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For a few days it was feared that Storm’s End might suffer the same fate as Harrenhal, for Argilac’s daughter Argella barred her gates at the approach of Orys Baratheon and the Targaryen host, and declared herself the Storm Queen. Rather than bend the knee, the defenders of Storm’s End would die to the last man, she promised when Queen Rhaenys flew Meraxes into the castle to parley. “You may take my castle, but you will win only bones and blood and ashes,” she announced … but the soldiers of the garrison proved less eager to die. That night they raised a peace banner, threw open the castle gate, and delivered Lady Argella gagged, chained, and naked to the camp of Orys Baratheon.
Orys Baratheon, the first Lord of Storm’s End. (illustration credit 32)
It is said that Baratheon unchained her with his own hands, wrapped his cloak around her, poured her wine, and spoke to her gently, telling her of her father’s courage and the manner of his death. And afterward, to honor the fallen king, he took the arms and words of the Durrandon for his own. The crowned stag became his sigil, Storm’s End became his seat, and Lady Argella his wife.
With both the riverlands and stormlands now under the control of Aegon the Dragon and his allies, the remaining kings of Westeros saw plainly that their own turns were coming. At Winterfell, King Torrhen called his banners; given the vast distances in the North, he knew that assembling an army would take time. Queen Sharra of the Vale, regent for her son Ronnel, took refuge in the Eyrie, looked to her defenses, and sent an army to the Bloody Gate, gateway to the Vale of Arryn. In her youth Queen Sharra had been lauded as “the Flower of the Mountain,” the fairest maid in all the Seven Kingdoms. Perhaps hoping to sway Aegon with her beauty, she sent him a portrait of herself and offered herself to him in marriage, provided he named her son Ronnel as his heir. Though the portrait did finally reach him, it is not known whether Aegon Targaryen ever replied to her proposal; he had two queens already, and Sharra Arryn was by then a faded flower, ten years his elder.
Meanwhile, the two great western kings had made common cause and assembled their own armies, intent on putting an end to Aegon for good and all. From Highgarden marched Mern IX of House Gardener, King of the Reach, with a mighty host. Beneath the walls of Castle Goldengrove, seat of House Rowan, he met Loren I Lannister, King of the Rock, leading his own host down from the westerlands. Together the two kings commanded the mightiest host ever seen in Westeros: an army fifty-five thousand strong, including some six hundred lords great and small and more than five thousand mounted knights. “Our iron fist,” boasted King Mern. His four sons rode beside him, and both of his young grandsons attended him as squires.
The two kings did not linger long at Goldengrove; a host of such size must remain on the march lest it eat the surrounding countryside bare. The allies set out at once, marching north by northeast through tall grasses and golden fields of wheat.
Advised of their coming in his camp beside the Gods Eye, Aegon gathered his own strength and advanced to meet these new foes. He commanded only a fifth as many men as the two kings, and much of his strength was made up of men sworn to the riverlords, whose loyalty to House Targaryen was of recent vintage and untested. With the smaller host, however, Aegon was able to move much more quickly than his foes. At the town of Stoney Sept, both his queens joined him with their dragons—Rhaenys from Storm’s End, and Visenya from Crackclaw Point, where she had accepted many fervent pledges of fealty from the local lords. Together the three Targaryens watched from the sky as Aegon’s army crossed the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush and raced south.
The two armies came together amongst the wide, open plains south of the Blackwater, near to where the Goldroad would run one day. The two kings rejoiced when their scouts returned to them to report Targaryen numbers and dispositions. They had five men for every one of Aegon’s, it seemed, and the disparity in lords and knights was even greater. And the land was wide and open, all grass and wheat as far as the eye could see, ideal for heavy horse. Aegon Targaryen did not command the high ground, as Orys Baratheon had at the Last Storm; the ground was firm, not muddy. Nor were they troubled by rain. The day was cloudless, though windy. There had been no rain for more than a fortnight.
King Mern had brought half again as many men to the battle as King Loren, and so demanded the honor of commanding the center. His son and heir, Edmund, was given the vanguard. King Loren and his knights formed the right, Lord Oakheart the left. With no natural barriers to anchor the Targaryen line, the two kings meant to sweep around Aegon on both flanks, then take him in the rear, whilst their “iron fist,” a great wedge of armored knights and high lords, smashed through Aegon’s center.
