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Ser Jaime Lannister was meanwhile left in charge of the Red Keep’s defenses. The walls were manned by knights and watchmen, awaiting the enemy. When the first army that arrived flew the lion of Casterly Rock, with Lord Tywin at its head, King Aerys anxiously ordered the gates to be opened, thinking that at last his old friend and former Hand had come to his rescue, as he had done at the Defiance of Duskendale. But Lord Tywin had not come to save the Mad King.
This time, Lord Tywin’s cause was that of the realm’s, and he was determined to bring an end to the reign that madness had brought low. Once within the walls of the city, his soldiers assaulted the defenders of King’s Landing, and blood ran red in the streets. A handpicked cadre of men raced to the Red Keep to storm its walls and seek out King Aerys, so that justice might be done.
The Red Keep was soon breached, but in the chaos, misfortune soon fell upon Elia of Dorne and her children, Rhaenys and Aegon. It is tragic that the blood spilled in war may as readily be innocent as it is guilty, and that those who ravished and murdered Princess Elia escaped justice. It is not known who murdered Princess Rhaenys in her bed, or smashed the infant Prince Aegon’s head against a wall. Some whisper it was done at Aerys’s own command when he learned that Lord Lannister had taken up Robert’s cause, while others suggest that Elia did it herself for fear of what would happen to her children in the hands of her dead husband’s enemies.
Aerys’s Hand, Rossart, was killed at a postern gate after cravenly attempting to flee the castle. And last of all to die was King Aerys himself, at the hand of his remaining Kingsguard knight, Ser Jaime Lannister. Like his father, Ser Jaime did as he thought best for the realm, bringing an end to the Mad King.
And so ended both the reign of House Targaryen and Robert’s Rebellion—the war that put an end to nearly three hundred years of Targaryen rule and ushered in a new golden era under the auspices of House Baratheon.
The Red Keep and King’s Landing. (illustration credit 89) SINCE THE FALL of House Targaryen, the realm has prospered greatly. Robert, the First of His Name, took charge of a fractured Westeros and swiftly healed it of the many ills inflicted by the Mad King and his son. As his first act, the unwed king took to wife the most beautiful woman in the realm, Cersei of House Lannister—thereby granting to House Lannister all the honors that Aerys had denied it. And though all know Lord Tywin might well have become Hand again, the king, in his graciousness, gave that office to his old friend and protector, Lord Jon Arryn, instead. The wise and just Lord Arryn has indeed helped the king shepherd the realm to prosperity since.
But this is not to say that Robert’s reign has been completely untroubled. Six years after he was crowned, Balon Greyjoy unlawfully rose against his king—not for any harm done to him or to his people but merely out of wanton ambition. Lord Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s middle brother, led the royal fleet against Lord Greyjoy, while King Robert himself rode at the head of a mighty host. Great feats of arms were performed by King Robert when Pyke was eventually taken and subdued. The king then made Balon Greyjoy—the pretender to the crown of the Iron Isles—bend the knee to the Iron Throne. And as assurance of his fealty, his only surviving son was taken hostage.
Now the realm is at peace, and all that Robert’s ascension to the throne once promised has come to pass. Our noble king has overseen one of the longest summers in many years, filled with prosperity and good harvests. Moreover, the king and his beloved queen have given the realm three golden heirs to ensure that House Baratheon will long reign supreme. And though a false King-beyond-the-Wall has recently declared himself, Mance Rayder is an oathbreaker fled from the Night’s Watch, and the Night’s Watch has always brought swift justice to those who have betrayed it. This king will amount to nothing, as have all the other wildling kings before him.
It may not always be so. As this history has shown, the world has seen many ages. Many thousands of years have passed from the Dawn Age to today. Castles have risen and fallen, as have kingdoms.
