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Yet too many men looked upon Baelor’s dark hair and eyes and muttered that he was more Martell than Targaryen, even though he proved a man who could win respect with ease and was as openhanded and just as his father. Knights and lords of the Dornish Marches came to mistrust Daeron, and Baelor as well, and began to look more and more to the old days, when Dornishmen were the enemy to fight, not rivals for the king’s attention or largesse. And then they would look at Daemon Blackfyre —grown tall and powerful, half a god among mortal men, and with the Conqueror’s sword in his possession—and wonder.

The seeds of rebellion had been planted, but it took years for them to bear fruit. There was no final insult, no great wrong, that led Daemon Blackfyre to turn against King Daeron. If it was truly all for the love of Daenerys, how is it that eight years passed before the rebellion bloomed? That was a long time to harbor thwarted love, especially when Rohanne had already given him seven sons and daughters besides, and Daenerys had also borne Prince Maron several heirs.

In truth, the seeds found fertile ground because of Aegon the Unworthy. Aegon had hated the Dornish and warred against them, and those lords who desired the return of those days—despite all the associated misrule—would never be happy with this peaceable king. Many famed warriors who looked with dismay on the peace in the realm and the Dornish in the king’s court began to seek Daemon out.

Perhaps at first, Daemon Blackfyre merely indulged such talk for the sake of his vanity. After all, years had passed between the first men approaching Daemon and the actual rebellion. What, then, tipped Daemon over into proclaiming for the throne? It seems likely it was another of the Great Bastards: Ser Aegor Rivers, called Bittersteel. Perhaps it was his Bracken blood that made Aegor so choleric and so quick to take offense. Perhaps it was the ignominious fall of the Brackens in King Aegon’s esteem, leading to his exile from Aegon’s court. Or perhaps it was only his rivalry with his half brother and fellow bastard Brynden Rivers, who had been able to maintain his close relations at court—for Bloodraven’s mother had been well loved during her life, and was fondly remembered, so the Blackwoods did not suffer as the Brackens did when the king cast off his respective mistresses.

Whatever the case may be, Aegor Rivers soon began to press Daemon Blackfyre to proclaim for the throne, and all the more so after Daemon agreed to wed his eldest daughter, Calla, to Aegor.

Bitter his steel may have been, but worse was his tongue. He spilled poison in Daemon’s ear, and with him came the clamoring of other knights and lords with grievances.

In the end, years of such talk bore their fruit, and Daemon Blackfyre made his decision. Yet it was a decision he made rashly, for word soon reached King Daeron that Blackfyre meant to declare himself king within the turn of the moon. (We do not know how word came to Daeron, though Merion’s unfinished The Red Dragon and the Black suggests that another of the Great Bastards, Brynden Rivers, was involved.) The king sent the Kingsguard to arrest Daemon before he could take his plans for treason any further. Daemon was forewarned, and with the help of the famously hottempered knight Ser Quentyn Ball, called Fireball, he was able to escape the Red Keep safely.

Daemon Blackfyre’s allies used this attempted arrest as a cause for war, claiming that Daeron had acted against Daemon out of no more than baseless fear. Others still named him Daeron Falseborn, repeating the calumny that Aegon the Unworthy himself was said to have circulated in the later years of his reign: that he had been sired not by the king but by his brother, the Dragonknight.

In this manner did the First Blackfyre Rebellion begin, in the year 196 AC. Reversing the colors of the traditional Targaryen arms to show a black dragon on a red field, the rebels declared for Princess Daena’s bastard son Daemon Blackfyre, First of His Name, proclaiming him the eldest true son of King Aegon IV and his half brother Daeron the bastard. Subsequently many battles were fought, between the black and red dragons in the Vale, the westerlands, the riverlands, and elsewhere.

Bittersteel leading the Golden Company. (illustration credit 74)

The rebellion ended at the Redgrass Field, nigh on a year later. Some have written of the boldness of the men who fought with Daemon, and others of their treason. But for all their valor in the field and their enmity against Daeron, theirs was a lost cause. Daemon and his eldest sons, Aegon and Aemon, were brought down beneath the withering fall of arrows sent by Brynden Rivers and his private guards, the Raven’s Teeth. This was followed by Bittersteel’s mad charge, with Blackfyre in his hand, as he attempted to rally Daemon’s forces. Meeting with Bloodraven in the midst of the charge, a mighty duel ensued, which left Bloodraven blinded in one eye and sent Bittersteel fleeing.

