«illustration credit 1 illustration credit 2 The World of Ice & Fire is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the ...»
But House Greyiron’s grasp upon its iron crown did not go uncontested. Along with the kingsmoot, Galon Whitestaff’s prohibition against the ironborn making war on other ironborn also perished amidst the slaughter on Old Wyk. Over the centuries that followed, Urron Redhand and his successors had to deal with half a dozen major rebellions, and at least two major thrall uprisings. Nor were the lords and kings of the mainland slow to take advantage of the disunity amongst the ironborn. One by one, all the remaining footholds in the green lands were lost. The most telling blow was struck by King Garth VII, the Goldenhand, King of the Reach, when he drove the ironmen from the Misty Islands, renamed them the Shield Islands, and resettled them with his own fiercest warriors and finest seamen to defend the mouth of the Mander.
The arrival of the Andals in the Seven Kingdoms only hastened the decline of the Iron Islands, for unlike the First Men who had gone before, the Andals were fearless seamen, with longships of their own as swift and seaworthy as any that the ironborn could build. As the Andals flooded into the riverlands, the westerlands, and the Reach, new villages sprang up along the coasts, walled towns and stout stone-and-timber castles rose over every cove and harbor, and great lords and petty kings alike began to build warships to defend their shores and shipping.
In due time, the Andals swept over the Iron Islands just as they had all Westeros below the Neck.
Successive waves of Andal adventurers descended on the islands, oft in alliance with one or another faction of the ironborn themselves. The Andals intermarried with some of the ancient families of the islands and brought others to a bloody end with sword and axe.
House Greyiron was amongst those destroyed. The last Iron King, Rognar II, was brought down when the Orkwoods, Drumms, Hoares, and Greyjoys made common cause against him, supported by a host of Andal pirates, sellswords, and warlords.
Afterward the victors could not agree on who should succeed Rognar as king, so it was decided that they would settle the matter by dancing the finger dance, a game popular amongst the ironborn wherein players spin a throwing axe at one another and attempt to snatch it from the air. Harras Hoare emerged as victor, at the cost of two fingers. As Harras Stump-hand, he ruled the Iron Islands for thirty years.
Many believe the tale of Harras’s winning his crown by catching an axe to be no more than a singer’s fancy. In truth, Archmaester Haereg suggests that Harras was chosen because he had taken an Andal maiden for his wife, thereby winning the support of her father and many other powerful Andal lords.
Harras Stump-hand victorious. (illustration credit 119)
THE BLACK BLOOD
Archmaester Hake tells us that the kings of House Hoare were, “black of hair, black of eye, and black of heart.” Their foes claimed their blood was black as well, darkened by the “Andal taint,” for many of the early Hoare kings took maidens of that ilk to wife. True ironborn had salt water in their veins, the priests of the Drowned God proclaimed; the black-blooded Hoares were false kings, ungodly usurpers who must be cast down.
Many tried to do just that over the centuries, as Haereg relates in some detail. None succeeded.
What the Hoares lacked in valor they made up for in cunning and cruelty. Few of their subjects ever loved them, but many had good reason to fear their wroth. Their very names proclaim their nature to us, even after the passage of hundreds of years. Wulfgar the Widowmaker. Horgan Priestkiller.
Fergon the Fierce. Othgar the Soulless. Othgar Demonlover. Craghorn of the Red Smile. The priests of the Drowned God denounced them all.
Were the kings of House Hoare truly as ungodly as these holy men proclaimed? Hake believes they were, but Archmaester Haereg takes a very different view, suggesting that the true crime of the “black-blooded” kings was neither impiety nor demon-worship, but tolerance. For it was under the Hoares that the Faith of the Andals came to the Iron Islands for the first time.
Prompted by their Andal queens, these kings granted the septas and septons their protection and gave them leave to move about the islands, preaching of the Seven. The first sept on the Iron Islands was built on Great Wyk during the reign of Wulfgar Widowmaker. When his great-grandson Horgan permitted the building of another on Old Wyk, where the kingsmoots had been held of old, the entire island rose up in bloody rebellion, goaded by the priests. The sept was burned, the septon pulled to pieces, the worshippers dragged into the sea to drown, that they might regain their faith. It was in answer to this, Haereg alleges, that Horgan Hoare began to slaughter priests.
