Welcome to the next instalment of Three Heads of the Dragon, and the third in our essay series discussing the Dance of the Dragons. We previously discussed Rhaenyra and Alicent, the two ambitious women at the core of the conflict, as well as their political moves to shore up support for their faction, and then we hit Aegon II and the military campaign of the greens campaign. Now, we turn ourselves to the blacks faction and their military campaign, as well as their top commander and the first true ‘pretender’ to the Iron Throne, a mantle that would take seventy years and another Daemon to be taken up again.
The Blacks were the faction of House Targaryen and their loyalists who supported the ascent of Rhaenyra Targaryen as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms during the Dance of the Dragons. For reasons of royal edict they marched, for alliance, for vengeance and personal satisfaction they marched. They were opposed by the greens for reasons of law, for reasons of ambition, and for reasons of hate.
Daemon Targaryen – The King Who Wasn’t
Artwork by Mark Simonetti
“In real life, the hardest aspect of the battle between good and evil is determining which is which.”
If there was ever a man who emphasized every cause of the blacks, it would be Daemon Targaryen, the Rogue Prince. Daemon was mercurial and vengeful, he constantly seethed and resented every time he was denied something he felt he was owed. He was king of a pirate kingdom that never amounted to much, he was the heir of the Seven Kingdoms by right and law until King Viserys I tore away his inheritance after a drunken joke. He neglected his courtly duties and was openly contemptuous of civil administration. He would be greedy, grasping for every title or holding that he could find, yet like sand, all would fall through his fingers. He would be unfaithful to his wife, incredibly violent, a man who ordered and arranged the death of one of his great-nephews, a boy of six. All of these things paint a dark picture, a rogue with a heart as fiery and dark as the Targaryen banner.
Yet for all of these faults, Daemon was brilliant when he found someone he wished to do. His reformation of the Goldcloaks cut down on crime in the capital and undoubtedly made life much easier for smallfolk, merchant, and tax-loving noble alike. He was a brilliant commander, able to inspire love from his subordinates for his willingness to be down in the muck with his own troops and providing overwhelming firepower on the back of Caraxes.
The name of the civil war is taken from the colour of the gowns worn during a tournament held by Viserys I.
Queen Alicent wore a green gown, whilst Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, Viserys’s daughter, wore red and black. Afterwards the “Greens” and “Blacks” were the two factions referred to in the Dance of the Dragons.p
A Deadly Dance
The Dance of the Dragons was a civil war during Targaryen rule of the Seven Kingdoms. A war of succession between Aegon II and his half-sister Rhaenyra over the Iron Throne.
The Opening Number
Upon the death of King Viserys I Targaryen, Queen Alicent and Ser Criston Cole send out the Kingsguard to summon the small council.
Ser Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King, said Prince Aegon would be crowned, whilst Lord Lyman Beesbury, the master of coin, insisted Rhaenyra’s claim.
Sides were chosen with people claiming the oaths made to Rhaenyra in 105 AC had not been made by them, that King Jaehaerys I Targaryen had set a precedent by twice choosing a male heir over a female heir, and that it would be the infamous Daemon Targaryen, Rhaenyra’s husband, who would rule should Rhaenyra be crowned.
The Hightowers also argued that they and Alicent’s children would die if Rhaenyra was crowned.
Grand Maester Orwyle correctly predicted war would come about over this issue and that Rhaenya would never give up her birthright. Lord Beesbury, remained true to Rhaenyra’s claim and was killed Ser Criston Cole killed him, becoming the first casualty of the Dance of the Dragons.
The greens council vowed loyalty to Aegon II and imprisoned all potential Rhaenyra loyalists in King’s Landing. Aegon loyalists received ravens while Rhaenyra was left completely in the dark about her father’s death and the ascension of her half-brother.
A False Crown For A False King – Coronation of Aegon II
Artwork by Amok
Aemond One Eye was dispatched to Storm’s End to betroth himself to a daughter Lord Borros Baratheon so that the historical ally of House Baratheon would fight for Aegon II.
A full week afterwards, Viserys’ death was announced to King’s Landing and Aegon’s coronation was prepared. Criston Cole himself crowned Aegon.
Aegon’s use of a coronation was an attempt to ensconce himself in the symbols of rule and make him appear to be the rightful ruler. By taking up his namesake’s crown and blade, Aegon attempted to paint himself as another Aegon. Certainly, Aegon was a warlike king that conquered much of Westeros, but he was also a king who presided over almost 30 years of peace and plenty. He was the king who pulled his foe to his feet and confirmed the titles even of rival kings like Loren Lannister and Torrhen Stark. Alicent, through Aegon, was sending a strong message: “I will give you peace for submission, but if you defy me, I shall bring fire.”
However, Ser Steffon Darklyn had defected from Aegon and left the city with the crown Kings Viserys I and Jaehaerys I had both worn, and the use of this crown was a political move to certainly buoy up Rhaenyra’s cause. Her father’s heir, she wore her father’s crown. Aegon was a distant, aloof man, but Jaehaerys I, the original bearer of Rhaenyra’s crown, traveled the length of his realm, using infrastructure and dragon diplomacy to truly make the nation one land, with one king.
On Dragonstone, Rhaenyra learned about the death of her father and the betrayal by Aegon all at once.
Rhaenyra then swore revenge against the Greens.
The Black Council
Already playing catch-up thanks to Alicent’s power over the royal serving staff, Rhaenyra was forced to play catch-up to surround herself in the trappings of rulership. Rhaenyra, like her half-brother, called her own council at Dragonstone. Rhaenyra’s husband Daemon, her sons Jacaerys, Lucerys and Joffrey, Lord Corlys Velaryon, and his wife Princess Rhaenys were among them.
While Rhaenyra regaining her strength from her tough pregnancy, Daemon and the dragon Caraxes made Harrenhal their base. House Velaryon then closed off the Gullet.
Due to his father’s previous support of Rhaenys, Princess Rhaenys was convinced that Lord Borros of Storm’s End would declare for Rhaenyra.
Rhaenyra was crowned queen, using the crown her father and great-grandfather had worn. Prince Daemon was named Protector of the Realm, Jacaerys was named Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the Iron Throne. The Greens were declared traitors save for Rhaenyra’s half-siblings if they bent the knee, cognizant of the taboo against kinslaying. However, King Aegon II declared Rhaenyra and Daemon traitors as a counter.
