Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 2 of “The Princess and the Queen, Or, The Blacks and the Greens: Being A History of the Causes, Origins, Battles, and Betrayals of that Most Tragic Bloodletting Known as the Dance of the Dragons, as set down by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown”, (gasp) which originally appeared in the anthology Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.
Previous entries of the Read are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual section covered and for the material covered previous to this post. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
[Note: This part covers pages 730-756 in the Kindle ebook edition of the anthology, to the paragraph ending with “Yet so few were on hand to bear witness that it would be some time before word of Prince Daemon’s last battle became widely known.” Sorry if that pagination doesn’t match your particular edition.]
The Princess and the Queen: Part 2
As Queen Rhaenyra’s heir Prince Jacaerys plans his attack on King’s Landing, the ship bearing his half-brothers Aegon the Younger and Viserys to Pentos is captured by the fleet sent by the Triarchy to ally with Dowager Queen Alicent and her father Lord Otto Hightower. Prince Aegon the Younger escapes to Dragonstone on his dragon Stormcloud, but Viserys is taken prisoner; Stormcloud dies soon after of wounds taken in their escape. Jacaerys attacks the Triarchy fleet instead on his dragon Vermax, joined by the dragonseed riders on their dragons. They rout the fleet, but Vermax is felled by a lucky strike and Prince Jacaerys dies with him. The Battle of the Gullet is known as one of the bloodiest sea battles in history, with heavy losses on both sides.
Two weeks later, Alicent’s youngest son Prince Daeron rescues Lord Ormund Hightower’s army in the Reach from where it was pinned by enemy forces, riding his dragon Tessarion, called the Blue Queen. Lord Hightower knights him “Ser Daeron the Daring” for it. Meanwhile, Dragonstone is stunned by the defeat, but Queen Rhaenyra has only hatred and rage left in her after the death of her oldest son, and refuses to consider surrender; she will gain the Iron Throne or die in the attempt.
In King’s Landing, Prince Regent Aemond is similarly resolved, but is contemptuous of his half-sister Rhaenyra, and believes her husband Prince Daemon to be the greater threat. He determines to bring the fight to Daemon at Harrenhal, to defeat him and also subdue the riverlands, and refuses to consider delaying. However, Prince Daemon learns of Aemond’s plan from spies within King’s Landing almost before Aemond sets out, and makes his own plans in turn.
Meanwhile Lord Walys Mooton (of the blacks) leads a force to kill King Aegon’s wounded dragon Sunfyre, but despite being unable to fly, the dragon fights with shocking ferocity, killing Lord Mooton and driving off the rest of his men. Afterward, no trace of Sunfyre is found, so perhaps he did fly after all.
Instead of engaging Prince Regent Aemond at Harrenhal, Prince Daemon abandons the hold to meet Queen Rhaenyra and the dragonseed riders, and they fly to King’s Landing, which has been all but stripped of protection for Aemond’s campaign to Harrenhal. Queen Alicent attempts to rally a defense, but the City Watch defects to Daemon’s side, and between the panic incited by the dragons and the Watch’s opening the gates, the city falls in less than a day.
Queen Alicent surrenders, but warns Rhaenyra that her son Aemond will return “with fire and blood”. Rhaenrya later discovers that the wounded King Aegon II has escaped, along with his surviving children and two knights of the Kingsguard. Queen Rhaenyra takes the Iron Throne, and all in the keep swear fealty to her before it, but when she rises it is seen that she has cuts on her legs and hand from the throne; “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.”
Prince Regent Aemond is enraged when he learns of Prince Daemon’s deception and the fall of the capital. Meanwhile, Lord Lefford Lannister’s forces are trapped on the shore of God’s Eye by Rhaenyra’s allies, including the northmen, the Freys and many of the river lords. Lord Lefford sends for Aemond’s aid, but his messages never reach Harrenhal. The ensuing Battle of the Lakeshore is more commonly known as the Fishfeed, for over two thousand men die in the fighting, including Lord Lefford and Lord Frey. The Lannister host is slaughtered, but the opposite side suffers nearly as heavy casualties.
At Harrenhal, Aemond and Criston Cole argue over how to answer Rhaenyra’s capture of King’s Landing. Cole wants to withdraw south and join forces with Hightower and Prince Daeron, but Aemond wants to attack the capital immediately. Cole calls Aemond’s plan “folly” and Aemond calls Cole’s plan cowardice. In the end they part ways; Cole goes south with the host, while Aemond remains behind, to “rain fire on the traitors from the air”, in hopes of drawing out one of the queen’s dragons to fight.
Meanwhile Rhaenyra’s harsh punishments and harsher taxes have turned the commonfolk of the capital against her. Alicent’s life is spared, but her father Otto Hightower is beheaded. Her attempts to find Aegon II are unsuccessful, but Rhaenyra still feels secure enough to send for her two remaining sons, Aegon the Younger and Joffrey, and make plans to formally declare Joffrey her heir.
