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The pretender Haegon I Blackfyre died in the aftermath of battle, slain treacherously after he had given up his sword, but Ser Aegor Rivers, Bittersteel, was taken alive and returned to the Red Keep in chains. Many still insist that if he had been put to the sword then and there, as Prince Aerion and Bloodraven urged, it might have meant an early end to the Blackfyre ambitions.
But that was not to be. Though Bittersteel was tried and found guilty of high treason, King Aerys spared his life, instead commanding that he be sent to the Wall to live out his days as a man of the Night’s Watch. That proved a foolish mercy, for the Blackfyres still had many friends at court, some of them only too willing to play the informer. The ship carrying Bittersteel and a dozen other captives was taken in the narrow sea on the way to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and Aegor Rivers was freed and returned to the Golden Company. Before the year was out, he crowned Haegon’s eldest son as King Daemon III Blackfyre in Tyrosh, and resumed his plotting against the king who had spared him.
King Aerys sat the Iron Throne for the better part of two more years, before dying in 221 AC of natural causes.
In the course of that reign, His Grace had recognized a series of heirs, though none were children of his body; Aerys died without issue, his marriage still unconsummated. His brother Rhaegel, third son of Daeron the Good, had predeceased him, choking to death upon a lamprey pie in 215 AC during a feast. Rhaegel’s son, Aelor, then became the new Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the throne, only to die two years after, slain in a grotesque mishap by the hand of his own twin sister and wife, Aelora, under circumstances that left her mad with grief. (Sadly, Aelora eventually took her own life after being attacked at a masked ball by three men known to history as the Rat, the Hawk, and the Pig.) The last of the heirs Aerys recognized before his death would be the one to succeed him to the throne: the king’s sole surviving brother, Prince Maekar.
The arrest of Daemon II Blackfyre. (illustration credit 76) M AEKAR I MAEKAR WAS AN energetic king and a warrior of note, but also a harsh man, quick to judge and to condemn. He had never possessed his brother Baelor’s gifts that made friends and allies come easily, and after his brother’s death at his hands—however inadvertent—he became even more stern and unforgiving. Such was his desire to split from the past that he had a new crown made—a warlike crown with black iron points in a band of red gold, since Aegon the Conqueror’s crown had been lost after Daeron I’s death in Dorne. Yet Maekar ruled in a time of relative peace, between two of the Blackfyre Rebellions, and what turmoil there was in his reign was largely sparked by his own sons.
The chief issue of Maekar’s reign was the question of his heirs. He had a number of sons and daughters, but there were those who had reason to doubt their fitness to rule. The eldest, Prince Daeron, was known as the Drunken, and preferred to be styled Prince of Summerhall because he found Dragonstone such a gloomy abode. Next after him was Prince Aerion, known as Brightflame or Brightfire—a most puissant knight but cruel and capricious, and a dabbler in the black arts. Both of these princes died before their father, though both had issue. Prince Daeron sired a daughter, Vaella, in 222 AC, but the girl sadly proved simple. Aerion Brightfire’s son was born in 232 AC, and given the ominous name of Maegor by his sire, but the Bright Prince himself died that same year when he drank a cup of wildfire in the belief that it would allow him to transform himself into a dragon.
The crown of King Maekar I. (illustration credit 77)
Maekar’s third son, Aemon, was a bookish boy who had been sent to the Citadel in his youth and emerged as a sworn and chained maester. Youngest of the king’s sons was Prince Aegon, who had served as squire to a hedge knight—the same hedge knight in whose defense Baelor Breakspear died —whilst a boy, and earned the name “Egg.” “Daeron is a jape and Aerion is a fright, but Aegon is more than half a peasant” one court wit was heard to remark.
When King Maekar died in battle in 233 AC, whilst leading his army against a rebellious lord on the Dornish Marches, considerable confusion arose as to the succession. Rather than risk another Dance of the Dragons, the King’s Hand, Bloodraven, elected to call a Great Council to decide the matter.
