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Before Nymeria came, the Kings of Yronwood were the most powerful house in all of Dorne—far greater than the Martells of the time. They ruled half of Dorne—a fact that, to this day, the Yronwoods let no one forget. In the centuries after House Martell rose to the rule of Dorne, the Yronwoods have been the house likeliest to rebel, and have done so several times. Even after Prince Maron Martell united Dorne with the Iron Throne, this habit remained. Lords of Yronwood rode for the black dragon in no less than three of the five Blackfyre Rebellions.
The salty Dornish, the scions of the Rhoynar, lost their mother tongue over the centuries, though that tongue still marks the way the Dornish speak the Common Tongue—stretching some sounds, rolling others, and lilting still others in odd places. Dornish speech has been described by some as charming, and by others (the marchers, chiefly and unfairly) as incomprehensible. But more than that, the Rhoynar brought with them their customs and their laws, which the Martells then spread throughout Dorne. So in Dorne, alone among the Seven Kingdoms, it is the eldest child—man or woman—who will inherit, and not just the eldest son. Great ladies and famous princesses abound, and are the subject of songs and tales as much as the great knights and princes.
There are other customs besides that mark the Dornish as different. They are not greatly concerned if a child is born in wedlock or out of it, especially if the child is born to a paramour. Many lords— and even some ladies—have paramours, chosen for love and lust rather than for breeding or alliance.
And when it comes to matters of love, that a man might lie with another man, or a woman with another woman, is likewise not cause for concern; while the septons have often wished to shepherd the Dornishmen to the righteous path, they have had little effect. Even the fashions are different in Dorne, where the climate favors loose, layered robes and the food is richly spiced, ready to burn the mouth with dragon peppers mixed with drops of snake venom.
Standing apart from the rest of the Dornish—salty or sandy or stony alike—are the orphans of the Greenblood, who wept when Nymeria burned their ships. From their ruins they made their poleboats, to ply the Greenblood and dream of the day that they could return to Mother Rhoyne. Of pure Rhoynish blood, they still speak their tongue amongst themselves, it is said—though in secret after the three successors of Nymeria’s grandson, Prince Mors II, attempted to forbid it.
These successors were also known as the Red Princes (though two were princesses), and their reigns were marked by wars both within and without Dorne. They created the Planky Town as a gathering place, lashing together the poleboats and ferries. It grew from there, and in time the princes raised a citadel nearby to guard it as more and more ships from the Free Cities found it a convenient harbor.
An example of the differing Dornish laws and attitudes due to the influence of the Rhoynar may be found, curiously, in the last days of the Dance of the Dragons. From Archmaester
Gyldayn’s history concerning Gaemon Palehair’s brief reign:
One decree after another came down from the House of Kisses, where the child king had his seat, each more outrageous than the last. Gaemon decreed that girls should henceforth be equal with boys in matter of inheritance, that the poor be given bread and beer in times of famine, and that men who had lost limbs in war must afterward be fed and housed by whichever lord they had been fighting for when the loss took place. Gaemon decreed that husbands who beat their wives should themselves be beaten, irrespective of what the wives had done to warrant such chastisement. These edicts were almost certainly the work of a Dornish whore named Sylvenna Sand, reputedly the paramour of the king’s mother Essie, if Mushroom is to be believed.
DORNE AGAINST THE DRAGONS
Of all the challenges the Dornishmen have faced, none have loomed so large as that posed by Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters. Great was the valor the Dornish showed in battle, and great the grief at the losses they suffered, for the price of freedom was steep. Yet alone of all the Seven Kingdoms, Dorne remained independent of House Targaryen, resisting attempt after attempt by Aegon, his sisters, and their successors to make the Dornish bend their knees before the Iron Throne.
The Dornishmen fought no great battles against the Targaryens, nor did they seek to defend their castles against the dragons when they came, for Meria Martell, Princess of Dorne at the time of Aegon’s Conquest, had learned much from the Last Storm and the Field of Fire, and from the fate of Harrenhal. Instead, when Aegon turned his eye to Dorne in 4 AC, the Dornish simply vanished before the dragons.
