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Peace in King’s Landing did not mean peace in the west, however. The Red Kraken had not lost his appetite for battle. When the council of regents ruling in the name of the new boy king commanded him to cease his raiding, he continued as before.
In the end, it was a woman who would prove the Red Kraken’s undoing. A girl known to us only as Tess opened Lord Dalton’s throat with his own dagger as he slept in Lord Farman’s bedchamber in Faircastle, then threw herself into the sea.
The Red Kraken had never taken a rock wife. His closest heirs were his salt sons, young boys fathered on various of his salt wives. Within hours of his death, a bloody struggle for succession broke out. And even before the battles began on Old Wyk and Pyke, the smallfolk of Fair Isle rose up and slaughtered those ironmen who still remained amongst them.
In 134 AC, Lady Johanna Lannister took her revenge for all that the Red Kraken had inflicted on her and hers. With her own fleets destroyed, she persuaded Ser Leo Costayne, the aged lord admiral of the Reach, to deliver her swordsmen to the Iron Islands. Embroiled in their own war of succession, the ironborn were taken unawares. Thousands of men, women, and children were put to the sword, scores of villages and hundreds of longships put to the torch. Ultimately Costayne was slain in battle, his host largely scattered and destroyed. Only a portion of his fleet (laden with the spoils of war, including many tons of grain and salt fish) returned to Lannisport … but amongst the highborn captives they brought back to Casterly Rock was one of the Red Kraken’s salt sons. Lady Johanna had him gelded and made him her son’s fool. “A fine fool he proved,” Archmaester Haereg observes, “yet not half so foolish as his father.” In other lands, a lord who brought such a fate upon his house and people would be justly reviled, but such is the nature of the ironborn of the isles that the Red Kraken is revered amongst them to this day and counted as one of their great heroes.
THE OLD WAY AND THE NEW
From that day to this, the Lord Reapers of House Greyjoy have ruled the Iron Islands from the Seastone Chair on Pyke. None since the Red Kraken has posed a true threat to the Seven Kingdoms or the Iron Throne, but few can truly be described as leal and faithful servants of the crown. Kings they were in days gone by, and even the passage of a thousand years cannot erase the memory of a driftwood crown.
A full account of their reigns can be found in Archmaester Haereg’s History of the Ironborn.
Therein you may read of Dagon Greyjoy, the Last Reaver, whose longships harried the western coasts when Aerys I Targaryen sat the Iron Throne. Of Alton Greyjoy, the Holy Fool, who sought new lands to conquer beyond the Lonely Light. Of Torwyn Greyjoy, who swore a blood oath with Bittersteel, then betrayed him to his enemies. Of Loron Greyjoy, the Bard, and his great and tragic friendship with young Desmond Mallister, a knight of the green lands.
Near the end of Haereg’s great work you will come to Lord Quellon Greyjoy, the wisest of the men to sit the Seastone Chair since Aegon’s Conquest. A huge man, six and a half feet tall, he was said to be as strong as an ox and as quick as a cat. In his youth he earned renown as a warrior, fighting corsairs and slavers in the Summer Sea. A leal servant of the Iron Throne, he led a hundred longships around the bottom of Westeros during the War of the Ninepenny Kings and played a crucial role in the fighting around the Stepstones.
As lord, however, Quellon preferred to walk the road of peace. He forbade reaving, save by his leave. He brought maesters to the Iron Islands by the score, to serve as healers to the sick and tutors to the young; with them came their ravens, whose black wings would tie the isles to the green lands tighter than ever before.
It was Lord Quellon who freed the remaining thralls and outlawed the practice of thralldom on the Iron Islands (in this he was not wholly successful). And whilst he took no salt wives himself, he allowed other men to do so but taxed them heavily for the privilege. Quellon Greyjoy sired nine sons on three wives. His first and second wives were rock wives, joined to him with the old rites by a priest of the Drowned God, but his last bride was a woman of the green lands, a Piper of Pinkmaiden Castle, wed to him in her father’s hall by a septon.
In this, as in much else, Lord Quellon turned away from the ancient and insular traditions of the ironborn, in hopes of forging stronger bonds between his own domains and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. So strong a lord was Quellon Greyjoy that few dared speak openly against him, for he was known to be strong-willed and stubborn and fearsome in his wroth.
