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Ravens bearing Aegon’s proclamation to all corners of Westeros. (illustration credit 29) This he showed for the first time at the Aegonfort, the crude wood-and-earth castle he had raised atop what was henceforth and forever known as Aegon’s High Hill. Having taken a dozen castles and secured the mouth of the Blackwater Rush on both sides of the river, he commanded the lords he had defeated to attend him. There they laid their swords at his feet, and Aegon raised them up and confirmed them in their lands and titles. To his oldest supporters he gave new honors. Daemon Velaryon, Lord of the Tides, was made master of ships, in command of the royal fleet. Triston Massey, Lord of Stonedance, was named master of laws, Crispian Celtigar master of coin. And Orys Baratheon he proclaimed to be “my shield, my stalwart, my strong right hand.” Thus Baratheon is reckoned by the maesters the first King’s Hand.
Heraldic banners had long been a tradition amongst the lords of Westeros, but such had never been used by the dragonlords of old Valyria. When Aegon’s knights unfurled his great silken battle standard, with a red three-headed dragon breathing fire upon a black field, the lords took it for a sign that he was now truly one of them, a worthy high king for Westeros. When Queen Visenya placed a Valyrian steel circlet, studded with rubies, on her brother’s head and Queen Rhaenys hailed him as, “Aegon, First of His Name, King of All Westeros, and Shield of His People,” the dragons roared and the lords and knights sent up a cheer … but the smallfolk, the fisherman and field hands and goodwives, shouted loudest of all.
The seven kings that Aegon the Dragon meant to uncrown were not cheering, however. In Harrenhal and Storm’s End, Harren the Black and Argilac the Arrogant had already called their banners. In the west, King Mern of the Reach rode the Ocean Road north to Casterly Rock to meet with King Loren of House Lannister. The Princess of Dorne dispatched a raven to Dragonstone, offering to join Aegon against Argilac the Storm King … but as an equal and ally, not a subject.
Another offer of alliance came from the boy king of the Eyrie, Ronnel Arryn, whose mother asked for all the lands east of the Green Fork of the Trident for the Vale’s support against Black Harren.
Even in the North, King Torrhen Stark of Winterfell sat with his lords bannermen and counselors late into the night, discussing what was to be done about this would-be conqueror. The whole realm waited anxiously to see where Aegon would move next.
Within days of his coronation, Aegon’s armies were on the march again. The greater part of his host crossed the Blackwater Rush, making south for Storm’s End under the command of Orys Baratheon. Queen Rhaenys accompanied him, astride Meraxes of the golden eyes and silver scales.
The Targaryen fleet, under Daemon Velaryon, left Blackwater Bay and turned north, for Gulltown and the Vale. With them went Queen Visenya and Vhagar. The king himself marched northeast, to the Gods Eye and Harrenhal, the gargantuan fortress that was the pride and obsession of King Harren the Black and which he had completed and occupied on the very day Aegon landed in what would one day become King’s Landing.
All three of the Targaryen thrusts faced fierce opposition. Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler, bannermen to Storm’s End, surprised the advance elements of Orys Baratheon’s host as they were crossing the Wendwater, cutting down more than a thousand men before fading back into the trees.
A hastily assembled Arryn fleet, augmented by a dozen Braavosi warships, met and defeated the Targaryen fleet in the waters off Gulltown. Amongst the dead was Aegon’s admiral, Daemon Velaryon. Aegon himself was attacked on the south shore of the Gods Eye, not once but twice. The Battle of the Reeds was a Targaryen victory, but they suffered heavy losses at the Wailing Willows when two of King Harren’s sons crossed the lake in longboats with muffled oars and fell upon their rear.
Such defeats proved no more than setbacks, however, and in the end, Aegon’s enemies had no answer for his dragons. The men of the Vale sank a third of the Targaryen ships and captured near as many, but when Queen Visenya descended upon them from the sky, their own ships burned.
Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler hid in their familiar forests until Queen Rhaenys unleashed Meraxes and a wall of fire swept through the woods, turning the trees to torches. And the victors at the Wailing Willows, returning across the lake to Harrenhal, were ill prepared when Balerion fell upon them out of the morning sky. Harren’s longboats burned. So did Harren’s sons.