Grand Maester Orwyle travelled to Dragonstone and offered generous terms to the Blacks which were refused.
Jacaerys would go onto visit the Arryns, the Starks, and Manderly. Lucerys travelled to Storm’s End.
There would be no peace. It was time for gathering allies for the coming war.
Harrenhal fell to Daemon and Jacaerys got the support of the Arryns, Manderlys, Borrells, Sunderlands, and Starks to back Rhaenyra’s cause.
The Storm Duel – The Dragon Dance over Shipbreaker Bay
Artwork by Chase Stone
Lucerys flew to Storm’s End and found Prince Aemond and Vhagar already present. However, the boy, true to his oath did not fight despite One-Eye’s insults towards him. He delivered his message to Lord Borros, but was refused and told to leave Storm’s End.
Lord Borros prevented Aemond from attacking his Lucerys in the castle yet Aemond caught up with Lucerys and the two fought upon dragon back but not for long. Hugely outmatched by Vhagar’s massive size, Arrax, Lucerys’ dragon, was crushed and his head would wash ashore with Lucerys Velaryon’s death.
The killing of an emissary was a great taboo both in Westeros and our own history. In 994 CE, the arrest of Raja Chola’s envoy led to an open declaration of war. In Westeros, an envoy was a sacred task, tied in with oaths of hospitality. Emissaries took no part in wars, bore no blade even against their most hated of foes. When someone violates this oath, it is a serious breach of honor, as Tyrion Lannister does during his negotiations with the Starks in the War of the Five Kings.
Blood and Cheese
Artwork by Will Owen
Rhaenyra was devastated upon hearing of her son’s death and Prince Daemon swore retribution against the Greens for his lady wife.
“An eye for an eye, a son for a son. Lucerys shall be avenged.”
Using his connections in King’s Landing, Daemon enlisted the help of two men, Blood and Cheese, to exact retribution against the Greens. They would sneak into the into the Tower of the Hand, bind and gag Queen Alicent, and murder the young Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen, son of Queen Helaena, and flee with the boy’s head.
However, while exacting bloody retribution is a deeply primal and personal thing, executing an innocent child is likely to earn you nothing but the enmity of both the public and your enemies. It makes a martyr for your enemy to capitalise on and further legitimises their cause. Unlike Lucerys, Jaehaerys the younger was six years old, unable to fly a dragon or make educated decisions about the war. He was too young even to wed, making him not even a piece for the marriage economy of Westeros. The murder of Jaehaerys, and forcing a mother to choose one child to sacrifice to the butcher’s knife to further twist the knife, would plant the seeds of the Shepherd’s popular uprising and the “Maegor with Teats” label for Rhaenyra. Her king consort had butchered a family member and tortured his own niece, painting himself as a monster.
The Battle of the Burning Mill and The Battle of Stone Hedge
Now with the war beginning in earnest, Daemon looked to quickly arrest the large advantages that the greens enjoyed over his blacks. With the blacks based out of the Narrow Sea, some closet blacks might feel reluctant to declare for Rhaenyra since they were far away. Daemon needed a decisive stroke, to prove to his supporters that the blacks had power, and to his enemies that they were not beyond the reach of Caraxes.
Stone Hedge was taken by Prince Daemon Targaryen and the Blackwoods after the Battle of the Burning Mill as part of Daemon’s plan to consolidate power in the Riverlands. Negating threats from the Greens within the Riverlands and securing the monstrous Harrenhal as his base and strong point was the smart move for Daemon. Harrenhal was an accursed place with symbolic power over people and taking it sent a particular message to both the Greens and any people of the Riverlands who were even considering choosing to side with Aegon: Daemon was here, he had a dragon, and he held Harrenhal so choose wisely and at your own peril. In a few short engagements, Daemon proved that his cause had staying power and legitimacy. Like Aegon the Conqueror before him, Daemon had hit the Riverlands in force and taken as well as allied with houses in the region in order to secure his and Rhaenyra’s cause.
In military campaigns, outnumbered sides often have to quickly seize advantages before others are willing to commit, and that’s even more troublesome in a feudal model of governance where levies are traditionally called for a certain period of time only. In taking and striking, Daemon proved that the blacks had a real chance to win, and that would be as critical as Jace’s political moves in keeping the black cause in the fight.
The Battle of Rook’s Rest
After the fall of Harrenhal, and the defeats at Burning Mill and Stone Hedge making Lord Owen Costayne of Three Towers, Lord Mullendore of Uplands, Lord Alan Tarly of Horn Hill, Lord Thaddeus Rowan of Goldengrove and Lord Grimm of Greyshield declared for Rhaenyra along with the Vale, White Harbor, and Starks. This declaration of many powerful and high lords gave Rhaenyra the troops her side desperately needed and proved that there would be no easy victory for the greens.
Ser Otto Hightower reached out to an old foe of Daemon’s, the man the Greens truly feared, the Kingdom of the Three Daughters across the narrow sea, hoping to use them against Corlys Velaryon, an ally of Rhaenyra’s. Aegon II removed Otto as Hand and installed Ser Criston Cole in the office. Daemon’s belligerent personality meant no shortage of personal enemies, and the Triarchy could produce enough naval power to counter the Velaryons at sea.
“The whore on Dragonstone is not the threat. No more than Rowan and these traitors in the Reach. The danger is my uncle. Once Daemon is dead, all these fools flying our sister’s banners will run back to their castles and trouble us no more.”
After lords had begun to declare for Rhaenyra, Aegon looked to immediately staunch the tide of supporters declaring for Rhaenyra. Aegon began by sacking Duskendale, and executing Lord Darklyn for his betrayal. In this, he looked to demonstrate exactly what Daemon had proved at Stone Hedge and Burning Mill, that defiance would be met with blood, and the greens were just as capable as the blacks.Ser Criston then turned his attention to Rook’s Rest given that House Mooton had declared for Rhaenyra.
Artwork by Jordi Gonzalez Escamilla
Lord Staunton Mooton defended himself against Cole and wrote to Dragonstone, asking for aid which came in the form of Princess Rhaenys atop Meleys.
However, Cole expected a dragon and attacked with scorpions, longbows, and crossbows, in order to kill the creature.