But the battle came to an end when Prince Baelor Breakspear appeared with a host of stormlords and Dornishmen, falling on the rebel rear, while the young Prince Maekar rallied what remained of Lord Arryn’s van and made an implacable anvil against which the rebels were hammered and destroyed. Ten thousand men had died for Daemon Blackfyre’s vanity, and many more were wounded and maimed. King Daeron’s efforts at peace had been shattered, through no fault of his own save perhaps too much mercy for his envious half brother.

In the aftermath, King Daeron showed a sternness that few expected. Many lords and knights who had supported the Black Dragon had lands and seats and privileges stripped from them and were forced to give over hostages. Daeron had trusted them, had done all he could to rule justly, and still they turned against him. Daemon Blackfyre’s surviving sons fled to Tyrosh, their mother’s home, and with them went Bittersteel. The realm would continue to be troubled by the claims of the Blackfyre Pretenders for four more generations, until the last of the descendants of Daemon Blackfyre through the male line was sent to the grave.

With his half brothers dealt with and the strength of his sons and heirs supporting him, many thought that King Daeron had now ensured that the realm would be under Targaryen rule for centuries to come. Few could doubt that Baelor Breakspear would be a great king, for he was the heart of chivalry and the soul of wisdom, and came to serve his father most ably as Hand. But no man can know the will of the gods. Baelor Breakspear was cut down in his prime by his own brother Maekar at the tourney at Ashford in the year 209 AC. It was not in the tilt, or the mêlée, but in a trial of seven—the first in a century—in which Baelor fought on behalf of a lowly hedge knight of no parentage of note.

His death was a mishap, almost certainly, and it is written that Prince Maekar always bitterly regretted Baelor’s passing and marked its anniversary every year. Yet Baelor died, and doubtless Maekar and the realm wondered if one hedge knight was worth the loss of the Prince of Dragonstone and the Hand of the King. (But then, they did not know how high that hedge knight would rise—though that is a different history.) Daemon Blackfyre leading the charge at the Redgrass Field. (illustration credit 75) Baelor had sons—the young princes Valarr and Matarys—and so too did Maekar, and the king had two other sons besides (though the realm was less certain about Aerys, bookish and obsessed with arcane matters, and Rhaegel, a sweet boy touched by madness). But then the Great Spring Sickness swept the Seven Kingdoms, affecting all save the Vale and Dorne, where they closed the ports and mountain passes. Worst hit of all was King’s Landing. The High Septon, the Seven’s voice on earth, died, as did a third of the Most Devout, and nearly all the silent sisters in the city. Corpses were piled in the ruins of the Dragonpit until they stood ten feet high and, in the end, Bloodraven had the pyromancers burn the corpses where they lay. A quarter of the city went up in flames along with them, but there was nothing else to be done.

Worse still, the sons of Baelor Breakspear were amongst those carried away, as was Daeron II, whom many called the Good. He had reigned for five-and-twenty years, and most of those years saw peace and plenty for the realm.

In Essos, Bittersteel gathered exiled lords and knights, and their descendants, to him. He formed the Golden Company in 212 AC, and soon established it as the foremost free company of the Disputed Lands. “Beneath the gold, the bitter steel” became their battle cry, renowned across Essos. After Bittersteel, the company was led by descendants of Daemon Blackfyre until the last of them, Maelys the Monstrous, was slain in the Stepstones.

A ERYS I ASSUMING THE THRONE in 209 AC, Daeron’s second son, Aerys, had never imagined he would be king, and was singularly ill suited to sit the Iron Throne. Aerys was learned, in his way, though his interests were largely to do with dusty tomes concerned with ancient prophecy and the higher mysteries. Wed to Aelinor Penrose, he never showed an interest in getting her with child, and rumor had it that he had even failed to consummate the marriage. His small council, at their wits’ ends, hoped it was simply some dislike of her that moved him, and thus they urged him to put her aside to take another wife. But he would not hear of it.

