Tower of the Hand

Politics of the Seven Kingdoms Part VIII

The Stormlands is something of an odd duck among the Seven Kingdoms. Neither one of the powerhouses like the Reach or the Rock, nor a failed state like the Riverlands, it putters around somewhere in the middle. At the same time, it is a kingdom which has enormous hidden potential, if only because something must explain how it managed to temporarily seize control, first of the largest pre-Targaryen empire that Westeros had ever seen, and second of the Iron Throne itself.

Sadly, much of this potential remains hidden. To be frank, the Stormlands is my least favorite chapter of the Seven Kingdoms section of The World of Ice & Fire. For all I've complained about the Ironborn chapter playing merry hell with comparative timelines, it cannot be said to lack for imagination or a bloody, grim drama; the Stormlands chapter by comparison feels half-hearted and last-minute and more than a little repetitious.

So part of my project in this essay is to sift through the dross to find the gold underneath, and to try to imagine from there what the Stormlands could have been.

Geography: A Kingdom Divided

THE STORMS THAT blow up the narrow sea are infamous throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and in the Nine Free Cities as well. Though they may arise in any season, seafarers say that the worst of them come each autumn, forming in the warm waters of the Summer Sea south of the Stepstones, then roaring north across those bleak and stony islands. More than half continue north by northwest, according to the archives at the Citadel, sweeping over Cape Wrath and the rainwood, gathering strength (and moisture) as they cross the waters of Shipbreaker Bay before slamming into Storm's End on Durran's Point.

It is from these great gales that the stormlands take their name.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Stormlands

While I am normally quite skeptical of arguments that the political destinies of the Seven Kingdom are driven by their geographies, the Stormlands seems to be an exception that proves the rule. Here, three factors seem to have been involved: climate, regionalism, and shifting borders.

As we see in the quote above, the Stormlands' climate is best known for huge rainstorms - the omnipresent force of nature at the heart of the myth of Durran Godgrief, the cause of Robert, Stannis, and Renly's orphaning, and so forth. However, there's a contradiction between the climate and its supposed consequences:

Yet even at their greatest extent, the realms of the Durrandons and their successors have always been thinly peopled when compared to the Reach, the riverlands, and the west, and thus the might of the lords of Storm's End was diminished. Those who do choose to make their homes in the stormlands -- whether along the stony shores of the narrow sea, amidst the dripping green forests of the rainwood, or on the windswept marches -- are a special breed, however. The people of the stormlands are like unto their weather, it has oft been said: tumultuous, violent, implacable, unpredictable.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Stormlands

There's no good reason why the Stormlands should be thinly populated, however: while long periods of rain can be bad for some form of crops (especially your less hardy cereals like wheat), in general rainfall is good for agricultural productivity, as rain-starved Dorne (and the quite rainy but agriculturally productive British Isles) could well attest to. Likewise, the fact that the Stormlands are known for their natural resources (timber, hardwood, furs can all be found in the Rainwood, but the plains north of Storm's End are clearly good for cereals (hence Haystack Hall of House Errol), and the waters seem to support many fishing villages) suggests that there's more than enough food to support human settlements. Thus, there's no climate-based reason why the Stormlands ought to have a low population density - indeed, given the fact that it can raise 25,000 men suggests a population density not that much less than the Vale... which in turn suggests that it would be more plausible to say that the Stormlands' modest manpower is due to the relatively limited landmass of the Stormlands, just as the Vale's limited manpower is due to the limited size of the Vale proper.

01-stormlandsmap.jpg

More influential in the Stormlands' political development is the sharp separation between its component regions, each of which has a quite distinct environment. As the WOIAF puts it:

The heart of this ancient kingdom was Storm's End, the last and greatest of the castles raised by the hero king Durran Godsgrief in the Age of Heroes, which stands immense and immovable atop the towering cliffs of Durran's Point. South, beyond Shipbreaker Bay with its wild waters and treacherous rocks, lies Cape Wrath. The moist green tangle of the rainwood dominates the northern two-thirds of the cape. Farther south a broad plain opens up, rolling gently down to the Sea of Dorne, where numerous small fishing villages dot the shoreline. A thriving port and market, the Weeping Town (as it came to be known because it was where the body of the slain hero King Daeron I Targaryen returned to his kingdom after his murder in Dorne), stands here, and much of the region's trade passes through its harbor.

The great island of Tarth, with its waterfalls and lakes and soaring mountains, is considered part of the stormlands as well, as are Estermont and the myriad lesser isles found off Cape Wrath and the Weeping Town.

To the west the hills rise hard and wild, pushing against the sky until they give way to the Red Mountains, the border between the stormlands and Dorne. Deep dry valleys and great sandstone cliffs dominate the landscape here, and it is true that sometimes at sunset the peaks gleam scarlet and crimson against the clouds... yet there are those who say these mountains were named not for the color of their stone but for all the blood that has soaked into the ground.

Farther inland, beyond the foothills, lie the marches -- a vast expanse of grasslands, moors, and windswept plains stretching westward and northward for hundreds of leagues.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Stormlands

Just as the Reach was once made of up of four kingdoms, the Stormlands are made up of distinct regions. Cape Wrath is distinguished both by its Rainwood but also by its superior harbors that ensure that "much of the region's trade passes through" the Weeping Town as opposed to Storm's End because of the harsh weather of Shipbreaker Bay. The islands, from Estermont in the south to Tarth (and arguably up to Massey's Hook), are at a remove from the mainland. The Marches are a unique region, both in terms of their rugged terrain but also the hyper-focus on the geopolitical conflict with the mountain lords of Dorne. And finally, we have this broad region to the north that includes open plains, the Kingswood, and Massey's Hook, and Storm's End itself.

But unlike the different kingdoms of the Reach which all shared common ancestry and culture from the beginning, the regions of the Stormlands are both markedly different and sharply separated by geography from one another, promoting separatist identities. The residents of Massey's Hook, for example, are much closer to the islands of Blackwater Bay than they are to any part of the Stormlands and thus have historically been drawn into the political orbit of the Crownlands to the detriment of the central authority, whereas the residents of Cape Wrath would be more concerned with trade with Essos. Likewise, the Marcher Lords are hyper-focused on their conflict with Dorne and thus have more in common with the Tarlys of Horn Hill or the Peakes of Starpike than they do with the Tarths or the Estermonts, whose concerns about pirates and slavers they would find foreign. And Storm's End, the seat of the kingdom, sits somewhat uncomfortably in between these regions but not of any of them, trying to hold the whole together.

Speaking of regional differences, I haven't yet talked about that broad region to the north, because it is here where the Stormlands' chief problem lies, namely its shifting borders. I titled this section "A Kingdom Divided" because I don't think we can really understand either the history of or the present conditions of the Stormlands without first understanding that the kingdom currently known as the Stormlands is a shadow of its former self:

North of Storm's End, however, the borders of the kingdom have fluctuated greatly over the centuries, as Storm Kings strong and weak gained and lost lands in a succession of wars both great and small. Today, the writ of House Baratheon runs to the south bank of the Wendwater and lower reaches of the kingswood, and along the stony shores of the narrow sea up to the base of Massey's Hook... but before Aegon's Conquest, before even the coming of the Andals, the warrior kings of House Durrandon pushed their borders considerably farther.

Massey's Hook was part of their realm then, and all the kingswood as far as the Blackwater Rush. In certain epochs, the Storm Kings even ruled beyond the Blackwater. Towns as far-flung as Duskendale and Maidenpool once paid homage to Storm's End, and under the redoubtable warrior king Arlan III Durrandon, the stormlanders took dominion over the entire riverlands.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Stormlands

Before the coming of Aegon the Conqueror to Westeros, the Stormlands' borders extended well into the present Crownlands - not just Massey's Hook (and probably many of the islands in the Bay) but also extending into the rich lands across the Blackwater Rush. In geopolitical terms, this would have meant that the Stormlands would have been able to raise close to 40,000 men, putting it well up there with the Westerlands or the Riverlands or the Vale. It is this factor that I believe explains the Stormlands' historical ability to punch above their weight, competing for power and influence with the other contenders of the Great Game, and how they were able to conquer and then hold the Riverlands for three hundred years.