Aegon’s foes also found themselves plagued by other enemies. As Argilac the Arrogant gathered his swords at Storm’s End, pirates from the Stepstones descended on the shores of Cape Wrath to take advantage of their absence, and Dornish raiding parties came boiling out of the Red Mountains to sweep across the marches. In the Vale, young King Ronnel had to contend with a rebellion on the Three Sisters, when the Sistermen renounced all allegiance to the Eyrie and proclaimed Lady Marla Sunderland their queen.
Yet these were but minor vexations compared to what befell Harren the Black. Though House Hoare had ruled the riverlands for three generations, the men of the Trident had no love for their ironborn overlords. Harren the Black had driven thousands to their deaths in the building of his great castle of Harrenhal, plundering the riverlands for materials and beggaring lords and smallfolk alike with his appetite for gold. So now the riverlands rose against him, led by Lord Edmyn Tully of Riverrun. Summoned to the defense of Harrenhal, Tully declared for House Targaryen instead, raised the dragon banner over his castle, and rode forth with his knights and archers to join his strength to Aegon’s. His defiance gave heart to the other riverlords. One by one, the lords of the Trident renounced Harren and declared for Aegon the Dragon. Blackwoods, Mallisters, Vances, Brackens, Pipers, Freys, Strongs … summoning their levies, they descended on Harrenhal.
Suddenly outnumbered, King Harren the Black took refuge in his supposedly impregnable stronghold. The largest castle ever raised in Westeros, Harrenhal boasted five gargantuan towers, an inexhaustible source of fresh water, huge, subterranean vaults well stocked with provisions, and massive walls of black stone higher than any ladder and too thick to be broken by any ram or shattered by a trebuchet. Harren barred his gates and settled down with his remaining sons and supporters to withstand a siege.
Aegon of Dragonstone was of a different mind. Once he had joined his power with that of Edmyn Tully and the other riverlords to ring the castle, he sent a maester to the gates under a peace banner, to parley. Harren emerged to meet him—an old man and grey, yet still fierce in his black armor.
Each king had his banner-bearer and his maester in attendance, so the words that they exchanged are still remembered.
“Yield now,” Aegon began, “and you may remain as Lord of the Iron Islands. Yield now, and your sons will live to rule after you. I have eight thousand men outside your walls.” “What is outside my walls is of no concern to me,” said Harren. “Those walls are strong and thick.” Visenya and Vhagar burning the Arryn fleet. (illustration credit 30) “But not so high as to keep out dragons. Dragons fly.” “I built in stone,” said Harren. “Stone does not burn.” To which Aegon said, “When the sun sets, your line shall end.” It is said that Harren spat at that and returned to his castle. Once inside, he sent every man of his to the parapets, armed with spears and bows and crossbows, promising lands and riches to whichever of them could bring the dragon down. “Had I a daughter, the dragonslayer could claim her hand as well,” Harren the Black proclaimed. “Instead I will give him one of Tully’s daughters, or all three if he likes. Or he may pick one of Blackwood’s whelps, or Strong’s, or any girl born of these traitors of the Trident, these lords of yellow mud.” Then Harren the Black retired to his tower, surrounded by his household guard, to sup with his remaining sons.
As the last light of the sun faded, Black Harren’s men stared into the gathering darkness, clutching their spears and crossbows. When no dragon appeared, some may have thought that Aegon’s threats had been hollow. But Aegon Targaryen took Balerion up high, through the clouds, up and up until the dragon was no bigger than a fly upon the moon. Only then did he descend, well inside the castle walls. On wings as black as pitch, Balerion plunged through the night, and when the great towers of Harrenhal appeared beneath him, the dragon roared his fury and bathed them in black fire, shot through with swirls of red.
The destruction of Harrenhal. (illustration credit 31) Stone does not burn, Harren had boasted, but his castle was not made of stone alone. Wood and wool, hemp and straw, bread and salted beef and grain, all took fire. Nor were Harren’s ironmen made of stone. Smoking, screaming, shrouded in flames, they ran across the yards and tumbled from the wallwalks to die upon the ground below. And even stone will crack and melt if a fire is hot enough. The riverlords outside the castle walls said later that the towers of Harrenhal glowed red against the night, like five great candles … and like candles, they began to twist and melt, as runnels of molten stone ran down their sides.