Crofters have been born, grown to work the fields, and died of age or mishap or illness, leaving behind children to do the same. Princes have been born, grown to wear a crown, and died in war or bed or tourney, leaving behind reigns great, forgettable, or reviled. The world has known ice in the Long Night, and it has known fire in the Doom. From the Frozen Shore to Asshai-by-the-Shadow, this world of ice and fire has revealed a rich and glorious history—although there is much yet to be discovered. If more fragments of Maester Gyldayn’s manuscript are located—or if other such incomparable treasures (at least to the maesters’ eyes) are uncovered—more of our ignorance may be sponged away. But one thing can be said with certainty. As the next thousand years unfold—and the thousands beyond that—many more will be born, and live, and die. And history will continue to unfold, as strange and complex and compelling as what my humble pen was able to lay before you here.
No man can say with certainty what the future may hold. But perhaps, in knowing what has already transpired, we can all do our part to avoid the mistakes of our forebears, to emulate their successes, and to create a world more harmonious for our children and their children, for generations to come.
In the name of the glorious King Robert, First of His Name, I humbly conclude this history of the kings of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Vale of Arryn. (illustration credit 90) illustration credit 91) N ORTH THE THE V AST AND frigid realm of the Kings of Winter, the Starks of Winterfell, is generally considered the first and oldest of the Seven Kingdoms, in that it has endured, unconquered, for the longest. The vagaries of geography and history set the North apart from their southron neighbors.
It is often said that the North is as large as the other six kingdoms put together, but the truth is somewhat less grand: the North, as ruled today by House Stark of Winterfell, comprises little more than a third of the realm. Beginning at the southern edge of the Neck, the domains of the Starks extend as far north as the New Gift (itself part of their realm until King Jaehaerys I convinced Winterfell to cede those lands to the Night’s Watch). Within the North are great forests, windswept plains, hills and valleys, rocky shores, and snow-crowned mountains. The North is a cold land—much of it rising moorlands and high plains giving way to mountains in its northern reaches—and this makes it far less fertile than the reaches of the south. Snow has been known to fall there even in summer, and it is deadly in winter.
For centuries it has been the custom to speak of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. This familiar usage derives from the seven great kingdoms that held sway over most of Westeros below the Wall during years immediately preceding Aegon’s Conquest. Yet even then, the term was far from exact, for one of those “kingdoms” was ruled by a princess rather than a king (Dorne), and Aegon Targaryen’s own “kingdom” of Dragonstone was never included in the count.
Nonetheless, the term endures. Just as we speak of the Hundred Kingdoms of yore, though there was never a time when Westeros was actually divided into a hundred independent states, we must bow to common usage and talk of the Seven Kingdoms, despite the imprecision.
White Harbor, the North’s sole true city, is the smallest city in the Seven Kingdoms. The most prominent towns in the North are the “winter town” beneath the walls of Winterfell and Barrowton in the Barrowlands. The former is largely empty in spring and summer but filled to bursting in autumn and winter with those seeking the protection and patronage of Winterfell to help them survive the lean times. Not only do townsmen arrive from the outlying villages and crofts, but many a son and daughter of the mountain clans have been known to make their way to the winter town when the snows begin to fall in earnest.
The rusted crown upon the arms of House Dustin derives from their claim that they are themselves descended from the First King and the Barrow Kings who ruled after him. The old tales recorded in Kennet’s Passages of the Dead claim that a curse was placed on the Great Barrow that would allow no living man to rival the First King. This curse made these pretenders to the title grow corpselike in their appearance as it sucked away their vitality and life. This is no more than legend, to be sure, but that the Dustins share blood and descent from the Barrow Kings of old seems sure enough.
Barrowton, too, is somewhat of a curiosity—a gathering place built at the foot of the reputed barrow of the First King, who once ruled supreme over all the First Men, if the legends can be believed. Rising from the midst of a wide and empty plain, it has prospered thanks to the shrewd stewardship of the Dustins, loyal bannermen to the Starks, who have ruled the Barrowlands in their name since the fall of the last of the Barrow Kings.
