As part of our series on the Targaryen Dynasty, The Three Heads of the Dragon: Kings, Pretenders, and the Ladies of Fire, I will be covering the pretenders (in whatever form they may take) of the Targaryen Dynasty. The first installment will be examining the life of Orys Baratheon – the rumoured bastard half-brother, best friend, and general of Aegon the Conqueror.
Artwork by feliche.
A Brotherhood Bound in Fire and Blood
Orys was born on Dragonstone, the island fortress of House Targaryen, and sired by the father of future conqueror of Westeros, Aegon, making him a half-brother to the future King of Westeros. However, much like the case of Jon Snow and Robb Stark, Orys’ bastardry did little to affect the relations between the two men. Orys and Aegon would become best friends and a true companion to the introverted Aegon.
A fierce commander and good friend to Aegon, Orys would be trusted with significant and important tasks during Aegon’s war to conquer Westeros and subsequent military campaigns. He would even rise high enough in Aegon’s court and become the first Hand of the King after Aegon’s landing on mainland Westeros and his coronation.
The Last Storm
Artwork by feliche
During the War of Conquest Orys and Rhaenys Targaryen, with her dragon Meraxes, were given the crucial task of taking the legendary fortress of Storm’s End and seat of the Storm King, Argilac Durrandon, who, upon hearing of the fate of Harrenhal, knew the walls of Storm’s End would not protect him from dragonfire. Declaring that he did not intend to die like a suckling pig. Argilac Durrandon, with sword in hand, decided to give open battle to Orys’ forces.
Artwork Rene Aigner
Rhaenys, atop Merxes, gave a full reconnaissance report to Orys of Argilac and his forces, providing an incredible advantage over the Storm King. Orys took up a strong position on the hills south of Bronzegate, and dug in waiting for the stormlanders. However, some of Argilac’s lords’ bannermen, Fell and Buckler, surprised the beginnings of Orys’s host as they were crossing the Wendwater and killed over a thousand men before fleeing back into the trees. However, while such tactics may have worked in a past pre-dragon period, the trees would not protect Argilac’s men now. This was the age of the dragon and where there are dragons, there is fire as Lords Fell and Buckley would learn to their sorrow when Rhaenys and Meraxes set the forest where these men were hiding on fire.
Atop Meraxes, Rhaenys scouted Argilac’s movements and Orys fortified a strong defensive position in the hills south of Bronzegate highlighting his eye for strategy. As the two armies closed on each other, a massive storm broke out that would give the name to the battle. Argilac, having almost twice as many men as the Targaryens, four times as many knights and heavy horse, and the storm with him (something he likely claimed as approval of the gods like people in Westeros tend to do when a comet appears or the weather deigns to be useful for once), decided to press the attack.
The fighting lasted well into the night. Thrice Argilac led his knights against the Targaryen positions, but the slopes were steep, the grounds soft and muddy, so the warhorses struggled, and the charges lost all momentum. Although his spearmen had greater success on foot and the Durrandon host even managed to conquer two hills when they attacked the invaders suffering from poor visibility and wet bowstrings. One hill fell then another, and the third and final charge of the Storm King and his knights broke through the centre, only to come upon Queen Rhaenys and Meraxes. Even on the ground the dragon proved formidable as Dickon Morrigen, the Bastard of Blackhaven and commander of the vanguard, learned when he was engulfed in the dragon’s fiery breath.
During the chaos of the weather and the dragon’s rampage, Argilac was thrown from his horse but still, to his credit, continued the fight. At one point, when Orys came down the hill with his own men, he found Argilac fighting off half a dozen men, with as many corpses at his feet, physically emulating his house words. Orys, in his first recorded sign of chivalry, dismounted and met the king on equal footing even offering him one last chance to yield. Instead, Argilac cursed him, and the two men fought in the mud and blood, amongst fire and storm, with each taking wounds. Orys eventually killed the Storm King and when the fury in Argilac died, so did it die in his army, as his men threw down their swords and fled from the field or yielded outright.
After the battle, Princess Argella Durrandon, the daughter of the deceased Argilac, barred Storm’s End and declared herself Storm Queen. Although her garrison, likely distressed about what the dragon’s did to Harrenhal and unwilling to share the fate of Harren Hoare and his sons, revolted against Argella, took her captive, and delivered her to Orys, chained and naked. However, Orys, in another display of knightly chivalry, did not mistreat or abuse his new captive and instead removed her chains, clothed her in his cloak, and gave her food and wine.
For his valour and success upon the field of battle against King Argilac, Aegon rewarded Orys with Storm’s End. Orys even married Argella, adopted the stag banner, honours, and house words of the Durrandons, “Ours is the Fury”, and formed House Baratheon. Orys was even named Lord Paramount of the Stormlands in addition to being Hand of the King.