The dragons Sunfyre, with the king himself leading atop the creature, and Vhagar appeared and fought a brutal battle with Meleys which ended with all three dragons crashing to the ground. However, it was only Vhagar rose from the ashes. Sunfyre had one wing half torn from his body and Aegon suffered from several broken bones and severe burns. Princess Rhaenys was found completely burned next to the dead body of Meleys.
The fact that Aegon himself, the actual king, fought in a brutal dragon battle, likely the most dangerous form of warfare in Westeros, shows his frustrated desperation at this point. Clearly hoping to take out either Daemon or Rhaenyra herself, he had to contend with a lesser target. Although, it was certainly a clever tactic, using Rhaenyra’s feudal obligations in order to lure her or Daemon out. However, he and his council should have recognised the sheer dangerous level of stupidity in letting the king not only fight on the front lines but also atop a fire breathing monster against another fire breathing monster. The only saving grace of this dragon duel was the fact that Aemond was there to reinforce his king.
After the battle, Rook’s Rest was taken and the garrison put to death, the head of Meleys was brought back to King’s Landing and caused thousands to flee the capital until the gates were barred.
Taking the head of the dragon was an excellent propaganda manoeuvre on Aegon’s part, it showed his power and his strength but executing the entire garrison was a missed opportunity to show his mercy and gain further allies in the form of the garrison.
King Aegon II was brought back to King’s Landing, severely wounded and slept most of the time. Sunfyre, the king’s dragon was kept at Rook’s Rest to rest. With Aegon unable to rule, Prince Aemond assumed the style of Protector of the Realm, something he perhaps wanted all along.
Lord Corlys Velaryon, upon learning of the death of his wife, Rhaenys, threatened to leave Rhaenyra’s cause. Things looked grim until Jacerys Velaryon took charge, and his political ideas undoubtedly saved the blacks. Corlys Velaryon was named Hand of the Queen, but this would be merely the first and simplest of Jace’s ideas..
The two men planned an assault on King’s Landing while securing the safety of Prince Joffrey in the Vale of Arryn, and Princes Aegon and Viserys in Pentos with the Prince of Pentos, a friend of Prince Daemon’s, until Rhaenyra had secured the throne. This was a smart series of moves by both men as it prevented Rhaenyra’s heirs from being kept in one vulnerable basket.
“If you keep all your treasures in one purse, you only make it easier for those who would rob you.”
However, while Pentos was a good move as it would be easier to hide a high value target in a foreign land, hiding Joffrey in the Vale could be a dangerous move given how vulnerable the Vale was to dragons. Although, the Arryns and their ‘High As Honor’ house words likely informed this decision. The old family honour would mean that the Arryns may choose death over betraying a guest under their roof. Still, a dangerous risk to take for the Blacks, especially by keeping two of the boys together.
Jacaerys wanted to attack the capital with as many dragons as possible and with six riderless dragons present on Dragonstone, Jacaerys promised wealth and status to anyone who could master a dragon. Many tried, were injured or died, even Lord Commander Steffon Darklyn, but four succeeded: Vermithor was claimed by Hugh Hammer, Silverwing by Ulf the White, Seasmoke by Addam of Hull, and Sheepstealer by a girl named Nettles.
Rhaenyra, for Corlys, legitimized Addam and his brother Alyn and render them trueborn Velaryons, and named Addam heir to Driftmark.
The wild and riderless dragons on Dragonstone would be a tremendous asset. In military endeavours, a side that can recognize, seize, and utilize unique assets offers a great deal of tactical and strategic flexibility. Making use of the riderless dragons was a smart move on the Blacks part.
However, this came with a huge risk. Leaving the dragons in the hands of single individuals, with sole discretion, would mean that the war would be won or lost based on a few people, making these dragonriders the only pillar propping up the blacks faction. Rhaenyra would gain a tremendous advantage, but she would need to handle all of these ‘dragonseeds,’ otherwise her strategy is lost. This reliance on highly elite force is reminiscent of the Spartan military doctrine. Spartan warriors were legendary, so skilled in battle that the famed city never bothered to build walls for lack of need. However, repeated losses and long training times combined together to break the power of Sparta, as the Spartans could not easily replace men who fell in combat.
The proposed attack on King’s Landing was an interesting plan but utilising dragons to take the capital was a dangerous way of going about it. There was every chance in the world that this battle could utterly destroy the city and kill hundreds of thousands in the fighting.
Even Corlys Velaryon, a commander with the Blacks, pointed out to Lord Bartimos Celtigar, who was urging Rhaenyra to destroy the capitol city, that “we want to rule the city, not burn it to the ground”.
It could definitely end a Pyrrhic Victory for the Blacks and that’s if they won. If they lost, it would be a disaster. They’d likely lose dragons and turn the capital against them, it would further legitimise a wounded king and possibly away allies to the enemy’s cause. After the assassination of Jaehaerys Targaryen, the blacks were already cursed and reviled for their contempt of public opinion. A tactical misstep here could cost thousands of lives, and hearken back to the days of Maegor the Cruel, the monarch who paved his reign with the bones of his enemies.
Battle in the Gullet
After the fall of Harrenhal to Prince Daemon Targaryen and further blows to the greens Ser Otto Hightower King Aegon II Targaryen’s Hand of the King hatched a plan to break the Velaryon fleet’s blockade of the Gullet.
However, despite his being removed, Ser Otto’s plan eventually came to fruition and the High Council of the Triarchy accepted his offer of alliance so ninety warships sailed for the Gullet against the Blacks.
Unfortunately, the two Targaryen princes sailed straight into the enemy warships and Prince Viserys had no way of escaping from and was captured. His brother, Aegon, however managed to escape by flying away atop Stormcloud. The sailors attempted to bring them down and Stormcloud was terribly wounded but they managed to fly to Dragonstone and tell of what happened in the battle.
After Aegon’s return, Prince Jacaerys on Vermax flew to the Lysene galleys with his new dragonseeds but flew too low, crashed into the sea and was pierced by quarrels.
Only twenty-eight ships survived sacked and High Tide, containing all the Corlys Velaryon’s treasures, was immolated and one-third of his fleet destroyed.