Aegon Targaryen drew his own men up in a rough crescent bristling with spears and pikes, with archers and crossbowmen just behind and light cavalry on either flank. He gave command of his host to Jon Mooton, Lord of Maidenpool, one of the first foes to come over to his cause. The king himself intended to do his fighting from the sky, beside his queens. Aegon had noted the absence of rain as well; the grass and wheat that surrounded the armies was tall and ripe for harvest … and very dry.
The Targaryens waited until the two kings sounded their trumpets and started forward beneath a sea of banners. King Mern himself led the charge against the center on his golden stallion, his son Gawen beside him with his banner, a great green hand upon a field of white. Roaring and screaming, urged on by horns and drums, the Gardeners and Lannisters charged through a storm of arrows down onto their foes, sweeping aside the Targaryen spearmen, shattering their ranks. But by then Aegon and his sisters were in the air.
Aegon flew above the ranks of his foes upon Balerion, through a storm of spears and stones and arrows, swooping down repeatedly to bathe his foes in flame. Rhaenys and Visenya set fires upwind of the enemy and behind them. The dry grasses and stands of wheat went up at once. The wind fanned the flames and blew the smoke into the faces of the advancing ranks of the two kings.
The scent of fire sent their mounts into panic, and as the smoke thickened, horse and rider alike were blinded. Their ranks began to break as walls of fire rose on every side of them. Lord Mooton’s men, safely upwind of the conflagration, waited with their bows and spears and made short work of the burned and burning men who came staggering from the inferno.
The Field of Fire, the battle was named afterward.
More than four thousand men died in the flames. Another thousand perished from sword and spears and arrows. Tens of thousands suffered burns, some so bad that they remained scarred for life. King Mern IX was amongst the dead, together with his sons, grandsons, brothers, cousins, and other kin. One nephew survived for three days. When he died of his burns, House Gardener died with him. King Loren of the Rock lived, riding through a wall of flame and smoke to safety when he saw the battle lost.
The Targaryens lost fewer than a hundred men. Queen Visenya took an arrow in one shoulder but soon recovered. As his dragons gorged themselves on the dead, Aegon commanded that the swords of the slain be gathered up and sent downriver.
Loren Lannister was captured the next day. The King of the Rock laid his sword and crown at Aegon’s feet, bent the knee, and did him homage. And Aegon, true to his promises, lifted his beaten foe back to his feet and confirmed him in his lands and lordship, naming him Lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West. Lord Loren’s bannermen followed his example, and so too did many lords of the Reach, those who had survived the dragonfire.
Yet the conquest of the west remained incomplete, so King Aegon parted from his sisters and marched at once for Highgarden, hoping to secure its surrender before some other claimant could seize it for his own. He found the castle in the hands of its steward, Harlan Tyrell, whose forebears had served the Gardeners for centuries. Tyrell yielded up the keys to the castle without a fight and pledged his support to the conquering king. In reward Aegon granted him Highgarden and all its domains, naming him Warden of the South and Lord Paramount of the Mander, and giving him dominion over all House Gardener’s former vassals.
It was King Aegon’s intent to continue his march south and enforce the submission of Oldtown, the Arbor, and Dorne, but whilst at Highgarden the word of a new challenge came to his ears.
Torrhen Stark, King in the North, had crossed the Neck and entered the riverlands, leading an army of savage Northmen thirty thousand strong. Aegon at once started north to meet him, racing ahead of his army on the wings of Balerion, the Black Dread. He sent word to his two queens as well, and to all the lords and knights who had bent the knee to him after Harrenhal and the Field of Fire.
When Torrhen Stark reached the banks of the Trident, he found a host half again the size of his own awaiting him south of the river. Riverlords, westermen, stormlanders, men of the Reach … all had come. And above their camp Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar prowled the sky in ever-widening circles.
Torrhen’s scouts had seen the ruins of Harrenhal, where slow, red fires still burned beneath the rubble. The King in the North had heard many accounts of the Field of Fire as well. He knew that the same fate might await him if he tried to force a crossing of the river. Some of his lords bannermen urged him to attack all the same, insisting that Northern valor would carry the day.
