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The great hill called High Heart was especially holy to the First Men, as it had been to the children of the forest before them. Crowned by a grove of giant weirwoods, ancient as any that had been seen in the Seven Kingdoms, High Heart was still the abode of the children and their greenseers. When the Andal king Erreg the Kinslayer surrounded the hill, the children emerged to defend it, calling down clouds of ravens and armies of wolves … or so the legend tells us. Yet neither tooth nor talon was a match for the steel axes of the Andals, who slaughtered the greenseers, the beasts, and the First Men alike, and raised beside the High Heart a hill of corpses half again as high … or so the singers would have us believe.

True History suggests otherwise, insisting that the children had abandoned the riverlands long before the Andals crossed the narrow sea. But however it happened, the grove was destroyed. Today only stumps remain where once the weirwoods stood.

Though Erreg’s name is one of the blackest in the ancient histories, one may wonder if he ever existed in truth. Archmaester Perestan has suggested that Erreg might, in fact, be a corruption of an Andal title and not a name at all. Perestan goes further in his A Consideration on History, suggesting this nameless Andal chieftain had cut down the trees at the behest of a rival of the river king, who used the Andals as sellswords.

The penultimate and greatest of the river kings to stand before the Andals was Tristifer IV of House Mudd, the Hammer of Justice, who ruled from a great castle called Oldstones, on a hill by the banks of the Blue Fork. The singers tell us he fought a hundred battles against the invaders and won nineand-ninety of them, only to fall in the hundredth, when he rode to war against an alliance of seven Andal kings. Yet it seems convenient that there are seven kings in the songs; likely this is another tale concocted by the septons as a lesson in piety.

Before the Mudds, there had been other kings near as powerful. The Fishers are said in some chronicles to have been the first and oldest line of river kings (in others, they are accounted the second dynasty, and the fragmentary Annals of the Rivers from the ancient septry at Peasedale suggests they were third). The Blackwoods and Brackens both claim to have ruled the riverlands at various times during the Age of Heroes.

The Mudds succeeded in unifying more of the riverlands than any of their predecessors, but their reign was not to last. The Hammer of Justice was succeeded by his son, Tristifer V or Tristifer the, Last, who proved unable to stem the Andal tide and failed even to hold his own people together.

The Andal kings who brought down Oldstones and slew Tristifer the Last intermarried with remaining nobility of the First Men and butchered those who would not bend the knee. A quarrelsome, warlike folk, the Andals divided up the riverlands amongst themselves. The blood of the last kings of the First Men had scarce dried before their Andal conquerors began to war each upon the others for dominance. Though many a lord would name himself King of the Rivers and Hills or King of the Trident, centuries would pass before any of these petty monarchs held sway over enough of the riverlands to be worthy of these titles.

The first of the Andal kings to bring all the riverlands under his sway was a bastard born of a tryst between two ancient enemies, the Blackwoods and the Brackens. As a boy, he was Benedict Rivers, despised by all, but he grew to be the greatest warrior of his age, Ser Benedict the Bold. His prowess in battle won him the support of both his mother’s house and his father’s, and soon other riverlords bent their knees to him as well. It required more than thirty years for Benedict to throw down the last of the petty kings of the Trident. Only when the last had yielded did he don a crown himself.

As king, he became known as Benedict the Just, a name that pleased him so much that he set aside his bastard surname and took Justman as the name of his house. As wise as he was stern, he reigned for three-and-twenty years, extending his domains as far as Maidenpool and the Neck. His son, another Benedict, reigned for sixty years and added Duskendale, Rosby, and the mouth of the Blackwater to the river realm.

House Justman ruled the riverlands for close on three centuries, the chronicles tell us. Their line was ended when Qhored Hoare, King of the Iron Islands, murdered the sons of King Bernarr II whilst they were held captive in Pyke. Their father did not long survive them, provoked into a hopeless war for vengeance against the ironborn.

Another period of anarchy and bloodshed followed. The realm that Benedict the Bold had knitted together was torn asunder once again, and a hundred years of conflict saw petty kings from the Houses Blackwood, Bracken, Vance, Mallister, and Charlton contending with one another for supremacy.