The men of the North are descendants of the First Men, their blood only slowly mingling with that of the Andals who overwhelmed the kingdoms to the south. The original language of the First Men— known as the Old Tongue—has come to be spoken only by the wildlings beyond the Wall, and many other aspects of their culture have faded away (such as the grislier aspects of their worship, when criminals and traitors were killed and their bodies and entrails hung from the branches of weirwoods.) In the North, they tell the tale of the Rat Cook, who served an Andal king—identified by some as King Tywell II of the Rock, and by others as King Oswell I of the Vale and Mountain—the flesh of the king’s own son, baked into a pie. For this, he was punished by being turned into a monstrous rat that ate its own young. Yet the punishment was incurred not for killing the king’s son, or for feeding him to the king, but for the breaking of guest right.
But the Northmen still retain something of the old ways in their customs and their manner. Their life is harder, and so they are hardened by it, and the pleasures that in the south are considered noble are thought childish and less worthy than the hunting and brawling that the Northmen love best.
Even their house names mark them out, for the First Men bore names that were short and blunt and to the point; names like Stark, Wull, Umber, and Stout all stem from the days when the Andals had no influence on the North.
One notable custom that the Northmen hold dearer than any other is guest right, the tradition of hospitality by which a man may offer no harm to a guest beneath his roof, nor a guest to his host. The Andals held to something like it as well, but it looms less large in southron minds. In his text Justice and Injustice in the North: Judgments of Three Stark Lords, Maester Egbert notes that crimes in the North in which guest right was violated were rare but were invariably treated as harshly as the direst of treasons. Only kinslaying is deemed as sinful as the violations of these laws of hospitality.
As knighthood is rare in the North, the knightly tourney and its pageantry and chivalry are as rare as hen’s teeth beyond the Neck. Northmen fight ahorse with war lances but seldom tilt for sport, preferring mêlées that are only just this side of battles. There are accounts of contests that have lasted half a day and left fields trampled and villages half–torn down.
Serious injuries are common in such a mêlée, and deaths are not unheard of. In the great mêlée at Last Hearth in 170 AC, it is said that no fewer than eighteen men died, and half again that number were sorely maimed before the day was done.
Song and story tell us that the Starks of Winterfell have ruled large portions of the lands beyond the Neck for eight thousand years, styling themselves the Kings of Winter (the more ancient usage) and (in more recent centuries) the Kings in the North. Their rule was not an uncontested one. Many were the wars in which the Starks expanded their rule or were forced to win back lands that rebels had carved away. The Kings of Winter were hard men in hard times.
The arms of House Stark (center) and some of its vassals (clockwise from top): Glover, Ryswell, Manderly, Dustin, Bolton, Tallhart, Reed, Umber, Karstark, Hornwood, and Mormont. (illustration credit 93) Ancient ballads, amongst the oldest to be found in the archives of the Citadel of Oldtown, tell of how one King of Winter drove the giants from the North, whilst another felled the skinchanger Gaven Greywolf and his kin in “the savage War of the Wolves,” but we have only the word of singers that such kings and such battles ever existed.
More historical proof exists for the war between the Kings of Winter and the Barrow Kings to their south, who styled themselves the Kings of the First Men and claimed supremacy over all First Men everywhere, even the Starks themselves. Runic records suggest that their struggle, dubbed the Thousand Years War by the singers, was actually a series of wars that lasted closer to two hundred years than a thousand, ending when the last Barrow King bent his knee to the King of Winter, and gave him the hand of his daughter in marriage.
Even this did not give Winterfell dominion over all the North. Many other petty kings remained, ruling over realms great and small, and it would require thousands of years and many more wars before the last of them was conquered. Yet one by one, the Starks subdued them all, and during these struggles, many proud houses and ancient lines were extinguished forever.
Amongst the houses reduced from royals to vassals we can count the Flints of Breakstone Hill, the Slates of Blackpool, the Umbers of Last Hearth, the Lockes of Oldcastle, the Glovers of Deepwood Motte, the Fishers of the Stony Shore, the Ryders of the Rills … and mayhaps even the Blackwoods of Raventree, whose own family traditions insist they once ruled most of the wolfswood before being driven from their lands by the Kings of Winter (certain runic records support this claim, if Maester Barneby’s translations can be trusted).