In 233 AC, hundred of lords great and small assembled in King’s Landing. With both of Maekar’s elder sons deceased, there were four possible claimants. The Great Council dismissed Prince Daeron’s sweet but simple-minded daughter Vaella immediately. Only a few spoke up for Aerion Brightflame’s son Maegor; an infant king would have meant a long, contentious regency, and there were also fears that the boy might have inherited his father’s cruelty and madness. Prince Aegon was the obvious choice, but some lords distrusted him as well, for his wanderings with his hedge knight had left him “half a peasant,” according to many. Enough hated him, in fact, that an effort was made to determine whether his elder brother Maester Aemon might be released from his vows, but Aemon refused, and nothing came of it.
Even as the Great Council was debating, however, another claimant appeared in King’s Landing:
none other than Aenys Blackfyre, the fifth of the Black Dragon’s seven sons. When the Great Council had first been announced, Aenys had written from exile in Tyrosh, putting forward his case in the hope that his words might win him the Iron Throne that his forebears had thrice failed to win with their swords. Bloodraven, the King’s Hand, had responded by offering him a safe conduct, so the pretender might come to King’s Landing and present his claim in person.
Unwisely, Aenys accepted. Yet hardly had he entered the city when the gold cloaks seized hold of him and dragged him to the Red Keep, where his head was struck off forthwith and presented to the lords of the Great Council, as a warning to any who might still have Blackfyre sympathies.
Soon thereafter, the “Prince Who Was An Egg” was chosen by a majority of the Great Council. The fourth son of a fourth son, Aegon V would become widely known as Aegon the Unlikely for having stood so far out of the succession in his youth.
A EGON V THE FIRST ACT of Aegon’s reign was the arrest of Brynden Rivers, the King’s Hand, for the murder of Aenys Blackfyre. Bloodraven did not deny that he had lured the pretender into his power by the offer of a safe conduct, but contended that he had sacrificed his own personal honor for the good of the realm.
Though many agreed, and were pleased to see another Blackfyre pretender removed, King Aegon felt he had no choice but to condemn the Hand, lest the word of the Iron Throne be seen as worthless.
Yet after the sentence of death was pronounced, Aegon offered Bloodraven the chance to take the black and join the Night’s Watch. This he did. Ser Brynden Rivers set sail for the Wall late in the year of 233 AC. (No one intercepted his ship). Two hundred men went with him, many of them archers from Bloodraven’s personal guard, the Raven’s Teeth. The king’s brother, Maester Aemon, was also amongst them.
Bloodraven would rise to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in 239 AC, serving until his disappearance during a ranging beyond the Wall in 252 AC.
Aegon’s reign was a challenging one, starting as it did in the midst of a winter that had lasted three years and showed no signs of abating. There was starvation and suffering in the North, as there had been a hundred years before, in the long winter that reigned from 130 to 135 AC. King Aegon, always concerned for the welfare of the poor and weak, did what he could to increase the flow of grain and other food to the North, but some felt he did too much in this regard.
His rule was also quickly tested by those whose affairs he had meddled in too often as a prince, attempting to reduce their rights and privileges. Nor had the Blackfyre threat ended with the death of Aenys Blackfyre; Bloodraven’s infamous betrayal had only hardened the enmity of the exiles across the narrow sea. In 236 AC, as a cruel six-year-long winter drew to a close, the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion saw the self-styled King Daemon III Blackfyre, son of Haegon and grandson of Daemon I, cross the narrow sea with Bittersteel and the Golden Company at his back, in a fresh attempt to seize the Iron Throne.
The invaders landed on Massey’s Hook, south of Blackwater Bay, but few rallied to their banners.
King Aegon V himself rode out to meet them, with his three sons by his side. In the Battle of Wendwater Bridge, the Blackfyres suffered a shattering defeat, and Daemon III was slain by the Kingsguard knight Ser Duncan the Tall, the hedge knight for whom “Egg” had served as a squire.
Bittersteel eluded capture and escaped once again, only to emerge a few years later in the Disputed Lands, fighting with his sellswords in a meaningful skirmish between Tyrosh and Myr. Ser Aegor Rivers was sixty-nine years of age when he fell, and it is said he died as he had lived, with a sword in his hand and defiance upon his lips. Yet his legacy would live on in the Golden Company and the Blackfyre line he had served and protected.