The unlikely victor in these struggles was Lord Torrence Teague, an adventurer of uncertain birth who seized a fortune in gold in a daring attack upon the westerlands and used the wealth to bring sellswords across the narrow sea in great numbers. Seasoned warriors all, their blades proved the difference, and Teague was crowned King of the Trident at Maidenpool after six long years of war.

It is said, however, that neither King Torrence nor his heirs ever sat securely on their thrones. The Teagues were so little loved by those they ruled that they were forced to keep the sons and daughters of all the great houses of the Trident at their court as hostages, in case of treason. Even so, the fourth Teague monarch, King Theo the Saddle-Sore, spent his entire reign ahorse, leading his knights from one rebellion to the next whilst hanging hostages from every tree.

As with the First Men, the dynasties of the Andal river kings oft proved short-lived, for enemies surrounded their realms on every side. Ironmen from the isles raided their coasts to the west, whilst pirates from the Stepstones and Three Sisters did the same to the east. Westermen rode down from the hills across the Red Fork to pillage and conquer, and the wild hill tribes emerged from the Mountains of the Moon to burn, plunder, and carry off women. From the southwest, the lords of the Reach sent iron columns of knights across the Blackwater whenever it pleased them; to the southeast lay the domains of the Storm Kings, ever eager for gold and glory.

In all the long history of the Trident, under hundreds of rulers, there was hardly ever a time when the riverfolk were not at war with at least one of their neighbors. Sometimes they were forced to fight upon two or even three fronts at once.

Worse, few of the river kings ever enjoyed the full support of his own lords bannermen. Memories of ancient wrongs and bygone betrayals were not oft put aside by the lords of the Trident, whose enmities ran as deep as the rivers that watered their lands. Time and time again, one or more of these riverlords would join with some invader against their own king; indeed, in some cases, it was these very lords who brought the outsiders into the riverlands, offering them lands or gold or daughters for their help against familiar foes.

King Benedict of House Justman. (illustration credit 102)

Many a river king was toppled by such alliances, and each new battle only served to set the stage for another to follow. With hindsight, it is plain to see that it was only a matter of time until one of the invaders chose to stay and claim the riverlands for his own.

The first to do so was the Storm King, Arlan III Durrandon.

Humfrey of House Teague was King of the Rivers and the Hills in those days. A pious ruler, he founded many septs and motherhouses across the riverlands and attempted to repress the worship of the old gods within his realm.

This led Raventree to rise against him, for the Blackwoods had never accepted the Seven. The Vances of Atranta and the Tullys of Riverrun joined them in rebellion. King Humfrey and his loyalists, supported by the Swords and Stars of the Faith Militant, were on the point of crushing them when Lord Roderick Blackwood sent to Storm’s End for aid. His lordship was tied to House Durrandon by marriage, as King Arlan had taken one of Lord Roderick’s daughters to wife, wedding her by the old rites beneath the great dead weirwood in Raventree’s godswood.

Arlan III was quick to respond. Calling all his banners, the Storm King led a great host across the Blackwater Rush, smashing King Humfrey and his loyalists in a series of bloody battles and lifting the siege of Raventree. Roderick Blackwood and Elston Tully both fell in the fighting, along with Lords Bracken, Darry, Smallwood, and both Lords Vance. King Humfrey, his brother and champion, Ser Damon, and his sons Humfrey, Hollis, and Tyler all perished in the campaign’s final battle, a bloody affray fought beneath two hills called the Mother’s Teats on land claimed by both the Blackwoods and the Brackens.

King Humfrey was the first to die that day, it is written. His heir, Prince Humfrey, took up his crown and sword, but died a short time later, whereupon the second son, Hollis, did the same, only to be killed in turn. And so it went, the bloody crown of the last river king passing from son to son, and finally to King Humfrey’s brother, all within the space of a single afternoon. By the time the sun went down, House Teague had been entirely extinguished, along with the Kingdom of Rivers and Hills.

The fight in which they died has hereafter been known as the Battle of Six Kings, in honor of Arlan III the Storm King and the five river kings his stormlanders slew, some of whom reigned for minutes, not even hours.