Much like Aegon, Orys sought to assimilate to Westerosi culture in order to gain greater acceptance amongst his new leal bannermen. His adopting of the Durrandon sigil and house words show a shrewd level of political intelligence as it help to smooth over his newly gained lordship over the Stormlands by presenting a sense of continuity much like Aegon did with his adoption of Westerosi customs. Additionally, by treating Argella Durrandon with respect and chivalry after her imprisonment, Orys essentially proved himself to be a more benevolent invader than most Westerosi knights, lords, and kings would expect, especially after the destruction that was levelled on Harrenhal and House Hoare. Whether or not this behaviour was the suggestion of the politically minded Aegon remains to be seen. However, if it was, Orys showed the capacity to listen to advice – a good trait in any leader, and if it wasn’t a suggestion by Aegon, it showed that Orys was every part as politically minded as his bastard half-brother.
A Cripple, a Bastard, and a Broken Thing
The old High Septon told my father that king’s laws are one thing, and the laws of the gods another. Trueborn children are made in a marriage bed and blessed by the Father and the Mother, but bastards are born of lust and weakness, he said. King Aegon decreed that his bastards were not bastards, but he could not change their nature. The High Septon said all bastards are born to betrayal …
Bastard children were born from lust and lies, men said; their nature was wanton and treacherous. Once Jon had meant to prove them wrong, to show his lord father he could as good a true son as Robb.
Being a bastard is no easy feat in Westeros. Whether you are blood royal or not, the stigma of bastardry follows you around like the original Reek’s bad smell and in the case of Orys Baratheon, this was no different. Although his interactions with the other nobles of Westeros are not known, there is one man who made no secret of his distate for Orys Baratheon’s bastardry, the Last Storm King – Argilac Durrandon. In the days before the Conquest, Aegon was approached by Argilac Durrandon who sought an alliance with Aegon in order to protect his kingdom and from the feared Harren the Black, the King of the Isles and the Rivers. Argilac offered the hand of his daughter in marriage. Aegon refused and instead offered Orys in his place. Argilac, taking this a grave insult to his honour and house, saw:
Orys Baratheon was a baseborn half brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered, and the Storm King would not dishonor his daughter by giving her hand to a bastard. The very suggestion enraged him.
However, despite Argilac’s thoughts on Orys which gives us a glimpse at the perception of bastardry in Westeros, the was only one man’s perception of Orys that mattered, Aegon himself. Aegon, depite his adoption of certain Westerosi customs, appeared to care little about the heritage of his bastard half-brother. In fact, Orys was essentially Aegon’s only true friend, a trusted commander in his army, and the man he named as his first Hand of the King, clearly signifying just how important his half-brother was to him. This trend of accepted bastardry is not uncommon in House Targaryen. The dragonlords were not ones to care about a name, they cared if you carried the blood of the dragon and Old Valyria itself. Although, it is important to note that Aegon is not noted to have attempted to legitismied Orys, possibly giving further creedence to this idea of the Targaryens not caring about the concept of house names. Instead, Aegon gave Orys Storm’s End and the Stormlands. Perhaps he wanted to give his friend and half-brother the tools to build his own house using his own name instead of just making him a Targaryen. A gift this precious along with the trust he placed in Orys clearly speaks to how Aegon regarded his half-brother and his importance. Unlike the majority of those in Westeros who regarded bastardry with suspicion and derision, with the exception of a few cases like Brandon Snow – who was actually sent by his trueborn brother Torrhen Stark to negotiate with Aegon during the Conquest, Aegon cared little about Orys’ bastardry and saw the man instead of the name, his brother and his friend.
The Hand that Rocked the Cradle
Artwork by Yulia Startsev
While little is known about Orys’ time as hand, it does seem clear, to me at least, that without Aegon’s personality and Orys’ competency and martial talents, the office of the Hand of the King would never have been as respected and as powerful as it became in later years. Perhaps the office may not have even existed without the talent of both men and the strong friendship they shared.
To form an entirely new position, second only in power to the king himself, was an entirely risky proposition, riskier still was giving that position to a bastard. The Seven Kingdoms had experienced their share of kings, both petty and mighty, all of whom answered to no one. Yes, they had their councillors, maesters, septons, and stewards but none were each in power to these kings themselves. The only people possibly offered the same level of political deference were these king’s rivals who were kings themselves. The fact that Aegon and Orys, possibly with Visenya’s intervention given her role in the formation of the Kingsguard, created this position for a man with similar powers and status as the king but who was not the king himself, or even a member of the royal family for that matter, speaks to their level of political ambition. They built an office for the king’s word and the king’s will, a man who would command the king’s armies, draft his laws, dispense his justice, and manage his kingdom, even sit on his throne when he is absent. The lords of Westeros would defer to this man, no matter their previous status as a king or otherwise, whether he was royal blooded or not, whether he was a bastard or trueborn, and whether the king was present or absent.
Such a position seemed ideal for Orys, a man whom Aegon described as:
…My shield, my stalwart, my strong right hand.
The Dornish Problem
Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games
The War of Conquest was not the only campaign that Orys would fight for Aegon. Orys, along with Rhaenys, later carried out a war against the only kingdom that successfully resisted the Targaryen invasion, Dorne. In the First Dornish War, Orys would lead a truly disastrous assault on the Boneway. During the invasion, the Dornish attacked at night and launched rocks, arrows, and spears from above, causing chaos with Orys’ ranks. The Dornish appear to have been extremely cunning in their attack as it seems that they decided to attack each flank of the Targaryen host instead of the main body which led to the bodies of the dead blocking up the Boneway from both ends, effectively trapping Orys Baratheon’s host in the Boneway while leaving them extremely vulnerable to more attacks. Along with the rest of the players in the War of Conquest, Orys also seemed to have fallen prey to the same mistake by underestimating the Dornish, something that resulted in him, along with many of his surviving bannermen and knights, being captured by an extremely dangerous Dornish lord known as Wyl of Wyl.