Thus, when Aegon first claimed the Crownlands for his own and then divided the Stormlands - taking the Kingswood north of the Wendwater and Masseys Hook beside - as punishment for Argilac's insult to his envoys, he created a polity much reduced in power and influence.

(Artist: Roman Papsuev)(Artist: Roman Papsuev)

Historical Development

As I said in the introduction, the WOIAF's coverage of the Stormlands leaves something to be desired. Especially in the early going, it starts with a bang and ends with a whimper. At the very outset of First Men history, the legend of Durran Godsgrief, crafted to a Wagnerian level of epic drama, can't help but impress:

His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.

Five more castles he built, each larger and stronger than the last, only to see them smashed asunder when the gale winds came howling up Shipbreaker Bay, driving great walls of water before them. His lords pleaded with him to build inland; his priests told him he must placate the gods by giving Elenei back to the sea; even his smallfolk begged him to relent.

ACOK 32: Catelyn III

The legends surrounding the founder of House Durrandon, Durran Godsgrief, all come to us through the singers. The songs tell us that Durran won the heart of Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. By yielding to a mortal's love, Elenei doomed herself to a mortal's death, and for this the gods who had given her birth hated the man she had taken for her lord husband. In their wroth, they sent howling winds and lashing rains to knock down every castle Durran dared to build, until a young boy helped him erect one so strong and cunningly made that it could defy their gales. The boy grew to be Brandon the Builder; Durran became the first Storm King. With Elenei at his side, he lived and reigned at Storm's End for a thousand years, or so the stories claim.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

Especially in GRRM's version, it's a tale of Tragic Love that brings destruction in its wake (with the collapse of the first castle happening during Durran and Elenei's wedding, no less), an origin story for the legendary stubbornness of the Durrandon bloodline, a direct allusion to the Arthurian legend of Merlin, Vortigern, and the dragons, and a story of a Telemonian Ajax-like defiance of the gods themselves. It also speaks to the interconnection of the Age of Heroes, with Brandon the Builder once again taking up the role of the continent's only general contractor.

(Artist: mattcantdraw)(Credit to mattcantdraw)

However, when it comes to the early history of the Stormlands, things go down-hill very quickly due to some interesting decisions made by the creators:

Much of the early history of Westeros is lost in the mists of time, where it becomes ever more difficult to separate fact from legend the further back one goes. This is particularly true of the stormlands, where the First Men were comparatively few and the elder races strong. Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, the runes that tell their stories survive to this day, chiseled into cave walls and standing stones and the ruins of fallen strongholds, but in the stormlands oft as not the First Men carved the tales of their victories and defeats into the trunks of trees, long since rotted away.

Moreover, a tradition developed amongst the Storm Kings of old for naming the king's firstborn son and heir after Durran Godsgrief, founder of their line, further compounding the difficulties of the historian. The bewildering number of King Durrans has inevitably caused much confusion. The maesters of the Citadel of Oldtown have given numbers to many of these monarchs, in order to distinguish one from the other, but that was not the practice of the singers (unreliable at the best of times) who are our chief source for these times.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

When one starts with a disclaimer that there's not going to be very much history because the written records of the First Men was lost and then compound that with a tacit admission that they couldn't think of any new names so they kept using Durran over and over again, it doesn't exactly signal that the authors have much confidence in this chapter. It's also a creative choice that makes the work of analysts and critics far more difficult, so I can't say that there isn't a personal frustration involved.

Expansion and Contraction

So once again, we have a legendary founder of a seat of power that becomes the center of a proto-state. The early Durrandons likewise used the same playbook of diplomacy, dynastic marriages, and conquest that we've seen the Starks, Arryns, Mudds, Justmans, Teagues, Lannisters, and Gardeners use to build their realms outward:

Whether he was one man or fifty, we know that in this time the kingdom extended its writ far beyond Storm's End and its hinterlands, absorbing neighboring kingdoms one by one over the centuries. Some were won by treaty, some by marriage, more by conquest -- a process that was continued by Durran's descendants.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

But where in previous cases, this began a process of state formation, in the case of the Durrandons, we actually see a process of continual back-and-forth that resulted in stagnation for the state. The model was established very early on:

The Godsgrief himself was first to claim the rainwood, that wet wilderness that had hitherto belonged only to the children of the forest. His son Durran the Devout returned to the children most of what his father had seized, but a century later Durran Bronze-Axe took it back again, this time for good and all.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

By expanding his reach over Cape Wrath, Durran Godsgrief gave himself a power base that would allow his nascent kingdom to successfully challenge the other powers of the northern plains or the western marches, similar to how the first Starks' early alliance with the hill clans allowed them to expand into the wolfswood, or how Benedict I used his support from both the Brackens and Blackwoods to unite the Riverlands. The difference is that Durran's son gave back most of the territory in question; thus, Durran Bronze-Axe spent his reign retaking it rather than expanding the kingdom further outwards.

And so when we look at a lot of the early history of the Durrandons, there's a lot of similarities to other early regimes, but with the addition of a consistent undertow seeping away at their accomplishments:

Maldon Massey built the castle Stonedance and established his lordship over Massey's Hook under another King Durran, called the Ravenfriend, but his dates and number remain in dispute as well. It was Durran the Young, also known as the Butcher Boy, who dammed the river Slayne with Dornish corpses, after turning back Yoren Yronwood and the warrior maid Wylla of Wyl in the Battle by the Bloody Pool... but was he the same king who became besotted with his own niece in later life and died at the hands of his brother Erich Kin-Killer? These, and many similar questions, will most likely never be resolved.

Somewhat better sources exist for later centuries, however. We can say with fair certainty that the great island kingdom of Tarth fell under the sway of House Durrandon when Durran the Fair took to wife the daughter of its king, Edwyn Evenstar. Their grandson, Erich the Sailmaker (most likely Erich III), was the first to claim Estermont and the lesser isles farther south. It was another Durran (Durran X, most scholars agree) who extended the kingdom northward to the Blackwater Rush, and his son Monfryd I (the Mighty) who first crossed that great river, defeating the petty kings of House Darklyn and House Mooton in a series of wars, and seizing the prosperous port towns of Duskendale and Maidenpool.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

While the Ravenfriend's creation of feudal links with the northeastern coast (possibly through diplomacy, since ravens were used to carry messages, and possibly through magic) and the Butcher Boy's expansion of Durrandon authority to the southwest (probably through a defensive military alliance with the Swanns of Stonehelm, which overlooks the Slayne) are relatively novel, there's a fair bit of stock characters in this list. You could easily swap Durran the Fair for Alester II Arryn or Garland the Bridegroom, or Erich the Sailmaker for John the Tall or Hugh and Hugo Arryn. However repetitive these figures might be, they do give us important information about the second wave of Durrandon expansion, which incorporated the eastern islands on the one hand and pushed well into the modern-day Crownlands on the other. (This last part is especially important for demonstrating that Durrandon presence in the Crownlands goes all the way back to around three hundred years after the Godsgrief and thus quite early in the Age of Heroes.)