Aemond begins laying waste to the riverlands, burning villages and castles alike. As he heads south, Ser Criston Cole’s forces, already much attrited from death, disease and desertion, come under guerilla attack, and then are ambushed by the remains of the northmen. When Ser Cole is slain, his men break entirely, throwing down their weapons and fleeing.
It seemed that Rhaenyra was in possession of the upper hand across the board at that point, but her enemies were still considerable. Even more than Aemond, her largest concern was Lord Hightower’s great host, and with it Prince Daeron and his dragon Tessarion, who were advancing inexorably on King’s Landing. Lord Corlys Velarion urges Rhaenyra to make terms and offer pardons to the major lords, especially Baratheon and Lannister, and spare Aemond and Aegon’s lives, sending them to the Wall. Prince Daemon disagrees, and opines that they should execute them all, and give Storm’s End and Casterly Rock to Ulf White and Hugh Hammer, two of the dragonseed riders. Lord Corlys is horrified by this, and Rhaenyra decides that her half-brothers must die, but that the lords can be offered pardons afterward.
She sends Prince Daemon with the girl Nettles on Sheepstealer to find Aemond and kill him, and Ulf White and Hugh Hammer on their dragons to Tumbleton, the last stronghold between Lord Hightower and the capital, to deal with Daeron. Daemon and Nettles search for Aemond, but in vain. Ulf White and Hugh Hammer, meanwhile, instead of defending Tumbleton, betray Rhaenyra and raze the town to the ground. Thousands die, and the rape and pillage of the survivors is savage. White and Hammer are henceforth known as the Two Betrayers.
At Dragonstone, a Volantene merchant cog puts in for repairs and reports seeing two dragons fighting near the mountain Dragonmont. The next day the remains of the wild dragon Grey Ghost are found, partially eaten; the castellan, Ser Robert Quince, decides the other wild dragon Cannibal must be responsible.
Once White and Hammer’s treachery is learned, suspicion falls upon the remaining dragonseed riders, Addam Velaryon and Nettles. Betrayed too often, the queen is easily persuaded to arrest them, but Addam escapes with his dragon before he can be taken in, forewarned by Lord Corlys Velaryon, and the Sea Snake is arrested and imprisoned in his stead. In Tumbleton, Aegon’s loyalists are in disarray despite their victory, as Lord Ormund Hightower is dead and Prince Daeron is too young to take command. Ser Hobert Hightower takes charge, but is an ineffectual man who is entirely unable to stop the depredations of the Betrayers, who continue to sack the city and are now beginning to fancy themselves owed great lordships or even kingships. They are uninterested in helping press an attack on the capital, and Hightower’s forces are shrinking as men run off home with their plunder.
Prince Daemon and Nettles have been staying at Maidenpool with Lord Manfyrd Mooton. When Mooton receives the letter from the queen ordering Nettles’ arrest, supposedly for the crime of becoming Daemon’s lover, he is badly shaken, and consults with his seconds. They allow that obeying the edict is just as bad as not obeying it, and in the end his maester instead just shows the letter to Daemon and Nettles. Daemon calls it “a queen’s words, a whore’s work”, and the next day he sends Nettles and Sheepstealer away, never to be seen again. Daemon tells Mooton to spread the word that he is heading for Harrenhal, and dares Aemond to meet him there. After he leaves, Mooton changes his loyalties from the queen to Aegon II.
Fourteen days later, Aemond comes to Harrenhal with his lover, the seer Alys Rivers. He and Daemon exchange words, and leaving Alys below, the two riders leap aloft and engage. Vhagar is older and more powerful, but Caraxes is faster, and Daemon cannier. As the dragons lock together, Daemon leaps from Caraxes’ back to Vhagar’s and impales his nephew through the skull. Vhagar, Aemond, and Caraxes’ corpses were all found after, but not Daemon’s; the singers say he survived and went off to spend the rest of his days with Nettles.
It was upon the twenty-second day of the fifth moon of the year 130 AC when the dragons danced and died above the Gods Eye. Daemon Targaryen was nine-and-forty at his death; Prince Aemond had only turned twenty. Vhagar, the greatest of the Targaryen dragons since the passing of Balerion the Black Dread, had counted one hundred eighty-one years upon the earth. Thus passed the last living creature from the days of Aegon’s Conquest, as dusk and darkness swallowed Black Harren’s accursed seat. Yet so few were on hand to bear witness that it would be some time before word of Prince Daemon’s last battle became widely known.
Well, that’s just sad. Also completely ridiculous to summarize, Jesus H., but also: sad.
