Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History #1)

Yet when Aegon Targaryen and his host approached Oldtown, they found the city gates open and Lord Hightower waiting to make his submission. As it happened, when word of Aegon’s landing first reached Oldtown, the High Septon had locked himself within the Starry Sept for seven days and seven nights, seeking the guidance of the gods. He took no nourishment but bread and water, and spent all his waking hours in prayer, moving from one altar to the next. And on the seventh day, the Crone had lifted up her golden lamp to show him the path ahead. If Oldtown took up arms against Aegon the Dragon, His High Holiness saw, the city would surely burn, and the Hightower and the Citadel and the Starry Sept would be cast down and destroyed.

Manfred Hightower, Lord of Oldtown, was a cautious lord and godly. One of his younger sons served with the Warrior’s Sons, and another had only recently taken vows as a septon. When the High Septon told him of the vision vouchsafed him by the Crone, Lord Hightower determined that he would not oppose the Conqueror by force of arms. Thus it was that no men from Oldtown burned on the Field of Fire, though the Hightowers were bannermen to the Gardeners of Highgarden. And thus it was that Lord Manfred rode forth to greet Aegon the Dragon as he approached, and to offer up his sword, his city, and his oath. (Some say that Lord Hightower also offered up the hand of his youngest daughter, which Aegon declined politely, lest it offend his two queens.)

Three days later, in the Starry Sept, His High Holiness himself anointed Aegon with the seven oils, placed a crown upon his head, and proclaimed him Aegon of House Targaryen, the First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm. (“Seven Kingdoms” was the style used, though Dorne had not submitted. Nor would it, for more than a century to come.)

Only a handful of lords had been present for Aegon’s first coronation at the mouth of the Blackwater, but hundreds were on hand to witness his second, and tens of thousands cheered him afterward in the streets of Oldtown as he rode through the city on Balerion’s back. Amongst those at Aegon’s second coronation were the maesters and archmaesters of the Citadel. Perhaps for that reason, it was this coronation, rather than the Aegonfort crowning on the day of Aegon’s landing, that became fixed as the start of Aegon’s reign.

Thus were the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros hammered into one great realm, by the will of Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters.

Many thought that King Aegon would make Oldtown his royal seat after the wars were done, whilst others thought he would rule from Dragonstone, the ancient island citadel of House Targaryen. The king surprised them all by proclaiming his intent to make his court in the new town already rising upon the three hills at the mouth of the Blackwater Rush, where he and his sisters had first set foot on the soil of Westeros. King’s Landing, the new town would be called. From there Aegon the Dragon would rule his realm, holding court from a great metal seat made from the melted, twisted, beaten, and broken blades of all his fallen foes, a perilous seat that would soon be known through all the world as the Iron Throne of Westeros.

The long reign of King Aegon I Targaryen (1 AC–37 AC) was by and large a peaceful one…in his later years, especially. But before the Dragon’s Peace, as the last two decades of his kingship were later called by the maesters of the Citadel, came the Dragon’s wars, the last of which was as cruel and bloody a conflict as any ever fought in Westeros.

Though the Wars of Conquest were said to have ended when Aegon was crowned and anointed by the High Septon in the Starry Sept of Oldtown, not all of Westeros had yet submitted to his rule.

In the Bite, the lords of the Three Sisters had taken advantage of the chaos of Aegon’s Conquest to declare themselves a free nation and crown Lady Marla of House Sunderland their queen. As the Arryn fleet had largely been destroyed during the Conquest, the king commanded his Warden of the North, Torrhen Stark of Winterfell, to end the Sistermen’s Rebellion, and a northern army departed from White Harbor on a fleet of hired Braavosi galleys, under the command of Ser Warrick Manderly. The sight of his sails, and the sudden appearance of Queen Visenya and Vhagar in the skies above Sisterton, took the heart out of the Sistermen; they promptly deposed Queen Marla in favor of her younger brother. Steffon Sunderland renewed his fealty to the Eyrie, bent the knee to Queen Visenya, and gave his sons over as hostages for his good behavior, one to be fostered with the Manderlys, the other with the Arryns. His sister, the deposed queen, was exiled and imprisoned. After five years, her tongue was removed, and she spent the remainder of her life with the silent sisters, tending to the noble dead.