The Hoare kings also discouraged the practice of reaving. And as reaving declined, trade grew.
There was still a wealth of iron ore to be found beneath the hills of Great Wyk, Orkmont, Harlaw, and Pyke, and lead and tin as well. The ironmen’s need for wood to build their ships remained as great as ever, but they no longer had the strength to take it wherever they found it. Instead they traded iron for timber. And when winter came and the cold winds blew, iron ore became the coin the kings of House Hoare used to buy barley, wheat, and turnips to keep their smallfolk fed (and beef and pork for their own tables). “Paying the iron price” took on a whole new meaning … one many ironborn found humiliating and the priests decried as shameful.
The nadir of ironborn pride and power was reached during the reigns of the three Harmunds. On the isles, they are best remembered as Harmund the Host, Harmund the Haggler, and Harmund the Handsome. Harmund the Host was the first king of the Iron Islands known to be literate. He welcomed travelers and traders from the far corners of the world to his castle on Great Wyk, treasured books, and gave septons and septas his protection.
His son Harmund the Haggler shared his love of reading, and became renowned as a great traveler.
He was the first king of the Iron Islands to visit the green lands without a sword in his hand. Having spent his youth as a ward of House Lannister, the second Harmund returned to Casterly Rock as a king and took the Lady Lelia Lannister, a daughter of the King of the Rock and “the fairest flower of the west,” for his queen. On a later voyage he visited Highgarden and Oldtown, to treat with their lords and kings and foster trade.
His own sons were raised in the Faith, or King Harmund’s own peculiar version of it. Upon his death, the eldest of them ascended the throne. Harmund the Handsome (influenced, some say, by his Lannister mother, the Dowager Queen Lelia) announced that henceforth reavers would be hanged as pirates rather than celebrated, and formally outlawed the taking of salt wives, declaring the children of such unions to be bastards with no right of inheritance. He was considering a measure to end the practice of thralldom on the isles as well when a priest known as the Shrike began to preach against him.
Other priests took up the cry, and the lords of the isles took heed. Only the septons and their followers stood by King Harmund, and he was overthrown within a fortnight, almost bloodlessly.
What followed was far from bloodless, however. The Shrike himself tore out the deposed king’s tongue, so he might never again speak “lies and blasphemies.” Harmund was blinded as well, and his nose was cut off, so “all men might see him for the monster he is.” In his place, the lords and priests crowned his younger brother Hagon. The new king denounced the Faith, rescinded Harmund’s edicts, and expelled the septons and septas from his realm. Within a fortnight every sept in the Iron Islands was aflame.
King Hagon, soon to be known as Hagon the Heartless, even permitted the mutilation of his own mother, Queen Lelia, the Lannister “whore” who was blamed by the Shrike for turning her husband and sons away from the true god. Her lips, ears, and eyelids were cut off and her tongue ripped out with hot pincers, after which she was bundled onto a longship and returned to Lannisport. The King of the Rock, her nephew, was so angered by this atrocity that he called his banners.
Though Harmund II accepted the Seven as true gods, he continued to do honor to the Drowned God as well, and on his return to Great Wyk spoke openly of “the Eight Gods,” and decreed that a statue of the Drowned God should be raised at the doors of every sept.
This pleased neither the septons nor the priests and was denounced by both. In an attempt to placate them, the king rescinded his decree and declared that god had but seven faces … but the Drowned God was one of those, as an aspect of the Stranger.
The war that followed left ten thousand dead, three-quarters of them ironborn. In its seventh year, the westermen landed on Great Wyk, smashed Hagon’s host in battle, and captured his castle. Hagon the Heartless was mutilated in the same fashion as his mother before being hanged. Ser Aubrey Crakehall, commanding the Lannister armies, ordered that Hoare Castle be razed to the ground, but as his men were looting, they came upon Harmund the Handsome in a dungeon. Crakehall briefly considered restoring Harmund to his throne, Haereg claims, but the former king was blind, broken, and half-mad from long confinement. Ser Aubrey granted him “the gift of death” instead, serving Harmund a cup of wine laced with milk of the poppy. Then, in an act of mad folly, the knight decided to claim the kingship of the Iron Islands for himself.
