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To the west, Aegon Targaryen met a warmer welcome. The greatest city in all of Westeros, Oldtown was ringed about with massive walls and ruled by the Hightowers of Hightower, the oldest, richest, and most powerful of the noble houses of the Reach. Oldtown was also the center of the Faith. There dwelt the High Septon, Father of the Faithful, the voice of the new gods on earth, who commanded the obedience of millions of the devout throughout the realms (save in the North, where the old gods still held sway), and the blades of the Faith Militant, the fighting orders the smallfolk called the Stars and Swords.
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 after the guidance of the gods. He took no nourishment but bread and water, it was said, and spent all his waking hours in prayer, moving from one altar to the next. And on the seventh day, the Crone had lifted 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 or 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 beneath the three hills at the mouth of the Blackwater Rush, at the place where he and his sisters had first set foot on the soil of Westeros. King’s Landing, the new town was called.
From there Aegon the Dragon ruled 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 Iron Throne. (illustration credit 35) Aegon the Conqueror crowned by the High Septon. (illustration credit 36) A EGON I KING AEGON, THE First of His Name, might have conquered the Seven Kingdoms by the age of twenty-seven, but now he faced the formidable challenge of ruling his newly forged realm. The seven warring kingdoms had rarely been at peace within their own borders let alone without them, and uniting them under one rule required a truly remarkable man. So it was fortunate for the realm that Aegon was such a man—a man with vision and determination aplenty. And though his vision of a united Westeros proved harder to realize than Aegon might have believed—not to mention far costlier —it was a vision that shaped the course of history for hundreds of years to come.
It was Aegon who saw a great royal city to rival and surpass Lannisport and Oldtown spring up around his crude Aegonfort. And while King’s Landing might have been a crowded, muddy, and stinking place at its outset, it was always full of activity. A makeshift sept constructed out of the hulk of a cog on the Blackwater served the common people, and soon a much grander sept was raised on Visenya’s Hill with money sent by the High Septon. (This would be later joined by the Sept of Remembrance on the Hill of Rhaenys as a memorial to the queen.) Where once only fishing boats were seen, now cogs and galleys from Oldtown, Lannisport, the Free Cities, and even the Summer Isles began to appear as the flow of trade shifted from Duskendale and Maidenpool to King’s Landing. The Aegonfort itself grew larger, bursting past its initial palisade to encompass more of Aegon’s High Hill, and a new wooden keep was raised, its walls fifty feet high. It stood until 35 AC, when Aegon tore it down so that the Red Keep could be raised as a castle fit for the Targaryens and their heirs.
According to the history of Archmaester Gyldayn, it was suggested at court that Aegon left Queen Visenya in charge of building the Red Keep so that he would not have to endure her presence on Dragonstone. In their later years, their relationship—never a warm one to begin with—had grown even more distant.
By 10 AC, King’s Landing had become a true city, and by 25 AC it had surpassed White Harbor and Gulltown to become the realm’s third largest city. And yet, for much of this time, it was a city without walls. It may be that Aegon and his sisters thought that no one would dare assault a city that held dragons, but in 19 AC word came of a pirate fleet sacking Tall Trees Town in the Summer Isles, carrying off thousands into slavery and a fortune in wealth. Troubled by this—and realizing that he and Visenya were not always at King’s Landing—Aegon at last commanded that walls be raised.
Grand Maester Gawen and the Hand, Ser Osmund Strong, were given charge of the project. Aegon decreed there should be room enough for the city to expand within those walls, and that seven great gatehouses would defend seven gates, in honor of the Seven. Construction began the next year, and by 26 AC it was completed.
As the city and its prosperity grew, so did that of the realm. This was in part due to the Conqueror’s efforts to win the respect of his vassals and that of the smallfolk. In this, he was often aided by Queen Rhaenys (whilst she lived), for whom the smallfolk were of special concern. She was likewise a patron to singers and bards—something her sister, Queen Visenya, thought a waste, but those singers made songs of praise for the Targaryens and carried them throughout the realm. And if those songs also contained bold lies that made Aegon and his sisters seem all the more glorious, the queen did not rue it … although the maesters might.
The queen also did much to bring the realm together through the marriages she arranged between far-flung houses. Thus, Rhaenys’s death in Dorne in 10 AC, and the wrath that followed it, was felt by much of the realm, who had loved the beautiful, kindhearted queen.
Yet despite a reign covered in glory, the First Dornish War stood out as Aegon’s one great defeat.
The First Dornish War began boldly in 4 AC, and ended in 13 AC after years of tragedy and spilled blood. Many were the calamities of that war. The death of Rhaenys, the years of the Dragon’s Wroth, the murdered lords, the would-be assassins in King’s Landing and the Red Keep itself; it was a black time.