The Battle in the Gullet was a bloody battle and a disaster on both sides. The Blacks lost a dragon and Prince Jacaerys due his low flying, Driftmark and High Tide were destroyed, and the enemy fleet lost sixty-two ships and returned home. It was a victory for the greens as they had risked none of their own forces in the battle, only the Triarchy, and had certainly done damage to the black forces. Jacaerys took a stupid risk against an enemy that had grown up fighting dragons. He should have been more prepared for a fight with the enemy fleet and not have flown so dangerous.
The Battle on the Honeywine
As the Blacks suffered a major setback when Borros Baratheon sided the Stormlands with the Greens so to did the Greens suffer a setback when many of the major lords from the north and east of the Reach declared for Rhaenyra. Even House Tyrell didn’t side with the Greens due to the evenly divided loyalties in the Reach between the blacks and greens. The Tyrells could not determine which side was more likely to win so chose neither. In addition, the current lord of Highgarden was only a baby, and his regent mother did not want to take any risks by picking sides so Highgarden declared its neutrality.
Instead of quickly marching Reachmen armies up from the south to join up with the other green armies in the north to overwhelm the blacks, the Hightowers and their allies slowly fought their way up through the Reach instead.
A fortnight later, Lord Hightower found himself stuck between two armies: Lord Rowan and Flowers attack from the northeast while another force under Ser Alan Beesbury, Lord Tarly and Lord Costayne cut off any retreat to Oldtown.
As they closed in around Hightower, Prince Daeron rode to the rescue of the Green supporter on his dragon. Tom Flowers died, Lord Rowan fled, the Beesbury and Tarly were captured, and Lord Costayne was dying. Prince Daeron was knighted and named Daeron the Daring.
Using two separate forces to take on Lord Hightower was a clever manoeuvre on the part of the Blacks. They had every indication that they would be victorious but clearly didn’t account for the moves of a likely desperate Lord Hightower. Hightower had previously been Hand of the King to Aegon II and had connections to the dragonriders. It should have been considered that Hightower would call for aid on a dragon’s back as Daeron, Lord Ormund Hightower’s page then squire, was already there. A smart precautionary move on the Black’s part should have been to negate any threat of enemy dragons with dragons of their own. However, after the losses on at the Rook’s Nest and in the Gullet, it is easy to see why the Blacks wouldn’t want to risk losing more dragons on what looked like a likely victory to begin with and with them stuck dar to the northeast.
The War Wages On
Jacaerys’s death filled Rhaenyra with anger and hatred, and in her rage she decided to unleash her dragons.
Meanwhile, Lord Walys Mooton retook Rook’s Rest, and attempted to kill the wounded Sunfyre. The dragon fought back and Lord Mooton died with some of his men while the others fled. When they returned, Sunfyre had disappeared. Conventional military doctrine states that forces should destroy any useful equipment that cannot be recovered, repurposed, or salvaged, and Sunfyre almost certainly qualifies. In modern military engagements, the loss of high-tech equipment is often followed with a swift, brutal airstrike to prevent an enemy from recovering and reverse-engineering it.
The North was assembling its forces and Daemon’s own host at Harrenhal was still growing.
Knowing Daemon to be the true threat, Aemond and Criston rode forth from King’s Landing with a strong host of 4000 men and the dragon Vhagar.
Daemon, likely utilising his connections in the capitol, was informed of their plans before they marched against him so he went south on Caraxes and avoided Criston’s march.
Aemond and Criston found Harrenhal abandoned after a nineteen day march, and believed themselves victorious but we’re to be disappointed.
The Blacks had been exceedingly clever after hearing of the movements of Cole and Aemond. The Blacks would take King’s Landing but not with dragons but with guile.
With Vhagar, the monstrous defender of King’s Landing, away from the capitol, Daemon, Rhaenyra, Caraxes, and Syrax joined up above King’s Landing while Corlys Velaryon’s ships sailed into Blackwater Bay. Grand Maester Orwyle was arrested before a being able to dispatch a single raven, all riders were captured, and all gate captains were killed or arrested.
This degree of information supremacy and powerful ability at subterfuge characterized the blacks faction, and was arguably their single greatest asset after their superior dragonpower. Daemon was able to strike at Alicent Hightower, Helaena Targaryen, and her three young children. Were Daemon even more vicious, he could have had all four butchered and slain. However, Daemon likely ensured that Blood and Cheese would not do such a thing, as such a move would almost certainly enrage most of the nobility of Westeros, as well as the Faith of the Seven who would almost certainly see the murder of women and children as un-knightly and contrary to the vows of knighthood Daemon had sworn. Such a massive uprising would almost certainly wound his cause. After all, Maegor had Balerion the Black Dread, and that mattered little when Jaehaerys came calling.
Prince Daemon had returned to King’s Landing and taken the city in less than a day along with the Green council save for the missing Lord Larys Strong, King Aegon II, Princess Jaehaera, Prince Maelor, and Ser Willis Fell and Rickard Thorne.
Rhaenyra took the Iron Throne and spared Queen Alicent execution, beheaded Otto Hightower and Jasper Wylde, and tortured Ser Tyland Lannister. Princes Joffrey and Aegon were called to King’s Landing by their mother, raised to offices and cloaked in the symbols of royal princedom.
Taking King’s Landing was a spectacular manoeuvre on the part of the Blacks. They had lured out the head defenders of the city along with a decently strong host and the largest dragon in the realm at the time. Daemon Targaryen was the prince of the city who had connections everywhere and he made excellent use of them. The city was taken mostly bloodlessly. She was able to seize and execute senior green leadership as royal execution for treason, not in bloody battle that could give rise to a martyr-figure. There was no destructive battle fought for King’s Landing, no bloody sack. Rhaenyra’s capture of the city from the missing king legitimised her even further; she now sat the throne of her father. The city was seized without unnecessary bloodshed and the symbol and power of the capitol remained intact. It was a beautifully orchestrated intelligence operation that made good use of disinformation, spies, and turncloaks.
“Daemon gave us these cloaks and they’re gold no matter how you turn them.”
The one failing of the taking of King’s Landing was the failure to seize the king himself along with his family and the other Green loyalists. A completely understandable failure but a failure nonetheless. However, what could be considered a grave error was not the failure to find Aegon, but the failure to continue to search for him. Perhaps Rhaenyra thought her cause was won, but as long as the king remained in play, the greens continued to oppose her.