Thus, by the third century post-Durran, the Stormlands had grown and surpassed its modern-day borders. Despite this track record of success, the Durrandons squandered their inheritance due to a succession of weak kings:

Monfryd's son Durran XI (the Dim) and his own son Barron (the Beautiful) yielded up all he had gained and more besides. During the long years when Durwald I (the Fat) ruled in Storm's End, the Masseys broke away, Tarth thrice revolted, and even upon Cape Wrath a challenge arose, from a woods witch known only as the Green Queen, who held the rainwood against Storm's End for the best part of a generation. For a time it was said Durwald's rule extended no farther than a man could urinate off the walls of Storm's End.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

In two generations, the Storm Kings lost all of their rich territories in the Crownlands, significant territories in the northwest by the Blackwater Rush, "and more besides." Sensing weakness at the center, the constituent parts of the Stormlands began to rebel, with the northeast (Massey's Hook), the islands (Tarth), and even Cape Wrath (the Green Queen) not only successfully rebelling but keeping their rebellions going for extended periods of time. Thus, by the reign of Durwald I, all of the work of state-building that had been done since the time of the Godsgrief himself was basically undone.

Thus, however interesting the story of Morden II's unwise staffing decisions, Ronard the Bastard's prodigious luck with women and warfare, there is a certain lack of consequence to it all:

The tide turned again when Morden II named his baseborn half brother Ronard as his castellan. A fearsome warrior, Ronard became the ruler of the stormlands in all but name and took King Morden's sister to wife. Within five years, he had claimed the kingship as well. It was Morden's own queen who placed Morden's crown on Ronard's head. If the songs be true, she shared his bed as well. Morden himself, deemed harmless, was confined to a cell in the tower.

His usurper ruled for nigh unto thirty years as Ronard the Bastard, smashing rebel bannerman and petty kings alike in battle after battle. Never a man to confine himself to a single woman, he claimed a daughter from every foe who bent the knee. By the time he died, he had supposedly fathered nine-and-ninety sons. Most were bastard born (though Ronard had three-and-twenty wives, the songs say) and did not share in their father's inheritance but had to make their own way in the world. For this reason, thousands of years later, many and more of the smallfolk of the stormlands, even the meanest and humblest amongst them, still boast of royal blood.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Durrandon

However great a lover or a fighter he was, ultimately Ronard the Bastard didn't accomplish anything new - all his conquests in the bedroom or the battlefield did was to restore what previous monarchs had spent their lives doing. Those intervening centuries could not be recovered as easily as the strongholds of the Stormlands, so House Durrandon had lost its opportunities to bank its early victories, to learn something from the Age of Heroes before the Andals came.

And then, like they always do, the Andals came.

The Andals in the Stormlands

Earlier, I discussed some of my frustration with the historical sections of the Stormlands chapter. In this section, we get to some of my biggest pet peeves with this section of the WOIAF - namely, that its account of the Andal Invasion of the Stormlands doesn't really pass muster, especially when viewed in comparison to the other Seven Kingdoms.

Let's begin with the annoying fact that there's yet another large gap in the historical record between Ronard the Bastard (who ruled not long after the third century post-Durran) and Erich VII (who must have ruled around 1,700 years later). Again, this is a long period of history, during which some rather significant events happened and it would be interesting to see the Stormlands' perspective of them - for example, Garth Goldenhand's war against the Lannister-Durrandon alliance.

But that's something of a side issue compared to the implausible narrative of the invasion itself. The depiction of the Durrandon state during the arrival of the Andals - similar to its depiction during the up-and-down fortunes of the dynasty during the Age of Heroes - is a state that was already in crisis before the invaders arrived and quite unprepared for the conflict ahead:

Erich VII Durrandon was king in the stormlands when the Andal longships first began to cross the narrow sea. History remembers him as Erich the Unready, for he took little note of these invaders, famously declaring that he had no interest in "the quarrels of strangers in a land far away." The Storm King was embroiled in his own wars at the time, attempting to reconquer Massey's Hook from its infamous pirate king, Justin Milk-Eye, whilst fending off the incursions of the Dornish king Olyvar Yronwood. Nor did Erich live to see the result of his inaction, for the Andals remained occupied with their conquest of the Vale for the rest of his lifetime.

His grandson, King Qarlton II Durrandon, was the first to face the Andals in battle. After four generations of war, that monarch -- who styled himself Qarlton the Conqueror -- finally completed the reconquest of Massey's Hook, taking Stonedance after a year's siege and slaying the last king of House Massey, Josua (called Softspear).

The Storm King held his conquest for less than two years. An Andal warlord named Togarion Bar Emmon (called Togarion the Terrible) had established his own small kingdom north of the Blackwater but was being hard-pressed by the Darklyn king of Duskendale. Sensing weakness to the south, Togarion took to wife the daughter of Josua Softspear and crossed Blackwater Bay with all his power to establish a new kingdom on Massey's Hook. He built his own castle at Sharp Point, at the Hook's end, whilst driving the stormlanders from Stonedance and setting his wife's brother to rule there as a puppet dancing to his strings.

Qarlton the Conqueror soon had more serious woes to concern him than the loss of Massey's Hook. The eyes of the Andals had turned south, and longships had begun to come ashore all up and down his coasts, full of hungry men with the seven-pointed stars painted on their shields and chests and brows, all of them bent on carving out kingdoms of their own. The rest of his reign, and that of his son and grandson (Qarlton III and Monfryd V) after him, were times of almost constant war.

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

Once again, we see the Durrandons struggling to maintain their control over Massey's Hook or hegemony on military force against outside forces - further evidence of a failure of a state formation similar to that of the Riverlands. No wonder, therefore that the Andals under Togarion Bar Emmon were able to grab Massey's Hook so quickly, a rare case where we can see a direct line between Andal invaders and influential houses in the present (although the survival of House Massey is less explicable) and one that follows the model of the leading Andal houses of the Vale.

Where things get confusing is why we're given so much information about Erich the Unready if the Andals arrived in the Stormlands two generations after his death - which raises the question of why he was given his nickname or why his unreadiness is relevant if it didn't play a direct role in the Stormlands' difficulties. But far more confusing is the larger narrative of the war:

Though the Storm Kings won half a dozen major battles -- the greatest of these being the Battle of Bronzegate where Monfryd V Durrandon defeated the Holy Brotherhood of the Andals, an alliance of seven petty kings and war lords, at the cost of his own life -- the longships kept coming. It was said that for every Andal who fell in battle, five more came wading ashore. Tarth was the first of the stormlands to be overwhelmed; Estermont soon followed.

The Andals established themselves on Cape Wrath as well and might well have taken all the rainwood if they had not proved as willing to make war on one another as upon the kingdoms of the First Men.

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

This passage gives us a fairly straightforward narrative - the Battle of Bronzegate likely taking place as the Andals pushed south overland from their foothold on Massey's Hook, and their defeat leading the Andals to adopt a strategy of marine landings on the islands (hence Tarth and Estermont, which both raise the question of how those houses persisted to the present) leading to an attack on the southern Cape. Infighting aside, however, this is a narrative that follows much more closely to the First Men defeats in the Riverlands and the Vale, where the Andals were able to overrun territory and hold it, rather than the outright victory of the Starks or the successful assimilations of the Lannisters and Gardeners.

But that's not what happened. Instead, we get a narrative of the Durrandons basically winning the war through a series of frankly implausible events:

But King Baldric I Durrandon (the Cunning) proved expert at setting them one against the other, and King Durran XXI took the unprecedented step of seeking out the remaining children of the forest in the caves and hollow hills where they had taken refuge and making common cause with them against the men from beyond the sea. In the battles fought at Black Bog, in the Misty Wood, and beneath the Howling Hill (the precise location of which has sadly been lost), this Weirwood Alliance dealt the Andals a series of stinging defeats and checked the decline of the Storm Kings for a time. An even more unlikely alliance, between King Cleoden I and three Dornish kings, won an even more telling victory over Drox the Corpse-Maker on the river Slayne near Stonehelm a generation later.