Harren and his last sons died in the fires that engulfed his monstrous fortress that night. House Hoare died with him, and so too did the Iron Islands’ hold on the riverlands. The next day, outside the smoking ruins of Harrenhal, King Aegon accepted an oath of fealty from Edmyn Tully, Lord of Riverrun, and named him Lord Paramount of the Trident. The other riverlords did homage as well —to Aegon as king and to Edmyn Tully as their liege lord. When the ashes had cooled enough to allow men to enter the castle safely, the swords of the fallen, many shattered or melted or twisted into ribbons of steel by dragonfire, were gathered up and sent back to the Aegonfort in wagons.
South and east, the Storm King’s bannermen proved considerably more loyal than King Harren’s. Argilac the Arrogant gathered a great host about him at Storm’s End. The seat of the Durrandons was a mighty fastness, its great curtain wall even thicker than the walls of Harrenhal. It too was thought to be impregnable to assault. Word of King Harren’s end soon reached the ears of his old enemy King Argilac, however. Lords Fell and Buckler, falling back before the approaching host (Lord Errol had been killed), had sent him word of Queen Rhaenys and her dragon. The old warrior king roared that he did not intend to die as Harren had, cooked inside his own castle like a suckling pig with an apple in his mouth. No stranger to battle, he would decide his own fate, sword in hand. So Argilac the Arrogant rode forth from Storm’s End one last time, to meet his foes in the open field.
The Storm King’s approach was no surprise to Orys Baratheon and his men; Queen Rhaenys, flying Meraxes, had witnessed Argilac’s departure from Storm’s End and was able to give the Hand a full accounting of the enemy’s numbers and dispositions. Orys took up a strong position on the hills south of Bronzegate, and dug in there on the high ground to await the coming of the stormlanders.
As the armies came together, the stormlands proved true to their name. A steady rain began to fall that morning, and by midday had turned into a howling gale. King Argilac’s lords bannermen urged him to delay his attack until the next day, in hopes the rain would pass, but the Storm King outnumbered the conquerors almost two to one and had almost four times as many knights and heavy horse. The sight of the Targaryen banners flapping sodden above his own hills enraged him, and the battle-seasoned old warrior did not fail to note that the rain was blowing from the south, into the faces of the Targaryen men on their hills. So Argilac the Arrogant gave the command to attack, and the battle known to history as the Last Storm began.
The fighting lasted well into the night, a bloody business, and far less one-sided than Aegon’s conquest of Harrenhal. Thrice Argilac the Arrogant led his knights against the Baratheon positions, but the slopes were steep and the rains had turned the ground soft and muddy, so the warhorses struggled and foundered, and the charges lost all cohesion and momentum. The stormlanders fared better when they sent their spearmen up the hills on foot. Blinded by the rain, the invaders did not see them climbing until it was too late, and the wet bowstrings of the archers made their bows useless. One hill fell, then another, and the third and final charge of the Storm King and his knights broke through the Baratheon center … only to come upon Queen Rhaenys and Meraxes. Even on the ground, the dragon proved formidable. Dickon Morrigen and the Bastard of Blackhaven, commanding the vanguard, were engulfed in dragonflame, along with the knights of King Argilac’s personal guard. The warhorses panicked and fled in terror, crashing into riders behind them and turning the charge into chaos. The Storm King himself was thrown from his saddle.
Yet still Argilac continued to battle. When Orys Baratheon came down the muddy hill with his own men, he found the old king holding off half a dozen men, with as many corpses at his feet.
“Stand aside,” Baratheon commanded. He dismounted, so as to meet the king on equal footing, and offered the Storm King one last chance to yield. Argilac cursed him instead. And so they fought, the old warrior king with his streaming white hair and Aegon’s fierce, black-bearded Hand. Each man took a wound from the other, it was said, but in the end the last of the Durrandon got his wish and died with a sword in his hand and a curse on his lips. The death of their king took all heart out of the stormlanders, and as the word spread that Argilac had fallen, his lords and knights threw down their swords and fled.