Battle by the Lakeshore/The Fishfeed
While House Lannister supported the Greens, House Stark and many Riverlander houses backed Rhaenyra. To support Aegon II the Lannisters sent an army eastward. However, this gesture was somewhat subdued by the fact that the army was commander an aged and infirm Lord Lefford causing the force to move at a snail’s pace.
When the Westermen reached the Gods Eye, Lord Lefford discovered that he was opposed by Lords Dustin and Frey along with Red Robb Rivers who had a combined host of 3100. This threat was further escalated when Longleaf the Lionslayer with a host of battle hardened veterans and Lords Bigglestone, Chambers, and Perryn.
Lefford sent requests for assistance to Aemond at Harrenhal but every raven was Robb Rivers shot down. There would be no help coming for Lefford.
“Though a dozen birds took wing, not one ever reached the prince; Red Robb Rivers, said to be the finest archer in all Westeros, took them down on the wing.”
Additionally, more river lords soon arrived to reinforce the Greens.
Lefford was attacked at dawn the next morning with the Winter Wolves leading the charge against the Lannister force. Lefford was attacked on three sides and his men were pushed back to the Gods Eye.
Two thousand soldiers were killed in the Battle by the Lakeshore, making it the bloodiest land battle of the war with the Blacks losing Lords Frey, Bigglestone, and Charlton along with 2/3 being of the Northerners being killed or wounded while the Greens suffered losses in the form of Lords Lefford, Swyft and Reyne as well as Sers Crakehall and Hill.
It was an absolutely crushing defeat for the Greens.
Prince Aemond and Ser Criston Cole abandoned Harrenhal after being unable to come to a consensus on future plans. Cole went south while Aemond waged guerilla war with Vhagar in order to lure out a dragon from the Blacks to fight him. He was more than likely baiting Rhaenyra to send Daemon after him in order to avenge the death of Lucerys in the Stormlands.
The greater strategic aim of the Riverlander/Northmen army merits special mention. As Lord Dustin spoke before the Fishfeed, the goal of their army was to prevent the Lannister host from merging with Aemond and Cole’s forces. The archetypical use of this tactic would be in the American Civil War, where famed Confederate Stonewall Jackson defeated an army 3 times his own size during the Shenandoah valley campaign. Using the difficult terrain to his advantage, Jackson was able to defeat each Union column in detail when they were unable to assist the other, and thus, turned his overwhelming disadvantage into total victory.
It was a combination of enemy mismanagement and tactical prowess that gained the Blacks their victory at the Fishfeed. The Lannisters were led by a feeble old man that were cut off from reinforcements and prevented from calling for aid before they were outmanoeuvred and completely annihilated. A costly victory given the lords they lost but a victory nonetheless for the Blacks.
The Red Kraken
Artwork by Ignacio Lazcano
Taking advantage of the sailing and piracy prowess of the Greyjoys was another excellent move by the Blacks. Rhaenyra offered the pirate lords something irresistible, the chance to pillar the Reach and Westerlands at will and so, for two years, the forces of the Red Kraken raided, pillaged, and sacked in the name of Rhaenyra Targaryen. The Blacks now had sea power on two fronts; the fleet of House Velaryon and now the indecently contracted raiders of the Red Kraken.
In courting the Red Kraken, the blacks showed a keen understanding of politics and of understanding the man opposite the negotiating table. Aegon hoped to entice the bold Red Kraken with offices and honours, and this was not wholly foolish, but it was looking at the problem from the way Aegon would approach the problem, not an Ironborn. However, Rhaenyra only asked that Dalton act in accord with Ironborn traditions, to raid Lannisport as his storied ancestors had done countless times before. This appealed more to the daring Red Kraken, who hungered more for fame than offices and titles. This was the sort of flexible thinking that characterized many of the blacks faction during the initial stages of the war, and it served them well when it came to seizing early momentum.
Artwork by Rene Aigner
The Butcher’s Ball
Another victory for the Blacks came in the form of the Butcher’s Ball.
Following the victory at the Battle by the Lakeshore, Ser Criston Cole took his army of 3,600 from Harrenhal with the intention of joining his force with that of Lord Ormund Hightower and Daeron the Daring, marching from the Reach.
Aemond One-Eye on the other hand chose to take Vhagar Rather and set the Riverlands afire. His goal, like Rook’s Rest, was to lue out a dragonrider, hoping to eliminate Rhaenyra’s advantages one by one. Aemond believed that if he could eliminate Daemon Targaryen, the dragonseeds would abandon Rhaenyra’s cause. Hard Hugh and Ulf the Sot had no particular loyalty to the Realm’s Delight, and he would have no reason to believe Nettles and Daemon to become enamored of each other.
Criston’s travelled along the western shore of the Gods Eye, but the River lords, used scorched earth tactics, leaving everything in front of their enemy dead before them: forests, villages, horses, and men, and guerrilla warfare against the greens, causing either the mass desertion or defection of many Green soldiers. One notable incident took place at the village of Crossed Elms, Criston’s men were attacked by men disguised as corpses.
The use of psychological and scorched earth tactics was an inspired choice by the Blacks. It prevented the Greens from making use of the Blacks’ resources while slowly but surely demoralising the enemy to the point of desertion or outright defection. It also slowed down Cole’s forces, allowing the battered blacks from the Fishfeed to recover, resupply, and march south to meet Cole in combat.
Moving towards the Blackwater Rush, Cole led his force into an ambush south of the Gods Eye. They were outnumbered two to one by the Riverlanders and Northerners. Lord Dustin sounded the charge of the Blacks’ vanguard against the Greens. Cole offered single combat to his enemy, an offer declined by several men. Instead, the Kingmaker was cut down by arrows, denying his demand for an honourable single combat death. Cole’s army was soon routes and hundreds of them were massacred as they fled.
The death of Cole and the destruction of his army was a huge boon for the Blacks. By the time they faced the Kingmaker and his army, the were already weakened by desertion, defection, and demoralisation, and were ripe for the taking. While not strictly honourable by Westerosi standards, denying Cole’s offer of single combat was likely the smart move. It denied Cole a glorious death and prevented him from being martyred by the Greens or even immortalised in the songs and stories. Cole was cut down the same as many of his own fleeing common foot soldiers.