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

As much as I find the Blackadder reference amusing, this isn't a great explanation for how a kingdom previously characterized by dysfunction and stalemate somehow managed to fend off the Andals. For one thing, as I've said before, the highly visible presence of the Children of the Forest thousands of years after they were supposed to have retreated from the world of man is a significant worldbuilding error - why would the maesters of the Citadel believe that "they never lived at all" (AGOT) when they were making military alliances well within the scope of written records? (The plausibility of their involvement isn't helped by the fact that the Children conveniently disappear after the Andals and First Men make peace, which makes them seem more like dei ex machina than historical actors.) Nor is there any explanation of why the Children's alliance would be so determinative in the fight against the Andals, given the Children's manifest inability to defeat the First Men invasion which had been carried out with much weaker technology. Likewise, there's really no explanation of why the Dornish would make an alliance with a historic enemy when the Dornish would have had their hands full with Dornish invaders on their own soil, or why that alliance would have been useful outside of the Marches.

Finally, I just find that the end of the narrative doesn't particularly work in a literary sense either, coming off as rather vague, indistinct, and repetitious compared to other chapters:

Yet it is an error to assert that the Storm Kings turned back the invaders. For all their victories, they never stemmed the Andal tide; though many an Andal king and warlord ended with his head impaled upon a spike above the gates of Storm's End, still the Andals kept coming. The reverse is also true; the Andals never truly conquered the line of Durrandon. Seven times they laid siege to Storm's End or sought to storm its mighty walls, history tells us; seven times they failed. The seventh failure was seen as a sign from the gods; after that, no further assaults were made.

In the end, the two sides simply came together. King Maldon IV took an Andal maiden as his wife, as did his son, Durran XXIV (Durran Half-Blood). Andal war chiefs became lords and petty kings, wed the daughters of stormlords and gave them their own daughters in return, did fealty for their lands, and swore their swords to the Storm Kings. Led by King Ormund III and his queen, the stormlanders put aside their old gods and took up the gods of the Andals, the Faith of the Seven. As the centuries passed, the two races of men became as one... and the children of the forest, all but forgotten, vanished entirely from the rainwood and the stormlands.

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

In previous chapters, we've seen at least two (three if you count the Iron Islands) similar scenarios where the Andal invasion ends in assimilation and marriage alliances. But in those cases, there was a plausible narrative as to why the Lannisters and the Gardeners prospered - the growth of strong and stable polities through the actions of monarchs like Loreon the Lion or Garth Goldenhand, which gave monarchs like Tyrion III and Gerold II in the West and the Three Sage Kings in the Reach the necessary strength to force a favorable settlement. Here, we have a weak and divided polity that pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and then the Andals just give up.

To me, it would have worked much better if the Andals had won in the Stormlands. This would move the meta-history of the WOIAF closer in line with how its portrayed in the books - with the Vale, Riverlands, and Stormlands having fallen to the enemy, only the strong kingdoms of the Reach and the Westerlands having managed to establish a peace on their own terms, and the Iron Islands and Dorne falling unhappily in the middle, this would be much closer to the story of how "the Andals crossed the narrow sea and swept away the kingdoms of the First Men." (AGOT) Moreover, and especially if the Andal victory had come through canny warlords forcing a puppet Durrandon king to marry an Andal bride, there would be a nice parallel with how the Baratheons supplanted the Durrandons, which would give the Stormlands a more distinct arc compared to other chapters. Finally, in order to preserve the idea that Storm's End has never been taken, you could the defeat of the First Men be the result of a Durrandon king who "gave battle in vain" - which also continues the theme both of the Durrandons' stubborn temper and how it leads to hubris, in this case ignoring the painstakingly-constructed defenses of their ancestral castle.

It would also have worked better if the arrival of the Andals had a noticeable impact on the Stormlands, if not the complete cultural and political reworking of the kingdom that the Vale and the Riverlands experienced, perhaps more akin to the cultural regeneration seen in the Westerlands and the Reach. Instead, we get another enormous gap in the historical record, this one stretching from Ormund the III (who ruled sometime around 5600 BC) to Arlan I (who ruled around 450-400 BC). Needless to say, this gap of more than 5,000 years covers some hugely consequential periods in Stormlands history: how did the Durrandons respond to their near-elimination at the hands of Gyles III around 5000 BC? What led to Durran the Third's invasions of Dorne and how did the Stormlands react to his defeats (given the way in which his nomenclature suggests some major crisis of succession around 700 BC)? Why was Arlan I called "the Avenger"? And once again, what happened in between these periods, how did the Stormlands interact with the other players of the Great Game?

A Most Unlikely Empire

Without answers to these questions, we don't really know what long-term factors led to the ascendancy of the Durrandons between 400-100 BC. What we do know is that such ascendancy happened:

House Durrandon reached its greatest heights in the epoch that followed. During the Age of the Hundred Kingdoms, King Arlan I (the Avenger) swept all before him, extending the borders of his kingdom as far as the Blackwater Rush and the headwaters of the Mander. His great-grandson King Arlan III crossed both the Blackwater and the Trident and claimed the riverlands in their entirety, at one point planting his crowned stag banner on the shores of the Sunset Sea.

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

The Durrandon Empire, which spanned all the way from the Dornish Marches to the Neck, seems to have occurred in a few brief stages. Moniker notwithstanding, Arlan I was successful in war against both the Kings of the Trident and the Kings of the Reach, incorporating a significant swathe of territory that included much of the eastern Reach and the present-day Crownlands. This in turn would have increased the punching power of the Stormlands far above its current levels, as I discussed earlier. Three generations later, Arlan III used that military might to conquer the Riverlands as discussed in Part IV of this series.

(Credit to Adam Whitehead)(Credit to Adam Whitehead)

However much we lack for context, it cannot be denied that this period of Stormlands history has a level of panache and excitement that is missing from everything that came before. All of the sudden, the underdog in the Great Game comes closest to winning out of any of the historical participants (as far as we know), building an empire that included all of the Stormlands, the Crownlands, the Riverlands, and part of the Reach. But rather than just being a story of triumphal military expansionism, we instead get a grand narrative of hubris, over-reach, and a long twilight struggle against inevitable decline:

With the death of Arlan III, however, an inevitable decline began, for the stormlanders were stretched too thin to hold this vast kingdom together. Rebellion followed rebellion, petty kings sprang up like weeds, castles and keeps fell away... and then the ironborn came, led by Harwyn Hardhand, King of the Iron Islands, and it all befell as previously related. Even as the stormlanders reeled back before the ironmen in the north, the Dornish came swarming over the Boneway to press them in the south, and the Kings of the Reach sent their knights forth from Highgarden to reclaim all that had been lost in the west.

The Kingdom of the Storm shrank, king by king, battle by battle, year by year. The fall was halted briefly when a fierce warrior prince, Argilac (called the Arrogant), donned the stag's crown, but even a man as mighty as he could only stay the tide, not turn it back. Last of the Storm Kings, last of the Durrandon, Argilac did just that for a time...

The World of Ice & Fire: Andals in the Stormlands

Once again, we can see the rules of the Great Game in action, as the Ironborn respond to internal rebellions within the Riverlands, and then when Harwyn's victory at the Battle of Fairmarket revealed the Durrandon's weakness (if my calculations are right, Arrec Durrandon lost some 20,000 men, which would have majorly affected their ability to mount defensive operations on multiple fronts), the Gardeners and Martells took advantage of the situation to regain the lands they had lost to Arlan I three hundred years earlier.

Moreover, it is in this period that we can see both the strengths and weaknesses of that legendary Durrandon temper. The stubborn unwillingness to accept that the Riverlands was lost meant that "King Arrec twice attempted to cross the Blackwater and take back what he had lost, but without success. His eldest son and successor, King Arlan V, tried as well, and died in the attempt." (WOIAF) Given their diminished military power (since the loss of the Riverlands and the northern half of the Crownlands would have meant that the Durrandons could field some 27,000-odd less men) it would have been hard enough for the Stormlands to fend off the Reach and Dorne at the same time, but with tens of thousands of men being drawn into a largely fruitless conflict with the Ironborn, decline was almost guaranteed. At the same time, however, it was that same temper that drove Argilac the Arrogant to engage in what might be seen as a foolhardy attempt to turn back the tide of history to surprising results.