Queen Rhaenys led the first assault on Dorne, moving swiftly to seize Dornish seats as she approached Sunspear and burning the Planky Town on Meraxes, whilst Aegon and Lord Tyrell warred in the Prince’s Pass against the mountain lords. The Dornish defenders harried and ambushed the Targaryen forces, then would scamper beneath their rocks as soon as they saw the dragons take flight. Many of Lord Tyrell’s men died of sun and thirst as they marched on Hellholt. Those who survived to reach the castle found it empty, the Ullers all fled.
Aegon had more success, but other than the brief siege at Yronwood, where he was opposed by a handful of old men, boys, and women, he found little opposition. Even Skyreach, the great seat of the Fowlers, was abandoned. At Ghost Hill, the seat of House Toland atop the white chalk hill that overlooks the Sea of Dorne, Aegon saw the banner bearing the Toland ghost flying above the walls and received word that Lord Toland had sent out his champion to face him. Aegon slew the man with his sword, Blackfyre, only to learn that he was Lord Toland’s mad fool and that Lord Toland himself was gone with his household from the castle. In later days, the Tolands would take a new banner, showing a dragon biting its own tail, green on gold in memory of the motley of their brave fool.
Elsewhere, Lord Orys Baratheon’s assault up the Boneway proved a disaster. The canny Dornishmen rained rocks and arrows and spears from the heights, murdered men in the night, and in the end blocked the Boneway both before and behind. Lord Orys was captured by Lord Wyl, and many of his bannermen and knights besides. They remained captive for years before finally being ransomed for their weight in gold in 7 AC. And even then, each and every one of them returned lacking a sword hand, so that they might never take up arms against Dorne again.
Aegon I unleashing Balerion’s flames during the time of the Dragon’s Wroth. (illustration credit 154)
Lord Rosby, Castellan of Sunspear and Warden of the Sands, had a kinder end than most.
After the Dornishmen swarmed in from the shadow city to retake the castle, he was bound hand and foot, dragged to the top of the Spear Tower, and thrown from a window by none other than the aged Princess Meria herself.
Still, save for the assault in the Boneway, the Dornish simply yielded up their seats, the lords refusing to defend them or bend the knee. The same was the case when the Targaryens at last came to Sunspear, where Princess Meria (mocked by her foes as the Yellow Toad of Dorne but to this day a hero to the Dornish) had herself vanished into the sands. There Queen Rhaenys and King Aegon gathered what courtiers and functionaries remained and declared themselves the victors, placing Dorne under the rule of the Iron Throne. Leaving Lord Rosby to hold Sunspear and Lord Tyrell in charge of a host to put down any revolts, the Targaryens returned to King’s Landing on the backs of their dragons. Yet they had hardly set foot in the royal city than Dorne rebelled against them and did so with shocking rapidity. Garrisons were put to the sword, and the knights who led them were tortured. In truth, it became a game among the Dornish lords, to see which knight would live the longest as bit after bit of him was removed.
Setting out with his garrison at Hellholt to conquer Vaith and retake Sunspear, Lord Harlan Tyrell and his entire army vanished in the sands, never to be heard from again. The reports of travelers in the area claim that occasionally the winds shift the sands to reveal bones and pieces of armor, but the sandy Dornishmen who wander the deep desert say that the sands are the burial grounds of thousands of years of battles, and the bones might be from any time.
The war against the Dornish entered a different phase after the release of Orys One-hand and the other handless lords, for King Aegon was by that time intent on revenge. The Targaryens unleashed their dragons, burning the defiant castles again and again. In return, the Dornish responded with fire of their own, sending a force to Cape Wrath in 8 AC that left half the rainwood ablaze and sacked half a dozen towns and villages. Matters escalated, and more Dornish seats fell to dragonfire in 9 AC. The Dornish responded a year later by sending a host under Lord Fowler that seized and burned the great Marcher castle of Nightsong and carried off its lords and defenders as hostages, whilst another army under Ser Joffrey Dayne marched to the very walls of Oldtown, razing the fields and villages outside it.
So again the Targaryens turned to their dragons, unleashing their fury upon Starfall and Skyreach and Hellholt. It was at Hellholt where the Dornish had their greatest success against the Targaryens.
