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November 16, 2018 at 10:30 AM EST

Below is an exclusive excerpt from George R.R. Martin’s new book, Fire and Blood, an account of the first 150 years of House Targaryen’s rule of Westeros, long before the events in Game of Thrones. This section is set during the famed Dance of Dragons — the Targaryen civil war.

The setup: After the death of King Viserys I Targaryen, two factions within the royal family fought over his succession. The king’s appointed heir was his eldest daughter by his first wife, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, who was supported by her uncle/husband, the fearsome fighter Prince Daemon. Her rival was her younger half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen, who was supported by his mother, Queen Alicent.

In this excerpt, battles are occurring around Westeros as Rhaenyra and Daemon’s forces are on a campaign to defeat the forces loyal to Aegon II (including Lord Jason Lannister), capture King’s Landing, and unseat Aegon II from Iron Throne…. 

Doug Wheatley

A murder of ravens took flight from the twisted towers of Harrenhal.

On the Red Fork, Lord Jason Lannister found himself facing the Lord of Pinkmaiden, old Petyr Piper, and the Lord of Wayfarer’s Rest, Tristan Vance. Though the westermen outnumbered their foes, the riverlords knew the ground. Thrice the Lannisters tried to force the crossing, and thrice they were driven back; in the last attempt, Lord Jason was dealt a mortal wound at the hand of a grizzled squire, Pate of Longleaf. (Lord Piper himself knighted the man afterward, dubbing him Longleaf the Lionslayer.) The fourth Lannister attack carried the fords, however; this time it was Lord Vance who fell, slain by Ser Adrian Tarbeck, who had taken command of the western host. Tarbeck and a hundred picked knights stripped off their heavy armor and swam the river upstream of the battle, then circled about to take Lord Vance’s lines from the rear. The ranks of the riverlords shattered, and the westermen came swarming across the Red Fork by the thousands.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the dying Lord Jason and his bannermen, fleets of longships from the Iron Islands fell upon the shores of Lannister’s domains, led by Dalton Greyjoy of Pyke. Courted by both claimants to the Iron Throne, the Red Kraken had made his choice. His ironmen could not hope to breach Casterly Rock once Lady Johanna had barred her gates, but they seized three–quarters of the ships in the harbor, sank the rest, then swarmed over the walls of Lannisport to sack the city, making off with uncounted wealth and more than six hundred women and girls, including Lord Jason’s favorite mistress and natural daughters.

Elsewhere in the realm, Lord Walys Mooton led a hundred knights out of Maidenpool to join with the half-wild Crabbs and Brunes of Crackclaw Point and the Celtigars of Claw Isle. Through piney woods and mist–shrouded hills they hastened, to Rook’s Rest, where their sudden appearance took the garrison by surprise. After retaking the castle, Lord Mooton led his bravest men to the field of ashes west of the castle, to put an end to the dragon Sunfyre.

The would-be dragonslayers easily drove off the cordon of guards who had been left to feed, serve, and protect the dragon, but Sunfyre himself proved more formidable than expected. Dragons are awkward creatures on the ground, and his torn wing left the great golden wyrm unable to take to the air. The attackers expected to find the beast near death. Instead they found him sleeping, but the clash of swords and thunder of horses soon roused him, and the first spear to strike him provoked him to fury. Slimy with mud, twisting amongst the bones of countless sheep, Sunfyre writhed and coiled like a serpent, his tail lashing, sending blasts of golden flame at his attackers as he struggled to fly. Thrice he rose, and thrice fell back to earth. Mooton’s men swarmed him with swords and spears and axes, dealing him many grievous wounds . . . ​yet each blow only seemed to enrage him further. The number of the dead reached threescore before the survivors fled.

Amongst the slain was Walys Mooton, Lord of Maidenpool. When his body was found a fortnight later by his brother Manfryd, naught remained but charred flesh in melted armor, crawling with maggots. Yet nowhere on that field of ashes, littered with the bodies of brave men and the burned and bloated carcasses of a hundred horses, did Lord Manfryd find King Aegon’s dragon. Sunfyre was gone. Nor were there tracks, as surely there would have been had the dragon dragged himself away. Sunfyre the Golden had taken wing again, it seemed . . . ​but to where, no living man could say.

Meanwhile, Prince Daemon Targaryen himself hastened south on the wings of his dragon, Caraxes. Flying above the western shore of the Gods Eye, well away from Ser Criston’s line of march, he evaded the enemy host, crossed the Blackwater, then turned east, following the river downstream to King’s Landing. And on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra Targaryen donned a suit of gleaming black scale, mounted Syrax, and took flight as a rainstorm lashed the waters of Blackwater Bay. High above the city the queen and her prince consort came together, circling over Aegon’s High Hill.

The sight of them incited terror in the streets of the city below, for the smallfolk were not slow to realize that the attack they had dreaded was at last at hand. Prince Aemond and Ser Criston had denuded King’s Landing of defenders when they set forth to retake Harrenhal… ​and the Kinslayer had taken Vhagar, that fearsome beast, leaving only Dreamfyre and a handful of half-grown hatchlings to oppose the queen’s dragons. The young dragons had never been ridden, and Dreamfyre’s rider, Queen Helaena, was a broken woman; the city had as well been dragonless.