Argilac, Last of the Durrandons

In a strange irony, we get the most detailed portrait of any of the Durrandons with the very last one. And the portrait we get is another of Westeros' military wunderkinds, a man who almost single-handedly managed to reverse centuries of imperial decline:

From their great citadel Storm's End, the Storm Kings of House Durrandon had once ruled the eastern half of Westeros from Cape Wrath to the Bay of Crabs, but their powers had been dwindling for centuries. The Kings of the Reach had nibbled at their domains from the west, the Dornishmen harassed them from the south, and Harren the Black and his ironmen had pushed them from the Trident and the lands north of the Blackwater Rush. King Argilac, last of the Durrandon, had arrested this decline for a time, turning back a Dornish invasion whilst still a boy, crossing the narrow sea to join the great alliance against the imperialist "tigers" of Volantis, and slaying Garse VII Gardener, King of the Reach, in the Battle of Summerfield twenty years later. But Argilac had grown older; his famous mane of black hair had gone grey, and his prowess at arms had faded.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

Despite the relative briefness of this passage, we learn a lot about how Argilac managed to accomplish this. First, Argilac pursued a policy of inflicting punishing defeats on his enemies that would render those fronts quiescent for extended periods of time, allowing the Stormlands to concentrate their remaining force against one threat at a time - notably, the Dornish don't seem to have threatened the Stormlands between Argilac's boyhood (sometime in the 40s BC) and the raids on the Marches in 0 BC; likewise, the death of Garse VII at the Battle of Summerfield (sometime around 22 BC) managed to end hostilities on that front for several decades. Second, sometime during the reign of Argilac or his father, the disastrous reign of Halleck Hoare, which included "unsuccessful wars against the...stormlanders," allowed the Durrandons to at least temporarily retake territory north of the Blackwater Rush, giving them breathing room on their northern border for a time.

Third and most intriguingly, Argilac seems to have turned his military talents to commercial purposes. Rather than purely acting out of geostrategic motives, we learn that "the Westerosi Storm King, Argilac the Arrogant, led a host into the Disputed Lands - in return for the promise of gold and glory." (WOIAF) After all, while the Stormlands' army is relatively small by Westerosi standards, it's absolutely massive compared to most Essosi mercenary companies. Thus Argilac would have been able to name a very high price from the merchant princes of Tyrosh, Pentos, and Braavos, boosting the Stormlands' economy similar to how Italian city-states, German principalities, and Swiss cantons exported military services during the Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Now we don't know what Argilac did with the money (I would guess probably used it to hire mercenaries to make up for the Stormlands' shrinking armies), but it is a rare case of Westerosi-Essosi interactions in a chapter that has very little of that, despite the close proximity of the Stormlands to the Free Cities.

But despite all of Argilac's efforts, he couldn't overcome the larger geostrategic deficit that his kingdom was now operating with against the rising power of Harren the Black. And so, in his desperation, the Storm King gambled on a diplomatic solution to his woes, trying to build an alliance with House Targaryen:

No king in Westeros felt more threatened than Argilac the Storm King, last of the Durrandon -- an aging warrior whose only heir was his maiden daughter. Thus it was that King Argilac reached out to the Targaryens on Dragonstone, offering Lord Aegon his daughter in marriage, with all the lands east of the Gods Eye from the Trident to the Blackwater Rush as her dowry.

Aegon Targaryen spurned the Storm King's proposal. He had two wives, he pointed out; he did not need a third. And the dower lands being offered had belonged to Harrenhal for more than a generation. They were not Argilac's to give. Plainly, the aging Storm King meant to establish the Targaryens along the Blackwater as a buffer between his own lands and those of Harren the Black.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

On the face of it, the idea of creating a friendly buffer state in the Crownlands actually makes quite a bit of sense for the Stormlands, putting Aegon and his dragons between himself and the Ironborn, and regaining some Durrandon influence over the eastern Riverlands and northern Crownlands through a marriage alliance to the proposed new kingdom. And if Argilac hadn't been too clever by half in proposing to give land that he didn't control as a dowry - instead of outright proposing a military alliance against the Hoares - he might have had more luck. History had other ideas, however, and Argilac's attempt to make peace on his northern borders would ironically be the occasion for the violent overthrow of his House:

The Lord of Dragonstone countered with an offer of his own. He would take the dower lands being offered if Argilac would also cede Massey's Hook and the woods and plains from the Blackwater south to the river Wendwater and the headwaters of the Mander. The pact would be sealed by the marriage of King Argilac's daughter to Orys Baratheon, Lord Aegon's childhood friend and champion.

These terms Argilac the Arrogant rejected angrily. 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. Argilac had the hands of Aegon's envoy cut off and returned to him in a box. "These are the only hands your bastard shall have of me," he wrote.

Aegon made no reply. Instead he summoned his friends, bannermen, and principal allies to attend him on Dragonstone. Their numbers were small. The Velaryons on Driftmark were sworn to House Targaryen, as were the Celtigars of Claw Isle. From Massey's Hook came Lord Bar Emmon of Sharp Point and Lord Massey of Stonedance, both sworn to Storm's End, but with closer ties to Dragonstone.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

There are several things that need to be unpacked from these few paragraphs. First, in light of what we've covered before, Aegon's counter-proposal seems to have been something of a deliberate provocation, aimed at giving Aegon a casus belli against the Durrandons - Orys Baratheon's bastardy aside (although I doubt he was ignorant of the implications), Aegon was essentially proposing that, in exchange for taking the Durrandons' former possessions in the Crownlands and Riverlands, he should also get a good chunk of the northwestern Stormlands, without giving Argilac much of anything in exchange.

Second, it's pretty clear that Orys' Durrandon temper made this diplomatic strategy particularly ill-judged - it's not that an anti-Ironborn politics would have been unpopular (after all, the Arryns were looking for such an alliance at the same time), but if you react to every potential slight by mutilating envoys, you're basically going to create more enemies than you started with.

Third, and most importantly, we see in Aegon's war councils the continuing weakness of the Durrandon state. Despite thousands of years of warfare to control Massey's Hook, the Storm Kings had failed to build a either a state bureaucracy or a common cultural identity strong enough to keep House Bar Emmon and House Massey loyal, and thus Aegon started the war with a foothold on his enemy's territory.

And so began the Last Storm...

The Last Storm

Through a combination of inept diplomacy and his raging temper, Argilac Durrandon had turned an offer of alliance with into a war against House Targaryen. But to give the last of the Storm Kings credit, he put up a hell of a fight against Aegon the Conqueror, far better than his old rival Harren, or arguably even the Great Western Alliance.

Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler, bannermen to Storm's End, surprised the advance elements of Orys Baratheon's host as they were crossing the Wendwater, cutting down more than a thousand men before fading back into the trees ...

South and east, the Storm King's bannermen proved considerably more loyal than King Harren's. Argilac the Arrogant gathered a great host about him at Storm's End. The seat of the Durrandons was a mighty fastness, its great curtain wall even thicker than the walls of Harrenhal.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

Engaging in irregular warfare in the Kingswood provided several advantages: first, as seen at the Battle of the Wailing Willows and as we will see to devastating effect in the First Dornish War, the Targaryen's armies historically proved vulnerable to guerrilla warfare, allowing the Stormlanders to inflict disproportionate casualties on their enemy. Second and more importantly, it allowed Argilac enough time to pull the rest of his forces together. Given that you don't need a "great host" to garrison a castle against a siege, my guess is that Argilac wanted the Targaryens to exhaust themselves in assaults on the impregnable fortress and then sally forth to crush them between his army and the castle walls.1

Unfortunately for Argilac, as indeed was the case for almost all of Aegon's rivals, seemingly no amount of preparation could overcome the sheer firepower of the dragons. The Stormlanders might be far better at irregular warfare in the forests, but "Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler hid in their familiar forests until Queen Rhaenys unleashed Meraxes and a wall of fire swept through the woods, turning the trees to torches." (Interestingly, the Conqueror and his sisters don't seem to have remembered this lesson of coordination between their dragons and their armies when it came to the First Dornish War, which might have saved the Boneway column or Lord Harlan Tyrell's doomed army.) Moreover, such preparations could do little to overcome the Stormlands' geostrategic weaknesses, hence "...as Argilac the Arrogant gathered his swords at Storm's End... Dornish raiding parties came boiling out of the Red Mountains to sweep across the marches." (WOIAF) Even in the face of seemingly existential danger, the rules of the Great Game still held sway.