King Aegon the Unlikely (standing at back) and his sons (l. to r.) Duncan, Jaehaerys, and Daeron. (illustration credit 78) There were other battles during the time of Aegon V for the unlikely king was forced to spend, much of his reign in armor, quelling one rising or another. Though beloved by the smallfolk, King Aegon made many enemies amongst the lords of the realm, whose powers he wished to curtail. He enacted numerous reforms and granted rights and protections to the commons that they had never known before, but each of these measures provoked fierce opposition and sometimes open defiance amongst the lords. The most outspoken of his foes went so far as to denounce Aegon V as a “bloodyhanded tyrant intent on depriving us of our gods-given rights and liberties.” It was well-known that the resistance against him taxed Aegon’s patience—especially as the compromises a king must make to rule well often left his greatest hopes receding further and further into the future. As one defiance followed another, His Grace found himself forced to bow to the recalcitrant lords more often than he wished. A student of history and lover of books, Aegon V was oft heard to say that had he only had dragons, as the first Aegon had, he could have remade the realm anew, with peace and prosperity and justice for all.
Even his sons proved a trial to this good-hearted king, when they might have been a strength. Aegon V had married for love, taking to wife the Lady Betha Blackwood, the spirited (some say willful) daughter of the Lord of Raventree Hall, who became known as Black Betha for her dark eyes and raven hair. When they wed, in 220 AC, the bride was nineteen and Aegon twenty, so far down in the line of succession that the match provoked no opposition. In the years that followed, Black Betha gave Aegon three sons (Duncan, Jaehaerys, and Daeron) and two daughters (Shaera and Rhaelle).
It had long been the custom of House Targaryen to wed brother to sister to keep the blood of the dragon pure, but for whatever cause, Aegon V had become convinced that such incestuous unions did more harm than good. Instead he resolved to join his children in marriage with the sons and daughters of some of the greatest lords of the Seven Kingdoms, in the hopes of winning their support for his reforms and strengthening his rule.
With the help of Black Betha, a number of advantageous betrothals were made and celebrated in 237 AC whilst Aegon’s children were still young. Had the marriages taken place, much good might have come of them … but His Grace had failed to account for the willfulness of his own blood. Betha Blackwood’s children proved to be as stubborn as their mother, and like their father, chose to follow their hearts when choosing mates.
Aegon’s eldest son Duncan, Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the throne, was the first to defy him.
Though betrothed to a daughter of House Baratheon of Storm’s End, Duncan became enamored of a strange, lovely, and mysterious girl who called herself Jenny of Oldstones in 239 AC, whilst traveling in the riverlands. Though she dwelt half-wild amidst ruins and claimed descent from the long-vanished kings of the First Men, the smallfolk of surrounding villages mocked such tales, insisting that she was only some half-mad peasant girl, and perhaps even a witch.
It was true that Aegon had been a friend to the smallfolk, had practically grown up among them, but to countenance the marriage of the heir to the throne to a commoner of uncertain birth was beyond him. His Grace did all he could to have the marriage undone, demanding that Duncan put Jenny aside.
The prince shared his father’s stubbornness, however, and refused him. Even when the High Septon, Grand Maester, and small council joined together to insist King Aegon force his son to choose between the Iron Throne and this wild woman of the woods, Duncan would not budge. Rather than give up Jenny, he foreswore his claim to the crown in favor of his brother Jaehaerys, and abdicated as Prince of Dragonstone.
Even that could not restore the peace, nor win back the friendship of Storm’s End, however. The father of the spurned girl, Lord Lyonel Baratheon of Storm’s End—known as the Laughing Storm and famed for his prowess in battle—was not a man easily appeased when his pride was wounded. A short, bloody rebellion ensued, ending only when Ser Duncan of the Kingsguard defeated Lord Lyonel in single combat, and King Aegon gave his solemn word that his youngest daughter, Rhaelle, would wed Lord Lyonel’s heir. To seal the bargain, Princess Rhaelle was sent to Storm’s End to serve as Lord Lyonel’s cupbearer and companion to his lady wife. Jenny of Oldstones—Lady Jenny, as she was called by courtesy—was eventually accepted at court, and throughout the Seven Kingdoms the smallfolk held her especially dear. She and her prince, forever after known as the Prince of Dragonflies, were a favorite subject of singers for many years.
Jenny of Oldstones was accompanied to court by a dwarfish, albino woman who was reputed to be a woods witch in the riverlands. Lady Jenny herself claimed, in her ignorance, that she was a child of the forest.