Meanwhile, Prince Daemon and Nettles would lead the hunt for the dragon Vhagar and Aemond who were terrorising the Riverlands with fire and blood. Their search bore no fruit, finding only blood, ash, and corpses.
The Lost Boy
Bad news concerning Aegon II’s children soon reached Rhaenyra as well. Princess Jaehaera had arrived safely at Storm’s End but Prince Maelor had torn to pieces by pro-Rhaenyra supporters at Bitterbridge who had each tried to claim possession of the boy for the dragon queen. This was a further blow against Rhaenyra and the Black’s public image as well as incompetent given the loss of two valuable political prisoners.
The Bitterbridge castle was later destroyed by the Hightowers in revenge for death of Maelor.
The First Battle of Tumbleton
Lord Ormund Hightower led an army of 9’000 Greens towards the Black controlled King’s Landing.
Ulf White and Hugh Hammer were sent with their dragons to Tumbleton, the last Black stronghold that stood between the capital and Ormund’s army, to reinforce the 9’000 Black loyalists defending Tumbleton.
Before the battle, Green soldiers were sent to infiltrate the town by posing as refugees, secretly infiltrating the ranks of the Black defenders.
At the start of the battle, Lord Hightower thinned the Black ranks and used his heavy horse to send the blacks retreating to Tumbleton.
Lord Dustin then lead the Winter Wolves out a postern gate against the Hightowers despite being outnumbered ten-to-one. However, despite their numerical disadvantage, the Winter Wolves reached the Green commanders with Lord Dustin managing to slay both Lord Ormund and Ser Bryndon Hightower despite having his shield arm cut off by Ser Bryndon. He soon died of his wounds.
“As the singers tell it, Lord Roderick was blood from head to heel as he came on, with splintered shield and cracked helm, yet so drunk with battle that he did not even seem to feel his wounds.”
In the annals of Japanese samurai history, there are great legends of men charging forth to die when all hope was lost. Roddy the Ruin bears close resemblance to Yukimura Sanada, who in the siege of Osaka Castle famously charged the Tokugawa camp, tearing down the banner with his own hand if the popular story is to be believed, only to be slain by a common spearman after he grew exhausted from battle. Whether this story is completely true or embellished the way many samurai legends were, the idea is clear: a man who does not wish to come back to camp is capable of great things. In a single battle, Roddy the Ruin went from man to legend in Northern stories, and the greens lost their senior commander.
With the deaths of the Hightower commanders, the Blacks thought the battle was won but their joy soon turned to terror when Ulf and Hugh unleashed their dragons against both the town and its defenders.
Thousands burned to death or drowned trying to flee. Lord Footly’s men surrendered but were still executed by the Greens. A brutal sack quickly befell the town.
The worst outcome that could have resulted ultimately happened. Two Black dragon riders had defected with their dragons and turned their beasts upon a loyalist stronghold and its soldiers. The bravery of the Winter Wolves and Roddy the Ruin Dustin was for nought when the hammer fell. This was an utter catastrophe for the Blacks and one of their own making when they handed dragons over to two complete unknowns with their own agenda. Having a well defended strong point between the Hightower army and King’s Landing was a good move on the part of the Blacks but one that completely fell apart when Ulf and Hugh betrayed the Blacks. The road to King’s Landing was now clear to the Greens. All they had to do was march.
When she heard of the betrayal by Ulf and Hugh, Rhaenyra ordered the city gates closed and barred but the Tumbleton Betrayal had the obvious outcome of making Rhaenyra’s council question the loyalty of Addam Velaryon and Nettles, who, despite Corlys Velaryon’s defence of the two dragonseeds, were ordered to be arrested.
However, Addam was warned by Corlys and escaped arrest upon the dragon, Seasmoke while Corlys himself was arrested.
This sort of paranoia is disastrous to a ruler’s cause. Arguably, this condemnation without cause is what brought about Robert’s Rebellion, but Rhaenyra went beyond even the Mad King’s tendency to shoot himself in the foot. She had defined her power largely through dragonriders, and in arresting two of her remaining seven dragonriders, she alienated both of her most powerful supporters: Corlys Velaryon and Daemon Targaryen. More than any other event, this action is what killed the black cause. Corlys would languish in the black cells, and the Rogue Prince himself would largely find himself adrift, and seek single combat with Aemond Targaryen.
Perhaps he looked to defeat Aemond, perhaps he merely sought death in combat, but it seems plain from the text, Daemon didn’t expect to return from his duel. Just like that, Rhaenyra went from seven dragonriders to three, and soon…she wouldn’t even have those.
While in Tumbleton, the Hightower army remained leaderless with no real candidates to take command until Ser Hobert Hightower decided to do so but was horribly ineffective and failed to stop the savage sacking, despite Daeron’s pleas.
Ulf and Hugh became more ambitious and dreamed of greater prizes, especially after Ulf was granted the recently destroyed Bitterbridge, much to his bitter disappointment.
With the Hightower army essentially leaderless, desertions caused the army to shrink every day.
Fall of Dragonstone
During the fall of King’s Landing to Rhaenyra, Aegon II, along with his children were smuggled to safety from the city by Larys Strong. Making sure not to put all of his dragon eggs in one basket, Larys hid Jaehaera on Storm’s End and Maelor was hidden with Lord Hightower. Aegon himself was hidden on Dragonstone in disguise wherein he convinced several blacks to defect to his side and the Greens seize Dragonstone from Rhaenyra and the Blacks.
During the taking of the island fortress, Aegon fought Baela Targaryen upon their dragons. During the fighting, the dragons slammed into the ground and Aegon jumped from the saddle, shattering his legs, while Baela stayed with Moondancer and was burned and battered but survived and was taken to the Maester for healing.
Aegon, despite his serious injuries, now held Dragonstone with the Blacks with Rhaenyra completely in the dark about the loss of her inherited fortress.
This was a real blow to the Blacks but a hidden and dangerous loss. Leaving a token force at Dragonstone was a grave error and would cost the Blacks dearly.
The Battle Above The Gods Eye
Artwork by Unknown
Lord Mooton of Maidenpool found himself in a difficult situation when a message from Rhaenyra arrived and told him to send her the head of Nettles. Nettles had allegedly become Daemon’s lover and in Rhaenyra’s eyes, she was now a traitor. However, Daemon was to be unharmed.
