The final heave of a dragon’s lungs would only mark the beginning of House Targaryen’s foretold decline; it's terrible, wheezing gasps echoing across the generations to come. Few knew the truth of those lost moments and fewer still, dared to speak of them aloud.
The ‘Last Dragon’ had died.
A weak and deformed creature, its death was quiet and unremarkable; a far cry from the tales of Old Valyria and all of its glory. Alone in their truths, the Conclave of Archmaesters at the Citadel proclaimed that the creature’s death would herald the coming of a long Winter and the corruption of dragon’s blood -- “It is not our truth that beckoned winter, but the blood that has and will be spilled” -- for their foresight, the King had their tongues cut from their heads. When winter did not come, these men and their prophecies were largely forgotten and fools made their folly in proclaiming the Citadel to be little more than a home to fear-mongering traitors. Yet there was a truth concealed in those prophetic words, only blood would have to be shed and a Kingdom divided before the Archmaesters could be validated in speaking it.
The Blackfyre Rebellion
Rhaegel Targaryen was a good King but a foolish man. The youthful desires of his heart and flesh had never truly been set aside for the duty owed to that terrible crown atop his head. When consumption took his father to an early grave, Rhaegel ascended to the throne little more than a boy and carried with him, a naivety he would never quite escape. Indeed, a better King might not have strayed -- and certainly not into the bed of his own sister, Princess Rhaena -- but stray Rhaegel did and for his sins, Westeros would bleed.
Balerion and Aemon Waters were born on the darkest of days; the sky made black by storm clouds and the air thick, with rolling thunder. In the years to come, Maesters would speak of this night as the final omen; a warning of the darkness which was still to follow. Rhaegel saw nothing of that gathering storm for his ears were deaf to all but the cries of his twin sons. He was a father enamoured by the fruits of his own sins and more the fool for it.
Although Rhaegel had several children by his Celtigar Queen, only three survived to adulthood; leaving many to mutter that the best part of the dragon’s seed had been spent between his sister’s legs. For where the King’s trueborn heir was bookish, meek and mild, Balerion and Aemon grew to be scions of their noble and ancient house. The eldest by mere seconds, Balerion shone upon the tourney grounds and had proven himself a natural warrior, with his brother Aemon never far from his side. For years, their mother stubbornly refused to reveal the true identity of their father, although many harboured their own, treasonous suspicions. It was only when the Queen passed into the arms of the Stranger, that Rhaegel stepped out before court and knighted both of his boys. Claiming them as his own and bestowing upon the eldest, the Valyrian blade of Kings and Conquerors -- Blackfyre.
It was a gift from which the seeds of rebellion would sprout.
When Rhaegel died, his will & word was read aloud, legitimizing both bastard sons upon his passing. His final act of foolishness completed as whispers of Balerion being his rightful heir reached their peak.
The King who Bore the Sword.
The Small Council acted quickly to ensure that it would be Rhaegel’s eldest, trueborn son, Maelys, who would ascend to the throne. The Hand of the King, Lord Brynden Blackwood, moved to remove Blackfyre sympathizers from the Small Council and other prominent positions at court; neutering any immediate threat of rebellion from Balerion and his friends. Alas, doubts of Maelys’ worthiness weakened his reign before his father’s crown could even be placed upon his head. Furthermore, his brother Maegor’s marriage to Princess Aliandra Martell had introduced the Dornish and their Southron ways to the King’s court; souring many a Reachlander’s grapes in the process. The Stormlanders were quick to follow in their discontent as old border skirmishes erupted along the Dornish Marches. Maelys proved an inept diplomat in the face of inflamed tempers and archaic enmities, with many dubbing him ‘Maester Maelys’ for his scholarly ways. Easily manipulated and directed by his brother’s council, his later marriage to Haera of Myr would prove disastrous to the reputation of his reign and name.
Maegor Targaryen was a man of lustful appetites and neither his father nor his brother had ever had the temperament to take him in hand. He had already taken two prominent mistresses to his bed by the time he began an affair with his brother’s Myrish Queen. Maelys did not share in his brother’s carnal appetites and was rumoured to have neglected the consummation of his marriage -- leaving little question as to his wife’s infidelity when she later fell pregnant. It was a scandal which shook the already weakened foundations of Maelys’ reign and his refusal to see his wife or his brother properly punished for their treason would leave many lords questioning the dragon’s stomach for leadership. It was little more than fuel to Balerion’s growing fire.
The newly formed House Blackfyre was fast gaining in friends and popularity. Where many saw little more than corruption and weakness in the remaining Targaryens, the Blackfyres were fast becoming the more compelling alternative. When Balerion eventually raised his banner of the black dragon and challenged his half-brother for the Iron Throne, many of the greatest knights and warriors heeded his call. And thus, the Blackfyre Rebellion began.
Although the Crown triumphed over the ‘Blackfyre Pretenders’, it was not without cost. The fields of Westeros were stained red with blood. “The blood that will be spilled...” Amongst the 10,000 dead, lay the King himself -- speared by his own half-brother. Balerion Blackfyre was likewise struck down by a helmed Maegor –– the arrow glowing with the eerie, green flames of Wildfire. Balerion died howling in agony as his flesh melted from his body like wax from a candle. It was a sight so terrible that it silenced the entire battlefield. What followed was an epic battle between half-brothers, Aemon Blackfyre and Maegor Targaryen. The Red and the Black Dragons tousled with one another until all light had been stolen from the sky and the treachery and cowardice of men decided the outcome. House Lothston took up arms with the Crown and drove Aemon and his allies back. Balerion’s eldest children were captured and taken as wards of the new King, Maegor II and his Strickland wife sent to the Silent Sisters. Aemon fled to the Free Cities, vowing that when he next set foot upon Westerosi soil, it would be to avenge his brother’s death. Rumours of Aemon’s fledgling mercenary company -- The Golden Company -- would reach Westeros in the years to follow but few could claim to have laid eyes upon the man himself.