Donning the crown during the Great Spring Sickness, Aerys I faced a realm in turmoil from the first. Hardly had the plague begun to ebb when Dagon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands, sent ironborn ships reaving all up and down the shores of the Sunset Sea, whilst across the narrow sea Bittersteel plotted with the sons of Daemon Blackfyre. Perhaps it was because of these difficulties that Aerys turned to Brynden Rivers to serve as his Hand.

It has been suggested by some that a likelier cause for Bloodraven’s rise to power was the fact that Aerys’s interest in arcane lore and ancient history matched that of Rivers, whose studies of the higher mysteries were an open secret at the time. Bloodraven had already risen to prominence at the court, but few expected that Aerys would name him Hand. When he did, it kindled a quarrel between the king and his brother, Prince Maekar, who had expected the Handship to come to him. Thereafter Prince Maekar departed King’s Landing for Summerhall for years to come.

Bloodraven proved to be a capable Hand, but also a master of whisperers who rivaled Lady Misery, and there were those who thought he and his half sister and paramour, Shiera Seastar, used sorcery to ferret out secrets. It became common to refer to his “thousand eyes and one,” and men both high and low began to distrust their neighbor for fear of their being a spy in Bloodraven’s employ.

Yet Aerys had need of spies, given the trouble that followed the Great Spring Sickness. Summer came, and with it a drought that lasted more than two years. Many blamed the king, and many more accused Bloodraven. There were poor brothers who preached treason, and knights and lords as well.

And amongst those were some who whispered a specific treason: that the Black Dragon must return from across the narrow sea and take his rightful place.

Lord Gormon Peake was at the center of an attempt to bring about a new uprising. For his role in the First Blackfyre Rebellion, Peake had been stripped of two of the three castles his house had held for centuries. After the drought and the Great Spring Sickness, Lord Gormon convinced Daemon Blackfyre’s eldest surviving son, Daemon the Younger, to cross the narrow sea and make a play for the throne.

The conspiracy came to a head in 211 AC at the wedding tourney at Whitewalls, the great seat that Lord Butterwell had raised near the Gods Eye. This was the same Butterwell who had once been Daeron’s Hand, until the king had dismissed him in favor of Lord Hayford because of his suspicious failure to act successfully against Daemon Blackfyre in the early days of his rebellion. At Whitewalls, under pretense of celebrating Lord Butterwell’s marriage and competing in the tournament, many lords and knights had gathered, all of whom shared a desire to place a Blackfyre on the throne.

Were it not for the fact that Bloodraven had informants among the conspirators, Daemon the Younger could have launched a troubling rebellion from within the heart of the riverlands, but even before the tourney had concluded, the Hand turned up outside Whitewalls with a host of his own, and the Second Blackfyre Rebellion ended before it could truly be said to have begun. Gormon Peake was among the conspirators executed in the wake of the thwarted rebellion, while others such as Lord Butterwell suffered the loss of land and seats. As for Daemon, he lived on for several more years, a hostage in the Red Keep. Some wondered at his imprisonment, but the wisdom of it was plain: his next eldest brother, Haegon, could not claim the throne if Daemon were still alive.

That Daemon the Younger dreamed of becoming king is well-known, as is the fact that Bittersteel did not support him in his effort to claim the throne. But why Bittersteel supported the father but refused the son remains a question that is sometimes argued over in the halls of the Citadel. Many will claim that Young Daemon and Lord Gormon could not convince Bittersteel that their plan was sound, and truth be told, it seems a fair argument;

Peake was blind to reason in his thirst for revenge and the recovery of his seats, and Daemon was convinced that he would succeed no matter the odds. Yet others suggest that Bittersteel was a hard man who had little use for anything beyond war and mistrusted Daemon’s dreams and his love of music and fine things. And others still raise an eyebrow at Daemon’s close relationship to the young Lord Cockshaw, and suggest that this would have troubled Aegor Rivers enough to deny the young man his aid.

The Second Blackfyre Rebellion proved a debacle, but that was not always to be the case. In 219 AC, Haegon Blackfyre and Bittersteel launched the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Of the deeds done then, both good and ill—of the leadership of Maekar, the actions of Aerion Brightflame, the courage of Maekar’s youngest son, and the second duel between Bloodraven and Bittersteel—we know well.

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