Mooton’s decision was extremely difficult given that Nettles was his guest and subject to sacred guest right. The threat of retribution from Daemon was likely but refusing Rhaenyra would being condemned as a traitor as well. Mooton ultimately chose to inform Daemon of Rhaenyra´s command.
The next day, Nettles left Maidenpool and was never heard from again.
Rhaenyra’s paranoia had cost her both an ally and a dragon rider as well as risked alienating Daemon himself. It was a stupid and costly decision based in jealousy and paranoia. Due to the guest right implications involved, even Lord Mooton defied her orders. A similar situation arose many years later that resulted in a mass revolt against the Targaryens that ended in the destruction of their near 300 year dynasty. Rhaenyra risking the breaking of guest right at her command was a very dangerous move for the dragon queen that would win her no allies or victories.
Daemon then flew to Harrenhal in order to lure out Aemond. Although, after Daemon left, Lord Mooton took down Rhaenyra’s banners, and raised Aegon’s in their place. Rhaenyra’s behaviour had now cost her Nettles, her dragon, and now Maidenpool.
Prince Daemon took Harrenhal from the few who still remained there and offered a challenge to Aemond and waited at Harrenhal for thirteen days until Aemond ceased his reign of terror and rode out to face him.
Aemond arrived on the fourteenth day and talked with his uncle briefly before each of them mounted their dragons and began their legendary dragon duel.
Daemon: “Were I not alone, you would not have come.”
Aemond: “Yet you are, and here I am. You have lived too long, nuncle.”
Daemon: “On that much we agree.”
What was said in this brief conversation remains unknown to this day but may have related to the Rhaenyra’s behaviour, the loss of Maidenpool, and the possible defection of Daemon to Aegon II, which may have been denied by Aemond.
They lit up the sky with dragon fire and filled the air with the creatures’ shrieks as the two men and their beasts fought above the Gods Eye.
Daemon is said to have leapt from Caraxes on to Vhagar and drove Dark Sister through his nephew’s eye socket as the dragons fell into the lake below. Both men were killed during the duel with Aemond’s body found later still chained to his saddle with Dark Sister in his eye but Daemon’s remains were never found.
This legendary duel was a huge loss to both the Greens and the Blacks. Both Aemond and Daemon were good commanders and warriors while their dragons were the most powerful in the realm. The loss was incalculable.
The Riots at King’s Landing
The riots took place as Rhaenyra was losing her grip on the Iron Throne and the people of King’s Landing lived in fear of a dragon attack.
The Velaryon fleet abandoned Rhaenyra after Lord Corlys was imprisoned black cells. Rhaenyra’s paranoia had now cost her the Velaryon fleet.
When Princess Helaena Targaryen committed suicide, along with the demagoguing of the Shepherd, the match was lit and riots soon exploded across the city. The unrest was made much worse by the rumour that the beloved princess was murdered by Rhaenyra herself. Rhaenyra’s inability to control her prisoners and her vengeance was about to lose her the capitol and the Iron Throne.
The riot began in Flea Bottom as fearful, drunk, and angry people gathered by the thousands demanding justice for Helaena and Prince Jaehaerys. Mass looting and murder soon followed.
Sailors attacked the River Gate and hanged the captain of the River Gate and three of his serjeants hanged. Meanwhile, five hundred gold cloaks faced the mob of thousands in Flea Bottom which went as well as could be expected. Ser Lorent Marbrand then led a hundred men into Flea Bottom with only sixteen returned.
A hedge knight called Ser Perkin the Flea crowned his squire Trystane Truefyre, claiming him to be a son of Viserys I Targaryen. Ser Perkin started knighting every man who joined him till he led a ragged army all over Fishmonger’s Square and River Row.
The captains of the Old Gate and Dragon Gate managed to restore order to the streets north and east of Rhaenys’s Hill while Ser Medrick Manderly did the same northeast of Aegon’s Hill, to the Iron Gate.
That night Rhaenyra learned about Nettles Maidenpool’s defection to Aegon. She sent ravens to Winterfell and the Eyrie, pleading for more aid, and named a new Ser Glendon Goode as Lord Commander of her Queensguard while Prince Joffrey Velaryon then donned his armor and begged to fight, quickly being denied.
Night fell and Trystane Truefyre was gaining strength and soon his forces held three out of the seven gates.
Believing Rhaenyra couldn’t protect them, an even bigger mob formed in which a prophet inflamed the mob turn against the Dragonpit and the dragons within. The the entire mob marched against the dragons and their force had doubled upon reaching the Dragonpit.
Rhaenyra, watched the mob’s march assured in the knowledge that they would burn despite her son Joffrey’s pleas to rescue his dragon.
Sick of being ignored, Joffrey mounted his mother’s dragon and flew to the Pit. Events took a tragic turn as Syrax threw Joffrey off and the boy prince then fell to his death.
The mob broke into the Pit and chaos was unleashed against both man and dragon. All four dragons were killed in the fighting along with hundreds of civilians and the dome of the Dragonpit itself even collapsed.
Syrax, still flying free in the air, descended on the Pit before dying shortly after.
The Dragon Queen clutched her sole surviving son, Aegon, as she watched the bloody carnage destroy the Dragonpit.
Rhaenyra’s councillors agreed that the city was lost and Rhaenyra abandoned her throne for Duskendale.
The Second Battle of Tumbleton
Ulf and Hugh, holding Tumbleton with the Hightower host, were reluctant to help Daeron advance toward King’s Landing.
Unwin Peake also wanted to wait until they were reinforced by Lord Baratheon. However, Hobert Hightower wanted to return to the Reach to resupply.
Their complete lack of cohesion, command, and action caused their own host disintegrate.
Upon hearing about the chaos in the capitol, many called for a march while Hobert Hightower as well Ulf and Hugh wanted a more restrained approach.
However, when Hugh crowned himself and attacked, thirteen lords called the Caltrops planned a move against both High and Ulf.
Meanwhile, Ser Addam Velaryon, another condemned dragonseed, planned to defend his honor by defeating Ulf and Hugh, and retake Tumbleton for Rhaenyra.
“The dragon was Seasmoke, his rider Ser Addam Velaryon, determined to prove that not all bastards need be turncloaks. How better to do that than by retaking Tumbleton from the Two Betrayers, whose treason had stained him?”
