On the map of Storm of Swords, a ruined castle known as Summerhall is shown slightly north of Dorne. But what exactly is it? And what is the tragic event that happened there that characters keep referring to?
In “The Hedge Knight,” Maekar Targaryen is referred to as the ‘Prince of Summerhall.’ There is no more information on this in the books, but some can be gleaned from letters by GRRM.
“Summerhall was a lightly fortified castle that Daeron II built on the Dornish marches, roughly where Dorne, the Reach and the Stormlands come together. It was a Targaryen castle and royal residence, especially when Daeron was young, but as he grew older he left King’s Landing less frequently, and Summerhall passed to his youngest son, Maekar.” (SSM, #30)
“You will learn more about Summerhall if I write more Dunk and Egg stories.” (SSM, #34)
The map in SoS shows Summerhall in ruins at the time of the series. Why? Perhaps that is part of our next question...
In A Storm of Swords, numerous references are made to some cataclysmic event that occurred at Summerhall. Here are some quotes:
While imprisoned with Davos, Alester has some choice words about dragons and Summerhall:
“This talk of a stone dragon...madness, I tell you, sheer madness. Did we learn nothing from Aerion Brightfire, from the nine mages, from the alchemists? Did we learn nothing from Summerhall? No good has ever come from these dreams of dragons, I told Axell as much.”--Storm of Swords, pg. 292
Aerion Brightfire was the Aerion who appeared in “The Hedge Knight.” In Clash of Kings, we learned that he died from drinking wildfire, trying to turn himself into a dragon. Alester seems to imply that the event at Summerhall had something to do about calling dragons as well.
Near Yunkai, Barristan tells Dany some stories about Rhaegar:
“He was born in grief, my queen, and that shadow hung over him all his days.”
Viserys had spoken of Rhaegar’s birth only once. Perhaps the tale saddened him too much. “It was the shadow of Summerhall that haunted him, was it not?”
“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.”
---Storm of Swords, pg. 486
The fact that Rhaegar was born at Summerhall amid grief implies that his birth was part of some experiment going on there, or the side effect of it.
The mention of the ‘death of kings’ implies that a king died at the event at Summerhall, but this could also just be Barristan’s way of summing up the tragic songs Rhaegar performed. The dead king referred to could either be either Aegon V or Jaehaerys II; according to the timeline in the appendix to Game of Thrones, Rhaegar would be 24 years old during Robert’s Rebellion if he was born the year Aegon died, or 21 if he were born the year Jaehaerys died. Both these ages fit what scant description we have of him.
On a sidenote, Aegon V is the same Egg from “The Hedge Knight.” Since it has been confirmed that more information on Summerhall will be revealed in later Dunk and Egg stories, it seems likely that Aegon was the king who died there, if anybody.
It also seems that Summerhall was in good condition when Rhaegar was born, but in ruins during his lifetime.
It does not seem too far a stretch to assume that the castle was destroyed in whatever experiment occurred when Rhaegar was born.
The old crone seer that Arya sees on High Heart also mentions Summerhall:
“I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death...you are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”
---Storm of Swords, pg. 492
We can only guess at what the old woman experienced at Summerhall, except for the fact that it was extremely tragic and traumatizing.
Ser Jorah snorted. “Can you wake the dead, girl? Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, and he died on the Trident. Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.”
---Game of Thrones, pg. 232
Jorah’s words may be nothing more than symbolic, but they could imply something bigger, whether he knows it or not. From Alester Florent, we know that someone tried to raise a dragon at Summerhall, with results that went awry from what was planned. From Barristan, we know Rhaegar was born at Summerhall amidst grief, possibly due to the death of his grandfather Jaehaerys or (more likely) his great-grandfather Aegon.
It is not so much of a stretch to assume that Rhaegar was born as the result of an experiment trying to turn an unborn child into a dragon. The details we have are scant, but tantalizing. From what we know, some sort of magical spells could have been invoked, only something went wrong, resulting in a cataclysmic backlash that destroyed the castle, killed a king...and had Rhaegar be born.
We are still going mostly off assumption at this point, but Rhaegar being the product of a failed dragon-producing spell seems the most likely scenario at the present.