Quellon Greyjoy still sat the Seastone Chair when Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, and Jon Arryn raised their banners in rebellion. Age had only served to deepen his cautious nature, and as the fighting swept across the green lands, his lordship resolved to take no part in the war. But his sons were relentless in their hunger for gain and glory, and his own health and strength were failing. For some time his lordship had been troubled by stomach pains, which had grown so excruciating that he took a draught of milk of the poppy every night to sleep. Even so, he resisted all entreaties until a raven came to Pyke with word of Prince Rhaegar’s death upon the Trident. These tidings united his three eldest sons: the Targaryen were done, they told him, and House Greyjoy must needs join the rebellion at once or lose any hope of sharing in the spoils of victory.
Lord Quellon gave way. It was decided that the ironborn would demonstrate their allegiance by attacking the nearest Targaryen loyalists. Despite his age and growing infirmity, his lordship insisted on commanding the fleet himself. Fifty longships assembled off Pyke and bent oars toward the Reach.
The greater part of the ironborn fleets remained at home to guard against Lannister attack, for it was not yet known whether Casterly Rock would side with the rebels or the royalists.
Little and less need be said of Quellon Greyjoy’s final voyage. In the histories of Robert’s Rebellion, it is no more than an afterthought, a sad and bloody business that had no impact upon the final outcome of the war. The ironborn sank some fishing boats and captured a few fat merchantmen, burned some villages and sacked a few small towns. But at the mouth of the Mander, they met unexpected resistance from the Shield Islanders, who sallied forth in their own longships to give battle. A dozen ships were seized or sunk in the fight that followed, and though the ironborn gave worse than they got, amongst their dead was Lord Quellon Greyjoy.
By that time the war was all but done. Prudently, his heir Balon Greyjoy chose to return to his home waters and claim the Seastone Chair.
The new Lord of the Iron Islands was Lord Quellon’s eldest surviving son, a child of his second marriage (the sons of his first marriage all having died in youth). In many ways, he was like his sire.
At thirteen he could run a longship’s oars and dance the finger dance. At fifteen he spent a summer in the Stepstones, reaving. At ten-and-seven he was captain of his own ship. Though he lacked his father’s size and brute strength, Balon Greyjoy had all his quickness and skill at arms. And no man could question his courage.
Yet even as a child, Lord Balon had burned to free the ironborn from the yoke of the Iron Throne and restore them to a place of pride and power. Once seated on the Seastone Chair, he swept away many of his lord father’s decrees, abolishing the taxes on salt wives and declaring that men taken captive in war could indeed be kept as thralls. Though he did not expel the septons, he increased the taxes on them tenfold. The maesters he kept, for they had proved themselves too useful to forsake.
Whilst he did put Pyke’s own maester to death for reasons that remain somewhat obscure, Lord Balon immediately petitioned the Citadel for another.
Lord Quellon had spent most of his long reign avoiding war; Lord Balon began at once preparing for it. For more than gold or glory, Balon Greyjoy lusted for a crown. This dream of crowns has seemed to haunt House Greyjoy throughout its long history. Oft as not, it ends in defeat, despair, and death, as it did for Balon Greyjoy. For five years he prepared, gathering men and longships, and building a great fleet of massive warships with reinforced hulls and iron rams, their decks bristling with scorpions and spitfires. The ships of this Iron Fleet were more galleys than longships, larger than any that the ironmen had built before.
The remaining towers of Pyke castle. (illustration credit 123) In 289 AC Lord Balon struck, declaring himself the King of the Iron Islands and dispatching his brothers Euron and Victarion to Lannisport to burn the Lannister fleet. “The sea shall be my moat,” he declared, as Lord Tywin’s ships went up in flames, “and woe to any man who dares to cross it.” King Robert dared. Robert Baratheon, the First of His Name, had won everlasting glory on the Trident. Swift to respond, the young king called his banners and sent his brother Stannis, Lord of Dragonstone, around Dorne with the royal fleet. Warships from Oldtown and the Arbor and the Reach joined their strength to his. Balon Greyjoy sent his own brother Victarion to meet them, but in the Straits of Fair Isle, Lord Stannis lured the ironborn into a trap and smashed the Iron Fleet.
