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«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»

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The seat of House Tully is small when compared to the great fortress castles of other great houses. It is not even the largest castle in the riverlands, for Harren the Black’s ruined immensity of Harrenhal could contain ten Riverruns.

Yet Riverrun is stout and well constructed, and its position at the juncture of two rivers, surrounded by deep waters on two sides, makes it exceedingly difficult to assault. Though besieged many times over the centuries, Riverrun has seldom been taken, and never by storm. Key to the castle’s strength is the moat dug beneath its western wall, where the main gate stands. Many castles in the Seven Kingdoms have moats, but few are created with complicated sluice gates that allow them to be flooded at need. This gives Riverrun’s moat a depth and breadth few others can achieve. With its moat fully flooded, Riverrun becomes an island, all but invulnerable to assault.

Riverrun. (illustration credit 109) illustration credit 110 V ALE THE THE V ALE OF ARRYN—a long, wide, fertile valley entirely ringed by the great grey-green peaks of the mighty Mountains of the Moon—is as rich as it is beautiful. Perhaps that was why the first Andal invaders chose to land there when they crossed the narrow sea beneath the banners of their gods. The proof of that claim lies in the stones carved all about the Fingers, which bear images of stars, swords, and axes (or hammers, as some have argued). The sacred book of the Faith, The Seven-Pointed Star, speaks of a “golden land amidst towering mountains” when Hugor of the Hill received his vision of the bounty that would one day belong to the Andals.

Isolated from the rest of Westeros by its towering mountains, the Vale proved the perfect ground for the Andals to carve out their first kingdoms in this new land. The First Men, who were there before the Andals, fought these seaborne conquerors stubbornly, but the Vale was but thinly peopled in those days, and they soon found themselves outnumbered in every fight. No sooner was one longship set aflame or driven back into the sea, the singers say, than ten more rose from the dawn.

Nor could the First Men match the zeal of the invaders, and their bronze axes and byrnies of bronze scales proved less than equal to the steel swords and iron ringmail of the Andals.

Moreover, the Vale and its surrounding peaks were divided into a score of petty kingdoms when the first Andals began wading ashore, with the seven-pointed star painted (or carved, in some cases) on their chests. Riven by ancient enmities, the kings of the First Men did not unite against the invaders when first they appeared but rather made pacts and alliances with them, seeking to use the newcomers in their wars against one another. (A familiar folly that was to be repeated time and time again as the Andals spread out across Westeros).

Dywen Shell and Jon Brightstone, both of whom claimed the title King of the Fingers, went so far as to pay Andal warlords to cross the sea, each thinking to use their swords against the other. Instead the warlords turned upon their hosts. Within a year Brightstone had been taken, tortured, and beheaded, and Shell roasted alive inside his wooden longhall. An Andal knight named Corwyn Corbray took the daughter of the former for his bride and the wife of the latter for his bedwarmer, and claimed the Fingers for his own (though Corbray, unlike many of his fellows, never named himself a king, preferring the more modest style of Lord of the Five Fingers).

Farther south, the wealthy harbor town of Gulltown on the Bay of Crabs was ruled by Osgood Shett, Third of His Name, a grizzled old warrior who claimed the ancient, vainglorious title King of the True Men, a style that supposedly went back ten thousand years to the Dawn Age. Though Gulltown itself was seemingly secure behind its thick stone walls, King Osgood and his forebears had long been waging an intermittent war against the Bronze Kings of Runestone, a more powerful neighbor from a house as old and storied as their own. Yorwyck Royce, Sixth of That Name, had claimed the Runic Crown when his sire died in battle three years previous, and had proved to be a most redoubtable foe, defeating the Shetts in several battles and driving them back inside their town walls.

Unwisely, King Osgood turned to Andalos for help in recovering all he had lost. Thinking to avoid the fate of Shell and Brightstone, he sought to bind his allies to him with blood in place of gold; he gave his daughter in marriage to the Andal knight Gerold Grafton, took Ser Gerold’s eldest daughter for his own bride, and married a younger daughter to his son and heir. All the marriages were performed by septons, according to the rites of the Seven From Across the Sea. Shett even went so far as to convert to the Faith himself, swearing to build a great sept in Gulltown should the Seven grant him victory. Then he sallied forth with his Andal allies to meet the Bronze King.