Certain letters found by maesters in service at Storm’s End and Raventree Hall in later centuries suggest that Arlan III did not intend to claim the riverlands for himself when he marched north but rather planned to restore the crown to House Blackwood, in the person of his good-father Lord Roderick. His lordship’s death in battle twisted those plans awry, however, for the heir to Raventree was a boy of eight, and the Storm King neither liked nor trusted Lord Blackwood’s surviving brothers. It appears that King Arlan briefly considered crowning his good-daughter Shiera, Roderick Blackwood’s eldest child, with his own son ruling at her side, but the riverlords spoke out against being ruled by a woman, and His Grace decided to add the riverlands to his own domains.

And so they would remain for more than three centuries, though the riverlords rose against Storm’s End at least once each generation. A dozen pretenders from as many houses would adopt the style of River King or King of the Trident and vow to throw off the yoke of the stormlanders. Some even succeeded … for a fortnight, a moon’s turn, even a year. But their thrones were built on mud and sand, and in the end a fresh host would march from Storm’s End to topple them and hang the men who’d presumed to sit upon them. Thus ended the brief inglorious reigns of Lucifer Justman (Lucifer the Liar), Marq Mudd (the Mad Bard), Lord Robert Vance, Lord Petyr Mallister, Lady Jeyne Nutt, the bastard king Ser Addam Rivers, the peasant king Pate of Fairmarket, and Ser Lymond Fisher, Knight of Oldstones, along with a dozen more.

When Storm’s End’s grasp upon the riverlands was finally shattered, it was no riverlord who broke it but a rival conqueror from beyond the lands of the Trident: Harwyn Hoare, called the Hardhand, King of the Iron Islands. Crossing Ironman’s Bay with a hundred longships, Harwyn’s force landed forty leagues south of Seagard and marched inland to the Blue Fork, carrying their ships with them on their shoulders in a feat the singers of the isles still celebrate.

As the ironborn moved up and down the rivers, reaving and raiding as they pleased, the riverlords fell back before them or took shelter in their castles, unwilling to risk battle in the name of a king many of them reviled. Those who did take up arms were savagely punished. A bold young knight named Samwell Rivers, a natural son of Tommen Tully, Lord of Riverrun, assembled a small host and met King Harwyn on the Tumblestone, but his lines shattered when the Hardhand charged.

Hundreds drowned attempting to flee. Rivers himself was hacked in two, so that half his body might be delivered to each of his parents.

Lord Tully abandoned Riverrun without a fight, fleeing with all his strength to join the host gathering at Raventree Hall under Lady Agnes Blackwood and her sons. But when Lady Agnes advanced upon the ironborn, her belligerent neighbor Lord Lothar Bracken fell upon her rear with all his strength and put her men to flight. Lady Agnes herself and two of her sons were captured and delivered to King Harwyn, who forced the mother to watch as he strangled her boys with his bare hands. Yet Lady Agnes did not weep if the tales are true. “I have other sons,” she told the King of the Iron Isles. “Raventree shall endure long after you and yours are cast down and destroyed. Your line shall end in blood and fire.” Likely this prophetic speech is a later invention, added to the tale by some singer or storyteller.

What we do know is that Harwyn Hardhand was so impressed by his captive’s defiance that he offered to spare her life and take her as a salt wife. “I would sooner have your sword inside me than your cock,” Lady Agnes replied. Harwyn Hardhand granted her wish.

The rout of Lady Blackwood’s host spelled the end of the riverlords’ resistance to the ironborn, but not the end of the fighting, for word of the invasion had finally reached King Arrec Durrandon at distant Storm’s End. Assembling a mighty host, the Storm King raced north to meet the foe.

So eager was this young king to come to grips with the ironmen that he soon outpaced his own baggage train—a grievous mistake, as Arrec learned when he crossed the Blackwater and found every castle shut against him and neither food nor fodder to be found, only burning towns and blackened fields.

Many of the riverlords had joined the ironmen by then. Under the command of the Lords Goodbrook, Paege, and Vypren, they slipped across the Blackwater and fell upon the slow-moving baggage train before it reached the river, putting King Arrec’s rear guard to flight and seizing his supplies.

Thus it was a stumbling, starving host of stormlanders who finally faced Harwyn Hardhand at Fairmarket, where Lothar Bracken, Theo Charlton, and a score of other riverlords had joined him.

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