With Balon’s “moat” now undefended, King Robert had no difficulty bringing his host across Ironman’s Bay from Seagard and Lannisport. With his Wardens of the West and North beside him, Robert forced landings on Pyke, Great Wyk, Harlaw, and Orkmont, and cut his way across the isles with steel and fire. Balon was forced to fall back to his stronghold at Pyke, but when Robert brought down his curtain wall and sent his knights storming through the breech, all resistance collapsed.
The reborn Kingdom of the Iron Isles had lasted less than a year. Yet when Balon Greyjoy was brought before King Robert in chains, the ironman remained defiant. “You may take my head,” he told the king, “but you cannot name me traitor. No Greyjoy ever swore an oath to a Baratheon.” Robert Baratheon, ever merciful, is said to have laughed at that, for he liked spirit in a man, even in his foes.
“Swear one now,” he replied, “or lose that stubborn head of yours.” And so Balon Greyjoy bent his knee and was allowed to live, after giving up his last surviving son as a hostage to his loyalty.
The Iron Islands endure today as they always have. From the reign of the Red Kraken to our present day, the story of the ironborn is the story of a people caught between dreams of past glory and the poverty of the present. Set apart from Westeros proper by the grey-green waters of the sea, the islands remain a realm unto themselves. The sea is always moving, always changing, the ironborn like to say, and yet it remains, eternal, boundless, never the same and always the same. So it is with the ironborn themselves, the people of the sea.
“You may dress an ironman in silks and velvets, teach him to read and write and give him books, instruct him in chivalry and courtesy and the mysteries of the Faith,” writes Archmaester Haereg, “but when you look into his eyes, the sea will still be there, cold and grey and cruel.”
Pyke is neither the largest nor the grandest castle on the Iron Islands, but it may well be the oldest, and it is from there that the lords of House Greyjoy rule the ironborn. It has long been their contention that the isle of Pyke takes its name from the castle; the smallfolk of the islands insist the opposite is true.
Pyke is so ancient that no one can say with certainty when it was built, nor name the lord who built it. Like the Seastone Chair, its origins are lost in mystery.
Once, centuries ago, Pyke was as other castles: built upon solid stone on a cliff overlooking the sea, with a wall and keeps and towers. But the cliffs it rested upon were not as solid as they seemed, and beneath the endless pounding of the waves, they began to crumble. Walls fell, the ground gave way, outer buildings were lost.
What remains of Pyke today is a complex of towers and keeps scattered across half a dozen islets and sea stacks above the booming waves. A section of curtain wall, with a great gatehouse and defensive towers, stretches across the headland, the only access to the castle, and is all that remains of the original fortress. A stone bridge from the headland leads to the first and largest islets and Great Keep of Pyke.
Beyond that, rope bridges connect the towers one to the other. The Greyjoys are fond of saying that any man who can walk one of these bridges when a storm is howling can as easily run the oars.
Beneath the castle walls, the waves still smash against the remaining rock stacks day and night, and one day those too will doubtless crash into the sea.
illustration credit 124
W ESTERLANDSTHE THE WESTERLANDS ARE a place of rugged hills and rolling plains, of misty dales and craggy shorelines, a place of blue lakes and sparkling rivers and fertile fields, of broadleaf forests that teem with game of every sort, where half-hidden doors in the sides of wooded hills open onto labyrinthine caves that wend their way through darkness to reveal unimaginable wonders and vast treasures deep beneath the earth.
These are rich lands, temperate and fruitful, shielded by high hills to the east and south and the endless blue waters of the Sunset Sea to the west. Once the children of the forest made their homes in the woods, whilst giants dwelt amongst the hills, where their bones can still occasionally be found.
But then the First Men came with fire and bronze axes to cut down the forests, plow the fields, and drive roads through the hill country where the giants made their abodes. Soon, the First Men’s farms and villages spread across the west “from salt to stone,” protected by stout motte-and-bailey forts, and later great stone castles, until the giants were no more, and the children of the forest vanished into the deep woods, the hollow hills, and the far north.