On the other side of Westeros, the Iron Islands were in chaos. House Hoare had ruled the ironmen for long centuries, only to be extinguished in a single night when Aegon unleashed Balerion’s fires on Harrenhal. Though Harren the Black and his sons perished in those flames, Qhorin Volmark of Harlaw, whose grandmother had been a younger sister of Harren’s grandsire, declared himself the rightful heir “of the black line,” and assumed the kingship.

Not all ironborn accepted his claim, however. On Old Wyk, under the bones of Nagga the Sea Dragon, the priests of the Drowned God placed a driftwood crown on the head of one of their own, the barefoot holy man Lodos, who proclaimed himself the living son of the Drowned God and was said to be able to work miracles. Other claimants arose on Great Wyk, Pyke, and Orkmont, and for more than a year their adherents battled one another on land and sea. It was said that the waters between the islands were so choked with corpses that krakens appeared by the hundreds, drawn by the blood.

Aegon Targaryen put an end to the fighting. He descended on the islands in 2 AC, riding Balerion. With him came the war fleets of the Arbor, Highgarden, and Lannisport, and even a few longships from Bear Island dispatched by Torrhen Stark. The ironmen, their numbers diminished by a year of fratricidal war, put up little resistance…indeed, many hailed the coming of the dragons. King Aegon slew Qhorin Volmark with Blackfyre, but allowed his infant son to inherit his father’s lands and castle. On Old Wyk, the priest-king Lodos, purported son of the Drowned God, called upon the krakens of the deep to rise and drag down the invaders’ ships. When that failed to happen, Lodos filled his robes with stones and walked into the sea, “to seek my father’s counsel.” Thousands followed. Their bloated, crab-eaten bodies washed up on the shores of Old Wyk for years to come.

Afterward, the issue arose as to who should rule the Iron Islands for the king. It was suggested that the ironmen be made vassals of the Tullys of Riverrun or the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. Some even urged that they be given over to Winterfell. Aegon listened to each claim, but in the end decided that he would allow the ironborn to choose their own lord paramount. To no one’s surprise, they chose one of their own: Vickon Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke. Lord Vickon did homage to King Aegon, and the Dragon departed with his fleets.

Greyjoy’s writ extended only to the Iron Islands, however; he renounced all claim to the lands House Hoare had seized upon the mainland. Aegon granted the ruined castle of Harrenhal and its domains to Ser Quenton Qoherys, his master-at-arms on Dragonstone, but required him to accept Lord Edmyn Tully of Riverrun as his liege lord. The new-made Lord Quenton had two strong sons and a plump grandson to assure the succession, but as his first wife had been carried off by spotted fever three years earlier, he further agreed to take one of Lord Tully’s daughters as his bride.

With the submission of the Three Sisters and the Iron Islands, all of Westeros south of the Wall was now ruled by Aegon Targaryen, save Dorne alone. So it was to Dorne that the Dragon next turned his attention. Aegon first attempted to win the Dornishmen with words, dispatching a delegation of high lords, maesters, and septons to Sunspear to treat with Princess Meria Martell, the so-called Yellow Toad of Dorne, and persuade her of the advantages of joining her realm to his. Their negotiations continued for the best part of a year, but achieved nothing.

The start of the First Dornish War is generally fixed at 4 AC, when Rhaenys Targaryen returned to Dorne. This time she came with fire and blood, just as she had threatened. Riding Meraxes, the queen descended out of a clear blue sky and set the Planky Town ablaze, the fires leaping from boat to boat until the whole mouth of the Greenblood was choked with burning flotsam, and the pillar of smoke could be seen as far away as Sunspear. The denizens of the floating town took to the river for refuge from the flames, so fewer than a hundred died in the attack, and most of those from drowning rather than dragonfire. But first blood had been shed.

Elsewhere, Orys Baratheon led one thousand picked knights up the Boneway, whilst Aegon himself marched through the Prince’s Pass at the head of an army thirty thousand strong, led by near two thousand mounted knights and three hundred lords and bannermen. Lord Harlan Tyrell, the Warden of the South, was heard to say that they had more than enough power to smash any Dornish army that tried to stand before them, even without Aegon and Balerion.

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