It was a victory which should have heralded years of peace and prosperity but no sooner had the dead been buried than the first bitter winds of winter began to blow, bringing with them an ominous chill that settled deep in the bones of those still living.
The White Death
The darkness which was foretold had finally come to pass and ten years of Winter would follow. Cold airs painted green lands white, white lands dead and bodies blue. History names it ‘The White Death’ but men referred to her as The White Lady. She consumed the young, the old and the weak mercilessly and bloodlessly -- caring not for name, status or wealth. Some regions knelt to the grasps of this age more than others. What fell upon them had been a punishment for the “disgraces of men” –– the Archmaesters wrote. Despite his ascendency to the throne, Maegor II proved himself no great King. Where his father was shamed and tormented by his sins, Maegor had long flaunted his own. Not even the icy embrace of Winter could sate the new King’s lusts. He made no effort to hide the many mistresses he took nor indeed, the children they had already given him -- invited a great many of them to court once they had come of age. The corruption of dragon’s blood was complete and Westeros had paid a grave price, just as the Archmaesters had predicted. It was an age of veiled despotism and unbridled death which would change the fortune of many a Great House and one which would effectively bring House Targaryen to its knees.
The Puppet King and his Council
Spring had come at last in all its miserly reluctance to throw off the shroud of White Death. Its thawing winds howled in from the south and pushed back the snow and ice as life once more took root in Westeros. Winter was finally over, and in the wake of those long lean years, a new power was quick to emerge.
Maegor II had grown fat and gluttonous, fed only by the breadth of his appetites and depths of his depravities. Where other men might have been mocked for their unworthiness, Maegor escaped the rightful damnation of his people and suffered only the whispered scorn of his court -- for Winter had long concealed his sins. His wife’s untimely and suspicious death was timed with the return of his brother’s disgraced wife and his own, onetime mistress, Haera of Myr . With rumours rife that she had a part in Aliandra’s end and House Targaryen’s fragile Dornish alliance on the brink of ruination; Maegor named his wife’s nephew as his Hand. It was an appointment which placated Dornish uproar and further infuriated the Reach and Stormlands.
What followed thereafter was a period of uneasy but effective alliances, forged not by the King but rather, his Hand. The Prince worked fast to consolidate his position and appointed the eager and maligned Lord Reyne to serve as Master of Coin. A former and notable Blackfyre sympathiser, Lord Reyne had slowly clawed back his influence by bankrolling much of the Crown’s expenses in the depths of Winter. Together, the Dornish Prince and Lord Reyne ruled over a period of unprecedented autonomy for the Seven Kingdoms -- furthering their own agenda for advancement whilst reducing Maegor to little more than a figurehead for their own power. Left to recover from the rampages of war and Winter, many lords neglected the politics of the capital in favour of matters closer to home. Several Maesters have ignorantly and preemptively dubbed this the ‘Golden Age’ of peace and prosperity for the Seven Kingdoms.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
The Bitterness of Spring
With the Crown’s gaze averted and manipulated by the Lord Hand, crime flourished throughout the Seven Kingdoms; taking a hold of the Crownlands especially. Rumours of foreign involvement and coin funding criminal gangs in King’s Landing ran abound, but they are largely dismissed as little more than Smallfolk prattle. Still, with memories of Winter still fresh in many minds, discontent and discord were dangerous undertones to be left festering in the filth of Fleabottom.
Though none dared say it, all could see that Spring had laid bare the cracks in the Council’s clever facade. The King’s proclivities were no longer concealed by the isolation of Winter and the actions of his mistress, Haera of Myr only served to exacerbate matters. Mutterings of her worshipping the Red God reached the ears of the High Septon and he used his sermons to condemn the sins of those who would dare to shun the one-true-Faith of the Seven. Militant factions, which had been encouraged at the height of the Blackfyre Rebellion only to be subdued by the cold winds of Winter, would now emerge resurgent in the Vale and the Stormlands -- lending significant weight to the indignation of the Faith.
Loyalties and factions in court began to split and divide, as whispers in the shadows dared once more to utter the name Blackfyre.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the King responded with such zealous enthusiasm over word that a tourney was to be held in Tumbleton in his honor. When the news reached the capital that Lord Footly intended to offer up a dragon’s egg as the winner’s prize, it is said that the King was pitched into a frenzy of greed, like none had ever seen. He declared by royal proclamation that not only would he double each prize Lord Footly offered; he would make any knight who rode as his champion and won for him the egg, Lord of Dustonbury and Whitegrove.
Excitement and romance were suddenly bursting in the air. Spring was blossoming into Summer and nobles and smallfolk, great lords, and banners alike were travelling to attend the Great Tourney of Tumbleton. And yet, even bathed in light, a shadow clung to the aged King -- a shadow which had been cast long before and promised a downfall still to come -- for this was the age, in which Westeros would taste the Bitterness of Spring.