I mean, I’m trying to come up with something more original to say than “war is stupid”, but man. It really, really is. The sheer waste of it is just… well, it’s horrific, obviously, but mostly it’s just deeply, abysmally dumb. And that it’s an internecine conflict – brothers and sisters fighting each other – makes the dumbness exponentially more egregious. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
That said, I do have to admit I was not expecting the cleverness of Daemon and Rhaenyra doing an end run around Aemond and snaking King’s Landing out from behind him. This war is stupid, but that maneuver in itself was really quite smart. I mean, Aemond’s own failure to think laterally (or perhaps aerially) definitely helped, but still.
I admit, I got seriously confused a couple of times in working out who was allied to whom, and I didn’t even attempt to keep track of most of the names of the various lords fighting in this skirmish or that one. Besides, most of them ended up dead by the end of their respective engagements anyway, so it didn’t really seem necessary.
Though I do have to take a moment to marvel (again) at the sheer number of named things Martin has produced for his world. And that they are all, almost without exception, really good (i.e. believable) names is even more impressive.
Except Mooton. Mooton is a terrible name. Because I Said So.
So, who’s still on the Targaryen board at this point? Rhaenyra, of course, though apparently the Iron Throne Does Not Approve of her, so she is probably not long for this mortal coil. Her son Aegon the Younger is still around, but I think all the rest of her children are dead by this point, except possibly Viserys. Aegon II is in the wind, along with his kids, but I’m not sure how much use any of them will be, owing to age and/or grievous bodily wounds, any more than his broken wife/sister Helaena. And… I think that’s it?
No, wait, Prince Daeron is still hanging out at Tumbleton, the poor kid. So, they are not exactly done in yet, but the Targaryens are not doing so hot by this point.
I bet I’m not the only one who feels worse for the dragons than the Targaryens themselves, though. Martin hasn’t made it totally clear yet just how intelligent dragons are, but thus far the level seems to be somewhere in the elephant or killer whale range: extremely intelligent for an animal, capable of emotional attachments and the ability to solve fairly complex problems, but still falling short of true sapience. I’ve generally assumed this to be because Martin thinks making dragons the mental equals of humans (i.e. able to talk) would be a little too Lisa Frank soulbond touchy-feely for ASOIAF, and God knows we can’t have that.
But if that is the case, then that actually makes it worse, because it means that the dragons must necessarily have a much more limited understanding of why they’re being asked to fight for their humans. And that makes their suffering and death doubly more tragic than that of their riders, who at least know exactly why this is happening to them, and are active agents in choosing that fate.
Not to mention that whole thing where this little spat is basically also bringing an entire species to the brink of extinction. You know, just in case there weren’t enough ethical travesties going around already.
So there’s basically lots of little things amid this avalanche of suckitude that piqued my interest; mostly what didn’t get said or told, as opposed to what did. Like Alys Rivers’s deal, for instance, and how she was a seer. Or why the Betrayers decided to betray. (You know, other than that they were apparently giant rapey murderous assholes, of course.) Or the fact that we have (so far) no idea what happened to poor little Viserys; did he die during the battle that killed Jacaerys, or is he still being held hostage?
(And yes, the phrase “poor little Viserys” is making me twitch a bit, but I have to assume he can’t possibly be as bad as Future Viserys, after all. For lack of time, if nothing else.)
Also, the aside about the Volantene ship that saw the dragons fighting was… weird. Why was that even in there? I keep feeling like that’s a hint about something, but if so I have absolutely no idea what it could be. Possibly it was just to make a note that all the dragons were getting killed at this time, even the ones who weren’t directly involved in the fighting? But, you know, why the two wild dragons would randomly decide to fight each other in the first place is just… well, weird. *shrug* Maybe that gets touched on again later.
In other news, maybe it’s just me being a sucker for kickass ladies, but I really wish there was some way to get Nettles’s perspective on things, because I think that would have been fascinating. Particularly if she and Daemon really were having an affair, or even if they just had become good comrades, as it seems they did. Daemon was pretty much an asshole, but even so I sort of hope the singers were right that he and Nettles ended up running away together.
If for no other reason than that it would mean at least two people actually got something approaching a happy ending out of this, because from where I’m currently standing, it’s Happy Endings: zero, ASOIAFness: countless thousands. Sheesh.
But it’s not like that’s news, or anything. Frankly I’ll be rather shocked if anyone’s left standing by the end of this thing. I mean, obviously someone must survive, since I know the Targaryens hang around long enough for Robert to usurp them a century or so down the line, but I’ll be surprised regardless, because this shit is cuckoo bananas, y’all.
That said, right now my money’s on the young and daring Prince Daeron to end up in the hot seat (or, well, I guess it’s more like “the sharp pointy seat” in Westeros), but that might only be because he’s the only living and functional Targaryen left who seems like even a halfway decent person, so I’ll also be shocked if I’m right.
(“Daeron the Daring”. Subtle. LOL)
So come on back next Thursday to be shocked with me, won’tcha? Aw, I knew you would. You’re the best. Cheers!