Thousands of smallfolk streamed out the city gates, carrying their children and worldly possessions on their backs, to seek safety in the countryside. Others dug pits and tunnels under their hovels, dark dank holes where they hoped to hide whilst the city burned (Grand Maester Munkun tells us that many of the hidden passageways and secret subcellars under King’s Landing date from this time). Rioting broke out in Flea Bottom. When the sails of the Sea Snake’s ships were seen to the east in Blackwater Bay, making for the river, the bells of every sept in the city began to ring, and mobs surged through the streets, looting as they went. Dozens died before the gold cloaks could restore the peace.

With both the Lord Protector and the King’s Hand absent, and King Aegon himself burned, bedridden, and lost in poppy dreams, it fell to his mother, the Queen Dowager, to see to the city’s defenses. Queen Alicent rose to the challenge, closing the gates of castle and city, sending the gold cloaks to the walls, and dispatching riders on swift horses to find Prince Aemond and fetch him back.

As well, she commanded Grand Maester Orwyle to send ravens to “all our leal lords,” summoning them to the defense of their true king. When Orwyle hastened back to his chambers, however, he found four gold cloaks waiting for him. One man muffled his cries as the others beat and bound him. With a bag pulled over his head, the Grand Maester was escorted down to the black cells.

Queen Alicent’s riders got no farther than the gates, where more gold cloaks took them into custody. Unbeknownst to Her Grace, the seven captains commanding the gates, chosen for their loyalty to King Aegon, had been imprisoned or murdered the moment Caraxes appeared in the sky above the Red Keep . . . ​for the rank and file of the City Watch still loved Daemon Targaryen, the Prince of the City who had commanded them of old.

Queen Alicent’s brother Ser Gwayne Hightower, second in command of the gold cloaks, rushed to the stables, intending to sound the warning; he was seized, disarmed, and dragged before his commander, Luthor Largent. When Hightower denounced him as a turncloak, Ser Luthor laughed. “Daemon gave us these cloaks,” he said, “and they’re gold no matter how you turn them.” Then he drove his sword through Ser Gwayne’s belly and ordered the city gates opened to the men pouring off the Sea Snake’s ships.

For all the vaunted strength of its walls, King’s Landing fell in less than a day. A short, bloody fight was waged at the River Gate, where thirteen Hightower knights and a hundred men-at-arms drove off the gold cloaks and held out for nigh on eight hours against attacks from both within and without the city, but their heroics were in vain, for Rhaenyra’s soldiers poured in through the other six gates unmolested. The sight of the queen’s dragons in the sky above took the heart out of the opposition, and King Aegon’s remaining loyalists hid or fled or bent the knee.

One by one the dragons made their descent. Sheepstealer lighted atop Visenya’s Hill, Silverwing and Vermithor on the Hill of Rhaenys, outside the Dragonpit. Prince Daemon circled the towers of the Red Keep before bringing Caraxes down in the outer ward. Only when he was certain that the defenders would offer him no harm did he signal for his wife the queen to descend upon Syrax. Addam Velaryon remained aloft, flying Seasmoke around the city walls, the beat of his dragon’s wide leathern wings a caution to those below that any defiance would be met with fire.

Upon seeing that resistance was hopeless, the Dowager Queen Alicent emerged from Maegor’s Holdfast with her father, Ser Otto Hightower; Ser Tyland Lannister; and Lord Jasper Wylde the Ironrod (Lord Larys Strong was not with them. The master of whisperers had somehow contrived to disappear). Septon Eustace, a witness to what followed, tells us that Queen Alicent attempted to treat with her stepdaughter. “Let us together summon a great council, as the Old King did in days of old,” said the Dowager Queen, “and lay the matter of succession before the lords of the realm.” But Queen Rhaenyra rejected the proposal with scorn. “Do you mistake me for Mushroom?” she asked. “We both know how this council would rule.” Then she bade her stepmother choose: yield or burn.

Bowing her head in defeat, Queen Alicent surrendered the keys to the castle and ordered her knights and men-at-arms to lay down their swords. “The city is yours, Princess,” she is reported to have said, “but you will not hold it long. The rats play when the cat is gone, but my son Aemond will return with fire and blood.”

Rhaenyra’s men found her rival’s wife, the mad Queen Helaena, locked in her bedchamber…​but when they broke down the doors of the king’s apartments, they discovered only “his bed, empty, and his chamberpot, full.” Aegon II had fled. So had his children, the six-year-old Princess Jaehaera and two-year-old Prince Maelor, along with Willis Fell and Rickard Thorne of the Kingsguard. Not even the Dowager Queen seemed to know where they had gone, and Luthor Largent swore none had passed through the city gates.

There was no way to spirit away the Iron Throne, however. Nor would Queen Rhaenyra sleep until she claimed her father’s seat. So the torches were lit in the throne room, and the queen climbed the iron steps and seated herself where King Viserys had sat before her, and the Old King before him, and Maegor and Aenys and Aegon the Dragon in days of old. Stern-faced, still in her armor, she sat on high as every man and woman in the Red Keep was brought forth and made to kneel before her, to plead for her forgiveness and swear their lives and swords and honor to her as their queen.

Septon Eustace tells us that the ceremony went on all through that night. It was well past dawn when Rhaenyra Targaryen rose and made her descent. “And as her lord husband Prince Daemon escorted her from the hall, cuts were seen upon Her Grace’s legs and the palm of her left hand,” wrote Eustace. “Drops of blood fell to the floor as she went past, and wise men looked at one another, though none dared speak the truth aloud: the Iron Throne had spurned her, and her days upon it would be few.”

Bantam

From the book FIRE & BLOOD by George R. R. Martin. Copyright © 2018 by George R. R. Martin. Reprinted by arrangement with Bantam, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved.

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