Fire & Blood (A Targaryen History #1)

Aegon I Targaryen was a warrior of renown, the greatest Conqueror in the history of Westeros, yet many believe his most significant accomplishments came during times of peace. The Iron Throne was forged with fire and steel and terror, it is said, but once the throne had cooled, it became the seat of justice for all Westeros.

The reconciliation of the Seven Kingdoms to Targaryen rule was the keystone of Aegon I’s policies as king. To this end, he made great efforts to include men (and even a few women) from every part of the realm in his court and councils. His former foes were encouraged to send their children (chiefly younger sons and daughters, as most great lords desired to keep their heirs close to home) to court, where the boys served as pages, cupbearers, and squires, the girls as handmaidens and companions to Aegon’s queens. In King’s Landing, they witnessed the king’s justice at first hand, and were urged to think of themselves as leal subjects of one great realm, not as westermen or stormlanders or northmen.

The Targaryens also brokered many marriages between noble houses from the far ends of the realm, in hopes that such alliances would help tie the conquered lands together and make the seven kingdoms one. Aegon’s queens, Visenya and Rhaenys, took a special delight in arranging these matches. Through their efforts, young Ronnel Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, took a daughter of Torrhen Stark of Winterfell to wed, whilst Loren Lannister’s eldest son, heir to Casterly Rock, married a Redwyne girl from the Arbor. When three girls, triplets, were born to the Evenstar of Tarth, Queen Rhaenys arranged betrothals for them with House Corbray, House Hightower, and House Harlaw. Queen Visenya brokered a double wedding between House Blackwood and House Bracken, rivals whose history of enmity went back centuries, matching a son of each house with a daughter of the other to seal a peace between them. And when a Rowan girl in Rhaenys’s service found herself with child by a scullion, the queen found a knight to marry her in White Harbor, and another in Lannisport who was willing to take on her bastard as a fosterling.

Though none doubted that Aegon Targaryen was the final authority in all matters relating to the governance of the realm, his sisters Visenya and Rhaenys remained his partners in power throughout his reign. Save perhaps for Good Queen Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys I, no other queen in the history of the Seven Kingdoms ever exercised as much influence over policy as the Dragon’s sisters. It was the king’s custom to bring one of his queens with him wherever he traveled, whilst the other remained at Dragonstone or King’s Landing, oft as not seated on the Iron Throne, ruling on whatever matters came before her.

Though Aegon had designated King’s Landing as his royal seat and installed the Iron Throne in the Aegonfort’s smoky longhall, he spent no more than a quarter of his time there. Full as many of his days and nights were spent on Dragonstone, the island citadel of his forebears. The castle below the Dragonmont had ten times the room of the Aegonfort, with considerably more comfort, safety, and history. The Conqueror was once heard to say that he even loved the scent of Dragonstone, where the salt air always smelled of smoke and brimstone. Aegon spent roughly half the year at his two seats, dividing his time between them.

The other half he devoted to an endless royal progress, taking his court from one castle to another, guesting with each of his great lords in turn. Gulltown and the Eyrie, Harrenhal, Riverrun, Lannisport and Casterly Rock, Crakehall, Old Oak, Highgarden, Oldtown, the Arbor, Horn Hill, Ashford, Storm’s End, and Evenfall Hall had the honor of hosting His Grace many times, but Aegon could and would turn up almost anywhere, sometimes with as many as a thousand knights and lords and ladies in his train. He journeyed thrice to the Iron Islands (twice to Pyke and once to Great Wyk), spent a fortnight at Sisterton in 19 AC, and visited the North six times, holding court thrice in White Harbor, twice at Barrowton, and once at Winterfell on his very last royal progress in 33 AC.

“It is better to forestall rebellions than to put them down,” Aegon famously said, when asked the reason for his journeys. A glimpse of the king in all his power, mounted on Balerion the Black Dread and attended by hundreds of knights glittering in silk and steel, did much to instill loyalty in restless lords. The smallfolk needed to see their kings and queens from time to time as well, the king added, and know that they might have the chance to lay their grievances and concerns before him.

And so they did. Much of every royal progress was given over to feasts and balls and hunts and hawking, as every lord attempted to outdo the others in splendor and hospitality, but Aegon also made a point of holding court wherever he might travel, whether from a dais in some great lord’s castle or a mossy stone in a farmer’s field. Six maesters traveled with him, to answer any questions he might have on local law, customs, and history, and to make note of such decrees and judgments as His Grace might hand down. A lord should know the land he rules, the Conqueror later told his son Aenys, and through his travels Aegon learned much and more about the Seven Kingdoms and its peoples.

Each of the conquered kingdoms had its own laws and traditions. King Aegon did little to interfere with those. He allowed his lords to continue to rule much as they always had, with all the same powers and prerogatives. The laws of inheritance and succession remained unchanged, the existing feudal structures were confirmed, lords both great and small retained the power of pit and gallows on their own land, and the privilege of the first night wherever that custom had formerly prevailed.

Aegon’s chief concern was peace. Before the Conquest, wars between the realms of Westeros were common. Hardly a year passed without someone fighting someone somewhere. Even in those kingdoms said to be at peace, neighboring lords oft settled their disputes at swordpoint. Aegon’s accession put an end to much of that. Petty lords and landed knights were now expected to take their disputes to their liege lords and abide by their judgments. Arguments between the great houses of the realm were adjudicated by the Crown. “The first law of the land shall be the King’s Peace,” King Aegon decreed, “and any lord who goes to war without my leave shall be considered a rebel and an enemy of the Iron Throne.”

King Aegon also issued decrees regularizing customs, duties, and taxes throughout the realm, whereas previously every port and every petty lord had been free to exact however much they could from tenants, smallfolk, and merchants. He also proclaimed that the holy men and women of the Faith, and all their lands and possessions, were to be exempt from taxation, and affirmed the right of the Faith’s own courts to try and sentence any septon, Sworn Brother, or holy sister accused of malfeasance. Though not himself a godly man, the first Targaryen king always took care to court the support of the Faith and the High Septon of Oldtown.

King’s Landing grew up around Aegon and his court, on and about the three great hills that stood near the mouth of the Blackwater Rush. The highest of those hills had become known as Aegon’s High Hill, and soon enough the lesser hills were being called Visenya’s Hill and the Hill of Rhaenys, their former names forgotten. The crude motte-and-bailey fort that Aegon had thrown up so quickly was neither large enough nor grand enough to house the king and his court, and had begun to expand even before the Conquest was complete. A new keep was erected, all of logs and fifty feet high, with a cavernous longhall beneath it, and a kitchen, made of stone and roofed with slate in case of fire, across the bailey. Stables appeared, then a granary. A new watchtower was raised, twice as tall as the older one. Soon the Aegonfort was threatening to burst out of its walls, so a new palisade was raised, enclosing more of the hilltop, creating space enough for a barracks, an armory, a sept, and a drum tower.

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