Others urged him to fall back to Moat Cailin and make his stand there on Northern soil. The king’s bastard brother Brandon Snow offered to cross the Trident alone under cover of darkness, to slay the dragons whilst they slept.
King Torrhen did send Brandon Snow across the Trident. But he crossed with three maesters by his side, not to kill but to treat. All through the night messages went back and forth. The next morning, Torrhen Stark himself crossed the Trident. There upon the south bank of the Trident, he knelt, laid the ancient crown of the Kings of Winter at Aegon’s feet, and swore to be his man. He rose as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, a king no more. From that day to this day, Torrhen Stark is remembered as the King Who Knelt … but no Northman left his burned bones beside the Trident, and the swords Aegon collected from Lord Stark and his vassals were not twisted or melted or bent.
The submission of Torrhen Stark, the King Who Knelt. (illustration credit 33)
Now once again Aegon Targaryen and his queens parted company. Aegon turned south once more, marching toward Oldtown, whilst his two sisters mounted their dragons—Visenya for a second attempt at the Vale of Arryn, and Rhaenys for Sunspear and the deserts of Dorne.
Sharra Arryn had strengthened the defenses of Gulltown, moved a strong host to the Bloody Gate, and tripled the size of the garrisons in Stone, Snow, and Sky, the waycastles that guarded the approach to the Eyrie. All these defenses proved useless against Visenya Targaryen, who rode Vhagar’s leathery wings above them all and landed in the Eyrie’s inner courtyard. When the regent of the Vale rushed out to confront her, with a dozen guards at her back, she found Visenya with Ronnel Arryn seated on her knee, staring at the dragon, wonder-struck. “Mother, can I go flying with the lady?” the boy king asked. No threats were spoken, no angry words exchanged. The two queens smiled at one another and exchanged courtesies instead. Then Lady Sharra sent for the three crowns (her own regent’s coronet, her son’s small crown, and the Falcon Crown of Mountain and Vale that the Arryn kings had worn for a thousand years), and surrendered them to Queen Visenya, along with the swords of her garrison. And it was said afterward that the little king flew thrice about the summit of the Giant’s Lance and landed to find himself a little lord. Thus did Visenya Targaryen bring the Vale of Arryn into her brother’s realm.
Rhaenys Targaryen had no such easy conquest. A host of Dornish spearmen guarded the Prince’s Pass, the gateway through the Red Mountains, but Rhaenys did not engage them. She flew above the pass, above the red sands and the white, and descended upon Vaith to demand its submission, only to find the castle empty and abandoned. In the town beneath its walls, only women and children and old men remained. When asked where their lords had gone, they would only say, “Away.” Rhaenys followed the river downstream to Godsgrace, seat of House Allyrion, but it too was deserted. On she flew. Where the Greenblood met the sea, Rhaenys came upon the Planky Town, where hundreds of poleboats, fishing skiffs, barges, houseboats, and hulks sat baking in the sun, joined together with ropes and chains and planks to make a floating city, yet only a few old women and small children appeared to peer up at her as Meraxes circled overhead.
The meeting between Meria Martell and Rhaenys Targaryen. (illustration credit 34) Finally the queen’s flight took her to Sunspear, the ancient seat of House Martell, where she found the Princess of Dorne waiting in her abandoned castle. Meria Martell was eighty years of age, the maesters tell us, and had ruled the Dornishmen for sixty of those years. She was very fat, blind, and almost bald, her skin sallow and sagging. Argilac the Arrogant had named her “the Yellow Toad of Dorne,” but neither age nor blindness had dulled her wits.
“I will not fight you,” Princess Meria told Rhaenys, “nor will I kneel to you. Dorne has no king.
Tell your brother that.” “I shall,” Rhaenys replied, “but we will come again, Princess, and the next time we shall come with fire and blood.” “Your words,” said Princess Meria. “Ours are Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. You may burn us, my lady … but you will not bend us, break us, or make us bow. This is Dorne. You are not wanted here. Return at your peril.” Thus queen and princess parted, and Dorne remained unconquered.