is also another hole in Varys' theory ;) How did he know that Gregor would ruin the babe's face and make it unrecognizable? Pycelle, Jaime and Barristan would have recognized the face at first look (Even though Barristan was not there with fate but Varys did not know that he wouldnt be). Poor Aegon, I so wanted him to be real.
    – Aegon
    Aug 23, 2016 at 7:41
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    That's one of the smaller holes in the theory, babies are very hard to recognise, didn't Sam fail to realise Gilly's baby had been swapped for a long time? But yeah, it is another hole in the sieve... Aug 23, 2016 at 8:20
  • 1
    Touche! Funny I never thought that was odd. Sam should have known given the amount of time he spent with her beyond the wall.
    – Aegon
    Aug 23, 2016 at 9:20

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