After escaping the capitol atop his dragon, he apparently went to the Isle of Faces before raising a strong host of 4,000 Riverlanders.
On the very day they planned to carry out their moves against both Ulf and Hugh, the Caltrops, along with the other inhabitants of Tumbleton, were surprised by Addam Velaryron’s host.
Addam’s knights attacked from the north and the west while his archers rained fire against the Greens. Addam used Seasmoke to burned the Green camps outside of Tumbleton in addition to the buildings which had survived the first Tumbleton battle.
While Ulf slept through the battle, Hugh was killed by a Caltrops man before he could mount his dragon. The Greens were in complete disarray and caught by complete surprise. Daeron later died at his camp.
The Blacks failed to kill both Ulf and Hugh’s dragons during this time.
While Addam fought the dragon, Tessarion, he spotted the rampaging Vermithor and made to kill the dragon.
Bizarrely, all three dragons began fighting one another. Vermithor killed Seasmoke before dying itself while Tessarion was mercy killed on the orders of Lord Blackwood.
Before nightfall, the fighting was over.
While technically victorious, the Blacks failed to retake Tumbleton despite losing less men and killing far more Greens. The surviving Greens retreated into the town and sealed the gates so the Blacks, incapable of staging a siege, retreated during the night after the battle. Three dragons died during the fighting, further the strategic losses for House Targaryen.
After the battle Ser Hobert and Lord Peake remained and found Ulf the White proposing to take the throne for himself, since Prince Daeron was dead. Unwilling to hand over the throne to Ulf, brought him poisoned wine that both drank from. They were both dead within hours.
Lord Unwin Peake became the new Green commander but effectively commanded a host of thieves and deserters, not the original sized host from Oldtown, and marched his army home.
King’s Landing was now safe from the Hightower host. Although, despite the sacrifice of Addam Velaryon and his dragon, Rhaenyra had already abandoned King’s Landing due to the riots.
The She-Dragon Returns To Her Nest
Rhaenyra however, was completely in the dark about the victory at Tumbleton and had fled the capitol.
Refused entry at Rosby and allowed only one night at Stokeworth, half her gold cloaks deserted while killed several of her knights were killed.
This constant rejection followed her to Duskendale where they were prevented from staying long.
So great was her desperation, Rhaenyra sold her crown to gain passage back to Dragonstone. However, what Rhaenyra found at Dragonstone was the opposite of sanctuary. Instead of safety and allies, Rhaenyra found her castellan dead and all of her men that she brought with her soon followed. Rhaenyra, her ladies in waiting, and her son were all imprisoned.
Soon enough, Rhaenyra was facing her half brother Aegon and his dragon. She was eaten alive before the eyes of her young son shortly after.
Rhaenyra: “Dear brother. I had hoped you were dead.”
Aegon II: “After you. You are the elder.”
Rhaenyra: “I am pleased to know that you remember that. It would seem we are your prisoners … but do not think that you will hold us long. My leal lords will find me.”
Aegon II: “If they search the seven hells, mayhaps.”
Artwork by Unknown
Rhaenyra’s son then became a hostage of the king to curb any Black loyalists planning on continuing the fight.
Sunfyre, the king’s dragon, soon died but his rider was already planning his return to the capitol. Despite her death, the Black cause survived their queen’s death as Aegon II would only live for another six months.
The Moon of the Three Kings
Chaos reigned in King’s Landing for weeks with each of the three pretenders laying claim to their piece of the city; The Shepherd, Trystane Truefyre, an alleged bastard of Viserys I, and Gaemon Palehair, another alleged bastard but of Aegon II instead of Viserys I.
However, their reigns would prove short when Lord Borros Baratheon recaptured King’s Landing back. Trystane was executed while Gaemon was arrested.
Aegon II soon returned to both the capitol and his throne. One of his acts was to name Corlys Velaryon to the small council after freeing him. Aegon then agreed to marriage with one of Lord Baratheon’s daughters.
The Battle of the Kingsroad/The Muddy Mess
Though their queen was dead, many still continued the fight in Rhaenyra’s name. Lord Borros Baratheon had taken King’s Landing in the name of Aegon II but now had to defend the capitol against a Riverlands host that was loyal to Rhaenyra. This would be the final battle of the devastating Dance of the Dragons.
The Stormlander and Riverlander hosts met each other upon the Kingsroad. The youth of the commanders in the Riverlands host, through Kermit Tully and Benjicot Blackwood as well as the female influence of Lady Alysanne, Benjicot’s aunt, made the Stormlander incredibly confident in an assured victory.
However, his confidence would be shattered when the Baratheon host was broken on its flanks by the Blackwoods who made excellent use of archers against the Stormlander knights. Though Borros personally killed Lords Darry and Mallister, he was later killed by the young Lord of Riverrun, Kermit Tully.
The Baratheon host was routed by the Riverlanders who now had a clear path of march against King’s Landing.
The Riverlanders weren’t the only ones marching against King’s Landing at this point though. Lord Cregan Stark was marching for Aegon III, Rhaenyra’s son, with his Northmen.
The war was over for Aegon II and he had lost, something he failed to realise. Even his own council were telling him to take the black though the king refused and had Aegon III’s ear cut off as a warning. The king was later found poisoned to death. Later, twenty two men would be arrested for the crime.
With Aegon II dead, Aegon III was crowned king but though the Greens were now broken, fell things still affected the realm so council of seven regents was created for Aegon III until the boy king came of age, a clever move that promoted a sense of cooperation and prevented the realm from falling into faction fighting again. It was a very Aegon I move, involve and invest every region in the success and future of the realm.
While the Blacks won the war, it was at a huge cost. Tens of thousands were dead, the realm was in carnage, and the power of House Targaryen was greatly diminished due to the loss of their dragons and family members. The Black leadership was marred by misplaced trust, jealousy, missed opportunities, destructive paranoia, cruelty, and impulsiveness.
Rhaenyra’s leadership, and the Targaryen/Velaryon leadership in general, nearly lost the Blacks the war. Rhaenyra personally incited hatred from the common people, and set allies against her and caused them to either abandon her or outright defect to the Greens. The victory of the Blacks comes down to the individual leadership, intelligence, and talent of her commanders. The Black victory belongs to them and not her. She was the Half A Year Queen and thank the Old Gods and the New that her reign didn’t last a second longer.