King Osgood won his victory, as it happened, but he himself did not survive the battle, and afterward it was whispered amongst the Gulltowners and other First Men that it was Ser Gerold himself who struck him down. Upon his return to the town, the Andal warlord claimed his goodfather’s crown for his own, dispossessing the younger Shett and confining him to his bedchamber until such time as he had gotten Ser Gerold’s daughter with child (after which the father vanishes from the pages of history).

When Gulltown rose against him, King Gerold put down the protests brutally, and soon the gutters of the town ran red with the blood of the First Men … and women and children as well. The dead were thrown in the bay to feed the crabs. In the years that followed, the rule of House Grafton remained uncontested, for (surprisingly) Ser Gerold proved a sage and clever ruler, and the town prospered greatly under him and his successors, growing to be the first and only city of the Vale.

Not all the lords and kings of the First Men were so foolish as to invite their conquerors into their halls and homes. Many chose to fight instead. Chief amongst these was the aforementioned Bronze King, Yorwyck VI of Runestone, who led the Royces to several notable victories over the Andals, at one point smashing seven longships that had dared to land upon his shores and decorating the walls of Runestone with the heads of their captains and crews. His heirs carried on the fight after him, for the wars between the First Men and the Andals lasted for generations.

The last of the Bronze Kings was Yorwyck’s grandson, Robar II, who inherited Runestone from his sire less than a fortnight before his sixteenth nameday yet proved to be a warrior of such ferocity and cunning and charm that he almost succeeded in stemming the Andal tide.

By that time the Andals controlled three-quarters of the Vale and had begun to fight amongst themselves, as had the First Men before them. Robar Royce saw opportunity in their disunity. Across the Vale, a handful of First Men still held out against the Andals; the Redforts of Redfort, the Hunters of Longbow Hall, the Belmores of Strongsong, and the Coldwaters of Coldwater Burn chief amongst them. One by one, Robar made alliance with each of them, and many smaller clans and houses besides, bringing them to his cause with marriages, grants of land, gold, and (in one celebrated case) by outshooting the Lord Hunter in an archery contest (legend claims that King Robar cheated). So honeyed was his tongue that he even won the allegiance of Ursula Upcliff, a reputed sorceress who called herself bride of the Merling King.

Many of the lords who gathered beneath his banners had been petty kings, but now they set aside their crowns, bending the knee before Robar Royce and proclaiming him High King of the Vale, the Fingers, and the Mountains of the Moon.

The Battle of Seven Stars. (illustration credit 111) Finally united as one people under a single ruler, the First Men went on to win a series of smashing victories against their divided, quarrelsome conquerors. Wisely, King Robar did not attempt to attack all Andals everywhere to drive them from his shores. Instead he warred upon one enemy at a time, often making common cause with one Andal chief to bring down another.

The King of the Fingers was first to fall. Legend tells us that King Robar slew Qyle Corbray himself, after striking Corbray’s famous blade, Lady Forlorn, from his hand. Gulltown was retaken by storm when Robar sent his own sister inside the walls to persuade the Shetts to rise against the Graftons and open the city gates. The Hammer of the Hills, the Andal king who held the eastern end of the Vale, was next to face the resurgent First Men and fell before King Robar’s host beneath the walls of Ironoaks. For one brief, shining moment, it appeared as if the First Men might yet retake their lands under the leadership of this brave young king.

But it was not to be. Robar had won his last victory, for the remaining Andal lords and petty kings had finally come to realize their peril. And now it was the Andals who put aside their differences to make common cause and unite beneath the banners of a single warlord. The man they chose to lead them was neither king nor prince, nor even lord, but a knight named Ser Artys Arryn. A young man, of an age with King Robar, he was esteemed amongst his peers as the finest warrior of his day, a champion with sword and lance and morningstar, and a cunning and resourceful leader of men, beloved by all who fought beside him. Though of pure Andal blood, Ser Artys had been born in the Vale in the shadow of the Giant’s Lance, where falcons soared amongst the mountain’s jagged peaks.

