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Harwyn assembled a host and led it across the bay on a hundred of his father’s longships. Landing unchallenged north of Seagard, they carried their ships overland to the Blue Fork of the Trident, then swept downstream with fire and sword. A few of the river lords took up arms against them; most did not, for they had little love and less loyalty for their liege lord in the stormlands. In those days, the ironborn were thought to be savage fighters at sea but easily put to rout on land. But Harwyn Hoare was not like other ironborn. Tempered in the Disputed Lands, he proved to be as fierce afoot as he was at sea, routing every foe. After he dealt the Blackwoods a crushing defeat, many lords of the Trident declared for him.
At Fairmarket, Harwyn found himself facing Arrec Durrandon, the young Storm King, leading a host half again the size of his own … but the stormlanders were ill led, weary, and far from home, and the ironmen and riverlords shattered them. King Arrec lost two brothers and half his men, and was lucky to escape with his own life. As he fled south, the smallfolk of the riverlands rose up, and his garrisons were driven out or slaughtered. The broad, fertile riverlands and all their wealth passed from the hands of Storm’s End to those of the ironmen.
In one bold stroke, Harwyn Hardhand had increased his holdings tenfold and made the Iron Islands once more a power to be feared. Those lords of the Trident who had joined him in hopes of freeing themselves from the Durrandons soon learned that their new masters were far more brutal and demanding than their old ones. Harwyn would rule his conquest with a heavy hand until his death, spending far more time in the riverlands than on the islands, riding from one end of the Trident to the other at the head of a rapacious army, sniffing out any hint of rebellion whilst collecting taxes, tribute, and salt wives. “His palace was a tent, his throne a saddle,” men said of him.
His son Halleck, who succeeded to the crown when the Hardhand died in his sixty-fourth year, was a man of the same stripe. Halleck visited the Iron Islands only thrice during his reign, spending less than two years there all told. Though he called himself ironborn, sacrificed to the Drowned God, and always kept three priests at his side, there was more of the Trident than of the salt sea in Halleck Hoare, and he seemed to look upon the islands only as a source of arms, ships, and men. His own reign was even bloodier than his father’s, if less successful, marked by unsuccessful wars against the westermen and stormlanders, and no less than three failed attempts to conquer the Vale, all ending in disaster at the Bloody Gate.
Like his sire, King Halleck spent a great deal of his reign in camp tents, on campaign. When not at war, he ruled his broad domains from a modest tower house at Fairmarket in the heart of the riverlands, near the site of his father’s greatest victory.
His own son desired a grander seat than that, and would spend most of his own reign building it.
But the tale of Harren the Black, and the building of Harrenhal, has been touched upon elsewhere.
The dragonflame that destroyed Harrenhal put a fiery end to King Harren’s dreams, the domination of the riverlands by the ironborn, and the “black line” of House Hoare.
THE GREYJOYS OF PYKE
The death of Harren the Black and his sons left the Iron Islands kingless and in chaos.
Many great lords and famous warriors had been serving with King Harren in the riverlands. Some died with him in the burning of Harrenhal, others when the riverlands rose against them. Only a few reached the coast alive, and fewer still found longships waiting, unburned, to carry them home.
The arms of House Greyjoy (center) and some houses of note, past and present, (clockwise from top): Greyiron, Goodbrother, Wynch, Botley, Drumm, Harlaw, Hoare, and Blacktyde. (illustration credit 121) Aegon Targaryen and his sisters paid little heed to the Iron Islands in the immediate aftermath of Harrenhal. They had more pressing concerns, and powerful foes to defeat on every hand. Left to fend for themselves, the ironborn immediately fell to fighting.
Qhorin V olmark, a minor lord on Harlaw, was the first man to claim the kingship. His grandmother had been a younger sister of Harwyn Hardhand. On the basis of that tie, V olmark declared himself the rightful heir of “the black line.” On Old Wyk, twoscore priests gathered beneath the bones of Nagga to place a driftwood crown on one of their own, a barefoot holy man called Lodos who claimed to be the living son of the Drowned God.