But out of all the tragedy was born one glorious thing: the Sworn Brotherhood of the Kingsguard.
When Aegon and Visenya placed prices on the heads of the Dornish lords, many were murdered, and in retaliation the Dornishmen hired their own catspaws and killers. On one occasion in 10 AC, Aegon and Visenya were both attacked in the streets of King’s Landing, and if not for Visenya and Dark Sister, the king might not have survived. Despite this, the king still believed that his guards were sufficient to his defense; Visenya convinced him otherwise. (It is recorded that when Aegon pointed out his guardsmen, Visenya drew Dark Sister and cut his cheek before his guards could react. “Your guards are slow and lazy,” Visenya is reported to have said, and the king was forced to agree.) Early King’s Landing and the Aegonfort. (illustration credit 37) It was Visenya, not Aegon, who decided the nature of the Kingsguard. Seven champions for the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, who would all be knights. She modeled their vows upon those of the Night’s Watch, so that they would forfeit all things save their duty to the king. And when Aegon spoke of a grand tourney to choose the first Kingsguard, Visenya dissuaded him, saying he needed more than skill in arms to protect him; he also needed unwavering loyalty. The king entrusted Visenya with selecting the first members of the order, and history shows he was wise to do so: two died defending him, and all served to the end of their days with honor. The White Book recounts their names, as it has recorded the name and deeds of every knight who swore the vows: Ser Corlys Velaryon, the first Lord Commander; Ser Richard Roote; Ser Addison Hill, Bastard of Cornfield; Ser Gregor Goode and Ser Griffith Goode, brothers; Ser Humfrey the Mummer, a hedge knight; and Ser Robin Darklyn, called Darkrobin, the first of many Darklyns to wear the white cloak.
The “rule of six,” now part of the common law, was established by Rhaenys as she sat the Iron Throne while the king was upon one of his progresses. A petition was made by the brothers of a woman who had been beaten to death by her husband after he caught her with another. He defended himself by rightly noting that it was lawful for a man to chastise an adulterous wife (which was true enough, though in Dorne, matters are elsewise) so long as he used a rod no thicker than a thumb. However, he had struck her a hundred times, according to the brothers, and this he did not deny. After deliberating with the maesters and septons, Rhaenys declared that, whilst the gods made women to be dutiful to their husbands and so could be lawfully beaten, only six blows might ever be struck—one for each of the Seven, save the Stranger, who was death. For this reason, she declared that ninety-four of the husband’s blows had been unlawful and agreed that the dead woman’s brothers could match those blows upon the husband.
Having established councillors early on—who in Jaehaerys I’s day formed the small council that would advise the kings thereafter—Aegon the Conqueror often left the day-to-day governance of the realm to his sisters and these trusted councillors. And instead, he worked to knit the realm together with his presence—to awe his subjects and (when needed) frighten them. For half the year the king flew between King’s Landing and Dragonstone by turns, for whilst the city was his royal seat, the isle that smelled of sulfur and brimstone and the salt sea was the place he loved the best. But the other half of the year he dedicated to the royal progress. He traveled throughout the realm for the rest of his life, until his final progress in 33 AC—making a point of paying his respects to the High Septon in the Starry Sept each time he visited Oldtown, guesting beneath the roofs of the lords of the great houses (even Winterfell, on that last progress), and beneath the roofs of many lesser lords, knights, and common innkeepers. The king brought a glittering train with him wherever he went; in one progress, fully a thousand knights followed him, and many lords and ladies of the court besides.
In these progresses, the king was accompanied not only by his courtiers but by maesters and septons as well. Six maesters were often in his company to advise him upon the local laws and traditions of the former realms, so that he might rule in judgment at the courts he held. Rather than attempting to unify the realm under one set of laws, he respected the differing customs of each region and sought to judge as their past kings might have. (It would be left for a later king to bring the laws of the realm into accord.) From the conclusion of the First Dornish War until Aegon’s death in 37 AC, the realm was at peace, and Aegon ruled with wisdom and forbearance. He had given the realm both “an heir and a spare” by his two wives: the elder Prince Aenys by Rhaenys (long dead) and the younger Prince Maegor by Visenya.
The crown of Aegon the Conqueror. (illustration credit 38)
He died where he had been born, on his beloved Dragonstone. The accounts agree that he was in the Chamber of the Painted Table, recounting to his grandsons Aegon and Viserys the tales of his conquests, when he stumbled in his speech and collapsed. It was a stroke, the maesters said, and the Dragon passed quickly and in peace. His body was burned in the yard of Dragonstone’s citadel, as was the custom of the Targaryens and the Valyrians before them. Aenys, the Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the Iron Throne, was at Highgarden when he learned of his father’s death and swiftly flew on his dragon to receive his crown. But all who followed Aegon the Conqueror on the Iron Throne found the realm far less amenable to their rule.