On his shield he bore the moon-and-falcon, whilst a pair of falcon’s wings decorated his silver warhelm. The Falcon Knight, men called him, then as now.

To speak of what happened next, we must return to the realm of song and legend. The singers say the two hosts came together at the foot of the Giant’s Lance, within a league of the house where Ser Artys had been born. Though the armies were roughly equal in number, Robar Royce held the high ground with the mountain at his back, a strong defensive position.

Having arrived days before the Andals, the First Men had dug trenches in front of their ranks and lined them with sharpened stakes (smeared with offal and excrement, says Septon Mallow’s account of the battle). Most of the First Men were afoot; the Andals had a ten-to-one advantage in mounted knights and were better armed and armored as well. They came late to the battle, if the tales are true;

King Robar had looked for them three days earlier and every day since.

It was dusk when the Andal army finally appeared, to raise their tents half a league from their foes.

But even in that fading light, Robar Royce did not fail to mark their leader. His silvered armor and winged helm made the Falcon Knight unmistakable, even from afar.

No doubt the night that followed was a restless one in both camps, for every man there knew that battle would be joined at the break of day, with the Vale itself hanging in the balance. Clouds blew in from the east, hiding the moon and stars, so the night was dark indeed. The only light came from hundreds of campfires burning in the camps, with a river of darkness between them. From time to time, the singers say, archers on one side or another lofted an arrow in the air, hoping that it might find a foe, but whether any of the blind shafts drew blood, the tales do not tell.

As the east began to lighten, men rose from their stony beds, donned their armor, and prepared for the battle. Then a shout rang through the Andal camp. There to the west, a sign had been seen: seven stars, gleaming in the grey dawn sky. “The gods are with us,” went up the cry from a thousand throats.

“Victory is ours.” As trumpets blew, the vanguard of the Andals charged up the slope, banners streaming. Yet the First Men showed no dismay at the sign that had appeared in the sky; they held their ground and battle was joined, as savage and bloody a fight as any in the long history of the Vale.

Seven times the Andals charged, the singers say; six times the First Men threw them back. But the seventh attack, led by a fearsome giant of a man named Torgold Tollett, broke through. Torgold the Grim, this man was called, but even his name was a jape, for it is written that he went into battle laughing, naked above the waist, with a bloody seven-pointed star carved across his chest and an axe in each hand.

The songs say that Torgold knew no fear and felt no pain. Though bleeding from a score of wounds, he cut a red swathe through Lord Redfort’s staunchest warriors, then took his lordship’s arm off at the shoulder with a single cut. Nor was he dismayed when the sorceress Ursula Upcliff appeared upon a bloodred horse to curse him. By then he was bare-handed, having left both of his axes buried in a foe’s chest, but the singers say he leapt upon the witch’s horse, grasped her face between two bloody hands, and tore her head from her shoulders as she screamed for succor.

Then chaos ensued, as the Andals came pouring through the gap in the ranks of the First Men.

Victory seemed within their grasp, but Robar Royce was not so easily defeated. Where another man might have fallen back to regroup, or fled the field, the High King commanded a counterattack. He led the charge himself, smashing through the confusion with his champions by his side. In his hand was Lady Forlorn, that dread blade he had plucked from the dead hands of the King of the Fingers. Slaying men right and left, the king fought his way to Torgold the Grim. As Robar slashed at his head, Tollett grabbed for his blade, still laughing … but Lady Forlorn sliced through his hands and buried herself in Torgold’s skull.

The giant died choking on his last laugh, the singers say. Whereupon the High King spied the Falcon Knight across the field and spurred toward him; should their leader fall, the Andals would lose heart and break, he hoped.

They came together as the battle raged around them, the king in bronze armor, the hero in silvered steel. Though the Falcon Knight’s armor flashed brilliantly in the morning sun, his sword was no Lady Forlorn. The duel was done almost before it began, as the Valyrian steel sheared through the winged helm and laid the Andal low. For an instant, as his foe toppled from the saddle, Robar Royce must surely have thought his battle won.

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