A bolt from a scorpion pierced the eye of Meraxes, and the great dragon and the queen who rode upon it fell from the sky. In her death throes, the dragon destroyed the castle’s highest tower and part of the curtain wall. Queen Rhaenys’s body was never returned to King’s Landing.
FROM THE HISTORY OF ARCHMAESTER GYLDAYNWhether Rhaenys Targaryen outlived her dragon remains a matter of dispute. Some say that she lost her seat and fell to her death, others that she was crushed beneath Meraxes in the castle yard. A few accounts claim the queen survived her dragon’s fall, only to die a slow death by torment in the dungeons of the Ullers. The true circumstances of her demise will likely never be known, but the histories record that Rhaenys Targaryen, sister and wife to King Aegon I, perished at the Hellholt in Dorne in the tenth year After the Conquest.
The death of Meraxes. (illustration credit 155)
The two years that followed were later called the years of the Dragon’s Wroth. Grief-stricken at the death of their beloved sister, King Aegon and Queen Visenya set ablaze every castle, keep, and holdfast in Dorne at least once … save for Sunspear and the shadow city. Why this is so remains a matter of conjecture. In Dorne, it was said the Targaryens feared that Princess Meria had some cunning means of slaying dragons, something she had purchased from Lys. Likelier, however, is Archmaester Timotty’s suggestion in his Conjectures that the Targaryens hoped to turn the rest of the Dornish, who suffered so much destruction, against the Martells, who were spared. If this is true, it may explain the letters dispatched from the marches to the Dornish houses, urging them to surrender and claiming that the Martells had betrayed them by buying their safety from the Targaryens at the expense of the rest of Dorne.
Regardless, the last and least glorious phase of the First Dornish War then began. The Targaryens placed prices on the heads of the Dornish lords, and half a dozen and more were killed by assassins —though only two of the killers ever lived to collect their reward. The Dornish responded in kind, and many were the pitiless deaths that followed. Even in the heart of King’s Landing, no one was safe. Lord Fell was smothered in a brothel, and King Aegon himself was attacked on three separate occasions. When Queen Visenya and an escort were set upon, two of her guards died before she cut down the last villain herself with Dark Sister. Worse occurred at the hands of the Wyl of Wyl, whose deeds we need not recount; they are infamous enough and still remembered, especially in Fawnton and Old Oak.
Dorne was a blighted, burning ruin by this time, and still the Dornish hid and fought from the shadows, refusing to surrender. Even the smallfolk refused to yield, and the toll in lives was uncountable. When Princess Meria at last passed away in 13 AC, her throne passed to her son, the aged and failing Prince Nymor. He had had enough of war and sent a delegation led by his daughter, Princess Deria, to King’s Landing. This delegation carried the skull of Meraxes with them, as a gift for the king. It was ill received by many—Queen Visenya and Orys Baratheon among them—and Lord Oakheart urged that Deria be sent to the meanest of brothels to service any man who would have her.
But King Aegon Targaryen would not countenance such an act and instead listened to her words.
Dorne wanted peace, according to Deria—but the peace of two kingdoms no longer at war, not the peace between a vassal and a lord. Many urged His Grace against this, and the phrase “no peace without submission” was often heard in the halls of the Aegonfort. It was claimed that the king would look weak should he agree to such a demand and that the lords of the Reach and stormlands who had suffered so much for his cause would be angered.
Swayed by such considerations, it is said, King Aegon was determined to refuse the offer until Princess Deria placed in his hands a private letter from her father, Prince Nymor. Aegon read it upon the Iron Throne, and men say that when he rose, his hand was bleeding, so hard had he clenched it. He burned the letter and departed immediately on Balerion’s back for Dragonstone. When he returned the next morning, he agreed to the peace and signed a treaty to that effect.
What the letter contained, none know to this day, though many have speculated. Did Nymor reveal that Rhaenys lived still, broken and mutilated, and that he would end her suffering if Aegon ended hostilities? Was the letter ensorceled? Did he threaten to take all the wealth of Dorne to hire the Faceless Men to kill Aegon’s young son and heir, Aenys? These questions shall never be answered, it seems.
The result, however, was a peace that lasted through the troubles of the Vulture King and beyond.