Other claimants soon arose on Great Wyk, Pyke, and Orkmont, and for a full year and more their followers fought each other by land and sea. Aegon the Conqueror put an end to the fighting in 2 AC when he and Balerion descended upon Great Wyk, accompanied by a vast war fleet. The ironmen collapsed before him. Qhorin V olmark died at the Conqueror’s own hand, cut down by Aegon’s Valyrian steel blade, Blackfyre. On Old Wyk, the priest-king Lodos turned to his god, calling on the krakens of the deep to drag down Aegon’s warships. When the krakens failed to appear, Lodos filled his robes with stones and walked into the sea to “take counsel” with his father. Thousands followed him. Their bloated corpses washed up on the shores of the isles for years to come, though the priest’s own body was not amongst them. On Great Wyk and Pyke, the surviving contenders (the king on Orkmont having been slain the previous year) were quick to bend the knee and do homage to House Targaryen.
But who would rule them? On the mainland, some urged Aegon to make the ironborn vassals to Lord Tully of Riverrun, whom he had named Lord Paramount of the Trident. Others suggested that the islands be given to Casterly Rock. A few went so far as to implore him to scour the isles clean with dragonflame, putting an end to the scourge of the ironborn for all time.
Aegon chose a different course. Gathering the remaining lords of the Iron Islands together, he announced that he would allow them to choose their own lord paramount. Unsurprisingly they chose one of their own: Vickon Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke, a famous captain descended of the Grey King. Though Pyke was smaller and poorer than Great Wyk, Harlaw, and Orkmont, the Greyjoys boasted a long and distinguished lineage. In the days of the kingsmoot, only the Greyirons and Goodbrothers had produced more kings, and the Greyirons were gone.
Exhausted and impoverished by years of war, the ironmen accepted their new overlord without demur.
It took the Iron Islands the best part of a generation to recover from the wounds inflicted by Harren’s fall and the fratricidal war that followed. Vickon Greyjoy, enthroned on Pyke on the Seastone Chair, proved a stern but cautious ruler. Though he did not outlaw reaving, he commanded that the practice be confined to distant waters, far beyond the shores of Westeros, so as not to provoke the wroth of the Iron Throne. And since Aegon had accepted the Seven as his gods and been anointed by the High Septon in Oldtown, Lord Vickon allowed the septons to return to the islands once again to preach the Faith.
This angered many pious ironborn and provoked the wroth of the priests of the Drowned God, as it always had before. “Let them preach,” Lord Vickon said, when told of the unrest. “We have need of winds to fill our sails.” He was Aegon’s man, he reminded his son Goren, and no man but a fool would dare rise against Aegon Targaryen and his dragons.
These were words that Goren Greyjoy would remember. When Lord Vickon died in 33 AC, Goren succeeded him as Lord of the Iron Islands, putting down a clumsy conspiracy to restore the black line by crowning Qhorin V olmark’s son in his stead. He faced a more serious test four years later, when Aegon the Conqueror died of a stroke on Dragonstone, and his son Aenys was crowned king in his stead. Though amiable and well-meaning, Aenys Targaryen was widely perceived as a weakling, unfit to sit the Iron Throne. The new king was still on his royal progress when rebellions began to break out all across the realm.
One such revolt convulsed the Iron Islands, led by a man claiming that he was the priest-king Lodos returned at last from visiting his father. But Goren Greyjoy dealt with it decisively, going so far as to send the priest-king’s pickled head to Aenys Targaryen. His Grace was so pleased with the gift that he promised Lord Goren any boon that was within his power to grant. As sage as he was savage, Greyjoy asked the king to give him leave to expel the septons and septas from the Iron Islands. King Aenys was forced to agree. A century would pass before another sept was opened on the islands.
For long years afterward the ironborn remained quiescent under a succession of Greyjoy lords.
Eschewing further thoughts of conquest, they lived by fishing, trade, and mining. All the width of Westeros lay between King’s Landing and Pyke, and the ironborn had little and less to do with affairs at court. Life was hard upon the islands, especially in winter, but that was as it had always been.
Some men still dreamed of a return to the Old Way, when the ironborn were a people to be feared, but the Stepstones and the Summer Sea were far away, and the Greyjoys on the Seastone Chair would allow no reaving closer to home.
THE RED KRAKEN
The better part of a century would pass before the kraken woke, yet the dreams never died, for the priests still stood knee deep in the salt sea preaching of the Old Way, whilst in a hundred wharfside brothels and sailor’s taverns old men still told tales of days gone by, when the ironborn were rich and proud, and every oarsman had a dozen salt wives to warm his bed by night. Many a boy and young man grew drunk upon such stories, hungry for the glories of the reaver’s life.