The Targaryens later received a ransom offer for all of the captives, including Orys, which Aegon eventually agreed to. Each man was ransomed for his weight in gold, clearly showing just how much Aegon valued them and his half-brother. However, once the ransom was paid and each captive was freed, they had their sword hands chopped off so they could not be used again the people of Dorne again. Orys became known as Orys One-Hand thereafter. As this was not part of the ransom terms, Aegon became enraged and vengeful, and ordered several Dornish castles burnt in revenge for his maimed bannermen and half-brother.
However, during the burning of Dorne, Orys’ long time battle companion and half-sister, Rhaenys, would would perish in Hellholt alongside Meraxes when the dragon was struck out of the sky by a rogue scorpion bolt. She would not be so lucky as to be captured and ransomed, either dying on impact or being captured and tortured (possibly to death) by the Ullers of Hellholt.
Artwork by Chase Stone
Orys, much like in the case of Jaime Lannister, was alleged to have been deeply affected by the loss of his sword hand, even becoming so bitter that he resigned his office as Hand of the King and returned to the Stormlands. However, there does remain the possibility that Orys’ bitterness and anger over losing his hand was just one reason he had for resigning his office. When Prince Nymor Martell became ruling Prince of Sunspear and sent his daughter, Princess Deria Martell, to King’s Landing to come to a peace accord with the Iron Throne. In her retinue, she carried the skull of Meraxes, something that deeply angered Orys and many others. Adding to this, Aegon, after reading a certain letter delivered to him by the Dornish princess, opted to make peace with Dorne instead of continuing the fight against them, seemingly without explanation. Losing his hand, his half-sister, being insulted by the Dornish retinue in King’s Landing, and seeing his half-brother and best friend make peace with the people who had caused such things without so much as a word may have pushed Orys over the edge and ultimately resign his office.
While brooding over his loss, Orys became obsessed with vengeance against the Dornish and Wyl of Wyl, the man responsible for his maiming. However, Orys’ vengeful desires would be sated years later when Aeny’s, Aegon’s son, ascended to the Iron Throne. His opportunity to claim vengeance came when the Vulture King, a Dornish outlaw with a host numbering in the thousands, attacked various Marcher Lords, something that Deria Martell essentially ignored. Orys, along with these Marcher Lords, called their banners and marched against the Vulture King in what is now referred to as the Vulture Hunt.
While fighting a battle against the outlaw at Stonehelm, Orys destroyed a part of the enemy host. However, his true victory came when Lord Walter Wyl, the son of the man responsible for cutting off his hand, was captured. Orys extracted vengeance against House Wyl by removing both of Walter Wyl’s hands and feet.
However, due to the wounds he sustained during the fighting, Orys died while returning to his home in the Stormlands thus ending his story and quest for revenge with him paying the ultimate price. Although the Lord of Storm’s End died satisfied, smiling at the hands and feet he had taken from Lord Walter Wyl and the vengeance he had finally extracted from the Dornishmen, at least according to his son Davos Baratheon that is.
While not a pretender in a strictly obvious sense, Orys’ Baratheon started his life as the bastard half-brother to the future king of Westeros on the Targaryen fortress of Dragonstone and ended up as the first ever Hand of the King and as both Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Lord of Storm’s End. He was neither Targaryen nor Durrandon, a pretender and adopter of aspects of both identities. His Targaryen upbringing gave him the Durrandon castle – Storm’s End, its lands, titles, and honours. His adoption of Westerosi chivalry and Targaryen intelligence gained him the standard, house words, and even a daughter of the ancient house, effectively securing his legitimacy. His combination of these aspects from both sides of his life gave a brand new identity to the newly founded House Baratheon – a house of fierce intelligence, fiercer tempers, and the fiercest of warriors. However, Orys was hardly a model of perfection. Much like his counterparts, and somewhat giving credence to this concept of multiple identities, Orys had the same lack of foresight Aegon had when it came to fighting the Dornish and had a temper and need for vengeance that was on par with Argilac Durrandon as well as Robert and Stannis Baratheon. Also, much like Robert and Stannis, Orys was both a maker and destroyer of kings. While he helped make Aegon and destroyed Argilac, Robert and Stannis destroyed Aerys and helped to secure the kingships of each other.
Orys Baratheon’s life and story ended as it had been made, after a battle. However, he did not die afraid but content in the knowledge that he had extracted vengeance against his enemies. A Targaryen without the dragon and a Durrendon without the name, Orys was no less as martially brilliant as his fellow dragons or as prone to anger as the stags. He was a man of many identities who incorporated some of the best aspects of both and, for better or worse, built both himself and his new house upon these traits.
Artwork by Douglas Wheatley