And so with Plan A in tatters, Argilac the Arrogant turned to Plan B: rather than wait until his position got even worse, he would go on the offensive and try to win a victory in the field:

Word of King Harren's end soon reached the ears of his old enemy King Argilac, however. Lords Fell and Buckler, falling back before the approaching host (Lord Errol had been killed), had sent him word of Queen Rhaenys and her dragon. The old warrior king roared that he did not intend to die as Harren had, cooked inside his own castle like a suckling pig with an apple in his mouth. No stranger to battle, he would decide his own fate, sword in hand. So Argilac the Arrogant rode forth from Storm's End one last time, to meet his foes in the open field.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

Even if Fire and Blood is ever published, I doubt we'll ever find out whether Argilac the Arrogant genuinely believed that he could win the Battle of the Last Storm, or whether he preferred a glorious death on the battlefield than the humiliation of defeat (since I doubt Aegon would be magnanimous to the man who had mutilated his messengers). What's surprising therefore, is how much of a close-run thing the Last Storm turned out to be, although that's largely due to a combination of complicated factors of terrain, weather, and manpower:

The Storm King's approach was no surprise to Orys Baratheon and his men; Queen Rhaenys, flying Meraxes, had witnessed Argilac's departure from Storm's End and was able to give the Hand a full accounting of the enemy's numbers and dispositions. Orys took up a strong position on the hills south of Bronzegate, and dug in there on the high ground to await the coming of the stormlanders.

As the armies came together, the stormlands proved true to their name. A steady rain began to fall that morning, and by midday had turned into a howling gale. King Argilac's lords bannermen urged him to delay his attack until the next day, in hopes the rain would pass, but the Storm King outnumbered the conquerors almost two to one and had almost four times as many knights and heavy horse. The sight of the Targaryen banners flapping sodden above his own hills enraged him, and the battle-seasoned old warrior did not fail to note that the rain was blowing from the south, into the faces of the Targaryen men on their hills. So Argilac the Arrogant gave the command to attack, and the battle known to history as the Last Storm began.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

On the Targaryen side, Orys Baratheon placed his trust in terrain, seizing the high ground in advance so as to gain the maximal defensive multiplier (which makes sense, given his lesser numbers) and letting the enemy come to him, while using Rhaenys and her dragon not merely as a blunt weapon but also a nigh-peerless source of aerial military intelligence. On the other side, Argilac Durrandon favored manpower - a 2:1 advantage in overall numbers and a 4:1 advantage in heavy cavalry could potentially allow him either to outflank his enemy in a battle of position, outlast him in a battle of attrition, or break him through a shock charge - and weather. While the rain would hinder the enemy infantry, far more consequential is that the storm would ground Meraxes, preventing the Targaryens from using their aerial superiority.

05-stormking.jpg

No plan survives first contact with the enemy however, and the Last Storm was no exception, with each general making some major mistakes:

The fighting lasted well into the night, a bloody business, and far less one-sided than Aegon's conquest of Harrenhal. Thrice Argilac the Arrogant led his knights against the Baratheon positions, but the slopes were steep and the rains had turned the ground soft and muddy, so the warhorses struggled and foundered, and the charges lost all cohesion and momentum. The stormlanders fared better when they sent their spearmen up the hills on foot. Blinded by the rain, the invaders did not see them climbing until it was too late, and the wet bowstrings of the archers made their bows useless. One hill fell, then another, and the third and final charge of the Storm King and his knights broke through the Baratheon center...

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

Argilac clearly made one of the classic mistakes of cavalry commanders: forgetting that cavalry charges don't work nearly as well uphill as they do on even ground, which is why if you have to fight cavalry as infantry you never abandon the high ground. Only when he sent in the infantry did his strength in numbers begin to tell, allowing Argilac to crush his enemy's flanks and by the end of the day, it seemed like the Durrandons were on the verge of total victory, just like the Royces at the Battle of Seven Stars. By contrast, Orys Baratheon seems not to have had a plan for how to hold the high ground against a determined push by disciplined infantry. I say seems, because it's possible that Orys' unsuccessful defenses of the hills was part of a deliberate strategy to lure out Argilac himself for that last charge against the Targaryen center, so that he could bring to bear:

... Queen Rhaenys and Meraxes. Even on the ground, the dragon proved formidable. Dickon Morrigen and the Bastard of Blackhaven, commanding the vanguard, were engulfed in dragonflame, along with the knights of King Argilac's personal guard. The warhorses panicked and fled in terror, crashing into riders behind them and turning the charge into chaos. The Storm King himself was thrown from his saddle.

Yet still Argilac continued to battle. When Orys Baratheon came down the muddy hill with his own men, he found the old king holding off half a dozen men, with as many corpses at his feet. "Stand aside," Baratheon commanded. He dismounted, so as to meet the king on equal footing, and offered the Storm King one last chance to yield. Argilac cursed him instead. And so they fought, the old warrior king with his streaming white hair and Aegon's fierce, black-bearded Hand. Each man took a wound from the other, it was said, but in the end the last of the Durrandon got his wish and died with a sword in his hand and a curse on his lips. The death of their king took all heart out of the stormlanders, and as the word spread that Argilac had fallen, his lords and knights threw down their swords and fled.

The World of Ice & Fire: The Conquest

This was a huge risk: as we'll see during the Dance, grounded dragons are far more vulnerable than on the wing, so it's possible that even at a very high cost, the Storm Kings could have not only won the battle but extinguished one third of the Targaryen's unique advantage. But luck was not on Argilac's side that evening, and instead he found himself unhorsed, cut off from his men, and surrounded. But just to make Orys Baratheon's difficult day that much more difficult, the stubborn Durrandon king insisted on inflicting one last wound before he went down to death, taking one of the most ancient dynasties in Westeros with him.

Orys and the Founding of House Baratheon

The story of Orys' wooing of Argella is perhaps better suited to a Mills & Boon novel than a historical chronicle, but one thing that was historically vital was his decision that he would take "the arms and words of the Durrandon for his own. The crowned stag became his sigil, Storm's End became his seat, and Lady Argella his wife." (WOIAF) For the existing Stormlander elite, one could almost pretend that the Durrandons were still there in all but name - especially since Orys Baratheon shared much of the Durrandons' stubborn temper and much of their geopolitical rivalries (more on this in a second). As a result, the Baratheons would be much more stable in their Lord Paramouncy in the Stormlands than the Tullys would be in the Riverlands or the Tyrells in the Reach, the other two "new" Great Houses under the Targaryen regime.