One such was Dalton Greyjoy, the wild young son of the heir to Pyke and the Iron Islands. Of him Hake writes, “He loved three things: the sea, his sword, and women.” A fearless child, headstrong and hot-tempered, he is said to have been rowing at five and reaving at ten, sailing with his uncle to the Basilisk Isles to raid the pirate towns for plunder.
The Red Kraken’s reavers. (illustration credit 122)
By the age of ten-and-four, Dalton Greyjoy had sailed as far as Old Ghis, fought in a dozen actions, and claimed four salt wives. His men loved him (more than can be said of his wives, for he tired of women quickly). His own love was his blade, a Valyrian steel longsword he had taken off a dead corsair and named Nightfall. In his fifteenth year, whilst fighting in the Stepstones as a sellsail, he saw his uncle slain and avenged his death, but he took a dozen wounds and emerged from the fight drenched head to heel in blood. From that day forth, men called him the Red Kraken.
Later that same year, word of his father’s death reached him in the Stepstones, and the Red Kraken claimed the Seastone Chair as the Lord of the Iron Islands. At once he began building longships, forging swords, and training fighters. When asked why, the young lord replied, “The storm is coming.” The storm he had foreseen broke the next year, when King Viserys I Targaryen died in his sleep in the Red Keep of King’s Landing. His daughter Rhaenyra and her half brother Aegon both laid claim to the Iron Throne, and the orgy of bloodletting, battle, rapine, and murder known as the Dance of the Dragons began. When word reached Pyke, the Red Kraken is said to have laughed aloud.
Throughout the war, Princess Rhaenyra and her blacks enjoyed a great advantage at sea, for amongst her supporters was Corlys Velaryon, Lord of the Tides, the fabled Sea Snake, who commanded the fleets of House Velaryon of Driftmark. Hoping to counter that, the green council of King Aegon II reached out to Pyke, offering Lord Dalton a place on the small council as lord admiral of the realm if he would bring his longships around Westeros to do battle with the Sea Snake. It was a handsome offer, and most boys would have leapt at it, but Lord Dalton had a shrewdness rare in one so young and elected to wait to see what Princess Rhaenyra might offer.
When her missive came, it was much more to his liking. The blacks did not need him to sail his fleet around Westeros and give battle in the narrow sea, a chancy proposition at best. The princess asked only that he attack her enemies. Amongst those enemies were the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, whose lands were close to home and vulnerable. Lord Jason Lannister had taken most of his knights, archers, and seasoned fighters east with him to attack Rhaenyra’s allies in the riverlands, leaving the westerlands thinly defended. Lord Dalton saw opportunity.
Whilst Lord Jason fell in battle in the riverlands and his host staggered from battle to battle under a succession of commanders, the Red Kraken and his ironborn fell upon the westerlands like wolves upon a flock of sheep. Casterly Rock itself proved too strong for them, once Lord Jason’s widow Johanna barred its gates, but the ironmen burned the Lannister fleet and sacked Lannisport, carrying off vast amounts of gold, grain, and trade goods, and seizing hundreds of women and girls as salt wives, including the late Lord Jason’s favorite mistress and their natural daughters.
Further raids and depredations followed. All up and down the western coasts the longships sailed, raiding as they had in days of old. The Red Kraken himself led the attack that captured Kayce.
Faircastle fell, and with it Fair Isle and all its wealth. Lord Dalton claimed four of Lord Farman’s daughters as salt wives and gave the fifth—“the homely one”—to his brother Veron.
For the better part of two years, the Red Kraken ruled the Sunset Sea as his forebears had done of old, whilst elsewhere in Westeros great armies marched and clashed and dragons wheeled across the skies and met in bloody battle.
All wars must end, however, and so it was with the Dance of the Dragons. Princess Rhaenyra died, and then King Aegon II. By that time most of the Targaryen dragons were dead as well, along with scores of lords both great and small, hundreds of valiant knights, and tens of thousands of common men and smallfolk. The remaining blacks and greens agreed to terms, and Rhaenyra’s young son was crowned as King Aegon III and wed to Aegon II’s daughter, Jaehaera.