This pleased neither the ironborn nor the Lannisters. When word reached Casterly Rock, the king called his warships home, leaving Crakehall to fend for himself. Without the power and wealth of House Lannister to prop him up, “King Aubrey” saw his power crumble quickly. His reign lasted less than half a year before he was captured and sacrificed to the sea by the Shrike himself.
The war between the ironborn and the westermen continued in a desultory fashion for five more years, finally ending in an exhausted peace that left the Iron Islands impoverished, burned, and broken. The winter that followed was long and harsh, and is remembered on the isles as the Famine Winter. Hake tells us that three times as many ironmen perished of starvation that winter than had died in the battles that preceded it.
It would be centuries before the Iron Islands recovered, a long slow climb back up to prosperity and power. Of the kings who reigned during this bleak age, we need not treat. Many were puppets of the lords or priests. A few were more like the reavers of the Age of Heroes, men such as Harrag Hoare and his son Ravos the Raper who savaged the North in the years of the Hungry Wolf’s bloody reign, but they were rare and far between.
Both reaving and trade played a part in the restoration of the pride and prowess of the islands.
Other lands now built larger and more formidable warships than the ironmen, but nowhere were sailors any more daring. Merchants and traders sailing from Lordsport on Pyke and the harbors of Great Wyk, Harlaw, and Orkmont spread out across the seas, calling at Lannisport, Oldtown, and the Free Cities, and returning with treasures their forebears had never dreamed of.
King Harwyn Hoare. (illustration credit 120) Reaving continued as well … but the “wolves of the sea” no longer hunted close to home, for the green-land kings had grown too powerful to provoke. Instead they found their prey in more distant seas, in the Basilisk Isles and the Stepstones and along the shores of the Disputed Lands. Some took service as sellsails, fighting for one or another of the Free Cities in their endless trade wars.
One such was Harwyn Hoare, thirdborn son of King Qhorwyn the Cunning. A shrewd and avaricious king, Qhorwyn had spent his entire reign accumulating wealth and avoiding war. “War is bad for trade,” he said, infamously, even as he was doubling, then tripling the size of his fleets and commanding his smiths to forge more armor, swords, and axes. “Weakness invites attack,” Qhorwyn declared. “To have peace, we must be strong.” His son Harwyn had no use for peace, but much and more for the arms and armor that his father forged. A belligerent boy by all accounts, and third in the succession, Harwyn Hoare was sent to sea at an early age. He sailed with a succession of reavers in the Stepstones, visited V olantis, Tyrosh, and Braavos, became a man in the pleasure gardens of Lys, spent two years in the Basilisk Isles as a captive of a pirate king, sold his sword to a free company in the Disputed Lands, and fought in several battles as a Second Son.
When Harwyn returned to the Iron Islands, he found his father Qhorwyn dying, and his eldest brother two years dead from greyscale. A second brother still stood between Harwyn and the crown, and his sudden death even as the king was breathing his last remains a matter of dispute to this day.
Those present at Prince Harlan’s passing all declared his death accidental, the result of a fall from his horse, but of course it would have been worth their lives to suggest otherwise. Beyond the Iron Islands, it was widely assumed that Prince Harwyn was behind his brother’s demise. Some claimed he had done the deed himself, others that Prince Harlan had been slain by a Faceless Man of Braavos.
King Qhorwyn expired six days after the crown prince, leaving his thirdborn son to inherit. As Harwyn Hardhand, he would soon write his name in blood across the histories of the Seven Kingdoms.
When the new king visited his father’s shipyards, he declared that “longships are meant to be sailed.” When he inspected the royal armories, he announced that, “swords are made to be blooded.” King Qhorwyn had oft said that weakness invites attack. When his son gazed across Ironman’s Bay, he saw only weakness and confusion in the riverlands, where the lords of the Trident chafed restlessly beneath the heel of the Storm King, Arrec Durrandon, in distant Storm’s End.