It also likely helped that Orys Baratheon stood much closer to the Iron Throne than any other lord in Westeros as Aegon I's only "close friend" and "my shield, my stalwart, my strong right hand." Unfortunately, in Orys' lifetime this meant being handed the toughest jobs that Aegon needed done: as we've seen, the Stormlands campaign was probably the hardest of the entire Conquest. Only a few years later, Orys would be given the even more onerous duty of leading one of the main columns during the First Dornish War (something else that probably wouldn't hurt his reputation among the Stormlanders):

During Aegon's invasion of Dorne in 4 AC, however, Lord Orys was taken captive whilst attempting to bring his forces through the Boneway. His captor was the Wyl of Wyl, known as the Widow-lover, who struck off Orys's sword hand.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Baratheon

Lord Orys Baratheon's assault up the Boneway proved a disaster. The canny Dornishmen rained rocks and arrows and spears from the heights, murdered men in the night, and in the end blocked the Boneway both before and behind. Lord Orys was captured by Lord Wyl, and many of his bannermen and knights besides. They remained captive for years before finally being ransomed for their weight in gold in 7 AC. And even then, each and every one of them returned lacking a sword hand, so that they might never take up arms against Dorne again.

The World of Ice & Fire: Dorne Against the Dragons

It would have been bad enough if Lord Baratheon's army had been surrounded and captured, held in captivity for three years, and ransomed at extremely high cost. But to be mutilated in the bargain was likely one sacrifice too many for his half-brother's sake; no wonder therefore that by "all accounts say that Lord Orys became crabbed and bitter," and resigned the Handship. Even this, however, didn't end the Stormlands' losses during the First Dornish War, as the Dornish sent "a force to Cape Wrath in 8 AC that left half the rainwood ablaze and sacked half a dozen towns and villages...a year later ...a host under Lord Fowler...seized and burned the great Marcher castle of Nightsong and carried off its lords and defenders as hostages." (WOIAF) Sadly, this probably also helped the Baratheons cement their bonds with their new subjects - even if Orys had not been born a Stormlander, he had suffered at the hands of their enemies as they had, and few things unite people as an in-group than a shared hatred of a particular out-group.

(Artist: Magali Villeneuve)(Artist: Magali Villeneuve)

In his later life, Orys Baratheon took up the traditional cause of his new subjects, as he "turned his attention to Dorne, obsessed with the idea of revenge." And is quite fitting given the running themes of his life, Orys got the chance to wreak his revenge when the weak King Aenys I turned to the former hand to deal with "a Dornishman naming himself the Vulture King [who had] gathered thousands of followers to stand against the Targaryens." With the King stalled and the Marcher lords struggling to deal with a host "some thirty thousand strong," Orys acted:

It was only when [the Vulture King] split this great host -- both for lack of supplies to feed them and his confidence that each could defeat any foe that went against them -- that his troubles began. Now they could be defeated piecemeal by the former Hand Orys Baratheon and the might of the Marcher lords -- especially Savage Sam Tarly, whose sword, Heartsbane, was said to be red from hilt to point after the dozens of Dornishmen he cut down in the course of the Vulture Hunt, as the chase after the Vulture King became known.

The World of Ice & Fire: Aenys I

Orys Baratheon, known now as Orys One-Hand, rode forth from Storm's End one last time, to smash the Dornish beneath the walls of Stonehelm. When Walter Wyl was delivered into his hand, wounded but alive, Lord Orys said, "Your father took my hand. I claim yours as repayment." So saying, he hacked off Lord Walter's sword hand. Then he took his other hand, and both his feet as well, calling them his "usury." Strange to say, Lord Baratheon died on the march back to Storm's End, of the wounds he himself had taken during the battle, but his son Davos always said he died content, smiling at the rotting hands and feet that dangled in his tent like a string of onions.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Baratheon

And so in the end, Orys Baratheon gave the Stormlands the one thing that House Baratheon was lacking - a successful campaign against the Stormlands' traditional enemies, capped off by a brutal and disproportionate revenge-taking. Even the Marcher lords, steeped as they are in ancient vendettas and mountain warfare that knows no quarter, would have had to be impressed.

The Early Baratheons

And so House Baratheon began its trajectory under the Targaryen monarchy as one of the closet Houses to the Iron Throne, with a Handship already under its belt from the outset. Orys' grandson, Lord Robar, would take the next step by making a canny choice to back the young Prince Jaehaerys against King Maegor; while Lord Lyman Lannister had sheltered Jaehaerys' brother and sister before Jaehaerys had declared himself, Robar cleverly outflanked him to become "the first great lord to openly proclaim for Prince Jaehaerys against his uncle." In exchange for his support for the young prince, Robar found himself named both Hand and Protector of the Realm and "during the remainder of King Jaehaerys's minority, Lord Robar shared the rule of the realm with the king's mother, the Dowager Queen Alyssa. Half a year later the two wed." (WOIAF) Three generations into the new monarchy, and the Baratheons were already ruling as regents, had gained their first Targaryen marriage - from now on, House Baratheon would carry legitimate royal blood in its veins.

From such lofty beginnings, no wonder then that the Baratheons waxed ambitious. Through the marriage of Lady Jocelyn Baratheon to Prince Aemon Targaryen, the House gained its candidate for the monarchy in the person of Princess Rhaenys. At the Great Council of 101 AC, Jocelyn's brother Lord Boremund would be one of the major supporters of his niece, along with the Velaryons (Rhaenys' in-laws), and the Starks and their bannermen (out of sheer spite). Boremund fell short, however, and saw House Arryn overtake him through Aemma Arryn's marriage to now-Crown Prince Viserys. The dream of House Baratheon to take the Iron Throne through normal politics had seemingly hit a brick wall...until Prince Viserys' marriage to Aemma ended with only a female child (Rhaenyra) and Viserys then remarried into House Hightower, producing a new dynastic line.

Lord Boremund was stone, hard and strong and unmoving. Lord Borros was the wind, which rages and howls and blows this way and that.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Baratheon

Ascending to the Lordship of Storm's End on the eve of the Dance of the Dragons, Borros sought to use the competition between the blacks and greens to achieve his family's thwarted ambitions. Aemond Targaryen, representing the greens, was willing to marry a Baratheon daughter to secure Storm's End support, while Lucerys' demurral and the "unseemly arrogance" of Princess Rhaenyra's letter commanding his support doomed the blacks' petition. Where the narrative breaks down here is that despite marrying his house into the greens, the ambitious lord Borros then fails to seize the opportunity, even when Aegon II's wounding at Rook's Rest made his son-in-law the Protector of the Realm - most likely because GRRM needed King's Landing to be empty of all but the gold cloaks in order to fall to Daemon and Rhaenyra. Most egregiously, we don't see Borros taking action when the green army led by Ormund Hightower stalled at Tumbleton or when that army was attacked at Second Tumbleton, when that battle took place right on his own borders.

07-borros.jpg

Instead, Borros waits to act until Aegon II kills Rhaenyra at Dragonstone - at which point he has no more dynastic link to the greens, Aemond having died at the Godseye - seizes King's Landing from the various smallfolk pretender kings, gaining in the process "promises that his eldest daughter would become the new queen of the widowed King Aegon II." Beyond this minor mopping up operation, Lord Borros' only other contribution to the Dance of the Dragons is to engage in an egregious bit of jobbing. Despite having an entirely fresh army and the forces of the Riverlands having just fought a grueling series of battles (Burning Mill, Stone Hedge, the Red Fork, the Fishfeed, the Butcher's Ball, Second Tumbleton), and thus having less than 4,000 men, the battle turned out to be the greatest disaster for the Baratheons since the First Dornish War:

[Lord Borros] boldly led the last of the royalist host against the approaching riverlanders, who were commanded by the young Lord Kermit Tully, the even-younger Benjicot Blackwood, and Blackwood's sister Alysanne. When the Lord of Storm's End learned that the host was led by boys and women, he grew confident in his victory, but Bloody Ben Blackwood, as he was remembered after, broke his flank, while Black Aly Blackwood led the archers who brought down his knights. Lord Borros was defiant to the end, and the accounts claim he killed a dozen knights and slew Lords Darry and Mallister before he himself was slain by Kermit Tully.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Baratheon

However unconvincing it might be from a military or literary perspective, the "Muddy Mess" om the Kingsroad had clear political implications. As the WOIAF puts it, "House Baratheon had gambled greatly in supporting King Aegon II, and it was a choice that brought them nothing but ill during the reign of King Aegon III (the Dragonbane) and the regency preceding it." (WOIAF) Thus, as a matter of periodization, we can say that the Dance of the Dragons ended the first period of Baratheon history by decisively ejecting the House from the inner circles of royal politics.

The Later Baratheons

After the Dance, we get another peculiar gap in the history of the Stormlands. Despite the fact that Daeron I marched his armies down through the Dornish Marches into the Boneway, we hear nothing about the political involvement of the Marcher Lords or the Stormlands more generally, when one would think that the Baratheons would have jumped at the chance to redeem themselves through leal military service against the hated Dornish. We know that the Stormlands' major port was where Daeron's body passed, but we don't know about how many or which Stormlanders died with Daeron; we know that Baelor I stayed at Storm's End for a half-year, but little enough about what the Baratheons thought of their royal charge. We might guess that the Baratheons would be bitterly disappointed when the Targaryens reached down past them to make marriage alliances with the Penroses and Dondarrions, to say nothing of the Martells, but there's no textual basis for our surmises.

The next time when the Stormlands comes up is during the reigns of Aegon IV and Daeron II, which I'll mostly discuss in the Internal Divisions section. I will say, however, that it's remarkably strange that the Baratheons aren't mentioned as part of Aegon IV's anti-Dornish faction, or their reaction to the disaster of Aegon IV's wooden dragons that burnt a quarter of the Kingswood. All of this leads up to a significant mystery that I've talked about before: why House Baratheon, which had seemingly little to gain from an alliance with Daeron II and much to gain from Daemon I, ultimately decided to follow Baelor Breakspear at the Battle of Redgrass Field, even when that meant fighting side-by-side against their hereditary enemies. Perhaps the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands balked the idea of backing another usurper after what had happened last time, or perhaps (as I'll talk about later) he feared that the Marcher Lords who supported Daemon had designs on Storm's End.

Whoever this nameless Lord Baratheon was, he did accomplish one thing, siring the famous Lyonel Baratheon. It is fitting that a tourney was held to celebrate his birth, as for most of his life "the Laughing Storm" was chiefly famous as a tourney knight, where a chance encounter at the Tourney of Ashford Meadow made him one of "King Aegon's most leal supporters." This unexpected friendship with the most unlikely of Targaryen monarchs (and I would be greatly surprised if Lyonel hadn't been one of the loudest voices for Aegon at the Great Council of 233) restored House Baratheon to royal favor: "so firm was their friendship that His Grace gladly agreed to betroth his eldest son and heir to Lord Lyonel's daughter." (WOIAF)

Once again, House Baratheon saw its old dream within arm's reach - Prince Duncan being the Crown Prince, his heir would be half a Baratheon and all the kings to follow. Unfortunately, tragic love suddenly changed the course of history:

The love between Jenny of Oldstones ("with flowers in her hair") and Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies, is beloved of singers, storytellers, and young maids even to this day, but it caused great grief to Lord Lyonel's daughter and brought shame and dishonor to House Baratheon. So great was the wroth of the Laughing Storm that he swore a bloody oath of vengeance, renounced allegiance to the Iron Throne, and had himself crowned as a new Storm King. Peace was restored only after the Kingsguard knight Ser Duncan the Tall faced Lord Lyonel in a trial by battle, Prince Duncan renounced his claim to crown and throne, and King Aegon V agreed that his youngest daughter, the Princess Rhaelle, would wed Lord Lyonel's heir.

The World of Ice & Fire: House Baratheon

This new betrothal, which must have seemed something more akin to an exchange of hostages, with "Princess Rhaelle ... sent to Storm's End to serve as Lord Lyonel's cupbearer and companion to his lady wife" and Steffon Baratheon later sent to King's Landing as a page, nevertheless made a vitally important dynastic change. Instead of having Baratheon blood introduced into the royal bloodline, instead it was now the Baratheons who were the next in line dynastically should the male line of House Targaryen fail. From the union of Rhaelle and Ormund Baratheon came Steffon Baratheon, who would in turn sire Robert Baratheon.

This is not to say that the revolt of the Laughing Storm made Robert's Rebellion an inevitability or whether one could even count it as a cause of the Rebellion. What is indisputable is that, without Lyonel's wrathful actions, the rebel alliance would not have much reason to turn to Robert Baratheon as their choice for a new king in 283 AC. And with that, the history of the Stormlands throughout the course of ASOIAF would be entirely different.

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Internal Divisions

In part because of the dismemberment of the Stormlands after the Conquest, a lot of the historical rivalries of the Stormlands - the oft-rebellious Houses Massey and Bar Emmon, for example - are no longer an internal issue, since the internal rivals were transferred out of the kingdom. As a result, we don't get a good sense of the agency, character, and local rivalries of the lesser Houses of the Stormlands - compared to say the Boltons and the Manderlys in the North, the Brackens and Blackwoods in the Riverlands, or the Reynes and the Tarbecks in the Westerlands.

This omission is slightly strange, because we're told that in general, "the people of the stormlands are like unto their weather, it has oft been said: tumultuous, violent, implacable." (WOIAF) You would expect, for example, that the history of the proud and independent Marcher Lords would be riven with rivalries, feuds, and vendettas - I'd be very surprised if the Swanns have much patience for the lofty claims to preeminence of the Carons, for example.

Instead, most of the internal divisions of the Stormlands since the coming of the Targaryens have had to do with national politics.

For example, we know that in the lead-up to the First Blackfyre Rebellion that the Stormlanders were part of the anti-Dornish party of Aegon IV, as "Aegon turned his attention to Dorne, using the hatred for the Dornishmen that still burned in the marches, the stormlands," and that "Knights and lords of the Dornish Marches came to mistrust Daeron, and Baelor as well," and some of the warmest admirers of Daemon Blackfyre. But when the war came, the Marches saw the Carons declaring for the blacks and the Dondarrions for the reds, while the Penroses sallied forth to fight the Fireball's armies while their liege lords the Baratheons stayed at home until Baelor Breaksprear came to fetch them.

Likewise, during Robert's Rebellion, the Cafferens, Fells, Grandisons, and Conningtons all took up arms against their liege lord, although many were won over after the Battle of Summerhall. Lingering Targaryen loyalties might yet explain why so many Stormlords sat out the War of Five Kings, and perhaps might swell the ranks of Aegon VI Targaryen now that he has landed on Cape Wrath.

This "nationalization" of internal politics is quite unusual in Westeros: while certainly previous civil wars have divided kingdoms, we usually see the pre-existing divisions within the kingdom expressed in those civil wars: hence the Boltons siding with the Lannisters against the Starks and the Manderlys intriguing against them in the name of the Starks, or the Brackens and Blackwoods on opposite sides of any number of civil wars.

Whether this just comes down to a lack of world-building on the level of the lesser Houses or has some more concrete cause will unfortunately remain a mystery.

Strengths and Weaknesses

As to the strengths and weaknesses of the Stormlands, they are essentially one and the same - stubborn defiance. At various times, they have inspired the people of their kingdom to defy the odds and hold off invasions by much larger and more powerful kingdoms, or to build a mighty empire spanning the width of the continent. Yet at the same time, there is a persistent sense that the same quality has led the Stormlands to fight among themselves rather than compromise and cooperate, or to keep throwing good money after bad rather than admit they've made a mistake.

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Footnotes

Warning: Footnotes may contain spoilers from later chapters or books.
  • 1 - One interesting open question in the world of ASOIAF is that we don't have any indications as to whether Storm's End's magical protections would have protected the castle against dragonfire in the same way as Casterly Rock's sheer geological bulk - potentially allowing Argilac to have held out for longer against the Targaryens a la the Martells - or whether it would have suffered the same fate as Harrenhal if Argilac had maintained his original plans.